Rebecca (Beck) Sheppard recently did the ‘impossible’ — she completed a full Ironman (3.8km swim, 180km bike, 42km run), battling injury, three flat tyres and six-months of training 20 hours a week, juggling working full time and raising three kids under 10. You could say she was tired at times (!), but — with friends and family cheering her over the line in Cairns after nearly 13 hours of physical and mental battling — she’d do it again in a heartbeat.
Here Beck shares her inspiring story, hoping to prove to other mums — especially those who are exhausted, overweight, and in a rut — that it is possible to do something for yourself — you just have to be really, really organised. And a little creative.
“When I mentioned it to a friend, they laughed and told me there was no way I could train for and do an Ironman with a fulltime job and three kids. I made the decision right then to do it”
People talk about their Ironman journey and I never really appreciated this expression – until I finished one.
I am a 41-year-old, mother to three kids (aged nine, seven and seven) who decided two years ago to have a career change from a Fisheries scientist to a full time high school teacher. While I have always been sporty and swam as a kid, I only completed my first ‘enticer’ triathlon four years ago, after getting fit again and losing my ‘baby fat’. I then did the swim leg for the Cairns 70.3 and was hooked and thought, “I can do this myself!”. I bought a second-hand bike and started riding, running (very badly) and swimming. In the following two years I completed local triathlons and two Cairns 70.3 races, which I loved.
Last year I hit the big 4-0 at the Julia Creek Dirt ‘n’ Dust Festival, and — while being slightly intoxicated — joked with a mate about doing an Ironman. Why not I thought? Then when I mentioned it to a friend, they laughed and told me there was no way I could train for and do an Ironman with a fulltime job and three kids. I made the decision right then to do it. Never tell an Aries they can’t do anything! So a week after the 2015 Cairns 70.3 I signed up without telling anyone. I ‘mentioned’ it to my husband one day and, while he was supportive, he also told me I was insane. While I kept fit for the rest of the year, I didn’t start my ‘proper training’ until January 2016.
I didn’t employ a coach – although a friend from the surf club did my swim programs and another family friend helped with my ride and run sessions. As my husband works away a bit I had to change things up quite often and do lots of sessions with the kids in tow. Generally, I trained every morning — up at 4am — so I could be home by 6.15am to do the morning school, lunch, and drop off rush — and get myself to school by 8am. Afternoon sessions were a bit ad-hoc and needed to fit around the kids activities. I swam when they did swimming lessons, I ran around the footy field while Nate trained and the kids rode beside me on their scooters along The Strand or around the block. Weekend sessions were the longer ones — sometimes up at 3am to be able to fit in a five-to-six-hour ride in AND be home for the football games, dance lessons or lifesaving patrol. The rest of the weekend was spent preparing meals for the following week, school work, marking, and the never ending washing and cleaning.
“Running has always been my nemesis and something I have never comfortable doing — or good at doing — so being able to run 20km comfortably on a Sunday morning helped… Which is why rolling my ankle and then developing plantar fasciitis in the other foot was such a big kick in the guts (and head)”
The first four months of training were good as the sessions weren’t really (really) long and I got into a routine with work, family and home. It was still hectic and tiring and I felt like a juggler (an angry, tired juggler), but I managed. I had cut out alcohol and processed sugar and physically was feeling strong. Running has always been my nemesis and something I have never comfortable doing — or good at doing — so being able to run 20km comfortably on a Sunday morning helped both physically and mentally. Which is why rolling my ankle and then developing plantar fasciitis in the other foot was such a big kick in the guts (and head). I did everything I could to help — physio, podiatrist, sports doctors, massage, drugs; but nothing seemed to work.
“Why? For all the busy, tired working mums who are exhausted, overweight, depressed, under-valued and who feel worthless at times. I know how you feel because I WAS that mum. It’s to show you that you are and can be so much more.”
I felt defeated — I had put so much effort, time and training in for so long and felt like it was all for nothing. Mentally I was a mess and ready to give up. Luckily I have some amazing friends who I could talk to, draw inspiration and reality from. Maurice from Skilful Thinking shared a saying with me that stuck with me through to race day: “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”. I needed to stop making myself suffer for a silly mistake (running in dark without a torch) and focus on what I could do. For the last two months of my training I was limited to water running and very short runs, but could still ride and swim. So that’s what I did.
Leading up to race day was not as relaxing as I would’ve hoped as we were in the middle of exams and marking. I only had one day off, which was spent packing the car and driving with the three kids to Cairns. Once in Cairns I started to relax as my hubby was there as well as my mum. The day before was relatively quiet after making sure I was organised with nutrition, race bags, special needs and equipment. I did, however, spend some time reflecting on why I was doing an Ironman after a friend shared his ‘why’. As I had never raced/trained/exercised for more than six hours, I was unsure why I needed to do this, but I took the time to think about it anyway.
These are my “WHY’s”:
1. Is for me. Selfish, yes, but once you have kids nothing is ever about just you. But the training part of this race is. It’s to show myself I can be an independent, amazing and determined woman who can do anything.
2. Is for my kids. To show them no matter what you want to do or how hard or stupid it may seem, you can do it. And you never give up. Never.
3. Is for all the busy, tired working mums who are exhausted, overweight, depressed, under-valued and who feel worthless at times. I know how you feel because I WAS that mum. It’s to show you that you are and can be so much more.
4. Is for all my friends, family, colleagues, neighbours and random people who support, train, wake up at 3am, lend a hand, babysit, cheer, encourage, smile and wave… it’s for you that I will keep going when I want to stop because you helped me when you didn’t need to or expect anything in return. I’m not going to let you down.
“All I could think of was the reasons for doing an Ironman and my kids standing on the esplanade with their homemade signs, pom poms, bells and face paint waiting for me. I had dragged them to physios, chiros, pools and running tracks over the last six months… and for what?”
The ocean was a bit wild and rough, but as a good swimmer, I didn’t mind at all. My goal was to do the 3.8kms in one hour. My first lap was good, however, my second lap was a bit slower as I got stuck in Ironman ‘traffic’. It had also got choppier by then as a storm came in. I felt great as I ran up the beach and looked at my watch and read 1:00:20. Transition went smoothly and I was on the bike. The roads were wet so I took it fairly steady.
At the 29km mark I felt the dreaded lump in my rear tyre. A flat! In my six months of training, averaging 250kms a week, I never once got a flat. So I managed to get the rear wheel off, pull out the glass and put a new tube in. This took me about 15 minutes and then another five mins to get the wheel back on. Then 1km down the road it was flat again. I quickly worked out I hadn’t put the tube in very well (got a pinch flat) so I took a little more care and changed it again. For some reason I was OK with this and wasn’t too stressed. I got back on the bike and got another 100kms on the bike and was feeling good. Then the worst happened — just outside Port Douglas — a third flat. With no tubes or gas left I had a bit of a cry and thought this was it. All over! Six months for nothing.
This is when my values, my ‘why’ and my mental strength helped. All I could think of was the reasons for doing an Ironman and my kids standing on the esplanade with their homemade signs, pom poms, bells and face paint waiting for me. I had dragged them to physios, chiros, pools and running tracks over the last six months… and for what? It couldn’t be for nothing. I had made them believe they (and I) could do anything they wanted. I looked at the time and worked out I had four hours to get back. Could I walk my bike back in that time? I was willing to try. Thankfully it didn’t come to that as an event person rode by and stopped. He didn’t have any spare tubes but he rode into Port Douglas to get one for me. In this time I turned my watch off — I just wanted to finish. Twenty minutes later and I was back on the road. Fingers crossed that I wouldn’t get another!!!
“My good friend and training partner Trevor had said to me, “Once you get off the bike and start that run — you are an Ironman”. That was forefront in my mind. Nothing was going to stop me”
The head wind and rain along the coast was full on but as long as my tyre was up I was happy! My friend Nat was still waiting for me at Yorkeys Knob (I was an hour behind my predicted time) and she drove beside me cheering, yelling at me and encouraging me. Riding along the esplanade and seeing my kids, husband and mum waiting was amazing.
I took the time in transition and strapped my dodgy foot before the run, took a painkiller and started. My good friend and training partner Trevor had said to me, “Once you get off the bike and start that run — you are an Ironman”. That was forefront in my mind. Nothing was going to stop me. My plan was to run between each aid station (two to three kilometres) and walk through the aid station (while drinking and eating — the flat Coke was amazing!). The first time I saw the kids, my friends and the crowds was incredible. I felt fantastic and couldn’t stop smiling. I can’t remember thinking about much on the run, but I loved every kilometre. As I had stopped my watch I honestly had no idea what pace I was doing (nor did I care) or what time it was — I just had to finish. The final 3km were fantastic and having my friends and family there as I crossed the line will be something I will never forget. I crossed the line at 12:58 and can honestly say I loved every minute.
Was it the hardest thing I had ever done? YES!
Was the training and preparation physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting? YES!
Did I finally understand why they call it a journey and not just a race? YOU BET.
Will I do it again? HELL YES!!! Sign me up for next year baby!
Beck’s top five tips for balancing training, work, motherhood and life
1. Involve your family in the decision to do it. The training, time away, moodiness, grumpiness (because of the lack of sleep) impacts them too! Make sure they know how important it is to you and they will support you.
2. Be organised — plan, plan and plan. Have meals prepared, get groceries delivered, have uniforms ready the night before, lunches ready, training gear by the front door, training/sports bags packed to go. Every little thing helps.
3. Be adaptable and willing to change things if needed. If my hubby is away I do a 1km loop around my house for my run set or use the wind trainer or do water running. You can make it work if you need to. There are no excuses!
4. Find someone to do the long sessions with. If you rely on each other to get up at stupid o’clock to do a six-hour ride, you will get up!
5. Make every session count.
You can start your triathlon or fitness journey by getting involved in the Townsville Triathlon Festival (August 19-21, 2016). For the first time, this year there is a special tri designed to get female newbies into the sport. The TRI4Women is designed to be fun and involves an accessible 100m swim, 4km bike, and 1.5km run — go on, have a try! Find out more here.