Sister Madonna Buder Sets Ironman Triathlon World Record (Again)

August 28, 2012

Update: We recently interviewed Sister Madonna about her recent race and her plans for the future. Access the exclusive interview.

Running a triathlon in 2010. Photo by Nancy Cole

On August 26th, 2012 Sister  Madonna Buder, the Iron Nun, made history again as she finished an Ironman Triathlon at the age of 82!

Sister Madonna Buder became the current world record holder of the oldest woman to complete an Ironman Triathlon back in 2005 at age 75. She beat her own record again in 2006, 2009 and now 2012.

She now holds the overall record for oldest triathlon finisher beating the previous record held by 81-year-old Lew Hollander. Her 16 hour 32 minute finish time even beats Hollander’s time of 16 hours and 45 minutes.

About the Ironman Triathlon

To be clear, an Ironman Triathlon is a grueling course for any age. The Ironman distance makes the familiar Olympic distance look easy in comparison. The Olympic Triathlon events include a 1.5 kilometres (0.93 mi) swim, 40 kilometres (25 mi) bike, and a 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) run. The Ironman triathlon takes even the fittest athletes over 8 hours to swim 3.86 km (2.4 mi) , bike 180 km (112 mi) and run a full marathon (42.2km or 26.2 mi).

Sister Madonna Crossing the Finish Line at the 2012 Subaru Ironman Canada

You can watch Sister Madonna crossing the finish line and setting her world record in the video below. The cheering makes it hard to hear the announcer but you can see Sister Madonna starting at the 1:20 mark


The Iron Nun

Bking during Triathlon

2009 Ironman World Championship in Kona

As you may have guessed from her name, Sister Madonna is a full-time nun who lives in Washington. As a working nun, Sister Madonna does not have as much time to devote to training as other athletes. She instead tries to build fitness into her everyday routine. When she says she is running errands she means it literally and also frequently bikes when the weather cooperates. Along with her work in her church and counseling people in her local community, she has found time to earn two masters degrees.


The Iron Nun’s Past Triathlons

Sister Madonna only began running at age 48 after a priest encouraged her to start running to harmonize her mind, body and soul. Soon after starting to run she began entering races. She ran her first marathon in her 50s. When she heard about triathlon competitions she was interested and competed in her first triathlon at age 52 and first Ironman distance at age 55. Her best Ironman time was at age 62 when she finished in 13 hours and 16 minutes.

Madonna Buder

From Penticton, BC 2008. Photo by Silvia Koros

Sister Madonna has never given up on her dream to become the oldest Ironman Triathlon finisher ever and has kept going in the face of obstacles. When Sister Madonna ran the 2005 Hawaii Ironman at age 75, she became the oldest woman to ever finish the distance. She finished the race in 16 hours and then broke her own age record when she finished the next year’s Hawaii Ironman. This time she was just 57 seconds ahead of the 17 hour cut-off. Near the end of the race, she was sure she wasn’t going to make it but prayed and made a deal with God to let her finish. She then found the strength to overcome and finish.

Unfortunately, when she ran the Ironman in 2008, she missed the cut-off by less than three minutes. Undeterred, she returned in 2009 and at age 79 became the oldest female competitor to ever finish an Ironman triathlon. In fact, she is the reason they have an age category for 75-79 year olds and officials have had to create an 80+ age category. She was set to beat her own record in the 2010 Ironman Canada competition but tragically had wetsuit issues that prevented her from finishing the competition. In 2011, she missed the bike cutoff by a matter of minutes and was forced to stop racing.

All together, Sister Madonna has competed in more than 340 triathlons, including over 46 Ironman triathlons, and countless races earning her the title, “Iron Nun.” Sister Madonna also competes in the Senior Olympics and holds records in the 1 mile, 5 km, 5 mile, 800 meters, 1500 meters, 5000 meters, and 10,000 meters.

Read our previous articles on Sister Madonna Buder

 2011 Interview

2010 Interview

2009 Interview

Enter to Win a copy of Sister Madonna’s book, The Grace to Race

The Grace to Race Book Sister Madonna has written an autobiography called The Grace to Race. If you’d like to read more about the Iron Nun in her own words leave a comment below with your name and e-mail address (which remains hidden). For additional entries you can leave a comment on the Facebook post or pin one of the pictures below on Pinterest. Entries must be received by November 5, 2012.





Pin one of these pictures for an additional entry to win Sister Madonna’s Book.

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  • macdonx2

    what an inspiration – would love to read her book

  • Judy Bakalik

    Amazing inspiration!

  • Jennifer Halter

    Amazing!!! Truly inspirational. You go, Sister!!!! xoxox

  • Tleena Ives

    I watched her make history as she passed me w one mile left to go. I just realized that this record was not just for the oldest woman to finish, but wow a record for the oldest person to finish an Ironman. This was my most meaningful race and I will never forget watching her scuttle past me. AMAZING!!!!

  • Shery Armstrong

    Wonderful! What an inspiration! I too would love to read her book. I need something like this to help me get off of my duff!

  • Chris Mann

    Inspirational – moving beyond words! Makes a believer out of anyone!

  • Laurie Neverman

    Very inspiring! Way to go, Sister Madonna.

  • Nisarg Mehta

    A Great and Highly Inspiring Story, its just amazing to watch how sister madonna, actually managed to keep letting her mind know, what she has to do, and how it kept on agreeing and kept her going. Subconscious mind and determination is rarely seen in any human being. Hats off to you sister madonna, way to go!!!

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