Today the World Ironwoman Champion, Harriet Brown shares with us how she became involved in Ironwoman, what a normal day looks like for her, how she finds a work/life balance,what has made her successful and what keeps her motivated. This inspiring read is the first in a new monthly series called Wellbeing Warriors where I will be interviewing inspiring people succeeding in the health, wellbeing and fitness space.
What made you try/how did you get into Ironwomen?
I started out as a pool swimmer. I competed for Victoria from the age 10 to 12 years and dreamed of being an elite swimmer. I then started nippers after going along to watch my older sister, Alexandra, compete. Of course I hated watching and just had to be involved too. It took me a long time to learn surf skills and how to paddle a board well enough to make it out through the break in big surf. I fit from swimming and very determined and through practice gradually started to improve. Throughout school I was involved in many sports including waterpolo, athletics, cross country, hockey, swimming and surf lifesaving. I liked surf life saving the most because I made some great friends at Ocean Grove Surf Life Saving Club and I also loved that I could train at the beach. I moved to the Gold Coast when I finished school to study and pursue my dream of becoming an Ironwoman at Northcliffe Surf Life Saving Club.
What is a typical day like for you?
Each day is a little bit different for me. I swim four mornings a week from 5am-7am. On Monday straight after swimming I run on the track and on Tuesday and Thursday mornings I do gym. Each afternoon I head to either the beach or to the river for a board or ski session with the Northcliffe squad. On Wednesday and Saturday mornings I have Ironwoman training at the beach which are the hardest sessions of the week. I also work as an Exercise Physiologist a few days a week.
In your eyes, what has made you successful?
Someone once told me that success comes from hard work and training smartly. I think about these elements often when training and racing. I have been competing at an elite level in this sport for quite a few years and have persevered through the tough times of injury and illness. I absolutely love what I do. I love racing and I believe that to be good at something there has to be enjoyment in the process. I like to plan and enjoy seeing small improvements after weeks of stringing together some quality sessions. I love that feeling of turning up to a race knowing that I have done the work and am one of the fittest on the start line.
How do you stay motivated?
Creating goals helps me stay focused and motivated. Rather than always thinking of the big picture which could be a race that is months away, I try and make short term goals, for example improving my technique, increasing my strength or making sure I do four swim sessions in the week. When I feel unmotivated to train and don’t want to be there, I try and just enjoy the little things like catching a wave. I avoid thinking about how well I am going and try to relax and joke with my friends. If that’s not working, I’ll think about some of my best races and goals I have in the future and just try and push through. Everyone needs to know their limits, sometimes I know that my body needs a rest and sometimes my lack of motivations stems from over training. In these instances, I’ll take a break.
What challenges have you faced throughout your career?
I have had a few injuries and illnesses over the year, but the biggest challenge I faced was last year. I broke my jaw in three places and it was wired shut for six weeks. I wasn’t able to talk, work or train and could only eat really soft foods.
Those weeks were really tough but I knew I was going to recover and that the pain would only be temporary. It felt like forever and I lost quite a lot of weight, mostly muscle. When I was able to train again, I only had 8 weeks to prepare for the World Championships. I was so motivated leading into worlds after a frustrating preparation that I ended up having my best result, winning the World Ironwoman title.
How do you balance your career and social/family life?
Balancing my sport, career, social activities and having time for my family is one of my biggest challenges. It has taken me many years to create a sustainable balance and have fulfillment in all aspects of my life. My racing is currently my main focus but I also enjoy working, catching up with friends and family and having some down time to myself. I am lucky in that I get to train with many of my friends.
What does ‘wellbeing’ mean to you and how do you maintain it?
Wellbeing to me means having a healthy body and mind. It is all about being balanced, healthy and happy. Wellbeing is a term that I am still trying to figure out the true meaning of and how it relates to me.
What advice would you give to other women hoping to pursue entry in Ironwoman?
It takes time to learn surf skills, so be patient and spend time in the surf. Keep swimming as that’s where your base fitness comes from. Train hard, be patient and enjoy the ride.
What advice would you give to other women thinking about doing Ironwoman for the first time?
The first step would be to join a surf club and complete your bronze medallion to become a volunteer lifesaver. Then start training with a surf club squad and enter a surf carnival. All elite Ironwoman have their bronze and do volunteer patrols on weekends. Image by Pat Clifford
What would people be surprised to know about you?
Fun fact: I have my grade 8 Violin and used to play in an orchestra.