Tamsyn Smith is Living Proof that Not Every Ironman Has to be A Guy!
Weight issues bother many around the world. But with the right attitude and self-discipline, anyone can fight for a better self.
We love a success story — particularly if that success story hits a nerve, so when we encountered Tamsyn, we identified with her and her life story immediately. She’s one of the most energetic, positive and spunky interviewees we’ve had the good fortune to profile.
At the moment, she claims to be “two-fifths of the way through a five-year personal challenge” to stay fit and encourage others to follow in her running shoes. Her blog details her journey and while the SOAS Racing Brand Ambassador insist she’s an “overweight 30something,” we’re not buying it! Find out why she’s so much more than a weight and an age!
RS: You began running late in life — in your 30s — how come you waited so long?
Tamsyn: I had big plans, leaving home at 17 to attend university. Call me an overachiever. I only missed three lectures in three years and I also worked. Free time? I had none — especially when I went straight from my BA to a master’s degree.
RS: These days, you teach teens. What’s it like?
Tamsyn: It’s stressful! And until I got physically fit, the pressure of my job left me feeling burned out and depressed, which is why I started running on a treadmill. After my gym membership ran out, I started running outside and quickly realized that running in the fresh air gave me great opportunities to think, too.
RS: You were overweight since childhood. Is that why you waited so long to start running?
Tamsyn: I came from a family of overweight people and grew up assuming that my genes were at fault. As I matured, I didn’t exercise. The inevitable happened: my clothes got tighter and tighter, but rather than address my weight, it was easier to buy new clothes. My serendipitous moment came when I drove to work one day. I stopped short at a traffic light, but my legs kept wobbling. That’s when I knew that I had to do something!
RS: What clothing challenges do overweight runners face?
Tamsyn: Spandex running outfits and skimpy shorts can make anyone overweight feel self-conscious. Happily, manufacturers are starting to make attractive, fashion-forward workout clothes in plus sizes. Overweight runners tend also to experience chafing when skin rubs together — especially in thigh and underarm areas - so I suggest lubricating products. Importantly, buying the right footwear is critical and overweight women who buy sports bras without extra support could regret their purchases most of all.
RS: How should an overweight runner approach a fitness program?
Tamsyn: My Most Unexceptional advice is: Don't run before you can walk. Start slowly; don’t launch into a three-day-a-week running programme because it’s not safe! Build up slowly and set achievable goals — like walking for 20-30 minutes several times a week. Once this distance feels comfortable, you may be ready for programmes like “Couch to 5k” and/or cross training, like swimming, cycling or dancing.
RS: What do you say to those who insist that overweight people risk knee injuries if they decide to start running?
Tamsyn: Obese people generally benefit more from gentle exercise like swimming or walking to get started. Besides, most knee injuries result from weaknesses and imbalances in other muscles rather than weight issues.
RS: What’s your most memorable race; and why?
Tamsyn: My first marathon. The weather was horrendous; cold, wet and windy. Parts of the course were flooded, so I had to run through icy, knee-deep water at times. But I had set a 4.5 hour finish time for myself and I was determined to achieve it. It helped to run with a friend because he distracted me. We chatted and ran for nearly 20 miles, at which point he dropped out. I thought he was just taking a 'comfort break' so I jogged on, expecting him to catch up. At 23 miles, I knew I was on my own. I just pushed on!
RS: Did you accomplish your goal of finishing in 4.5 hours?
Tamsyn: When the stadium came into view, I got excited about making my time, but that’s when I learned that, due to floodwater, the race had been re-routed, extending the distance. As a result, I finished the 27-mile ultra at 4:32:01. Since then I've run other marathons, but that's the only time I recall my finish time down to seconds!
RS: If given a choice, would you pick running, cycling or swimming as your favourite sport?
Tamsyn: Running, of course! I learned to swim three years ago and even pushed myself to complete an 11 mile sea swim. I like to ride, though cycling downhill makes me cautious as I sustained severe injuries years ago in the Pyrenees. A major reason running is my favourite is because running with friends is such fun. I once loved “alone time.” Now, I prefer company. We run and chat while avoiding the temptations of menus at bars and restaurants!
RS: How do you prepare and train for the Ironman?
Tamsyn: First, I find the right training partner(s). Typically, my training schedule is routine: I swim for an hour on Monday afternoon and run track for an hour on Tuesday afternoon. On Wednesday, I cross-train in the morning, take a lunch run with work friends and either coach or have a sports massage in the afternoon. I spend an hour track running on Thursday and on Friday, I swim for an hour. Saturday is a big run day: I jog to the park run and return, which adds 10km to my weekly total. On Sunday, I ride my bike for from 3 to 6 hours, and add a 10 to 20km run on alternating weeks.
RS: Phew. We’re exhausted. That’s every day!
Tamsyn: That’s not all. I cycle to and from work daily, and since I live at the bottom of a ravine, I tackle steep hills in both directions! No excuse if the weather’s bad, either - I substitute turbo trainer sessions if I can’t get out and about.
RS: How do you stay motivated?
Tamsyn: Sheer determination plus setting short- and medium-term goals. I listen to my body because I once had a tendency to over train. Now, if I feel fatigued, I don't call myself lazy, but rather I let myself have a rest day.
RS: What’s the Most Unexceptional advice you were ever given?
Tamsyn: Someone told me “A year from now, you'll wish you had started today!" Procrastination won't help anyone reach goals. It’s wiser to start taking baby steps in the right direction as soon as possible.
RS: Do you have any non-running goals?
Tamsyn: I'm looking forward to getting a new kitchen. I currently have an original 1970s kitchen in avocado green with orange and brown tiles. There's no oven and only two rings. Once the renovation is done, I’m sure I’ll be doubly inspired to make delicious, healthy meals every day!
Tamsyn overcomes weight issues thanks to the right attitude and self-discipline that gives her the confidence necessary to challenge herself at Ironman competitions. To follow her inspiration, check out her running blog.
Does your fitness program help you look past your own body image issues or are you still struggling?