Real Life

Iron lady Michelle

Entering her first Ironman helped Michelle Curran overhaul her life.
Michelle Curran competing in Ironman

Many thought I had lost it when, on the eve of my 34th birthday, I announced I had signed up to do my first Ironman. To be honest, I wondered if I had gone insane too, because who in their right mind would voluntarily swim 3.8km, ride a butt-searing 180km and then do a toenail-destroying 42km run in one day?

I had returned to Auckland from living in Australia and was unchallenged at work, single and childless, while most of my friends were married and had (or were having) children. I felt a bit lost.

I had done a few half Ironman events before, so why not do a full Ironman? I’d get fit and healthy, it would stop me boozing every weekend and I could meet new people.

Mammoth task

About a week after signing up for the iconic Ironman New Zealand in Taupo, the mammoth task ahead hit me like a tonne of bricks. I realised I needed a coach and decided on Brendan Erskine of Next Level Customised Coaching, who designed a programme for me broken down into six-week blocks.

I knew how to swim – I had swum competitively in my teens – and I’d always found running enjoyable, but I’d had a mental block about cycling since I first bought a road bike in 2009. Going downhill terrified me.

This was obviously an area I needed to work on so I ventured out on my first Sunday ride with my dad and his cycling group, which contained previous Ironman competitors. The group took me under their experienced wing and patiently waited for me as I struggled to clip in and out at lights, and rode downhill at a snail’s pace.

During training I had a few meltdowns, when all my stress and angst bubbled out of me like a volcano – like when I had to get used to riding my new bike with aero bars and when I tore a glute muscle and thought my Ironman campaign was over. Luckily it wasn’t.

Eventually I started Saturday morning swim, ride and run sessions, where I met some great people, including others who were training for their first Ironman. It was fantastic to have people to chat to, inspire me and give me a kick up the behind on my unmotivated days, of which there were inevitably a few.

Training became my life. Leading up to the event, I did two half Ironmans and finished in under six hours for both – a first for me. I also joined a group of athletes who travelled to Taupo for a two-day pre-Ironman camp.

On the first day we did the 3.8km swim, and on the second did a 180km ride followed by a 12km run. Returning from the run, I broke down in tears, totally over-whelmed – how the hell was I going to do that ride plus run another 30km and swim 3.8km before that?

Race day

The day of the race arrived, marking the culmination of nine months of training and living a whole new lifestyle. When the cannon fired, I was all business. During the swim, I tried to stay focused on what I was doing and not think about what lay ahead.

Transition one went well, and I headed out of town on the 180km bike ride, passing some of the 20-plus people who had come to support me. It was a long way, and it did take a long time (nearly seven hours!), but the cycle went relatively quickly for me.

All I had to do now was run a marathon. Although I ran very slowly in patches, I did not walk. Surprisingly, I felt pretty good and I lifted every time I saw one of my supporters, who I had banned from saying, “You’re nearly there” – never helpful when you still have 35km to go.

Finish line

As I neared the finish line I began to feel emotional. It’s hard to describe the feeling of running down the finishing chute. I thought I’d be a blubbering mess, but I could only smile. It was incredible. I had achieved what I once thought was impossible. I crossed the line – still running and in one piece – in the time of 13:08:12.

Even though it is a cliché, my Ironman journey taught me a lot about myself and about life. Since the race, I have resigned from my old job and have started working for myself.

I am happy, content and challenged in my life and – despite saying I would never do it again – I’m looking forward to competing in another Ironman. It taught me to face my fears and conquer them

Photos: Supplied

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