Nearly 2,000 athletes from around the world converged on Cambridge, Maryland in September for the sixth annual Ironman Maryland triathlon.
The field included Pasadena Animal Hospital’s Dr. Sean Etter, who also made his way to the Eastern Shore to compete in a race that included a 2.4-mile swim in the Choptank River, biking for 112 miles through Dorchester County and the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, and then a 26.2-mile run marathon to finish the contest. Etter conquered the course in just over 10 hours and 44 minutes to finish 23rd in his division and 117th overall.
The 35-year-old Severna Park native and father of two - with one on the way - trains for hours every day, while still balancing life as a dad and as a veterinarian working alongside his father at their clinic on Mountain Road.
“There are some mornings when I’ll run a marathon before I go into work at 8:00,” Etter said casually. “I’ll get up anywhere between 3:30-4:30[am] usually, and I will either run, bike, swim or do a combination of something.”
And that’s just during the week. Most weekends, he’s headed out early for 100-mile bike rides.
“Anywhere between 60-120 miles,” he explained. “I start at about 5:00am and get back around noon.”
The training ensures his body is physically capable, but the race is a hugely mental challenge according to Etter.
“I swam for an hour and 18 minutes; then I biked for five hours and two minutes; and then I ran for about another four hours,” he said. “No matter how much you train, you never train that much in a single day, and that’s where the mental tests come into play.
“I did really well on the swim and did awesome on my bike, and then the run I did great for the first five miles and then I hit a wall,” said Etter. “You end up talking to yourself a lot during these races. “Multiple times during that race was me just trying to convince myself that I still had energy in my tank even though I sure didn’t feel like it.”
Fighting the urge to stop becomes ever-present.
“Everything in your body says you should not go any further; you should stop; you should sit down and have a nice cold drink probably with some electrolytes, and relax,” he said. “But then you’re like, ‘Well, I didn't do all of this training to stop here.’”
Each Ironman race rewards its age-group champions with an entry into the Ironman World Championship event in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. For many triathletes - including Etter - earning a spot in Kona would be a dream come true. He grew up watching the Kona race on television, and recalls being immediately impressed and inspired by the competitors.
“My long-term goal would definitely be to qualify for Kona. Watching it on TV when I was little, everyone seemed super nice; their personalities seemed like my personality,” said Etter. “I thought those guys were so cool.”
His plan for achieving this goal is pretty straightforward: train harder.
“For me, it will be finding time to train harder. Not necessarily longer, but definitely harder,” he said. “I will continue to do these until my body doesn’t let me anymore. And then I'll probably find another sport.”
Meanwhile, the college-lacrosse-player-turned-Ironman-veterinarian hopes to continue the work of his father at Pasadena Animal Hospital by providing high-quality medical care and support to the community.
“There are so many veterinary hospitals nowadays. What makes people stick out is reputation, and we have a great reputation, all started by my dad 30 years ago,” he explained. “That’s what I want; I want people to leave the hospital with a positive experience.”