Women's Agenda: How I just completed an Ironman

Women's Agenda: How I just completed an Ironman

Image: Shelley Cable

Image: Shelley Cable

Originally published in Women's Agenda

I became a single mother on 18 December 2015. Fast forward less than 12 months, and on 5 December 2016 I crossed the finish line of my first Ironman.

It was not an easy road, but in the words of Theodore Roosevelt, ‘nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty…’

In March this year, I wrote in Women’s Agenda about my daily 30 minute practice of the ‘ideal unwind’. A routine I had created through the need to balance my extroverted personality and extreme career driven lifestyle.

I am known among my friends and peers having endless energy. I find it hard to quieten my mind through the silent meditation, despite knowing the psychological benefits of a regular practice. In December last year when I  read a NY Mag article about how ‘running and meditation change the brains of the depressed’, I hit the Tan running track for my daily for a dose of energy release and silent meditation.

The benefits were instant. It took just weeks for me to feel fitter and stronger, both mentally and physically. It helped me to overcome an absence of a relationship that was no longer there.

After writing about my ‘ideal unwind’, countless women and men reached out to me and shared their commitment to implementing this concept into their daily life. I embedded it into my teaching philosophy at the university where I was lecturing. Everyone had their own version; from running 5 kilometres to reading the bible.

I often shared my ideal unwind time with friends, and I soon had a running group that would meet at 7am on Thursday mornings at Federation Square. One auspicious day, my friend said to me, ‘let’s do an Ironman’.

Six weeks of gentle convincing and the occasional inspirational video landing in my inbox from said friend, I signed up to my first Ironman.

Let me remind you; in December last year, I could not run 5 kilometres.

I knew committing to a 3.8 kilometre swim, a 180 kilometre cycle, and a 42.2 kilometre run with a 17 hour cut off time was a bold move. So bold, that I was embarrassed and only told those people who I knew would back me.  

It turns out that hiding 18 hour training weeks from friends and family is quite difficult, especially when you are juggling a three year old at home. As the weeks passed by my secret was slowly revealed on a need to know basis. One thing I never did, was write on my social media that I had committed to this race. It was my secret goal.

Now that I have finished the race, I have given myself time to reflect on what again seems like an impossible task. Here are the lessons I learned through this journey of training for an Ironman as a single mum.


Have a plan.

And stick to it. A friend told me early on that that when training for an endurance, if you follow a plan, you will cross the finish line. I quickly became the master of my own schedule. Every single training session was in my diary, alongside my day care pick up or drop off time, and alongside my work commitments and travel.

The great thing about travelling for work and training, was the new places I would go and people I would meet. I was in China for the G20 and found a local gym under a mall with incredible technology enabled equipment. I met up with Samantha Gash during Run India and did a 35 kilometre long run in Uttar Pradesh. These experiences and people made it easier being away from my daughter for long periods of time.

Prioritise your sleep.

Training for an Ironman takes a significant toll on your health, and sleep is critical for recovery. I needed nine hours per night or I would risk injury. On nights that my daughter was with me, I would come home from day care and make dinner for us both. I would eat at 6:30 pm and go to bed at the same time as her, often as early as 8pm. I also co-slept with my daughter, which is a great way to bond after spending 12 hours a day away from each other. Now that I am not training and going to bed much later, I actually miss my early nights and occasional kick to the head from a three year old.

Know who is on your team.

Surround yourself with a team of people who know what your goal is and understand what their role is in your achieving it. For me, I had a training crew and Whatsapp group that became not only my friends but support network. They knew I couldn’t train earlier than 7am and why I couldn’t make the long cycles on weekends, but never judged my ability to finish the race. 

I also told my friends who work with elite athletes, as they would troubleshoot me through the tough times (big shout out to Jaimie Fullar at SKINS and Chyloe Kurdas formerly of AFL Vic).

It didn’t take long for me to adopt this mindset into my parenting life. Sometimes people don’t understand the lifestyle I have chosen and can be judgmental. Knowing who isn’t on your team is just as important as knowing who is.

Have a portfolio of goals.

You don’t need to tell everyone what you are doing and what your goals are. I remember reading Sam Branson’s article on the Virgin blog earlier this year, which inspired me to keep a portfolio of goals. I now have the goals I tell people, the goals I tell a few people, and the goals I tell no one. The theory is that if you tell people your goals, then you feel closer to having achieved them and you therefore lose motivation. Science backs this theory, and my anecdotal experience tells me it works.

Sometimes I think my daughter is too young to understand when I achieve a significant goal. But that she recently told me ‘only boys fly planes’, is the only motivation I need to keep dreaming big.

I never imagined that my desire to quieten my mind would lead to me training 15 hours a week for an Ironman. But the lessons that I have learned through challenging my own doubts have been invaluable. More than that, I genuinely believe this experience has strengthened my relationship with my daughter.

That effort, pain, and difficulty Roosevelt spoke about all came before the race. On the day I smiled every minute of my 16 hours and 12 minutes event. I wasn’t the fastest on the course but crossing that finish line was all the evidence I needed that regardless of barriers, women are just as capable of smashing every glass ceiling above us.


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