We talk about longevity in the sport of Ironman with Arlene Ayoub today. Arlene is a wife, mom and grandmother and today she shares her Ironman story on The Kona Edge.
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BRAD BROWN: Welcome onto The Kona Edge. We go to Montreal now to catch up with Arlene Ayoub. Arlene, welcome. Thanks for joining us today.
ARLENE AYOUB: Thank you. It’s nice to be talking to someone who’s in the nice warm weather.
BRAD BROWN: You were telling me before we started recording, weather in Montreal right now is not conducive to Ironman training. You had a massive blizzard. There’s lots of snow about.
ARLENE AYOUB: We’ve got lots of snow. The roads are about 50cm of snow. Cars were abandoned. Cars were snowed in. There were kids off school. It was really a mess.
BRAD BROWN: Wow. You must have a good relationship with your indoor trainer and your treadmill then.
Indoor training for Ironman because you have to
ARLENE AYOUB: Yes. We train indoors about 3 days a week on our bikes and run indoors as well. We try get outdoors for longer runs if the weather permits. But we’re certainly dressed in trail shoes and cold-weather clothing.
BRAD BROWN: You’re a Canadian. You’re used to it, that’s been part of your life. I’m sure you wouldn’t want it any other way, I guess.
ARLENE AYOUB: You’d think we’d be used to it but we spend a lot of time talking about the weather and comparing more stories of the blizzards of years gone by. It’s a huge preoccupation with ladies.
BRAD BROWN: I spent quite a bit of time in the States after I finished high school. I was an exchange student in Montgomery Alabama of all places. One of my host families knew a Canadian family down in Florida and they just used to dodge winter. So, they would head down to Florida. But there’s a massive Canadian contingent down in Florida. Ever thought of moving to somewhere a bit more tropical during winter?
ARLENE AYOUB: We’re lucky, we spent a month in Hawaii and there’s a lot of Canadians down there. Mostly westerners, people from DC and Montgomery. In fact, I think I met more Canadians in the month of January in Maui, than I did Americans.
BRAD BROWN: That’s funny. As far as the sport, where did your interest in triathlon stem from? Where did it all begin?
Discover a new found love later in life
ARLENE AYOUB: I started running first. Started when my children were late teenagers, just for something to do on my own, and found that I loved it. So, I started with the running, started with the marathons and then like most things go, had friends that were doing triathlon. And probably over a couple of glasses of wine we all decided to sign up for an Ironman. Not knowing how to swim and had a year to learn how to swim. I’ve been doing it ever since. So, that means my first one was in 2005.
BRAD BROWN: Why is there always wine involved in these decisions, Arlene?
ARLENE AYOUB: Mostly yes. I don’t know if it was a good decision or a bad decision but I like it.
BRAD BROWN: You mentioned that you started running just obviously, to get out and time for you and to be with you, essentially. When did you realise you had some ability, that you were good at these things?
Training with friends helps with the commitment
ARLENE AYOUB: You’re only as good as your last event, I suppose. I just knew that I enjoyed it and that I was getting better as I went along. And then it became a social thing. I have a lot of friends that I train with and that was a big part of my commitment. And it was fun to discover something new about myself later in life, if I can say. My first Ironman, I finished it and I thought oh well, game up, see what you got. And 10 years later I’m still loving it. I’ve learned a lot with every race and despite being good at it, I’m still enjoying it. So, I think that’s more of a factor.
BRAD BROWN: Arlene, it’s interesting you say you discovered something new about yourself later in life. I think as a mom it’s difficult. Because I think most women struggle with that particularly once they’ve had kids. They put their kids and their husbands in the forefront and almost neglect themselves. It’s quite inspiring.
Make time for yourself and grow
I know a couple of people here in South Africa. There’s a good example of an ultra marathon runner, she’s got 2 little girls. She’s a chartered accountant and she’s realised that’ she’s good and she’s winning races. Not as an age grouper, as a professional now, which is amazing. Sometimes it’s important to do stuff for you as a mom and take that time, because it allows you to grow as a person, essentially, isn’t it?
ARLENE AYOUB: Yes. I totally agree. I’m 60, so I didn’t grow up doing sport so this is a whole revelation for me. And I think it’s such a huge part of my life and it’s keeping me healthy.
Get out and move. It’s good for your body and your head
I would encourage any mother. Anybody that’s got obligations and responsibilities. Whether they’re children or work, to not forget that aspect in that part of their lives. To get out doing whatever. It doesn’t have to be Ironman, it doesn’t have to be triathlon, but just get out and move. It’s so good for your body and your head.
BRAD BROWN: How do you get the juggle right? The balance of everything? Family life, work life, training? You say it doesn’t have to be an Ironman, but a lot of work goes into training for an Ironman for you, personally. How do you keep that balance?
Schedule your Ironman training to keep that balance
ARLENE AYOUB: I’m now self-employed. So, my schedule is quite flexible. I can still work remotely so I keep my clients up to date that way. I don’t have children at home anymore. I have grandchildren now. It still involves a bit of juggling. Sometimes you get yourself in trouble when you over schedule.
As women, we try and please too many people and we try and do as much as we can for everybody. So, scheduling for me is a big thing. I must be careful not to overdo it. But it sorts itself out.
BRAD BROWN: With regards to the training and having that family balance, your husband is also involved in the sport. He’s also a good athlete in his own right. Do you get to train together much? Or are you competitive when you’re together and it’s best that you don’t train together? Otherwise you end up racing all the time?
The benefits of Ironman training with your spouse
ARLENE AYOUB: No. we train together. We weren’t competitive against each other. In fact, he’s got much more of a background than I do so he helps me out a lot. He’s my coach, he writes all my programs. It’s so nice that we’re both doing it because it can be difficult for a couple if one is very involved in a sport or any hobby, and the other one is not. So, it’s a blessing that we’re both involved. And in fact, we were at Kona together this year.
BRAD BROWN: That’s awesome. I love that. What do your kids think about this?
ARLENE AYOUB: I think they’re proud of us. They’re kind of in the thick of things right now. They’ve had little kids and got big jobs, so they’re busy. They just watch us coming and going, they don’t like to hear about if we’ve fallen or if we had some mishap. That worries them. The grandkids, we have 4 grandchildren, they don’t know any different. They think this is what all grandparents do.
Do all grandparents do Ironman?
BRAD BROWN: I love that. You know that you’re condemning them to at some stage in their life, do this. Don’t you, Arlene?
I grew up in a family, where my dad’s an ultra-marathoner and I swore that I would never do it, and my brother now does ultra-marathons, he does Ironman’s, I do the same. And it’s all because of my dad. But we did get him back. We sucked him into Ironman at 67, so he did his first Ironman at 67. I’m sure your kids at some stage are going to want to do this.
Arlene, life lessons out of Ironman? What are some of the biggest things that the sport has taught you?
Run your own Ironman race
ARLENE AYOUB: I would say 2 things. Run your own race. I learned early on in racing not to chase anybody. Just to run your own race and listen to my own inner voice and you end up just where you’re supposed to be in a race. I think that translates very easy into a new life. Just keep going.
Once you have an idea of what you’re supposed to be doing, be true to that and another thing is steadiness. Steadiness for me in a race is huge. I try and stay within a certain parameter and respect that. Everybody knows in an Ironman you have moments where you just want to give up. You’re always wondering what the heck am I doing this for? Then you eat something and you feel better and you keep going.
So, it’s managing the ups and downs of our energy levels and our moods and that translates also to life. There’s some days you wake up and it’s raining and you don’t want to go to work and you hate everything that’s going on that day. Then another day you’re in a totally different mood. So, run your race and just persevere.
BRAD BROWN: Have you got any regrets? Do you wish you possibly had started earlier?
Starting your triathlon career at the right time in life
ARLENE AYOUB: Yes. I wish I had started earlier. I may have had a different result. I think the way it happened was that I had the time to do it when it started, so I never felt guilty by taking time away from young kids. I had older kids but I never had that extra burden of worrying that somebody wasn’t getting fed on time. Or somebody’s homework wasn’t getting done because I was somewhere else. It worked out.
BRAD BROWN: Sometimes it’s better to get away from teenagers because it will stop you from killing them.
ARLENE AYOUB: Absolutely.
BRAD BROWN: And I say that as a father of a teenager, so I speak from experience. Without a doubt.
As far as age and as you get older in the sport, obviously, you can’t keep getting faster. How do you deal with that? I think it’s something a lot of age groupers who are getting older, grapple with. It’s difficult. I’m sure it’s something you don’t like thinking about.
The plan is to do Ironman until I’m 90
ARLENE AYOUB: Getting older, I see friends around me, that are dealing with health issues. I may not be getting faster, but at least I’m still in there and I’m still doing it and it’s a blessing. And I hope I’ll be able to do it until I’m 90. I’d like to keep going for as long as I can.
BRAD BROWN: Is that the plan? There were 80-year-olds in Kona 2016. That’s super inspiring for anyone. Is that the plan, do you want to keep going for as long as you can keep going?
ARLENE AYOUB: Yes. I wish they’d stop raising the bar. We’ve got Sister Madonna and several other of these lovely ladies and they keep going and oh darn, that’s another year I’m going to have to keep going. Yes, provided I’m healthy I would love to be out there at 90.
BRAD BROWN: I always joke that my strategy to get to Kona is to outlive everyone in my age group. But it’s not looking good now. There’s some fast, old guys, so I’m going to have to come up with a different one.
Arlene, what is it that’s so special about Kona? If I say the word Kona, what do you think?
Kona warrants respect
ARLENE AYOUB: Respect. It is a race that comes and gets you. It’s an Ironman that you’ve done before, but gosh, the level of participants is just that much higher and you’re intimidated. The weather for North Americans going there, can be very challenging. The winds; it’s very hard not to be discouraged.
And then you get out and you’re on that run and you want to get out and get finished before it gets too dark. Coming back and hearing Mike Reilly’s voice and you think ok, I can hear him so I must be not too far away. But I have a lot of respect for that place.
It is truly challenging and anybody that goes out there and tries their best should be very proud of themselves.
BRAD BROWN: What’s the secret to having a good race on the Big Island?
Conserve your energy and keep going
ARLENE AYOUB: I think you can’t get too much in the swim. You must conserve your energy. If you go too hard in the swim, you’re going to come out dehydrated and exhausted.
The other secret, for me, is that I know that going out, maybe the winds will be calmer. As soon as you turn around in Hawi, as the day goes on those winds come up stronger and stronger. And then you’re tired. Now you’re tired. You got to just put your head down, not try to be a hero and push those watts. Just keep your head down and keep going.
And the run, it’s going to be humid, it’s going to be hot. Once you go out on the first rue, which isn’t quite half, and you go up on the highway, you’ve got a big climb there. That can also come and get your morale down. Because then you’re just facing this highway that just seems to go and on and on. It comes back a little to what I was saying before, managing your move and cutting up your goals in very small pieces.
Break your goals down to manageable size
In other words, if you can get to the next light, the next km marker, get to the next food station. Little by little you’ll just keep it up and get the course done. So, it’s not letting yourself get discouraged and conserve your energy going on.
BRAD BROWN: That’s great advice not just for Kona. That’s great advice for anybody particularly who’s doing their first Ironman. Because you look at that distance on paper and you think to yourself, that’s crazy. Why am I doing this? And if you break it up it just makes it more manageable. I don’t know if you’d agree, but that’s probably the best bit of advice I would give to an out and out novice.
Stay in the moment of your Ironman race
ARLENE AYOUB: Yes. It’s a long day. You can’t wish it to be over. You’ve just got to stay present in your activity. If you’re running, sometimes just listen to your footfalls. Or sometimes I listen to the breathing of people around me. Something that keeps you in the moment. Not, what am I going to have for the post-race party. Just try and stay in the moment and live it every step of the way. Because in Kona, I don’t know if I’ll ever go back. God willing, I will. But you must enjoy it while you’re there.
BRAD BROWN: Yes. There’s no guarantees. That’s the big thing and I think every age group that I speak to who has been, they say that to me. You never know if this is going to be your last one or not. You’ve got to soak it up and it’s difficult because I don’t think anyone has a perfect race on the island. The distance of the race and the duration is so long. You might have a lot that goes right, but there’s always one or two things that go wrong. Have you had the perfect race? Is there still something out there that you think can go better?
Racing the best of yourself at Kona
ARLENE AYOUB: No. I’ve never had a perfect race. I’ve had some perfect parts in a race. Like a perfect run or a perfect bike. And I could swim, but having them all together on one day, that would be incredibly lucky. And I think that you should have perfect moments within the best you can be.
BRAD BROWN: Arlene, what do you still want to achieve in the sport? What is still left to do?
ARLENE AYOUB: I would like to keep working on my biking. So, I’ll be working on that this winter indoors. I’d like to travel to more locations. Perhaps, I’ve never been over to Asia or I haven’t done any events in Europe, so that would be nice. I think any opportunity that I’m given to participate in triathlon, I have the time and I have the health to do it. So, I’m open to any opportunity.
Age and recovery in your Ironman racing
BRAD BROWN: Recovery is a big one as age catches up as well. How many of these races do you think you’ve got in you in a year? Particularly Ironman distance. Because they do take it out of you and the older you get the tougher it gets to bounce back.
ARLENE AYOUB: For me, it’s less about the number of events and more about me taking the recovery days in my schedule. So, this year I’ll be doing a half in Florida in 2 weeks. Then I’ll be doing the half here in Mont-Temblant in June. And probably the Falk here in August. Just having done Kona last fall, that will give me 2 fulls and 2 halves within a 12-month period.
BRAD BROWN: Do you feel that’s the ideal for you right now?
Recovery is crucial for improved Ironman performance
ARLENE AYOUB: Yes. I feel I can handle that schedule without too much difficulty. But then again, it involves that I schedule recovery days within my week.
BRAD BROWN: That’s vital and I think that’s probably one of the biggest mistakes that athletes getting into the sport, make. They feel like they’ve just got to keep going and it’s all or nothing. A lot of them break down or get burnt out.
Recovery is so important and like you say more so in the actual weekly training or after a race or bouncing back after a race.
Learn to like the Ironman process
ARLENE AYOUB: Yes. And I think a piece of advice that I can give people that are just getting into it. It’s not about the race, it’s about the process. So, if you’re hating the process, then you’ll just ever do one Ironman and you’ll never go back. Learn to like the process. Have fun doing it and if you have a bad training day, try and see what you can learn from that. Don’t compare yourself to others. If you’ve had a bad training day, maybe you’ve had a lousy day at work or you’ve got a cold or something.
What can you learn from it? Well, I shouldn’t have pushed myself too hard, or I should have stayed home that day because I wasn’t healthy. Or maybe I haven’t been training the way I should, or maybe I haven’t been eating the way I should. There’s something to be learned from every time you go out the door.
BRAD BROWN: Arlene, you mentioned that you’ve got to learn to love the process. What are some of the things you can do? I find it interesting that your hubby coaches you. That could make a couple of interesting dinner conversations, I’m sure. But is it a case of, if something is not working for you, sit down with your coach and sort it out. As opposed to hammering out those things and getting to a point where you’re absolutely hating it?
Sort out your training issues to make it work for you
ARLENE AYOUB: Yes. Just because it’s written on paper doesn’t mean you must do it. And if my husband was here he’d tell you that I’m probably his worst and most difficult athlete. But the training program and the process is supposed to work for you. Not the other way around. If there’s something that’s not jiving take a minute to sit down and re-think it. A training program is specific to an athlete.
So, what can you get out of that. A training program that’s going to yield a better person and a better athlete, and surround yourself with people that are training. If they’re better than you then you’re going to learn something. If they’re not as strong as you then you can help them. There’s a lot of help in our process of becoming triathletes.
Sometimes just go out and have a decent run and enjoy nature. You’ll come back more resourced and with a smile on your face. If you’re ending every training being exhausted and miserable, something is not right.
BRAD BROWN: Yes. It’s not going to last long. Like you say, you might stick around for one or two but then you’re going to go on and find golf or something. But golf’s not as much fun as an Ironman, I think.
ARLENE AYOUB: I don’t think most people understand the way we think so I would agree with you.
BRAD BROWN: Arlene, then finally to wrap things up. Looking at your achievements over your career, what are you most proud of?
Be proud of how you conduct your Ironman race
ARLENE AYOUB: I’m proud of my times. The way I’ve conducted myself in races. Sometimes I’ve had to lend a hand to somebody else in a race. Slow down and talk to them. I am proud of the way I have run my races as a human being not as a hugely competitive athlete, at no cost.
And I’m proud of the fact that the people that I train with, we’re all still talking to each other after all these years. I think we have are good proof and have a good recipe for going through Ironman training.
BRAD BROWN: Brilliant. Well, Arlene Ayoub, thank you so much for your time on this edition of The Kona Edge. Much appreciated.
I look forward to getting you on to talk a little bit about your individual disciplines. We’ll save that for another time. Thanks for your time today.
ARLENE AYOUB: Thank you.
Brad Brown is a 40 something age grouper that dreams of one day qualifying for and racing on the big island (He may have to outlive everyone in his age group though).
Morbidly obese in 2009, Brad clocked in at 165kgs (363lbs) at his heaviest.
He's subsequently lost a third of his body weight on the way to a half Ironman pb of 5:06 and a full Ironman pb of 12:21.
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