When Lincolnville resident Andrea Wilhelm set off for the Sunshine State in November to compete in her first Ironman, she had no idea her finish would net her a second-place spot in her age division, or, perhaps more impressively, qualify her for the prestigious Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii.

On Nov. 5 in Panama City, Fla., among 2,439 competitors in the Ironman Florida event, Wilhelm, 31, finished 127th overall. Her time of 10 hours, 12 minutes and 38 seconds placed her second in her 30-34 age division. Her division consisted of 87 competitors.

Even more impressive was the fact her finishing time in Florida qualified her for the 2012 Ironman World Championship in Hawaii.

Each Ironman offers roughly 60 spots in the Kona competition. With only two hours from the finish of her Florida competition to decide whether to go to Hawaii, and realizing Kona was something not to miss, Wilhelm signed up.

“It was definitely the race of a lifetime for me,” she said of the Florida competition. “Doubt I could do it again if I tried.”

The Ironman Florida is one of the most well-known races on the Ironman circuit. For more than a decade, thousands of competitors have arrived in Panama City to compete and possibly qualify for the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii.

The Florida course is a 2.4-mile swim in the Gulf of Mexico, where competitors were warned of the chop and advised to wear tinted goggles to protect their eyes from the rising sun. A 112-mile, single-lap cycle and a 26.2-mile in-and-out-style run capped the event.

The Baltimore, Md. native has competed in 10 half-Ironmans, but made the leap to a full Ironman with the Florida competition. To prepare for the event, she competed in three half-Irons — the Mooseman in Newfound Lake, N.H., Timberman in Gilford, N.H. and Pumpkinman in South Berwick — and marathons in Maine, Baltimore and Fort Collins, Colo. She also competed in smaller triathlons such as the Hope Triathlon, a sprint event, and the Maine Sport Triathlon, finishing as the top female finisher and among the top 10 for both.

Most of Wilhelm’s training for the Florida Ironman was done solo. Mid-summer she began cycling with neighbor, Parker Johnson, who also introduced her to the Saturday morning “Camden Endurance” bikers. Johnson has competed in all 31 Maine Sport Triathlons.

When Wilhelm was able to get out of bed at 5:30 a.m., she would join the Megunticook Lake swimmers.

“Occasionally, I was able to talk my husband [Ben] into running with me and my dog, Raven, because [Ben] also competed in some of the marathons with me,” Wilhelm said.

She credits the support of her husband, whom she calls her manager, for helping get through the training for the Ironman.

She also attributes the flexibility of her part-time job at Environment Northeast, a non-profit organization in Rockport that researches and advocates innovative policies that tackle environmental challenges while promoting sustainable economies, for her ability to squeeze in 15 hours of training a week.

On her way to Florida for the November competition, Wilhelm said she was extremely nervous and intimidated. At the same time she said was ready to go because she had registered a year earlier and been training for six months.

During the Florida Ironman competition, and other races she has competed in, Wilhelm said she tells herself she is not there to race, just to have a good time. “Somehow competition always gets the best of me,” she said. She said that having three older brothers may be what gives her those competitive tendencies.

Her competitiveness heightens after the swim, she said, particularly because it’s her strongest event.

Wilhelm said that in trying to anticipate what to expect in terms of fatigue, she read an article written by 29-time ironman Raymond Brit. She tried to focus mentally that day on one of Brit’s quotes from the article: “Never settle, never surrender, keep moving, slow down slower, make every second count until both feet cross the finish line.”

“I fully anticipated that wall of pain and misery to catch up with me, but adrenaline is a wonderful thing,” Wilhelm said of her thoughts throughout her first Ironman competition. “I somehow felt good throughout and thankfully, the conditions were perfect that day.”

The waters were calm, the terrain was flat and the weather was cool and sunny. She said if there was such a thing as an “easy” Ironman, she thinks that she picked it in Florida.

After completing the event, the first thing that went through Wilhelm’s mind was a significant sense of relief and accomplishment. “A big ‘thank you, God, it’s over and I actually made it to the finish line,’ an immediate desire to shower, sit down and celebrate with some beers.”

Throughout the event, competitor’s splits were posted live on event’s website. Each competitor wore a computerized chip. Wilhelm said she had no idea that she was second in her age group or that she was the fifth amateur female. She found out her placing a few minutes after she finished by looking at the results on her phone.

“I couldn’t believe it then and I still can’t believe it now,” she said.

Looking forward to the 2012 Ironman World Championship competition, Wilhelm knows the conditions will be far more challenging than those in Florida. Hawaii’s hilly terrain, heat, humidity and crosswinds will provide a tough course to compete on.

“The sport, at least for me, has been completely addictive,” Wilhelm said of wanting to do an ironman. “I guess I just like to keep testing the limits to see what my body is capable of.”

She said, through it all, she is realizing she is an endurance racer, not a sprinter.

In high school at The Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore, Wilhelm did a little bit of everything from soccer and lacrosse to tennis, cross country and swimming. She said she did not do much athletically in college and did not get into doing triathlons until three years ago.

For the next competition, Wilhelm said she would like to learn about speed and interval training. She also would like to find a coach or training partner to pair up with. “Ideally someone who specializes in cycling because that’s where I need to improve,” she said.

VillageSoup Sports Assistant Holly Vanorse Spicer can be reached by phone at 207-594-4401 or by email at hvanorse@villagesoup.com.