Saturday, May 12, 2012

Time to try a triathlon says Carolyn Hewett

So let’s get this straight. The Big Daddy Ironwoman means a marathon, biking for 180 km and swimming 3.8km. Olympic distance is a ten km run, 40km on the bike and 1.5km in the water. But a sprint is just an hour of five km running, 20 km on the bike and a 750m swim. Are you with me? 

So the trick is to know who you are – a Big Daddy, an Olympian or a sprinter says Australian triathlete Carolyn Hewett.

Most people start small, maybe with a ten km run or a bit of a swim. Not Hewett. She decided doing a full Ironwoman would be the best way to find out what works for her.  Before reading on, you should probably know her training was part of recovery from viral meningitis and post chronic viral fatigue. As you do.

Readers, she won.

“I jumped in with both feet. The illness was definitely part of it, I wanted to do an Ironwoman before I turned 30 and it helped with my recovery too,” she says.

Speaking on Skype from her office in London – she works full-time with O2 in the UK – Hewett explains her illness had left her unable to make up a flight of stairs without a break. Doctors told her to just be glad she was alive and forget about ever doing sport again.

“For the first few months I had to sleep after I did anything. It took some time but I eventually managed to run for 30 seconds and walk for 4.5mins and do that four times. The effort put me in bed for a week. I tried again a month later and was bed ridden for 3 days which I saw as progress,” she says.

Hewett used to run a lot before she got ill, but had to learn how to swim properly and how to bike at speed. And having won her first Ironwoman, she had to add in some media training.

Listening to her now, you can see how the treadmill got going – ill woman wins first Ironwoman, and becomes instant star …but how do you prepare for that?

Winning an Ironwoman means you can then compete in the World Championships. Most people build up to this from the start of their season – as Hewett herself does now – but back then she just kept going and going.

“I won and that was great, but then there was six weeks between the race and the World Championships. I was approached by Channel 4 who wanted to follow someone and they came with me to Hawaii. They flew with me, so that was a huge added pressure.

“The race took me eleven hours, it was incredibly tough. I ended up in hospital with a camera in my face … suffering with dehydration, exhaustion. It was just brutal.”

She did two more Ironwoman events, but found herself training 23 hours a week on top of her job and seeing exhaustion looming.

So Hewett ‘dropped’ back to the Olympic distance.

These days, she’s a familiar face on the circuit everywhere in the world – one of the few amateurs competing with the big boys and girls.

“I’ve had a couple of illness dips that lay me out for a week. I go to bed and build up again,” she says. “Everytime I get a headache I freak out a little - that fear of being ill has never left me.”

Sponsored by bike company Wiggle, Hewett competes most weekends. Today she’s in Spain at the Thomas Cook Ironman 70.3 Mallorca.

She says sponsorship makes a huge difference in this sport, that a good bike can make you seconds faster and place up that bit further up the field.

And it seems to be working. Hewett’s been London Triathlon age group champion for the past three years as well as winning the Blenheim triathlon, the Women's Only Triathlon twice and winning and placing in more than 20 other races.

One of her favourite events she says is the ‘Castle Triathlon Series’ with bike-to-run changeovers taking place in medieval courtyards.

Hewett jokes she’s not particularly good at any one event but somehow when she swims, bikes and runs together, it all works.

“I think I would get bored if I went back to just one sport. Mixing it up is a way of alleviating the pressure. I can train twice a day, no way could I do that with just one sport,” she says.

And we’ll leave it there for today. Hewett will be back here next week with tips on how to get through a triathlon in one piece. 

(updated on May 18th with links to Hewett's Wiggle blog) 

1 comment

niamh said...

And should have said, if you want to get in touch with Hewett directly, find her on Twitter: