Ironman: Grit puts pair on Ironman trail

By Peter White

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Sandy Boubee and Debbie Clark are about to take on the toughest challenge in endurance racing on the planet.

The two Tauranga residents are set to compete in the notoriously tough Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii early next month.

Boubee has more experience at competing over the gruelling Ironman distance than Clark but she knows there is no comparison with the conditions in Hawaii.

To add to the emotional drama and fear factor of what awaits the 44-year-old, she will miss her son Luke's sixth birthday, which is the day she leaves.

"The biggest issue is the uncertainty we face after training in the wind and the rain we have had here, then going into the 38 degree temperatures and humidity," Boubee said. "I know I am not one who copes well in the heat, so I am not going there to race but to participate and finish. There are just so many unknowns but realistically, with how my training has gone over winter and working fulltime, I will be happy with a top 20 finish in my age group."

Boubee competed in her first Ironman NZ event at Taupo in 2000 and quickly showed she was ideally suited to the tough racing format, finishing second in her class in 2002 and qualifying for Hawaii. Her new coach John Ackland, and an Arthur Lydiard-like training regime dominated by hill work, made all the difference.

But due to work and financial factors she could not go and once daughter Alex was born, she put racing on hold for 10 years until she decided to get back into training early this year.

"My 10-year comeback has had a few challenges, like having a young family and teaching job. But I am lucky to have such an unbelievably supportive husband, who allows me to get back into it, and Otumoetai College has allowed me time off to train," Boubee said.

Clark did not take on the triathlon and ironman challenges until she retired from teaching at Otumoetai College in 2009, but she had a successful background in elite sport to call upon. In the 1970s she represented New Zealand in gymnastics, before excelling at tennis and snowboarding.

The 55-year-old regards the Kona Ironman as the toughest test of all.

"Most triathletes want to take it on and for me it is a test of pushing yourself to your limits," Clark said. "Mental strength is the key and I have always been a driven person. Gymnastics was an amazing foundation for this, with all the components of fitness that you cover in gymnastics. There is the power, strength, flexibility and focus. You have to be mentally strong to succeed as a gymnast."

Clark remembers being in awe of Boubee competing in triathlons but a dislike of swimming meant she could never imagine taking on the challenge.

"I was never a swimmer and at the start it was a real issue. I thought never in a million years would I consider running a marathon, after the long bike ride and swim. But I went to swim coach Sheryl McLay and she was amazing. I now love swimming," Clark said.

The length of training required to handle the Ironman distances was the biggest shock for Clark.

She and Boubee are peaking up to 22 hours training every week, all done at competitive, race-like intensity.

The catalyst for Clark to qualify for Hawaii came last year at the World Long Distance Triathlon Championships in Las Vegas, where she was stunned to finish third.

This year she won her age group in the inaugural Melbourne Ironman, which qualified her for Hawaii, but not before she had a major problem with her bike.

The inspirational figure of All Blacks captain Richie McCaw then came to the rescue.

"I stopped, looked at my bike and thought to myself 'this is my race over'. But then I thought of Richie in last year's final against France and asked myself what would he have done? He would have changed the game plan so I got the bike, found an official and fixed the problem to win by an hour and a half."

Some more McCaw inspiration may be needed in Hawaii for Boubee and Clark, as they face the toughest ordeal of their lives.

But whatever happens in the race, their determination and ability to juggle so many aspects of their lives with serious training, already makes them winners.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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