Lynn Cunningham, M.D.

Name:  Lynn Cunningham, M.D.

Tell us about yourself.  

I’m a wife and mom first. A family doctor next. I couldn’t do any of those jobs well if I didn’t engage in my other pursuits as triathlete and runner. I learned a long time ago that the benefits of regular vigorous exercise help me to be the best at being a wife, mom, and doctor. My professional hobby is to be a doctor in the medical tent on race day. I have volunteered at IMLP since 2005 in the years that I’m not racing. I also have volunteered at Cayuga Lake Triathlon, Musselman Triathlon, and Empire State Marathon. My training in this area of medicine started with a sports med rotation in residency. In 2001, when I did my first marathon, Marine Corp, I attended a “medical management of endurance events” conference.  I’ve attended those conferences regularly since then. I love the drama and excitement of figuring out what is the cause of a collapsed athlete and then helping them to figure out what went wrong so it doesn’t happen again! My other hobby is photography. I love shooting pictures! Scenic views, critters, and flowers are my favorite subjects. I love the long light at the ends of the days.


Andy and I live in LaFayette. I work as a family doctor in the practice that I also am a partner in, The Cortland Health Center, in Cortland. My scope of practice is now outpatient based, seeing people from new born to elderly. I do lots of women’s health and do draw local athletes a bit because of my sports med interests and training. I’ve written articles and done lectures in the community promoting safe exercise and sharing information about triathlon, running, nutrition, and hydration. In the warmer months of the year, I commute (and train!) by biking home at the end of the day, then biking back in to work in the morning. It works well! Andy and I are members of the Cortland YMCA. We train there, swimming and lifting weights. We also enjoy using our fitness in other ways….we are gradually working on the 46 High peaks of the Adirondacks. We started in 2005, and do a few every year. Usually, the Wednesday after IMLP, we will hike a high peak!



We have 2 boys. Ryan is an urban planner, just finished his master’s degree and is working at

“Metropolis”, an architecture and planning magazine. He continues to look for work as a direct urban planner. Shaun is a second year music teacher at Watertown schools and has just started his Masters in Music Education at Ithaca College. Yep, they are grown. Is it little wonder that our first Ironman occurred in 2006? The year after Shaun graduated from high school and the year we were 40 going on 41?



Andy and I enjoy doing all sorts of running and triathlon events. We do many races every year.

Lately our trend has been to do 1-2 spring/olympic, 1-2 of 1/2IM, a full IM every few years, and lots of 5ks, Mtn Goat, Boiler Maker, 1/2 marathon, and a fall/winter marathon. We sometimes train together, but not always. Sometimes the boys have joined us in our adventures. We hope they continue to remain active recreational athletes. Our family rule is “Run your own race!”

How long have you been involved in Triathlon and what made you take it up? 

With time I found that running created aerobic fitness, but led to muscle imbalance in the body. Andy and I had heard about this new sport called “triathlon”. In 2002, we watched the Green Lakes tri, then signed up and did Cazenovia tri as our very first. We’ve been participating in multiple races every year ever since!


Who is your Hero? 

Well, an athletic hero to me, is someone who achieves amazing athletic performance and uses that platform for the good of others around them. Chrissie Wellington and Lance Armstrong are heroes for me. Also, Coach Dan McNeil, Cortland YMCA, is my hero. He started swimming in his 70s, likes to swim a 1000IM for his birthday every year. He loves to take newer swimmers under his wing and help them with their strokes. He leads the masters swim group on Wed night. He promotes exercise and fitness through his involvement with the Y. He’ll be 90 next spring. I hope to be able to do what he is doing when I get to almost 90!


What is your athletic background?

My earliest memories are of running….around the house as many times as you can, trying to get faster with each set, racing my sister, my dad, cars( cars?!!). A little older I remember taking my dog, Boo, up to Currie Road, a back country flat straight road, and racing her on my bike. I grew up in Preble, went to Tully schools, and played sports from 4th grade up. I was a 3 season high school athlete, 7 varsity letters, cross country, volleyball and softball. Tully was a smaller school, so no major team awards or championships. We learned to work hard and study hard, and balance everything. Summers my sisters and I took swimming lessons at Tully’s Green Lake when we were little, then Preble Pond when we were older, where I did become a lifeguard. Yep, road the bike to work….3 miles…no hands all the way including over the railroad tracks! So, I think I grew up as a triathlete. I just didn’t put it all together until I was 31! I returned to regular athletic participation by running…after medical school I was getting heavier (ok, fat!), 1995. We bought a house and a dog and I started running regularly with the dog. I did my first 5k as an adult in 1998 at a medical conference in Kansas City. It took 35 min and I almost puked! From there, we started running more, and farther, faster, enrolling in 5ks, then 10ks, then boilermaker, mtn goat………My first Marathon was the 2001Marine Corp. (This fall we will return as sort of an 11 year anniversary!) I began to realize running was creating muscle imbalance in my body, and was not a whole body fitness approach. We looked at triathlon, watched the Green Lakes race in June, 2002, signed up for Caz in 2002, and that was our first triathlon! My arms were so skinny back then! We absolutely loved the sport, and signed up for multiple races in the following years. Our first 1/2 IM was Timberman in 2004. Our first IM was Lake Placid in 2006. The more you do, the less crazy it seems! At this point I don’t know how many sprint races, olympics, 5k runs, 10k runs, ½ marathons, etc, that I’ve done. I do know I’ve done at least 8 marathons, 11 of 1/2 ironman and 3 IM Lake Placid. I worked hard to run Philly marathon in 2007 and qualified and then ran Boston, 2008. This year I already did Syr 70.3, and am considering age group nationals in Oklahoma City. We are also doing IM Lake Placid, and likely “I’m all That” on Skinny weekend.



What are your Triathlon strengths and weaknesses?

Time is my limiter for training. And I think my job creates physical weakness and imbalance too. The folks who have a physically active profession seem stronger to me. Swimming is my weak leg, or at least the slowest one. I always rank much better in the bike and the run. I would consider my understanding of nutrition, hydration and heat management to be a strength as well.

What was your first triathlon and what do you remember most?

See above


What is your favorite race and why? 

My favorite race venue is IM Lake Placid. A Golden Cable to swim, a beautiful long lovely ride through the Adirondack Mountains, finished with a gorgeous run along the Ausable in the foot hills of the mountains. Great food. Great people all around!


In 2010, I had a good Tinman, a personal best IMLP and then had an amazingly fun and good time at the new IM 70.3 Syracuse. I really enjoyed the Syr race as I felt steady on the swim, strong on the bike, and faster on the run than expected. It was a memorable race as the bike course goes through areas that we train on regularly, and the run course was a trip down memory lane….past Shoppingtown Mall where I went a lot as a kid, past Wayne’s (now Syracuse Bicycle) where I bought my first 10 speed bike (I saved my money. When I got to 1/2 the cost, Mom and Dad surprised me and went halvesies!), past Upstate where I went to medical school, past the Holiday Inn where Andy had his first Management position, past St. Joe’s where Ryan was born and I went to residency….really cool run! I finished with a personal best in the 1/2 IM that day!


What was your worst race and why?   

IM Lake Placid 2009 was probably my worst race. I would like to share this story so that if any of you have the trouble…..It was a cooler year, raining. The swim was ok. Got out on the bike. Climbed the first hills past the ski jumps, and took 1/2 bottle of boost, per my nutrition plan. Within 15-30 min I started having cramps. A short while later I was looking for porta- potties. Then I began thinking about it. I had had trouble with runners’ diarrhea, eating yogurt at lunch at work in the afternoons my stomach would rumble horribly, some mornings I would get up and have diarrhea. The light bulb came on in the middle of that IM bike course, and I figured out I was lactose intolerant. That bike ride was horrible. I stopped taking in anything for a while, cuz everything just seemed to make it worse. I kept biking, was just slower. Tons passed me. Finally, after the out n back to Haselton, things seemed to calm down. I was able to start taking in water and bananas (thank heavens for bananas!), and get a little more speed under my legs. I realized I could drink Gatorade too. I felt horribly dry. So I just biked steadily and drank lots. The second loop was much better I was able to recover enough to have a decent run. Thank goodness it was a cooler year! As it turns out, carbohydrate maldigestion is one of the more common reasons for GI distress in endurance athletes.


What are this year’s goals?  

This year’s goals are to beat 13 hours at IMLP in a few weeks. My personal best on this course is 13:09. It will depend on the weather! Too hot or too cold will make that goal more challenging.

In five years you hope to … 

Dreaming here…I would love to go to Hawaii and maybe do the Ironman 70.3 Hawaii. Or go and attend the medical conference and watch the Big Dance. I would also like to improve my ranking in my age group at the races I’m doing.

Something most people don’t know about you:  

I’m deaf in my left ear. No big deal, right? Only one ear…I can hear as well as most people.

However, in certain situations I don’t hear well at all, and I can’t tell direction. Sometimes this makes me appear snobby, cuz I might seem to ignore people. I can hear you cheering for me at races, but I can’t tell where you are! Also, while biking and running, It’s a challenge to tell if that car noise is in front of me or behind me. If I do see a car in front of me, is there still a car behind me that I can’t tell is coming? No ipod for me! I love to hear the birds…if only I could tell where they were in the trees! Yep, it’s in the family. My sister, Jill Merrow, has the same disability, but the opposite ear. We are quite a pair in the car when she is driving! Fortunately, all the kids in the next generation are just fine…. Please keep cheering! Just know that I might wave, but maybe not in quite the right direction!

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