"Living Life to the Full — My Ironman Journey," by Ellen Charnley

150 150 Rich Strauss

Ellen Charnley is a TeamEN member and has been with us for about nine months. She trained with us through Arizona last year. But Ellen is no “ordinary” Ironman® finisher — she underwent open heart surgery to fix several holes in heart less than 8 months before the race, and she has written a book, “Living Life to the Full — My Ironman® Journey,” about her unique and lifechanging experience.

We encourage you to read Ellen’s story below and consider purchasing her book. You can also listen to her Arizona race report podcast here, recorded with Coach Rich a few days after her race.


“On March 26th 2010, I underwent unplanned open heart surgery to fix multiple holes in my heart that had gone undetected for 41 years.  I was born with a severe congenital heart defect and was told that I required surgery to prevent my heart failing.  The right side of my heart was severely enlarged as it worked three times as hard to compensate for the holes which were scattered throughout the inner septum.  My doctors told me without the surgery, my days would be numbered.

One percent of the population is born with a congenital heart defect.  I had no idea, I had such a defect, I was a triathlete after all and had been competitively racing triathlons for almost 7 years – are we not the fittest individuals on the planet?

The days and weeks following my surgery were miserable.  Even walking slowly up and down the hospital ward was difficult.  My doctors were encouraging though and my surgeon was confident I would be up and running again soon enough.  Of course I had signed up for my first Ironman® distance race (Arizona) in November 2009 and did not anticipate having to deal with open heart surgery at the beginning of my training plan!   By May, I was back on my bike in earnest and was even able to begin some easy swimming and jogging.  My doctors were amazed but were also concerned that I may have been pushing myself too hard.  I still had my Ironman® goal for 2010 and I was determined to at least try and get to the starting line.

By September 2010, my doctor did a thorough medical evaluation and was sufficiently pleased with the results to allow me to compete in the race.  She did place some restrictions on my training and my racing however but concluded that I made a tremendous recovery and my heart was now functioning far better than it ever had been. At the same time, I joined  a training group Endurance Nation, time was running out and I had to get the most out of every day I could and maximize my training.

I began writing a journal in the spring about my experiences and then continued on throughout my recovery and training periods.  My journal became more of a memoir and soon I was encouraged by friends to contact a publisher to discuss publishing my memoir.  I was skeptical that anyone would be interested in reading about my life and experience but nevertheless agreed to send in the memoir once I had completed it.  The publisher asked me how the book would end and when he could receive the manuscript.  I replied that the end of the book would be when I crossed the finish line at Ironman® Arizona, when I finally become an “Ironman”.   On November 21st, 2010, almost 8 months to the day since my surgery, I crossed that finish line in my first ever Ironman® in a time of 12 hours and 37 minutes, and I have never felt so alive.”

My book will is called  “Living Life to the Full…My Ironman® Journey” and is available through my website  www.ellenliveslifetothefull.com


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