Made of Steel
From 13 stone to Iron Woman, Siobhan Moore shares her inspirational story with Tanya Sweeney
In her early 20s, Dubliner Siobhan Moore tipped the scales at 13 stone; a combination of comfort eating and a lack of rigorous exercise. "I wasn't happy inside myself and I ate . . . simple as that," she admits. "I didn't have a lot of confidence and I wasn't in a good place. But I got involved in swimming and changed my life around a little bit and lost the weight gradually."
While this itself is an impressive feat, that was merely the beginning of Siobhan's remarkable journey. This month, at the age of 43, she is eyeing up her first Ironman challenge in Frankfurt.
"It's like a mid-life crisis gone mad," she says, laughing. "But anyone who does Ironman challenges will tell you that it's about seeing what your body can do, and taking the next step outside your comfort zone. It's truly inspirational to see what other people will do, and there are people in my club thinking, 'if Siobhan can do it at 43 . . .' It gives people motivation.
"Three years ago, I didn't even know what a triathlon or an Ironman event was. I thought that people would think I was old and decrepit, but in reality people are just incredibly supportive. You are just exposed to this whole new world that exists way beyond Lycra and wheels and bars that taste like budgie food. But yes, I'm clutching to the coat-tails of youth."
There's clutching to youth and then there's this . . . the ultimate in physical endurance. Comprising a 112-mile bike ride, a 2.6-mile swim and a 26.2-mile marathon, Ironman challenges are, putting it mildly, not for the faint of heart nor the weak of spirit.
"I wish I could say I'm not nervous but I am," admits Malahide-based Siobhan. "I think anyone who does this type of challenge questions themselves and asks whether they have done enough, but I have put a lot of work into it.
"A lot of people are nervous about the swim part of this challenge, because it's like a washing-machine start where you get sucked into it. I got some great advice about this from Marie Gorman, who has done the event before. She told me to count to 30 when the gun goes off, and then you can swim freely in your own space."
Siobhan's decision to train for triathlons came about in a curious way. Four years ago, she took up running at the behest of a colleague and joined a running club in Clontarf.
"Seeing the progress was kind of amazing," she reflects. "Then, a very good friend in work got ill and that motivated me. I thought, 'I'm alive and healthy and fit'. It's so clichéd, but so many people would love to be able to do what I do."
Unfortunately, Siobhan suffered two stress fractures within eight months. After a biomechanical assessment, she was eventually back on form. Yet advice from former All-Ireland GAA footballer Paul Clarke rang in her ears. "He told me to try triathlons as they'd be less stress on my body," recalls Siobhan.
"I went along to the Velvet Strand Triathlon not long after and I was blown away by the atmosphere and thought, 'these people are amazing. I have to get me a piece of this!' I was terrified at the prospect of it all, but I'm a real believer in feeling the fear and doing it anyway."
Sure enough, she went "mad" for physical endurance feats in 2010, completing a number of runs across the country, her first full Dublin marathon in 4:13 and tackling the half-Ironman challenge in Galway.
"When you're younger, you're more inclined to go for speed races, but speed is not there," notes Siobhan. "For older people, endurance is more important. I won't be the fastest, but I'll always keep going."
These days, Siobhan's weekly training regime is near spartan. She says: "I do a masters swim three mornings a week, from about 2.5k to 3.5k. A few evenings a week, I run up to 13k, and on weekends I would do bike runs. The first one on Saturdays is about two hours, but the Sunday bike ride is longer and is topped off with a half-hour run.
"You just have to make sure you eat well – chicken, brown bread, rice, meat. We always laugh that we're starving constantly. We eat, then we're looking for food five minutes later."
Come the day of the Ironman challenge itself, nutrition is similarly crucial: "You'd have porridge, banana, a brown-bread bagel. And even during the challenge, when you get out of the swim and get on the bike, you're constantly eating and drinking, because if you don't put the calories in, you'll have nothing for the run."
While training demands a level of focus and discipline, Siobhan gets encouragement not only from her Fingal Triathlon Club comrades, but also from her partner.
"He trains with me too, and fortunately, we do enjoy going out for a meal and going out for beer. It's important. You can't be all work and no play," she says.
Apart from juggling extensive training and a social life, Siobhan also has to manage her full-time job as a communications officer for the Dublin Airport Authority.
A full plate by anyone's yardstick . . . yet she is aware that other women also have to organise work, play and training around motherhood.
"The number of women getting involved in triathlons is huge right now," she says. "I've great admiration for those who have kids, as it's hard to fit it all in. Yet when their kids are watching them cross the (Ironman event) line, it means the world to them. It doesn't matter if they come first or last – they know Mammy or Daddy is an Ironman, and they want to emulate them."
Job done on surviving the Ironman challenge in Frankfurt, Siobhan hopes to complete the Dublin Rock 'n' Roll Half-Marathon three weeks later, and is already on the hunt for her next personal challenge.
"The thing is, Ironman challenges teach you that anything is possible," she enthuses. "Once you have your sights set on the goal, break it into do-able chunks and get advice from someone who has been there. Join a club and get involved with like-minded people and be inspired and motivated by them.
"I find their motivation really infectious. I see some people start off with romantic notions about wanting to do the challenge, but underneath it all you have to have a genuine desire and passion for it. If you don't have that, you can forget it . . . but if you do, there's no reason why you can't succeed."
For information on the Dublin Rock 'n' Roll Half-Marathon on August 5, log on to ie.competitor.com. Information on the Frankfurt Ironman Challenge can be found on www.ironmanfrankfurt.com