Going the Distance: Karen Schlosser won’t let obstacles keep her from the Ironman

Cincinnati real estate agent Karen Schlosser has never been a runner. But she’s an avid walker and can keep a pretty fast competitive pace. She’s walked in the Flying Pig, the Queen Bee, she swims at the Blue Ash YMCA several days a week, and has gone on 80-, 100- and 120-mile bike rides.

And on September 26, the 63-year-old will put all of her training to the test when she competes in an Ironman triathlon, a challenging and grueling competition, in Chattanooga. It consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride, and a marathon, a 26.2-mile run. Karen will be walking that portion. She just has to complete everything in 17 hours. It starts at 6:30 a.m.

“It’s daunting, but I figure it’s just one more thing to do,” she says.

The farthest Karen has walked in training is 18 miles. So, really, what’s eight more?

Then again, she’ll be coming off that bike ride. She says she’ll follow the advice her friend and YMCA cycling instructor, Joe Hykle, gave her when she was training for her first triathlon several years ago.  

“He told me, ‘You’re going to swim, you’re going to ride your bike and then you’re going for a little run,’” she says. “That’s what I did and it worked.”

Karen’s quest is even more daunting when you consider on May 1 of 2020, she fractured her pelvis on a training ride and was out of commission for several weeks.  She had been training for an Ironman in September of that year, in Louisville.

“I thought, ‘You gotta be kidding me’,” she said. “I’ve got this thing in September. What am I going to do?’” However, the thought of not doing it never entered her mind. Luckily, she didn’t need surgery.

Along came her friend Ann Brady — also a walker — who had walked with Karen in several half marathons. She asked Karen if she felt like walking. Karen got her walker and they went around the block. Then they went out again and went a little farther. Finally, the Loveland bike trail was beckoning. At the end of May, the pair set out to walk a half marathon (13.1 miles) with Karen using a rollator, a walker with wheels that also served as their rolling aid station.

“There are no refueling stops when you’re doing this on your own,” she says. They went 15 miles.

“My favorite thing is to walk with my friends,” she says. “We walk and talk. It’s the best therapy in the world. When you’re walking and talking, you forget about what you’re doing.”

Karen was back on her bike by mid-June 2020, starting with shorter rides of 25–30 miles. In July, she joined Hykle and two other friends, Andy and Susan Kossen, who were riding across America on their bikes, when they arrived in Kentucky. She rode to Virginia with them.

“Karen has the heart of a warrior when it comes to training and the Ironman,” Hykle says. Karen started out four years ago with a hybrid bike doing 30–mile rides. “Fast forward to today: she has three tri-bikes and is doing 100–mile rides.”

They’ve been training for two years with cycling classes three times a week, swimming three times a week, riding outside from March through November — anywhere from 50–100 miles, regardless of the weather — and add in walking and jogging 10–15 miles.

“Karen walks as fast as most people jog,” Hykle says. He praises her great attitude and energy. “She will do very well in Chattanooga.”

Karen rediscovered her love of swimming 12 years ago, when her youngest daughter was on the school swim team. “

Taking her to practices and meets brought back memories of when I swam for the Blue Ash Dolphins when the Blue Ash Y first opened,” she says.

She didn’t even own a bike until 2017, when Hykle suggested she join BAM, a Blue Ash multi-sport group. She bought a hybrid bike and she and Brady started to ride on the Loveland bike trail. They went 15 miles the first time out. Soon they reached 60 miles and more.  

Karen’s sister Cathy is also an active cyclist and swimmer, and they did a sprint triathlon in Mason in June 2017. Then came the Pan Ohio ride in 2018, a charity ride that went from Cincinnati to Cleveland.

“I said if you do it, I’ll do it too,” Cathy says. Training began in the spring of that year. “The long bike rides were a joy and we looked for what else we can do.” 

Enter the Ironman.

But then races were canceled in 2020, giving her an extra year to train. You could usually find her at the Blue Ash YMCA several days a week, swimming laps, taking a cycling class and then heading out after that class and going for another 40–mile ride or going for a fast walk.

For the upcoming Ironman, she’ll have to give herself at least seven hours for the walking portion. She’s confident, even though she’s only walked half-marathons.
“Everyone says, ‘If you can do a half, you can do a full,’” she says. “I added a mile a week in my training. At my fastest, I was (walking) 6.5 miles an hour.”

Karen began training for the Ironman in earnest, thanks to the encouragement of friends at the YMCA and others who belong to BAM.

“There have been so many people along the way that have encouraged and supported me in my decision to compete in an Ironman competition, which was never on my radar until a few years ago,” she says.

Her daughter Madison said she’s never seen her mother back down from a challenge.

“She’s a badass. I tell her that all the time,” she says.  She says she leaves notes around her mother’s house, specifically telling her that. “There’s really no other words to describe her.”

Karen offered some encouragement to anyone who is thinking about doing an Ironman or any kind of challenging race: start small and have a support group.

“You start small and work your way up,” she says. “You find people who are your cheerleaders. That’s what I found when I joined BAM. I didn’t own a bike and I don’t run. Then I bought a bike and started small. No one is a naysayer. No one has ever said, ‘You can’t do it.’ Everyone says, ‘You can do it.’”

She certainly has a big group of supporters here who will be cheering for her on September 26.
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Read more articles by Jan Angilella.

Jan Angilella is a freelance journalist, blogger, and publicist. She's been in the communications industry for more than 25 years. She's also mad about Italy. Read about her adventures there on her blog 1cannolo2cannoli.org. Remember: no 's' on cannoli.