Rene Koepp was listed in the top 5% in Ironman world rankings for women ages 50-54 at the end of 2019.
The fitness instructor completed three grueling Ironman competitions in five weeks that summer and was thirsty for more in 2020.
But she had to stop running to heal torn hamstring ligaments in both legs. She looked to rehab in a YMCA of Northern Rock County pool. And then the pandemic hit.
“I really appreciate the pool. You don’t realize how much you miss it until all the pools are closed,” she said.
The pandemic was responsible for pools closing, of course. Koepp had planned to compete in more Ironmans in 2020. They were all canceled.
She and her husband, Dennis, still had disc golf, which satisfied some of Koepp’s competitive drive. Tossing flying discs in a park is a leisurely sport for most, but in typical Koepp fashion, they went all out. One day, they played 72 holes and walked 10 miles.
“We just couldn’t stop playing. It was just so good,” Koepp said.
All that time on the disc golf courses probably kept her from more strenuous pursuits that could have interrupted the healing process, she said.
“It’s hard to sit still. I’m not a person that likes to sit still too long,” she said in an upbeat manner that somehow keeps a couch potato from resenting all her energy.
Some other local athletes kept on running but did it alone for a while, which was not as satisfying as running in a group, so running together but separated became the thing, said Shilo Titus, founder of the Morning Afternoon and Evening Group of local runners.
Koepp kept leading her exercise groups, which she described as physically distanced but socially connected.
As winter set in, some worked out at home on treadmills and other devices.
Joshua Pickering ran a marathon in Chicago in 2019, and that got a few friends interested, so they formed a group to train for the Milwaukee Marathon, set for April 10, 2021. Their example inspired others from their church, and the group has grown to about a dozen members through the pandemic, Pickering said.
Everyone contacted for this story had one thing in common: the desire to get back to “normal,” and soon.
Koepp plans to keep on playing disc golf, but Ironman training comes first, she said. To that end, she challenged herself to spin-bike 1,260 miles, the distance from Janesville to Daytona Beach, Florida. She also took on a one-month challenge in which the goal was to do 5,000 burpees, known to some as squat thrusts.
“If I’m not out running, I can at least do burpees, and that keeps your cardio up,” she said.
Koepp aims to compete in Ironmans in July, September and November this year, and she looks forward to leading much bigger exercise classes at the Y.
“It’s been a difficult year for everybody, physically and mentally, and hopefully we’re on the downside of it all and we can get back to normal sometime soon,” Koepp said.
“I’m looking forward to the day when the rooms are full again and we’re all hooting and laughing and telling stories and having parties afterward.”