Updated: Jan 30, 2019
When you look up the word "beast" in the dictionary, you'll find a picture of Lacey Saul. The tiny blonde has completed multiple marathons and triathlons. (Yes, that means you run, bike, AND swim for an incredibly long distance and time.) But that's not all--she's also a wife to Ryan Saul, a band director and drum instructor in Petal, Mississippi, owns her own business and leads worship at Venture Church. Learn more about this young woman who has found physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual growth through training and competing.
It All Started with a Scavenger Hunt
Lacey has always been athletic and a fast runner, but she truly started her passion for getting in shape in her senior year of college as she was completing her studies to become a registered dietitian. This emphasis came out of a hard 2010 that gave her a desire to accomplish something. “My dietetic internship was just terrible for me in 2010. It was a year of hardship along with getting masters degree hours. When I finished, I just felt the urge to physically cross a finish line. I decided to run a race at Walt Disney World. It was a 5k with a scavenger hunt. Somehow, I placed 7th in my age group, and I realized I wasn't bad at running.”
This first race led to others at Disney World where she always placed in the top 10 female age groupers. These races culminated in running the Walt Disney World Marathon in 2013.
“After the 5k, I just kept signing up for more races," Lacey explains. "I have a type-A, go-big-or-go-home personality, so I’d find a running plan and go for it--loads of half marathons, group relays and, to this day, six, stand-alone marathons. I have hopes in my 30's to complete an ultra distance 50k and, hopefully, a future fifty mile race.”
This drive to run and compete came partially from feeling stuck in her career as a dietitian. “I started out my career as a Registered Dietitian in 2010 right out of my dietetic internship. My first job was with the State Health Department, and I specialized in infant, child and maternity care and worked with high-risk patients as well as nutrition education to the public. Working with children had never been my plan, but this was the only job I could find that didn’t require that I move. I stayed with the health department for six years, and there was a point in my career, I just felt stuck and unhappy with what I was doing and felt there was so much more out there for me. I was also jealous that my husband had a job he was passionate about and loved. He walked out the door loving what he did everyday, even on the hard days. I longed for something like that. I had a few friends who biked on Fridays, and I was also so in awe that they had flexible jobs that allowed them to do that. I would sit at my desk and just dream of having a job that allowed me to ride my bike on Fridays. Sounds silly, but that was my dream.”
Then Came Triathlons
It was during this time that she discovered triathlons. “I didn't really hear much about triathlons until college, but, when I did, I was intrigued. The first time I ever heard of it was seeing Ironman on TV. I always said I would like to try it, but I didn't have a specific dream of being a triathlete. One day I ran into a woman named Libby who knew that I ran regularly. She asked if I’d be interested in joining her masters swim class. I didn't really know what I was doing but decided to check it out. Little did I know, this was a divine intervention from God in so many ways.”
in February 2014, Lacey signed up to swim regularly, and, a month later, she decided to buy a road bike. With practice, though she started out with no clue how to shift on a bike or swim, she decided to give a triathlon a shot. “I decided to sign-up for a mini sprint in Jackson, MS, in May, and from there I was hooked.” (Note from the editor: A mini-sprint triathlon varies in length, but a typical race could be a 400-yard swim, 8-mile bike, and 1.5-mile run.)
This mini-triathlon just made Lacey want to do more, so, in 2015, she bought a triathlon bike and signed up for the Ironman Texas race. “After seven months of intense training week after week, I was able to overcome the hardships of the day and run into the blinding lights 14 hours and 17 minutes later. To cross that finish line and finally hear ‘Lacey Saul, You Are An Ironman’--my life was forever changed that day. Other than accepting Jesus as my Savior, nothing has changed my life more in one second. When you finish on time, the lights blind you and crowds are cheering you on. It almost felt in that moment that I had fought the good fight and I was running into the arms of Jesus while He said, ‘Well done.’ I look at that picture and see the pure joy and emotion that overcame me and remember that was my feeling in that moment. It still makes me tear up thinking about it. Every Ironman has had its challenges, but I've gained a new sense of wisdom and confidence after each one and learn more about myself and what I am capable of.”
Training Takes Commitment But Brings Fulfillment
For Lacey, it is the training, rather than the actual races, that are the most challenging, “I've told people the race day is the easy part. Anything can happen and you have to adapt, but the hard part is getting out there day after day, hour after hour alone with your thoughts and the road.”
Of course, no one gets to finish an Ironman without first doing their due diligence to prepare, and being a triathlete requires an investment. “What I love about triathlons is the training is so varied between the three sports and strength training. I get bored easily, so switching up training every day drives me. I love that it keeps me in great shape physically, emotionally and spiritually. At first, I was super intimidated by the people and all their equipment. I did not enjoy how much money it took to invest in the sport all together, but, over time it's just been about maintaining and gradually upgrading what I need.”
“I didn't really like the bike at first. I just felt like it took forever for me to get the feel of the road and shifting gears appropriately to the terrain. It's frustrating being in a race and everyone passes you, but I keep improving. Two years ago I joined a group of local cyclists who pushed me harder than I ever wanted to go. I kept pushing harder and harder and just trusting it would pay off. Over time, I started reaping the benefits and enjoy it so much more than I used to, but cycling to me still takes a lot of work in training. In swimming and running, it's all about using your body and using it efficiently. In biking there are so many variables like the weather, my bike, and traffic that can make it harder than just going out for a swim or run to me. Everyday I just do my best to adapt as my body says and to whatever the day throws at me whether in training or in a race.”
The training has gotten to the point that, now, Lacey has two basic “seasons” of life. “I have two seasons: Off Season and Ironman Season, and I have gotten faster and more efficient in different ways each season so far. Ironman season is usually seven months of training on a strict schedule. The first few months you are gradually building up your mileage and time until you hit peak season for about two months prior to race day before you begin to taper off.
"Typically, I train between 10-15 hours a week during the building phase and then 15-18 hours a week during peak training. Lots and lots of biking, running and swimming while the majority of your weekends are biking between 65-100 miles for two months. After race week, I gradually get on my off-season plan. Basically, I bike and swim twice a week, do strength and conditioning three times a week and then I gradually build in marathon training to stay in shape. Overall, I tend to average between 8-12 hours of training a week in my off season and usually run a marathon. Most days I have to work out twice a day to fit it all in. Now that I have my own business, (more about that later in this article) I have some flexibility to train when I want according to my business schedule. It's still a lot of training, so I consider it like a part-time job. I make sure to get it in before my day is done and adapt and change with my schedule if something throws me off. I try my best to not let it cut into my relationships, priorities, and sleep. There have been many a time I worked out when I could and showered with baby wipes to be somewhere on time. Somehow, some way is how I get it done.”
Knowing Your "Why" Is Very Important
Lacey has formed some wonderful relationships through racing, but these are not the only thing she’s gained. The mental, emotional, and spiritual benefits of racing and training are very important to her. "I had a lot of insecurities and struggles that I had let creep into my marriage and relationships with others. I started figuring out reasons why I was responding to people in different ways due to issues I had faced and held onto in my past. Sometimes when life just feels hard, you can go out for a run and just shake it off some."
Running has also helped Lacey spiritually, "It's a way to connect with God and be with Him in the silence, or just take in the beauty of the world that you may not notice in a car."
All of these benefits are important, but these are not the only reasons Lacey began running. "I have always believed that you should have a 'why.' Why do I do what I do? For working out, you have to have a why and, when that why isn't enough, you have to have lots of reasons. My number one is I run for my mom who has MS. I run because I can. I run for those who can't. I GET to do this, so why not push my body further than what my mind thinks it can do. I don't want to grow older and ever say, 'I wish I had done that.' I live in the now and running has helped me do that. Also, I love the challenge. Let's also be honest. Some days I just want a hamburger. It's not always easy. Sometimes the hardest part is putting on my shoes and getting out the door, but I never regret it."
Getting Her World Rocked and Starting a Business
For a person to pursue training and racing like Lacey has, the people in her life have to be supportive. Lacey's husband Ryan was always supportive, but, after having a heart attack and undergoing quintuple bypass surgery at 39, the couple shares a strong bond as they work out. “At first my husband was supportive of course. I knew he didn't understand why I wanted to do it, but he never questioned me about whatever I wanted to do and my goals. He was always supportive of the financial commitment and still is. It's hard to understand how powerful Ironman races are and the people that race them until you've been to one. After Ryan’s first triathlon, I could tell he understood what it was about. We've never had a connection when it came to exercise of any sort other than a leisurely walk, but, In 2017, after his heart attack and surgery, Ryan decided to become more committed to becoming more active. We now do strength and conditioning classes together with a fantastic community of athletes, and this has given us an opportunity to share something new. I've enjoyed watching him grow physically stronger every day. I can tell he gets it now, even though I'm sure he still thinks I'm slightly crazy!”
Lacey and her husband have not only gone through major personal transition, they have also undergone a huge professional transition. “God sure has a funny way of getting you out of your comfort zone, and He sure did quick. In 2016, God decided to throw me for a loop. I came across a Facebook post from a friend of mine I worked with who was selling her Stretch-n-Grow business.”
Stretch-n-Grow is the worlds largest fitness and nutrition company for kids, a one-stop mobile shop that travels to local preschools and daycares everyday. The company specializes in themed fitness classes working motor skill development and making kids work out while having fun. They also teach ballet classes in schools, sports classes, and cheer classes as well.
“I remember sitting at my desk, feeling miserable, and seeing this. A sense of hope just overcame me. I texted my husband and we decided to take a leap of faith and purchase it from her after very little research. I look back and laugh at how quickly we made the decision and just trusted God. One month later, I quit my job and just trusted God to provide for us financially and help guide me on how to take over this business without screwing it up completely.
"I now have eleven employees who work for me and the growth I have seen in our business in such a short amount of time just makes me sit back in awe. Overall, we teach about 700 kids a week. I stuck through those six years of being miserable not knowing my purpose of being there, but God was preparing me for this new business the whole time. I love my schools, our kids, directors and my fantastic employees who I get to pour into each week. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would be planning recitals, picking out hair bows, and teaching kids how to do push-ups, but this is where I am supposed to be. Most importantly, I have the flexibility to bike on Fridays! My side job is also important to me as for 8 1/2 years I have been a worship leader for Venture Church in Hattiesburg, MS."
Goals Now that Lacey has completed several triathlons, what’s next? “I really had no goals when I first started getting into it. I think originally racing an Ironman was a bucket list deal for me, but eventually it has turned into a lifestyle. I love having large goals that I can commit to and Ironman just fits my personality. After my second Ironman, I knew my goals were changing, and I decided I wanted to race in Kona, Hawaii, at the Ironman World Championship. Basically it is the "Super Bowl" of triathlon racing. The unfortunate part of it is that qualifying for it would be near impossible for me athletically. I like to believe I am above average with my times, but I will never be able to race that fast to qualify for the one slot awarded to my age group at races.
"I decided I would commit to racing twelve Ironman races and qualify as a Kona legacy athlete. This gives people like me the opportunity to race at Kona. We may not be the fastest, but we have been committed to the sport. At this point, I have decided to dedicate my time to racing one triathlon a year. I have completed four of them, and I have eight to go before I can even think about putting my name in to qualify. It may take me eight more years, or twenty. Who knows? I can't imagine the feeling that would overcome me knowing I spent so long dedicated to such a tedious goal and crossing the finish line. Some may call my training and goal excessive, but it drives me to be a better human being. I have said if there is ever a point to where I don't find joy in the sport anymore, I will take a break. Even if I never meet my goal or God makes it clear that I can't do them physically one day, I can at least say I tried.
Advice to Those of Us Who Need Encouragement to Get Active For those of us who just need to get off of the couch, Lacey has some advice. "Nothing is impossible. Every mile counts. Whether you walk or run it, just keep going and be proud of yourself. Never give up on your dreams, and never think a dream is too big. Just start by putting on your shoes and walking out the door you're taking a step, and you'll never regret doing it. The number one thing is that you have to be extremely consistent and patient."
In addition to all of the reasons Lacey gave above, she says there are even more good things that have come from racing and training. "I have reaped so many benefits over the last few years. For me, it has helped me relieve frustrations, stress, anxiety and other things that have bothered me. It's helped me focus my attention and it helps me release built up energy. I have lost fat, gained muscle, and I'm in the best shape of my life and stronger than I've ever been. It has helped me connect problems and guilt with things I have held onto from my past and has been my therapy. It's often a time of reflection and prayer.
“Often times through the day I have to keep convincing myself of why I'm out there racing and what motivates me to keep going. I am Just thankful that God allows me to do this, to be in the moment and say prayers of gratitude for the opportunity.”