Training for an Ironman: All in a Farm Day’s Work

The gym seems like an obvious place for weightlifting, but Abbey Copenhaver gets it done elsewhere.

“My husband jokes that there’s one day a week where I do a lot of strength training, and that’s when I help out on our farm,” says the 27-year-old dairy farmer, who’s currently gearing up for the July 23 Ironman in Lake Placid, New York.

On any given Saturday, Copenhaven is hauling water, grain or the sand used for calf bedding back and forth on her dairy farm in New York state, sometimes for six hours at a time.

Copenhaver, who competed in a half-Ironman in 2016, grew up on a dairy farm and says that early mornings and physical work at a young age primed her for endurance sports and instilled a mental fortitude. The Ironman can take 12 hours to complete, which was just a regular work shift on the farm when she was a kid.

Still, the Ironman is no routine workout for anyone. The event includes a 2.4-mile swim, followed by a 112-mile bike race, then a full marathon (26.2 miles). Apart from farm work, Copenhaver’s training includes everything from two-hour runs to 40-mile bike rides, rain or shine. Her experience on the dairy comes into play off the farm, too. “I feel like I have a grip on the heat, knowing how much to hydrate and understanding how my body deals with it, because when you’re working on the farm, it’s a steady, repetitive, physical exertion,” she says.

Her other big advantage? Knowing how to eat to compete. The milk her 700-cow herd produces is part of her training diet.

Copenhaver, who’s also a registered dietitian, is a big fan of dairy products, not surprisingly, and refuels with chocolate milk after her tough workouts.

And it’s no wonder, as research shows that chocolate milk makes a great recovery drink.

Helping to run a dairy farm, working as a nutrition consultant and pursuing yet another passion—studying for a master’s degree in agriculture—doesn’t faze this multi-tasker. “I operate off three things, and they are planning, planning and more planning,” says Copenhaver, who manages everything from getting dinner on the table each night to making sure she’s got tire patches handy on practice rides.

With a lifetime of training under her belt, this dairy farmer is likely to go the distance.