CHASKA, Minn. — About five years ago, Erin Lahti’s brother Bradley died of heart disease at the age of 33.
“He passed away very suddenly,’’ said Lahti, a 2001 graduate of Virginia High School.
Needless to say, her brother’s death at such a young age was not an easy thing to process, she said.
“My family went through some hard times,’’ said the 35-year-old Lahti, who turned to triathlons to help her cope.
“I just kind of needed a good outlet to get me through things,’’ Lahti said in a telephone interview from her home in Chaska. “It’s really good therapy and it just really helps. I just really fell in love with it. I found a really good community of triathletes down here and it’s fun to train with them. We push each other. It’s really fun.’’
While Lahti has been doing triathlons since 2015, her “first full Ironman’’ will come on Sunday when she steps to the starting line at Ironman Wisconsin in Madison. The grueling, 140.6 mile event includes a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride and a full 26.2 mile marathon.
Her brother will definitely be with Lahti in spirit on Sunday, as he has been throughout her 30 weeks of dedicated training for the event.
She said thinking of Bradley helps get her through all of the training in a big way.
“The training is just really, really intense’’ and includes 370 hours swimming, biking, running and weight training. Put it all together and she will have logged 4,500 miles in those 30 weeks just to get ready.
“You spend a lot of time alone on a bike with your thoughts. It’s better to be in a happy place than a bad place. ... You let your mind wander and it usually wanders to good things.’’
As a Blue Devil, Lahti swam the breaststroke for coach Tom Hafdahl and also ran track for a few years.
“I was a swimmer in high school and it was just a huge passion of mine. I had just a fantastic experience overall being on the swim team. It was just a really positive part of my life and I carried it through to adulthood.’’ In addition, she also continued to run as an adult.
However, she never did anything like a triathlon or Ironman before her brother died.
“Life takes you in different ways and you need something to focus on and something to look forward to every day,’’ said Lahti, who is married to Troy Hancock and has a 9-year-old daughter named Elliette.
In the last few years, she has marathons and several half marathons, open water swims in Lake Superior and Lake Minnetonka, triathlons and other endurance events.
But Ironman Wisconsin is by far the biggest.
What would Bradley say about his sister doing her first full Ironman?
“I think he’d be really proud,’’ Lahti said. “I think he’d probably be doing it with me, or at least be a triathlete with me. We worked out together, we ran together. We fed off each other and I bet he’d be doing it with me.’’
Her husband Troy has been helping her prepare by keeping her well fed. “He does all of the cooking,’’ she said. “He keeps me very well fed with very highly nutritious food, which is a big job because I eat a lot (about 3,500-4,000 calories per day).’’
Lahti’s daughter, meanwhile, likes to be at the different races to cheer on her mom — complete with pom poms and a cow bell. “It will be fun. She likes it.’’
Elliette has already been bragging up her mom and the event at her school’s open house recently.
Her daughter’s interest and pride fit right in with Lahti racing for a team called “She Can Tri.’’ The team promotes women in male dominated sports and professional industries.
“A big part of it is that I just want to show my daughter there is no boundaries, whatsoever. You can literally do anything.’’
Lahti will have 17 hours to complete Ironman Wisconsin, just like all the other 2,000 competitors. If someone does not meet that time deadline, they will be pulled from the course and not be an Ironman.
Lahti acknowledges she is not trying to win because the winners are professional athletes.
She does have a goal time and plans to finish with a few hours to spare. Mechanical issues could set her back because she has to make the repairs to her bicycle (for example) by herself.
“With that being said, if it takes me all 17 hours to get to the finish line that’s OK as long as I get to that finish line’’ and earn the title of Ironman.
Lahti, who works at a printing company and is a part-time swimming coach, is definitely looking forward to crossing the finish line and being called in by “The voice’’ of Ironman Mike Reilly.
“He calls you in as you cross the finish line, so it’s a big deal to have Mike Reilly call you an Ironman. I just want to hear his voice, he’ll say, ‘Erin Lahti you are an Ironman.’ It’s pretty epic.’’
Lahti is confident she will hear Reilly’s voice calling her in after all the training she has put in. She has had a couple mentally tough days, but she believes that will help her on Sunday.
“Those are the days that really pull you through on race day they say. It’s like a job, you just have to get up and do it every single time. It doesn’t matter if you already worked out that day or if you’re tired or if your legs are sore. They’re always sore. They’ve been sore for months. You just have to grit it down and get it done,’’ said Lahti.
“That’s what endurance is. Endurance is going when your tired and going when you’re supposed to stop. Just going past that and pushing through that. I’ve biked through some tears, but it’s OK. It makes you stronger.’’