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Julie Dunkle of Encinitas reaches the finish line of the recent Ironman World Championship in Utah. Dunkle won the women’s 55-59 age group, the first time the veteran triathlete has placed at the prestigious event. Photo courtesy of FinisherPix
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Encinitas’ Dunkle stiff-arms pain to become world champion

Julie Dunkle swam 2.4 miles, biked 112 miles and ran 20 miles when she heard a bark.

“It was time to tough it out,” she said.

Dunkle’s quads were telling Dunkle’s noggin’ that they’d had enough.

But with some 5-plus miles remaining in the Ironman World Championship’s final event, Dunkle bit back.

“I told myself I can do anything for one mile so that’s what I did five times,” said Dunkle, an Encinitas resident. “Otherwise, thinking of all the distances is overwhelming.”

Few can claim Dunkle’s status as a world champion. She’s just that after winning the women’s 55-59 title in 11 hours, 46 minutes, 26 seconds at last week’s Ironman World Championship.

Julie Dunkle

When Dunkle threw her hands up at the end, it was hard to comprehend.

“It was surreal,” Dunkle said. “This had been a dream for a long time in the making and I can’t really describe what it felt like. Then a cascade of emotions hit me.”

The faucet was turned on as the tears flowed. Dunkle thought of the injuries she battled and the times her hard work didn’t match her results.

But she put her head down in St. George, Utah, and kept going, chasing a goal and stiff-arming her revolting quads. It was Dunkle’s first time to place at the sport’s most prestigious event.

While Dunkle convinced her legs to keep churning, Lord knows she played head games to tackle the three races.

“I think I was afraid to believe that it was going to happen,” Dunkle said. “What if I fall, what if something happens…”

What if Dunkle, 55, returned to North County as a world champion?

When her battered feet hit the carpet past the tape, it felt like heaven to Dunkle.

“It opened up a deluge of emotions,” she said.

Dunkle closed the door, she thought, on being a competitive athlete.

She started swimming at age 4 and tapped her last pool wall at Louisiana State University. Dunkle went from “Go Tigers” to “Slow Tiger” and was content to chill until she got antsy in her mid-30s.

“I gave the running game a crack and did some marathons,” she said. “It was up-and-down because I had to deal with a lot of injuries.”

She was also handling the driving chores in shuffling her kids to youth sports. The parents of one of her children’s soccer friends rode bikes, so Dunkle, then 38, joined in.

With the running and bike components becoming familiar, Dunkle was asked a question that brought with it a smile.

“Say, do you know how to swim, too?”

A triathlete was born, with Dunkle dipping her toe in the waters at the Encinitas Triathlon. It was a life-changing day.

“It was the most fun I had ever had,” Dunkle added. “I said, ‘Where has this been my whole life? I jumped into it pretty hard.’”

Like someone doing a cannonball, Dunkle was all-in. She participated in the Oceanside Triathlon and then did her first event at the Ironman distances at age 41.

Some 14 years later she is atop the world in her age group. Her impressive resume includes 17 Ironman events and being a four-time qualifier for the world championship in Kona, Hawaii.

If there was one drawback to Dunkle’s win is that it came in Utah and not Hawaii. The famous course in Kona has been dormant the past couple of years because of the pandemic, but the Ironman returns there in October.

And so will Dunkle, who fits her demanding training schedule around her business of coaching athletes.

This is a coach who does mean business, as she proved in Utah. She’s bent on defending her title in Hawaii.

Few doubt her, regardless of what her reluctant quads might think.

Contact Jay Paris at [email protected] and follow him @jparis_sports