For the Bethunes, triathlon is a family affair. Alison had done a 9km run and been on the bike for two months when she signed up for her first triathlon (which so-happened to be a Classic distance – deep end!) and hasn’t looked back. Now she and husband Robbie both train and compete in local and Ironman events, with Alison working towards her first full Ironman at the end of this year, and both of their boys are involved in the sport.
We chatted to this Hermit Park-based dynamo about how she squeezes in 11 training sessions a week while working fulltime and fitting in the kids’ sport (you’ll be impressed with her creativity), what hooked her about triathlon, her tips for self-doubters, and how she’s pumped competing in this weekend’s Townsville Triathlon Festival with her eldest son.
“Beware — you might catch a bug… and before you know it you’ll be training and doing things you never thought you’d do”
You did your first triathlon three years ago – the Coral Coast 5150 in Port Douglas. What was it about triathlon that initially appealed to you? It was something different to give a go. I have always been active and played netball most of my life. I was a swimmer as a kid, but never a runner and had just started cycling. So I thought, ‘Why not give it a go?’
What hooked you in after the first one? I had so much fun and enjoyed the moment, especially crossing the finish line. The atmosphere of a triathlon is amazing. The way everyone supports one another, and cheers each other on, no matter what your ability. One week after my first tri, I cheered on my husband Robbie and friend in an Ironman 70.3 [half Ironman] and my closest friend in her eighth Ironman. Our friend said to me, “Next year you’ll be doing this [70.3]”, and I laughed at him and replied: “I can’t even run 10 kilometres”.
Since then how many triathlons and Ironman events have you done? I’ve competed in approximately 15 to 20 triathlons (Sprints to half Ironman). I’ve competed in 70.3 Cairns twice, did a 70.3 in West Sydney, and recently competed in a team for Cairns 70.3.
Can you tell us about what it’s like to be involved in Ironman? Ironman is… amazing. The buzz, the atmosphere, the people, and the supporters: If you’ve been to an Ironman event, you’ll know what I mean. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions: Fear, excitement, joy, the unknown, and the feeling of the finish line. But beware — you might catch a bug, the Ironman bug, and before you know it you’ll be training and doing things you never thought you’d do. If I can summarise into one word it would be ‘inspirational’. The Ironman slogan of ‘Anything is Possible’ is so true.
“I’ve learned to listen to my body and have faith in the people around you providing support and advice”
What’s been your biggest challenge to-date? It was in my second race when, five weeks prior to race day, I was diagnosed with pleurisy (next stage from pneumonia). I was bed-ridden for two weeks, which meant my last four weeks of training did not go to plan. It was heartbreaking because you train for around 16 weeks for these events. There are some sacrifices you make (some more than others), but at the finish line it’s all worth it. I ended up with a three-minute PB in that race and then five months later I came back and grabbed a 19-minute PB. I’ve learned to listen to my body and have faith in the people around you providing support and advice.
What about your most memorable triathlon moment? Each one has been a memorable moment, but I’d say the 70.3 events hold the most significance as my kids are always on the sideline cheering me on. And, in West Sydney last year, I got to race with my husband and share the moment of all the hard training coming together.
“Three years ago I was terrified of doing an Olympic sprint. Now I’m starting to train for my first full Ironman in December”
What’s your proudest achievement? Doing the things I am now doing and my kids seeing us both achieve. Three years ago I was terrified of doing an Olympic sprint. Now I’m starting to train for my first full Ironman in December in Busselton.
What training are you putting in to get there? Training currently consists of around nine to 11 sessions each week with three swims, three bike sessions, three runs and yoga/strength work. I have a coach [Mads Larsen – NQ Coaching & Triathlon Supplies] who provides me with my program each week and I’ve just started back with Dylan Viviers at Peak Performance Swimming.
How do you fit this in around a full-time job, plus a five-year-old and eight-year-old? Teamwork with my husband Robbie is key and taking every opportunity to train when we can. Even if it means running around the oval while your kids train at their sport or doing sprints out on the street while they kick the soccer ball in the front yard. It’s a juggling act and we tag team quite a bit but we also don’t let our kids miss their AFL and soccer. We don’t have family permanently in Townsville so it’s a bit of a crazy schedule at home!
“It’s always special when your family is on the sideline and at the finish line. To share that moment with them is special as they know what it has taken to get there”
Is triathlon and competing in events something that’s great to share with your husband? We do enjoy the sport together. It certainly helps to understand what the other is going through, especially when you come home from a huge session of training. I have a lot of admiration for my husband and his achievements in Ironman. He has continued to get stronger and stronger in the sport. He is amazing and the support he provides to our friends as well is awesome too. It’s great being able to share our accomplishments and also pep each other up when we are feeling little low. Knowing the emotional rollercoaster you go through helps. When you are training for four to six months for an event, there are good and bad moments, but more good than bad. It’s always special when your family is on the sideline and at the finish line. To share that moment with them is special as they know what it has taken to get there.
How are you feeling ahead of the Townsville Triathlon Festival this weekend? It will be my first solo race of the season [apart from Cairns as a team], which I’m looking forward to. Plus Tyron [eldest son] is competing in the kids’ event on the Saturday — he does all the local events and has competed in the Ironkids twice and loves it. The boys often entertain themselves with mini events in the backyard — they set courses with the swim, ride and run legs, including a transition area, which is pretty cute.
What do you enjoy about the Townsville Triathlon Festival in particular? The event has certainly grown over the years and continues to get bigger and better, and it’s great that it attracts athletes from outside of Townsville. I’ve competed at both the TP Human Capital Corporate team and individual Classic (Olympic) distance events and highly recommend it. It is a huge amount of fun in a team.
What would you say to others curious about triathlon or wanting to give it a go, but doubt their ability, or capacity to commit time-wise? Just give it a go. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Not only do you get to enjoy an amazing sport, the friendships you make are awesome too. You will be amazed at the support you get and how much you can achieve. I was someone who had only run 9km (once) signing up for my first tri and I had only been riding for about two months. Crossing the finish line is an amazing feeling and it’s hard to describe ‘that’ feeling, but — beware — it is addictive. You will do your first and then the second and then you’ll be moving up the distances before you know it. It is achievable.
What’s your top beginner’s tip? Get involved with the groups around town — there’s the weekly Top Brand Cycles ladies ride and also the sessions that Free Radicals Tri Club run. My advice is to get yourself involved with these groups to get started, or tag along with someone you know who’s into it. We always enjoy sharing our experiences and bringing new people along for the ride. There are a range of distances to suit your time availability and ability.
What other active things do you like to do in Townsville? I like to compete in any of the events going around town. I’m going to be doing the Maggie Island Swim and Townsville Running Festival. If I had more time, I’d like to do Stand Up Paddle-boarding and taste test some mountain biking. I recently went for my first trail run and it was awesome.
Step outside your comfort zone like Alison and sign-up for some of the free and low-cost sessions we are offering as part of the Triathlon and Multisport Series. From adult swimming coaching, to relaxed runs, adult squad training and nutrition talks, there is something for everyone. Find out more about this community initiative here.
Registrations are still open for the Townsville Triathlon Festival, but you’ll need to be quick. Find out more and register here.