Health Scare Transforms Teacher into Ironman Runner


Photo provided by Janel Pidgeon

Written by Haley Saffer, The Woodgrove Outlander

After an annual doctor checkup in 2008, Woodgrove Teacher Janel Pidgeon had a big wake-up call when she saw the number on the scale. She needed to lose 40 to 45 pounds. To achieve her goal, Pidgeon made several big changes in her life. First, she entered a Biggest Loser contest at the school where she worked. She then joined a gym, started riding her bike, created a food journal, completed a second Biggest Loser competition at her gym, and walked four miles three to four times a week.

Despite having great success, Pidgeon struggled with losing the last five pounds. This led her to her first triathlon in 2009, the Manassas Mini Tune-up Triathlon, which included a 1.4 mile run, 4 miles of biking and 250 yards of swimming.

“I completed the triathlon, and I loved it, and I finished first in my age group (the only time that has ever happened), and I was hooked,” said Pidgeon.

Pidgeon’s ultimate goal since the age of twelve had been to compete in the Ironman World Championship of Triathlon in Kona, Hawaii, which includes a 2.4 mile swim, 112 miles biking and a full marathon run of 26.2 miles. Pidgeon trained hard and completed her first Ironman in 2012, but she is still working towards qualifying for the World Championship of Triathlon in Kona.

“It was everything I expected it to be and more. At the finish line, I heard those words. ‘Janel Pidgeon from Berryville, Virginia, you are an Ironman!’”

Pidgeon also competed in Ironman Lake Placid in 2014. “You finish in the Olympic Stadium in front of thousands, and Mike Reilly, the vice president of Ironman, spoke those words again,” said Pidgeon.

Recently, Pidgeon qualified to compete against the best in the world at the ITU Aquathlon World Championships in Chicago, while people cheered “Go, USA!”

Pidgeon claims it’s her husband’s support that allows her to enjoy her triathlon lifestyle which includes working out seven to ten hours a week during off season and 20 plus hours a week during the height of Ironman training.

“He puts up with various swim, bike, and run bags parked in the foyer, either coming from a recent workout or going to the next one. I have two bikes parked in the living room and hallway as we speak, but to be fair, so does he,” said Pidgeon.

Pidgeon said triathlon training also helps her be a better teacher. “School has always been pretty easy for me, but I know that many of the things I ask of students are hard. I do hard things like triathlon training and racing to show my students I know what it’s like to struggle. I hope this is an encouragement to them to give even beyond what they think is possible.”

Not even age or an injury can hold Pidgeon back. “As a master’s athlete, that’s what they call us old people after we turn 40, I know I have to give myself more recovery time than younger athletes require.”
Pidgeon recently finished the Battlefield Half Marathon in Frederick County, Virginia on November 7th.

Also, she is involved in many other activities such as co-sponsoring for the Woodgrove Cycling Club with Mr. Brown, being part of the National Writing Project, as she was an English teacher before she taught science, and taking several graduate level Earth Science courses.

Pidgeon is also planning to compete next year in the Ironman in Boulder, Colorado. While Pidgeon finds marathon and triathlons nerve wracking, she also finds it enjoyable.

“Usually, I feel nervous before a triathlon. This is when I remind myself of the training I have done to get there. Sometimes I look around and compare myself, usually unfavorably, to those around me. They always seem more fit, more prepared, have cuter outfits, etc. I then have to get back into my plan of meeting goals I have set for myself.”

However, Pidgeon continues, “After a race, I am on an endorphin high.”

Pidgeon doesn’t plan on stopping competing in marathons and triathlons anytime soon, especially in working on her ultimate goal to compete in the World Championship of Triathlon from Kona.

“I need to cut several hours off my finishing time to do that, so I will continue to work to get faster, more efficient, and more successful,” said Pidgeon.