Ruth Heaton, head of learning and development at Gately Plc and mum of two shares her experience of overcoming her fear of open water swimming and taking on Ironman Staffordshire 70.3
Ten years ago I took on a sprint triathlon. However, during the swim, I had a panic attack. After that, I vowed never to do another triathlon again. The idea of open water swimming terrified me. Despite this, fast forward a few years and I have just completed the Ironman Staffordshire 70.3 which comprises of a 1.9km swim, 90km cycle ending with a half marathon.
Getting outside my comfort zone
I try and take on a challenge each year to push me outside my comfort zone and to give me focus outside of work and family. Last year I completed the London marathon and so this year I needed a fresh challenge. I had completed a sprint triathlon the year before but with a pool swim. I really enjoyed it but the idea of any sort of triathlon with an open water element was still very scary to me! However, I had been working with Sandstone Communications and become inspired by their ‘can-do’ attitude and focus on taking on big challenges. I started to wonder whether, if I put the time in, could I overcome my fear and complete a half Ironman?
To see if I could start to feel comfortable in open water, I went to a local open water swimming club and shared my fears. They were incredibly helpful and bit by bit they helped me feel confident that I could take on a 1.9km open water swim. This helped me realise that with the right training and support I could overcome my fear so I signed up for my first Ironman 70.3!
Fitting in the training
Apart from the swim, the biggest challenge I faced was working out how I could fit in training amongst my working life and responsibility as a mum. I knew from when my husband did an Ironman how much time training can take up. For me, I needed to make sure training didn’t impact too much on my family. Having open conversations with my family about how they could support my goal and working flexibly really enabled me to fit in my training. For example, I work from home on Mondays and fitted in early morning and lunchtime training sessions.
The right preparation
I was lucky enough to receive coaching from Chantal Cummings , who is a 70.3 pro-athlete and a Sandstone ambassador. This made the world of difference. Not only with planning workouts, but also with keeping motivation and accountability. I loved having my training laid out and goals to meet each day. I can be pretty disciplined when I need to be and barely missed a session. This meant that I could take tremendous comfort going into the 70.3 Ironman knowing I was well-trained and not having to worry about whether I was physically fit enough.
From racing before I know that, as long as you have done the training, it largely comes down to your mindset on the day. For me, this meant when I felt nervous reminding myself that it is supposed to be fun and to go out and enjoy it. After all, when it’s a hobby, if it’s not fun, what’s the point? I also find having a couple of things to say to myself when the doubt kicks in, such as “be fierce” and “you can” really help.
On the day itself, all my preparation meant I was really positive. I broke the race down into different stages, focusing on being calm during the swim, to keep pushing on the bike and really going for it on the run. The run was without a doubt the most challenging run I have done, but I really felt my training kick in at this point. Having my family and friends there was also a tremendous boost to my tired legs!
As I crossed the finish line I felt a huge sense of pride and emotion. I had really stretched myself beyond my comfort zone and completed something I never thought I would. I’d encourage anyone who wants to complete a challenge but who has doubt to set up the right support network and take it on. I really believe now you can overcome most things if you set your mind to it and I’m already looking forward to another 70.3 in 2020!