Body & Fitness

The incredible Kiwi scientist who completed a decaman – that’s 2200km of running, biking and swimming

The molecular biologist trained for 30-35 hours a week, on top of work, for the event.

What in the world would drive someone to run, cycle and swim more than 2200km practically nonstop?

It’s a question Dr Christine Couldrey gets asked regularly. But no, she’s not running from anything and is afraid that she doesn’t have a straight answer for anyone as to why she takes on such gruelling challenges either.

Her latest is the New Orleans Decaman., which she completed in November.

The name itself gives a clue about its intensity, but for those of us not in the world of endurance athleticism, the decaman is 10 times the length of a typical ironman race.

Christine (44) swam nearly 39km, biked just over 1800km and ran 422km in her longest – “and hardest” − race yet.

She began on November 6 and had to finish by November 19.

Despite attempting this, if we go back to where it all began, Christine says many would be surprised to know that sport didn’t come naturally for her.

“Let’s just say I was the world’s least sporty person at school,” she reveals.

“My physical education teachers at primary and high school were always telling my parents that I should stick to academics and music rather than sport. That’s how useless I was at all sports!”

So she went to university at the age of 16 to begin a career in science and one day − in the middle of a Christchurch winter – Christine jumped on a bike.

“I had this uneasy, not content, feeling and I got my old bike out and rode 10km and it made me feel really good. So the next time I felt really lonely or not good I got my bike out and rode it. That’s where it all started,” she says.

“By my third year of university, one of my friends signed me up for the tiniest, short-distance sprint triathlon. I did that and I loved it! I was like, ‘Oh my God, for the first time in my life I can actually compete in a sport!'”

While Christine is the first to admit she wasn’t naturally talented, she says that didn’t bother her because what mattered was the fact that she could compete in spite of

her ability level.

“Unlike a lot of people who want to see how fast they can go, even from my first race I’ve always wanted to see if I could do the next longer distance. That’s what motivates me.”

From the early 1990s onwards − throughout several overseas moves and a challenging PhD in molecular reproductive biology at Cambridge University − Christine kept pushing her limits, eventually competing in her first ironman event in 2000.

“Coming across the finish line of that I just felt like a total rock star,” she grins.

“For somebody who’s not at all sporty and who worked really hard to be able to do it, that was just an incredible achievement.”

Since then, the Raglan woman believes she is the only Kiwi to have completed race lengths equivalent to a double, triple and quintuple ironman, while also holding the women’s record for cycling eight times around Lake Taupo.

All of this is on top of working as a molecular biologist in the Kiwi dairy industry, where she analyses scores of data so that New Zealand can breed the best bulls, and helping her partner Michol with his beekeeping business.

How does she do it?

For one thing, having an understanding and supportive partner and workplace goes a long way.

“I do a lot of training. I train 20 hours or more a week, even when I’m not training for anything,” she says.

“Just because that’s what I do, that’s what keeps me happy and keeps me disciplined. But training for this race I’ve been doing 30 to 35 hours a week

on top of work.”

To get that preparation done, Christine says you need to learn “mental toughness” because there are days when much of it is not fun.

“If you’re out all day, every day, it takes a lot of motivation, self-discipline and mental toughness just to do that. I’m quite lucky because people I work with will sometimes ride a few hours with me. But a lot of it you have to do on your own. You have to be pretty happy and content with your own company.”

Christine admits she’s “quite terrified” about the challenge she’s undertaking but has a pretty good track record, having only ever not finished one race in her life. And like a true sucker for punishment, she’s already thinking about the next hurdle – 20 times the length of an ironman race – in Mexico!

“It’s the self-confidence that comes easy to me with these races,” she says.

“I like to encourage other people who don’t feel like they can do sport, or who feel like they can’t exercise. I don’t see myself as inspirational, but Ido see myself being a good influence on people who can see that anybody can get out there and be fit and healthy.”

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