There was a time when Dede Trimble Griesbauer had a promising job on Wall Street. But once she began competing successfully in IronMan contests, her coach urged her to consider leaving the white-collar world behind in favor of going pro. That decision paid off mightily on Feb. 16 when Griesbauer crossed the finish line of Ultraman Florida with a record-setting time of 22:48:31, becoming the fastest female finisher in the endurance event.
Raised in New Jersey with summers spent in Chatham, Griesbauer was a top swimmer at Choate Rosemary Hall, setting pool, school, New England, and national prep school records. After competing with the Stanford University swim team, leading them to an NCAA championship as captain in 1992, Griesbauer hung up her goggles and focused on her career as an equity trader. Then, in March 2005, coach Karen Smyers of Lincoln, Mass. encouraged Griesbauer to consider a career change from Wall Street executive to professional athlete.
“She just kind of said, with a cheeky smile, ‘Would you ever consider quitting your job to race professionally? I think you’d do really well,’” said Griesbauer. “I came home that evening and told my husband Dave what Karen had said. He looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘If you don’t go in and quit your job, I’ll quit for you.’”
Griesbauer began as a professional triathlete, winning Ironman UK in 2006 and setting a new course record in only her second year as a pro. She then won Ironman Brazil in 2009, and in 2015, at the age of 44, completed Ironman Taiwan in 9 hours and 20 minutes to become one of the fastest over 40 competitors, earning sponsorships from Big Sexy Racing, Ownway Apparel, and EC Fit Boulder, to name just a few.
The win was made even sweeter by the fact that in 2011, Griesbauer suffered a crash in Ironman Germany that nearly ended her career. Due to the nature of her injuries, she was told she’d never run again, but by the middle of 2012 was back and more determined than ever.
This year it was all about Ultraman. Runners are likely familiar with Ironman competitions, which are typically 140.6-mile races involving cycling, running, and swimming events that take place in one day. Ultraman takes the Ironman and kicks it up a notch, making it a 321.6-mile event held across three days. As Griesbauer explained, Day One is a 10K swim and a 92-mile cycle. Day Two is a 171-mile cycle, and Day Three is a double marathon of 52.4 miles.
Griesbauer was inspired to give Ultraman a go by friends who had competed, including Hillary Biscay. Griesbauer heard her speak about her experiences and thought, “I just have to do that one day.” Another competitive friend, Chris McDonald from Boulder, Colo., where Griesbauer currently lives, signed up for the Ultraman Florida event in 2019 and won, further motivating Griesbauer.
“With all of these friends around me testing themselves at these events, I knew I needed to give it a try. I signed up for the Florida event eight months ago,” Griesbauer said.
Since she’s been a professional athlete since 2005, with a weekly Ironman training schedule of 25 to 35 hours per week, Griesbauer was primed for Ultraman training, which she said wasn’t that different. She was already swimming roughly 6,000 yards a day for five or six days a week, and would occasionally arrive early one of the days, adding anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 extra meters to the swim.
The challenge for her was the run, since she’d endured an Achilles injury that could be problematic.
“I had to be careful with how much I ramped up my run volume,” Griesbauer said. “I have access to what’s called an ‘AlterG’ (antigravity) treadmill. It’s sort of like a running treadmill meets a bouncy house.”
Griesbauer explained that a runner’s lower body is encased in an air chamber, while the machine weighs them and, through specific controls, helps offload body weight so that athletes can train with a lower risk of injury. In Griesbauer’s case, the AlterG helped her train without doing further damage to her Achilles. She also added in hiking, sometimes infusing running with hiking for a combined workout.
What worked in Griesbauer’s favor regarding her cycling training was the weather.
“We were lucky in Colorado that we had a pretty mild winter,” she said. “I was able to ride outdoors about once a week through most of my training.”
She also used an indoor training program through an app called Zwift that simulates outdoor cycling.
“That provided a good deal of entertainment through the indoor riding hours,” Griesbauer said. “And I was able to get outside and ride quite a bit.”
Another plus was that the transition to Florida temperatures wasn’t as much of a challenge as Griesbauer had been prepared for.
“It wasn’t sweltering,” she said. “Sometimes if we go from training in a colder climate to where it’ll be hot, we’ll do some sauna training, but I didn’t do that for any of this.”
That said, the race was grueling.
“Not dying was an honest goal,” Griesbauer said, only half-joking.
In spite of her incredible performance, she had little idea of her time while competing.
“After Day One I came in with an overall lead in the race,” she said, adding that her days of high school and college swimming helped.
She was still in great shape on Day Two. The night before the third day of the event, the double marathon, she met with her coach, who told Griesbauer that if she averaged a roughly 11- to 12-minute mile, she would break the all-time world record for the women’s Ultraman.
“I kind of looked at her like she’d shot my dog,” Griesbauer said. “I really didn’t want that pressure going into Day Three. I was pretty overwhelmed by running that far in a day and having that added pressure wasn’t necessarily something I was looking for.”
That’s when her coach gave it to her straight.
“She laughed and said, ‘It’s going to be really hard out there and you’re going to go to dark places,’” Griesbauer said. “‘If you can hold it together, you’ll do something no woman has ever done.’ That was the first time I had any concept of the kind of performance I was putting out. I had no concept of times or records going in.”
The next morning, Griesbauer put the pressure as far out of her mind as possible and concentrated on tackling the 52.4-mile course. Even after crossing the finish line in record time, Griesbauer was more focused on the race being over than on her amazing feat. She was the first woman, the second overall, and a world record-setter.
“It feels amazing,” she said. “But to be honest, the thing that feels the most amazing still isn’t the record.”
Instead, Griesbauer thinks of her crew.
“It’s hard to describe this event to someone who hasn’t witnessed it,” she said, giving a huge shoutout to her crew. “I literally had a van following me around the racecourse for three days keeping me hydrated and energized. They read your body language and your moods and know what to say to pull you out of tough times.”
And then there is the bond between Griesbauer and her fellow competitors.
“I feel like I have a brand-new family,” she said. “I have so much respect for them.”
Griesbauer said that during the awards, each athlete had the opportunity to share his or her story.
“The stories people told were powerful,” she said, calling to mind a 71-year-old Vietnam veteran who’d lost his leg in combat, and the woman who hadn’t finished the race two years ago, but came back and conquered it in 2020. “While the record-setting performance was amazing, the biggest thing I took away from the whole experience was the camaraderie between everyone.”
But what capped it off was being told by the men’s 2020 winner, Steven Keller, that he’d never seen such an incredible endurance performance, noting that when his daughter was older, he’d be telling her Griesbauer’s story.
That story isn’t over yet.
“I’ve been accepted into the Ultraman World Championship in Hawaii,” Griesbauer said. “I’m not surprised by people’s reactions when I say I’m a pro athlete. I try to explain it, but I think what people don’t understand is how, at age 49, I can be out there training four to five days a week. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”