A couple of Australia flag tattoos on the shoulders and legs, race kit on and a shuttle bus headed to the start line. A 3.8 km swim, 180 km cycle and 42.2 km run to the finish and you’ve completed an Ironman.
This is standard procedure for Elite Athlete Program Scholar and University of Sydney Bachelor of Commerce student, Emily Kempson, who managed to qualify for the Ironman World Championships, again.
As the youngest female competitor, 22-year-old Kempson placed first in the 2015 Ironman Malaysia which sees her booked-in for Kona 2016. With temperatures hovering around 40 degrees, 140 people didn’t make it to the end out of almost 1000 starters, but Kempson did, and has completed every race she’s entered.
“The Ironman has this unwritten rule that unless you’re dying you’ll find a way,” Kempson comments on her impressive strike rate.
That isn’t to say pulling out hasn’t been on her mind at several stages. Kempson recalls a bunch of American spectators shouting out, “You’re almost there,” when in reality she had another 200km to get “there.”
“You end up really appreciating the scattered crowd support that acts as a distraction from the rolling hills and constant pain. The course was brutal. It left me feeling so isolated. I was unable to see any other competitors which made me question if I was actually still on the right course,” Kempson recalled, now fully recovered from her borderline delirious race condition.
Imagine wanting to go as fast as you can, but also wanting to conserve as much energy as possible. This is the constant pace-setting battle of the triathlon. Kempson decided to sit in with a pack of athletes about the same speed during the Malaysian swim leg, despite knowing she could have pushed a touch more. And it seems the strategy paid-off. A quick transition run, swim gear off, sunscreen on and Kempson was ready for the bike mount line. Wait; double back for the forgotten sunglasses, crucial for the gruelling 180km cycle ahead. Mistakes like these can jeopardise your whole race plan, with every second counting.
Another important piece of the punishing Ironman puzzle which interests the Health Science graduate is the aid station, designed for competitor sustenance.
“It differs from country to country. I’ve found Australia is big on jelly lollies, the classic vegemite on a stick and nutritious fruits, whereas other countries tend to give you snacks like potato chips, pretzels and Red Bull,” reviews Kempson, confessing her go-to is a Snickers bar at 8-9 hours in.
You’d think sustenance tents would be heavenly for competing athletes making the challenge more bearable; however, it’s tough to stomach food when you feel unsettled after hours of steep climbs and fatigue sets in. Kempson admits she has not escaped this, throwing up vital-carbs, salt tablets and a whole lot of hydration.
Weak, but strong in character, Kempson checked her watch every couple of hundred metres counting down to the finish line. With about 30km left in Malaysia, Kempson went by some monkeys sitting alongside the isolated road, and it became clear that she was winning in her category – turns out everyone was struggling.
Kempson notes that just finishing Malaysia was one of her greatest achievements, irrespective of taking out the podium position.
“Sometimes pushing yourself on the worst days really makes you appreciate how tough this sport really is. I was able to refuel at the finish line with some pizza in the ice bath, and running on adrenaline I stayed there for another 3 hours to dance and cheer home athletes still coming in,” said Kempson.
Exuding gratitude for the support of her Coach, James Swadling, the Elite Athlete Program for their financial and academic assistance, and her dog “Kona,” it’s clear that it’s been a team effort to qualify for the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, October 8, 2016, despite the individualised nature of the sport.
And while the team cannot possibly hope to ‘Keep up with Kempson’ at Kona, the pinnacle event of her sport, everyone at Sydney Uni Sport & Fitness wishes Emily every success.