The strength to succeed

If I asked you to describe an Ironman triathlete, I doubt that you would immediately think of me. A 53 year old woman with a full time job as a lawyer managing the Oxford office of Freeths.

Jointly leading the private client services division with two teenagers, two boxer dogs and a husband at home!  But, this is what I do to relax in my “spare time” …. and believe it or not, it works.

Before I go on, I should explain that an Ironman triathlon is a long distance triathlon race comprising a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride and a marathon 26 mile run raced in that order and without a break.  Not on consecutive days as my parents thought!  You start at 7am and have a limited time of 17 hours to complete the race, with the final cut off at midnight. 

There are about 40 Ironman triathlon races around the world (give or take).  I have completed three: the first in Austria in 2017 (when 13% of the athletes were women), the second in Lanzarote in 2019 (when only 8% were women) and the third in Nottingham in 2021.  This year, I’ve just started training again for my next Ironman challenge in Barcelona in October 2022.  Exciting times!

I often think back to how I got involved in what many consider to be a crazy pastime.  It all started when my children were very small and a good friend of mine asked me to go running with her to run off some baby weight and we felt very proud when we completed 5k.  Let me be really clear here: I was pretty unfit, was overweight and had never done any running up to that point.  My friend then mentioned that she had previously done a sprint triathlon (a 750m swim, a 20k bike ride and a 5k run) and that she wanted to do another one.  When she convinced me that she was gathering together a group of novices, that the event that she had in mind was sponsored by a brewery (which I thought meant it could only be a bit of fun) and that we could meet for a sociable BBQ after it, I was finally persuaded to have a go. 

That was back in 2009 and was the start of my triathlon journey.  I progressed to an Olympic distance in 2015 (doubling the distance of the sprint) and then in 2016, completed a half Ironman (essentially half the distance of a full Ironman).  Unfortunately for me, I then attended some management training with colleagues at work.  When I was asked to think about a challenge that I wanted to overcome, I found myself telling everyone that I was going to enter an Ironman.  A bit of accountability meant that there was no turning back!

I quickly realised, however, that this “hobby” could also help me in my professional life and would hopefully not just get me fit.  How?

Comfort zone: we all prefer to do things in our comfort zones, but we often achieve our best results if we step out of it.  If I had said at the start of this journey that I would have found myself doing Ironman races, I would have definitely hit my panic zone, would have thought that it was totally out of my reach and would not have contemplated it.  Each time that I decided to step up to the next distance, I was taking myself out of my comfort zone to my panic zone.  But, by concentrating on the end product and working out what tools I needed and support to get there, I realised that the next step on my journey was achievable.

Time management: I recognised that with my job and family life, training for an Ironman triathlon was really going to push me to the limits.  I could have immediately dismissed the idea as a result, but I sat down and worked out how I could do it within the confines of my working day.  I tried all sorts, but have finally settled down to usually training first thing in the morning during the working week.  A great start to the day when I can focus and really think about what I have on and often come to some solutions whilst out running in the rain!

Organisation: every weekend, I sit down and look at my work diary and think about how I am going to fit my training programme around the week that I have ahead and plan around it.  Sometimes, this means that I will find time during the day to go swimming on the basis that I will catch up on work later that evening.  Or, other times, I get up very early and then get out on my bike in the middle of the day.  Members of my team have become used to speaking with me over the telephone about cases whilst the birds are singing and the traffic rumbles past.  A real example of agile working!

Teamwork: I have always recognised that I cannot achieve these goals with the support, buy in and assistance of my team.  In this context, it is obviously my family and friends but often at work, we get the best results if we all work together to achieve a goal too. 

Support:  we all need to recognise when we need help from others to achieve our goals.  In this context, I quickly realised that I needed to engage my swimming coach to train me properly to complete my first Ironman.  And then, I needed to trust him as he was the expert and I needed to bow to his greater experience here.

Resilience: mental strength is as important for completing an Ironman as physical fitness.  It’s tough out there when you’ve already swum over 2 miles and cycled say 50 miles and know that you’ve still got over half of a bike ride to do and a marathon too!  But, if you put your mind to it and withstand those pressures, you can get the job done and achieve your goals.

Wish me luck as I start my next challenge…

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