British age grouper and medical student Catherine Faux had a super impressive performance at the 2013 GoPro Ironman World Championships with a 9:15:16 time and she thus took the overall female age group title. The time was actually fast enough to make her the 10th fastest female in the race - right between Gina Crawford and Linsey Corbin.
Slowtwitch: Catherine have you recovered from the British press pursuit after your very stunning Kona performance?
Catherine Faux: The triathlon press has cooled, although seem to want longer features in coming months, but the mainstream press seem slow on the uptake. It's even harder because you have to start off with explaining what an Ironman is, before you even get to all the other questions.
ST: We shall refrain then to ask you what an Ironman is.
Catherine: Thanks! There does seem to be a fair amount of confusion with things like 'Tough Guy' and 'Tough Mudder' which are challenging in their own way but don't really claim to be pure sport. People seem surprised when I say that's not really my kind of thingÃ‚Â… my dad quite aptly likened it to people wondering why track and field athletes don't participate in the egg and spoon race!
ST: We like your dad, but now back to you. Your 9:15:16 time in Kona made you the 10th fastest female overall and really made you stomp your age group. Was that performance along the lines of what you thought was possible?
Catherine: Nope! My parents missed my finish on the live feed because the time I expected was more around 9:30 if I was really lucky, and even that I thought was perhaps a little unrealistic or over-ambitious. I knew I'd had a good season, but Kona is so conditions dependent Ã‚Â– it was clearly a fast day judging by the number of records that fell.
ST: Last year you finished second in the F25-29 age group with a 9:53:53 and it looks like you really improved in every segment.
Catherine: I think my improvement has just been due to a second year of consistent training, and fortunately I have not had any injuries. It also helps having done the course before Ã‚Â– a better idea of what to expect means you can afford to push yourself a little more, knowing what is going to be around the corner.
ST: I think when you came to Kona many eyes were on you because of your Ironman France effort this summer where you clocked a 9:22 and were about 10 minutes behind the race winner Mary Beth Ellis.
Catherine: I'm generally blissfully unaware of any eyes being on me! I was equally surprised with my result in Nice, but there was only a small PRO field (5 women) so I'm wary of making comparisons. Kona is infamous for its unique challenges so I didn't really assume that that performance would carry over to the World Championships.
ST: Independent on the size of the Pro field, your time was super fast and close to Mary Beth.
Catherine: Yes, it was a confidence boost, but you never know whether others are giving their all or how their race was and Mary Beth came off her bike at one point. On the whole I still prefer to leave others' performance out of how I measure my own. I think psychologically it's much healthier to be racing the clock than focusing on others.
ST: Some folks say of course that fast age group women get a nice lift from the massive throngs of age group men. What do you say to those people?
Catherine: That couldn't be further from the truth in the swim Ã‚Â– you feel pretty battered and generally hindered by those around you! I find it frustrating when people say things like this Ã‚Â– it may be true that statistically women (averaged) are slower than men, but on an individual basis a man is just as likely to be gaining an advantage from those around them as a woman. Because I know that as a female at the sharp end of the field you are more noticeable and memorable, I make an even greater effort to never appear to be gaining any advantage to those around, since I would hate for anyone to be able to undermine the achievement by inferring such things.
ST: You had shown signs of supremacy when you raced the Long Course Worlds in France, but was that Ironman France effort really the point of no return? Basically now you had to perform like that.
Catherine: The Long Course Worlds were massively in my favor Ã‚Â– the weather was to most people pretty grim, but grey, drizzly, a sprinkle of snowÃ‚Â… it suits me perfectly! So I assumed that's why I seemed to perform so well! I can always explain away a good performance. It's not really because I don't believe in myself, but it does mean that you can be a little more immune to pressure. Perhaps IM France was the point of no return and I was aware before Kona that I was the fastest qualifying amateur, but anything can happen on the Big Island. So I still didn't feel I had to perform, since so many people seem to have races that don't measure up to their real ability.
ST: During that race in Nice, when did you realize it was going well?
Catherine: I suppose I should have realized when I had a rollerblading escort with a big 3 on his t-shirt alongside me on the marathon, but it was very confusing because the Pros had a 5 minute head-start, and I was unknowingly neck-and-neck with a PRO female Ã‚Â– although doing the same time, she was 5 minutes down the road (because of the separate start), so the poor rollerblading 3rd place escort had to keep swapping between us. I really had no idea of my position, but I knew I was going to be well under my own time-based aim (of 9:30) so I took my time on the last lap and soaked it up, while lots of French people were shouting things at me. Not being a French speaker I had no idea that they were probably trying to make me realize how close the race was. I finished 14 seconds behind 3rd place. Doh!
ST: Were you riding a road bike or TT bike there?
Catherine: I rode a TT bike. Nice is supposed to be very hilly (same with Belfort, the Long Course Worlds) Ã‚Â– they may be more lumpy than your average pan-flat race, but I didnÃ‚Â’t find them as bad as where I train, and certainly not so hilly as to be unsuitable for a TT bike. People exaggerate!
ST: Are you riding with a power meter?
Catherine: I've never used a power meter. I might start using one, it seems they're not for everyone but the stats appeal to the geeky side of me.
ST: What did you do to get ready for Kona?
Catherine: Nothing special! I guess if I had access to a heat chamber or something I would have taken the opportunity to do some sessions in it, but I think unless you are able to use it frequently it is probably more of a psychological boost than actually causing physiological changes. I think getting the simple things right is so important, so I just strive to control the controlables. Things seemed to work ok in Nice - which was pretty warm, so I just continued similar training leading up to Kona.
ST: How early did you arrive on the Big Island?
Catherine: I arrived on the Thursday the week before race week, so 8 days before the race. I'm not sure I could manage any longer Ã‚Â– the heat gets to me!
ST: Did you try to stay away from the pier and the expo?
Catherine: I try to stay away from the expo because it's just so hot! But I kind of like the throng of everything happening on the pier, and I love coffee so most mornings would go to the coffee boat, and have a good few coffees afterwards too. It's part of the experience, and there's so many people milling about its not like anyone notices who anyone else is. I think it'd be more difficult for Pros.
ST: I did not mean getting asked for autographs etc but the general standing around and not getting off your feet.
Catherine: Ha! Autographs are not a concern! Perhaps staying off your feet might help some people but I think it is probably a psychological thing Ã‚Â– I'd avoid walking for hours or going on an epic ride a few days before a big race but you still need to function and have fun Ã‚Â– I think it's a shame to go so far to such an awesome location and not make the most of it for fear of being overactive before the race. So 'staying off my feet' is not something I really think about. Too much fun to be had!
ST: Were you nervous going into the race?
Catherine: I find the nerves tend to have burnt themselves out by the time you reach race day. I do get feelings of 'Why do I put myself through this?' as the race draws nearer, but you know once the cannon has fired you'll remember why. Racing and dealing with pre-race nerves is far preferable to living a safe, unchallenging life where you never leave your comfort zone.
ST: Once out in the water, did you feel good?
Catherine: I felt as good as you can when just getting battered and thumped! The swim is always just a bit of a blur but knowing what to expect I just view it as something to get done before the real fun starts. It's such a relief getting on the bike with your drafting box around you after everyone in the swim is a little too close for comfort.
ST: When did you know that you were the first age grouper on the course?
Catherine: I was told by some friends who were spectating at the start of the marathon that I was the third age grouper, so counting down the girls I overtook I had a good idea but I wasn't sure until my team manager told me after leaving the energy lab. You can never be quite sure by counting the other girls since it's easy to mistake guys for girls, or to overtake a pro female which doesn't mean you're moving up the age group ranks. Even if you're out at the front, you don't allow yourself to assume that it'll stay like that, especially if you don't know the gaps Ã‚Â– it's not over till it's over.
ST: Coming to the finish on Alii Drive what went through your mind?
Catherine: I'm usually telling myself that I'm closer to the finish than I've ever, ever been, and just to soak it up. Sometimes I'm almost taking mental photos, or logging the whole thing in my memory to pull out later Ã‚Â– this is the sort of thing that keeps me going right now when the mountain of revision I need to do for my medical finals seems insurmountable.
ST: So what is next?
Catherine: I have to pass these examsÃ‚Â… I'd rather do an Ironman any day! I'm still figuring my plans for next season and beyond. I need to do the first couple of years as a junior doctor before I can take a break and pursue more exciting paths.
ST: Do you have a specific medical tract in mind and how far into your medical studies are you?
Catherine: I'm in my final year of my degree so all being well will graduate in the summer and start working as a doctor in August. I don't have to make decisions about specialties for a while. I think I'd like my career to involve some overseas work in a developing country, and some sports medicine somewhere along the way tooÃ‚Â…
ST: What about a Pro card?
Catherine: Something I am considering Ã‚Â– almost definitely at some point but I am not sure when.
ST: Is there anything else we should know?
Catherine: Only that none of this would be possible without the support of Team Freespeed Virgin Active, and Bridgtown Cycles Ã‚Â– since I am not sure I would be allowed to race without clothes, a helmet, a bikeÃ‚Â… and I wouldn't have anything to eat either! So thanks to the team sponsors that are brilliant and cover pretty much every base Ã‚Â– from the title sponsor Virgin Active to California Raisins and the Tri Life, Skechers and Skinfit, Clif bar, Sailfish, Lezyne, Compressport, Speedfil and H2Pro, and to Bridgtown (btownbikes.com) and NouriSHmenow for recovery (nourishmenow.co.uk). I feel incredibly blessed to be helped in this way and I am so grateful for the kit as well as the support of friends and family that help in so many ways. Thanks!