Shannon Spake never thought she’d compete in an Ironman race after what she endured during her first attempt in June 2016.
Her nutrition wasn’t what it should be for an event of this caliber, and during the second leg of the race, her stomach cramped when she got off of her bike. She still had a half-marathon to run and didn’t know how she’d do it.
“But I just kept putting one foot in front of another,” Spake, a Fox Sports reporter, said. “Somebody told me that one time it’s just just keep moving forward.”
For 13.1 miles.
When she crossed the finish line, she looked at her husband and said she’d never do one again. However, that mindset didn’t stick for long. Two weeks later, Spake realized she had caught the Ironman bug.
“I’ve been hooked ever since,” Spake said.
But a resounding will -- and strength -- isn’t new for Spake. Seven years before she was swimming, biking and running across Raleigh, she was standing in the heat on NASCAR’s pit road — eight months pregnant and dressed in an expandable fire suit that stretched around a belly housing twins — as an ESPN pit reporter.
Spake is known in sports media for always pushing limits, always being on the move. But she wasn’t alone in this journey. Plenty of NASCAR wives were pregnant during the 2009 season.
“Jimmie Johnson’s wife, Ryan Newman, Katie Kenseth, Carl Edwards’ wife, me — we’re all sort of going through this life change together, and I thought that was that was really cool,” Spake said. “I was really proud of the fact that I was able to work throughout my pregnancy and make it to the last race of the season.”
In January 2010, her twin boys, Brady and Liam, were born, and since then, life has been a whirlwind juggling four full-time roles. She’s a wife, a mother and now a NASCAR host and NFL sideline reporter for Fox Sports, and then there are those few college basketball games she works in January during her “time off.”
And don’t forget athlete.
Saturday in Santa Rosa, California, Spake, 43, will compete in her fourth 70.3 Ironman -- her first of two this year.
“I love the fact that you see people sort of pushing themselves to various limits physically,” Spake said. “With the Ironman stuff that I do, I feel like that helps me connect with these athletes on a different level.”
Her introduction to the sport came in 2014 thanks to a handful of NASCAR drivers — Johnson and Kasey Kahne, to name a couple — who started competing in triathlons around the same time.
“I was a swimmer in high school and a little bit college, and I knew how to run,” Spake said. “I had actually done a marathon back in 2005 and 2006. So all I really needed to do was the bike part, and when these guys started to do it, I was like, ‘Yeah, it might be something cool to kind of dabble in a little bit.’ ”
She competed in her first sprint triathlon, then an Olympic. Eventually, the Ironman foundation reached out to Spake and asked if she would be interested in doing a 70.3. The foundation showcased her as an Ironman ambassador, sharing the story of her training and completing in the race through social media, Spake said.
The hardest part with these races, Spake said, is the mental part. In her case, it’s the ‘mommy guilt.’
“I have mommy guilt so many times if I have like a really long ride one day and my husband’s getting the kids out the door, and you hear them,” Spake said. “You really have to try to focus, and say, ‘I got to get this bike done. I got to get this workout done,’ because I do want to get up there and I want to be with them.”
Competing in Ironman races has helped Spake connect with the athletes and teams she covers, she said, from a mental and physical standpoint. Whether it’s the sacrifices they make in their home lives, or the physical stress they put their bodies through to become, and remain, an elite athlete — she gets it.
She’s one, too.
“One of the quotes that I’ve kind of stuck by is ‘if you want it all, you have to do it all,’’ Spake said. “The balance that I have, while it’s a little extreme with the Iron Man stuff and twins and working NFL and NASCAR, it balances me out.
“All of those things helped me be better at the next thing.”