This Fitness Star is Tackling 50 Irons in 50 Days to Benefit a Haitian Orphanage

Thirty-four-year-old mother of three Ashley Horner is taking on the challenge in support of Haitian orphans.

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Thirty-four-year-old mother of three Ashley Horner is taking on the challenge in support of Haitian orphans.

Her first introduction to triathlon was a little over six years ago while she was living in Guam and playing soccer for the island’s women’s soccer team. Now 34-year-old Virginia Beach mom Ashley Horner has her sights set on completing 50 full-distance (140.6 miles) triathlons in 50 days. The grueling undertaking for the current fitness model/competitor is set to begin Aug. 12 and is part of an effort to benefit a Haitian orphanage.

“I fell in love with the people of Haiti the first time I visited and have been to the Maison Fortuné Orphanage [in Hinche] many times with my own children,” Horner says. “Each day MFO serves more than 700 meals, teaches more than 300 children, and provides stable homes for close to 200 boys and girls.” All funds raised through the “Woman of Iron” MightyCause page will be donated to the foundation that supports the orphanage, according to Horner. At press time, $2,430 has been pledged to the cause.

To get her through the grueling 50-in-50 (see her full race schedule below), Horner is traveling with a small support team. “Alex Viada, who is my coach, will be joining me for most of the days, and Ariana Scalfo, who is the project coordinator,” is also onboard, she says. “Other than my key people, I have a really supportive community, who call themselves ‘Ashletes,’ who are all around the U.S. awaiting our arrival into each state.”

With the exception of start and end dates in Haiti, Horner will tackle U.S. courses, which are being mapped out using Strava. The objective, Viada explains, “is to make them as close to iron-distance as humanly possible. We’re relying on some local input from bike shops and riding/running clubs to make sure these are all decent roads to ride on and decent courses to run on, as there will obviously be no road closures. The goal will be to have multiple loops and flat, fast courses where we can monitor her progress and be readily available in case of mechanicals.”

As for the swim, much will be done in pools. “Accessibility of public pools directed our choice of cities, which we tried to keep within close proximity of state lines, with drive times of no longer than six hours, most of which will be done overnight,” Viada says.

To ready for the tough schedule, Horner says her training has evolved over time, trying to balance the physical and mental aspects of endurance sport. “I believe it’s more mental than anything—and most importantly, having purpose…

“The training has been focused on repetition and getting my body acclimated to everyday work,” she continues. “Nearly every training day, I’m in the pool, in the saddle, or on my feet. Making the swim, bike, and run part of my everyday life for the weeks and months leading up has built both my physical readiness and mental readiness to be out there swimming, riding, and running every day.”

A mother of three young boys, Horner says she’s tackling the 50-in-50 at nearly 100 percent. She does have a nagging left ankle issue that’s befuddled doctors ever since her 2017 230-mile run along the rugged coast and mountains of Haiti, where she raised $65,000 for MFO. She spent nearly six months away from running as a result of the ankle pain but has since come back. “Every once in a while it bothers me, but should be manageable,” she says.

Photo provided by Ashley Horner

Although the hectic race schedule will undoubtedly be a stressor on her immune system, Horner is taking a pragmatic approach. “I’m on a high-fat diet, low-carb intake—with carbohydrates being adjusted to support harder training. This carbohydrate periodization is used by a number of ultra-endurance athletes, and is similar to techniques used by certain pro cycling teams,” she explains. “Most of my morning training is fasted, keeping my stomach light. I’ve done enough long-distance races to know that, looking ahead, I can plan for what I think my body is going to want and need, but when you’re actually in the sport and in the moment, you might want something completely different. So, ultimately going into these long days, I’m going to plan for everything that I’ve been practicing to stay the same; however, I will fuel my body with whatever it wants just to keep the tank full.”

Beyond nutrition, Horner ticks off a few recovery strategies: ice baths, Graston Technique therapy, PowerDot muscle stimulation, and some dry needling when she can get it, but says she has minimal concerns going into the 50-in-50. “I just want to take care of my team … and make sure they are having a good time.”

James Lawrence’s 2016 feat of 50 full-distance races in 50 days is not in Horner’s periphery. She says she doesn’t want to make comparisons and hasn’t consulted with him on his accomplishment. “My journey is not about breaking any records, but to complete a personal journey starting and ending in Haiti with the only purpose [being] for the children in the orphanage there.”

The list of places (in chronological order) where Ashley Horner will attempt to complete 50 full-distance triathlons in 50 days (140.6 miles per day):

August 12: start in Haiti
Virginia Beach, VA
Salisbury, MD
Harrington, DE
East Brunswick, NJ
Clinton, CT
Warwick, RI
Plainville, MA
Portsmouth, NH
York, ME
West Brattleboro, VT
Albany, NY
Allentown, PA
Morganton, WV
Lexington, KY
Cincinnati, OH
Indianapolis, IN
Kalamazoo, MI
Chicago, IL
Madison, WIS
Rochester, MN
Des Moines, IA
North Kansas City, MO
Salina, KS
North Platte, NE
Pierre, SD
Bismarck, ND
Billings, MT
Jackson, WY
Boise, ID
Kennewick, WA
Klamath Falls, OR
Fresno, CA
Las Vegas, NV
Flagstaff, AR
Bluff, UT
Trinidad, CO
Santa Fe, NM
Amarillo, TX
Tulsa, OK
Little Rock, AR
Memphis, TN
Monroe, LA
Jackson, MS
Montgomery, AL
Atlanta, GA
Charlotte, NC
Columbia, SC
Jacksonville, FL