As if holding the record for the longest spaceflight by a female astronaut wasn't enough, NASA astronaut Sunita Williams is preparing to compete in a triathlon … in space.
Williams, who is stationed aboard the International Space Station, is planning to participate in the 26th annual Nautica Malibu Triathlon in September. But unlike the more than 5,000 athletes who will gather at Zuma Beach in California to swim, bike and run, Williams will compete while orbiting more than 240 miles (386 kilometers) above Earth. She left Earth July 17 for her second long-duration stay in the orbiting lab.
Williams will participate in the Nautica Malibu Triathlon in concert with CNN's chief medical correspondent, Sanjay Gupta, for a CNN special. While Gupta sticks to a more Earthbound experience of swimming in the Pacific Ocean, bicycling and racing through the streets of Malibu, Williams will run, pedal, and engage in a series of bench presses that will serve as the microgravity equivalent of swimming.
As part of her triathlon training, Williams participated from space in the Aug. 12 Falmouth Road Race, an annual seven-mile race from Woods Hole in the town of Falmouth, Mass.
Now she has roughly a month to prepare for the triathlon, which requires competitors to swim half a mile in the ocean, bike 18 miles and run four miles.
Astronauts on long-duration missions at the orbiting outpost exercise roughly two hours each day tocombat loss of bone and muscle density. The space station is equipped with a specially designed stationary bike, treadmill (complete with harnesses to keep participants from floating away) and a machine called the Advanced Resistive Exercise Device, or ARED, which acts as a weightlifting machine.
In recent interviews with CNN and WCIA radio in Illinois, Williams described the progress of her training in space, and how her body is adjusting to exercise in the microgravity environment.
"Microgravity is nice to your body," Williams told WCIA. "You can float around, it feels good, but when you simulate gravity — when you're on either the treadmill or the ARED — it sort of hurts. So it's been a bit of an adjustment to get into the exercise."
During her first two weeks in space, Williams spent time familiarizing herself with the machines, which are either new or have been upgraded since she was last at the space station in 2007.
"The first two weeks we've sort of used as a just-get-used-to-the-equipment, get used to the protocols that we're doing," Williams said at the time. "So I think we're at that point that we're finally adapted and ready to start building on it. So, just watch out, because now I'm ready to really start preparing for the triathlon."