Medical students work exhausting, around-the-clock shifts on hospital wards as part of their training.
It must be a doddle for budding Sheffield medic Catherine Faux. Endurance is her game; she is one of the best amateur triathletes in the world and has her sights set on an Ironman title.
Catherine, 24, has qualified for next month’s Ironman World Championship, a gruelling swimming, running and cycling test of speed and stamina, having turned in a stellar performance as the first amateur female in the recent Ironman France contest.
The world championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, takes place in October and sees competitors race in the searing heat and hurtling through lava fields. She has set her sights on beating her previous best, an Ironman silver medal.
Q. Why is the title Ironman, not Ironwoman?
A. Ironman is the brand – so I guess I am an ‘Ironwoman’, but it all started with some nutters in Hawaii who wanted to see who was the fittest of swimmers, bikers and runners. They said: “Whoever finishes first, we’ll call him the Iron Man.” Thirty years later, people are dragging themselves around the 140.6 mile course to hear those words on crossing the finish line: “You are an Ironman!” I guess its tradition, really.
Q. When did women start competing? Do they take on the men, or are there separate contests?
A. Both men and women race together, although placing is recognised separately. It’s good if you’re towards the front as a girl because you will always have people to chase down – guys are naturally faster so they present a challenge to beat.
Q. What does the competition require you to do?
A. Competitors do a 2.4 mile swim, a 112-mile cycle, rounded off with a marathon (26.2 miles). Simples!
Q. It sounds like my idea of hell! How many days do you have to do all of this in?
A. The maximum time allowed is 17 hours. Thankfully I do it a lot quicker – those who take on Ironman knowing they’ll be taking near that time have my absolute respect and admiration – that would be very, very tough.
Q. How hard and long do you have to train - how fit do you have to be?
A. You train as hard and as long as you want to – but I believe that winners are the ones who train intelligently, not necessarily the longest. My training varies from week-to-week, but is generally between 12 and 18 hours.
Q. Why do you put yourself through all that?
A. Because it’s some funny kind of fun. And I’m so grateful to have the health that allows me to do this – a blessing that I’m constantly reminded of when I see patients at work.
Q. Where do you work and what kids of patients do you treat?
A. I have mainly stayed within Sheffield for my medical school placements, but we can be sent to any of the teaching hospitals, like Scunthorpe, Grimsby, Chesterfield and Barnsley.
Q. When you’re not competing or training, you’re a medical student. Where do you study and what do you hope to become?
A. I study at Sheffield. I’m not sure what I’d like to specialise in. I will qualify in a year but I don’t have to make big career decisions for a little while.
Q. How did you get the accolade of “one of the best amateur athletes in the world”?
A: I suppose by beating all the other amateurs I have raced this season, both in the UK and internationally. This season is going really well and I’m really pleased with my results so far.
Q. What other countries have you been to for competitions?
A. The furthest have been is South Africa and Hawaii, but I don’t like travelling so I prefer Europe: France, Spain, Hungary, Finland. I’ve heard Germany is pretty mad for long-distance triathlon, so I would like to race there soon.
Q. What are you aiming for - the championship title?
This season I want to remain at the top of the amateur scene, whilst continuing to see how I fare alongside the professionals. Last year I came second in my age group in the World Championships, so first place this year would be nice...
Q. Don’t you get exhausted with all the exercise, and then all that brain-testing study?
A. I can’t say I do a whole lot of study! I’m more of a crammer, and luckily my finals are a few months after the end of the triathlon season! But I do see time spent on placement as recovery time, body-wise, so I prefer clinics where I can sit and rest my legs to the ward rounds or surgery placements where you’re on your feet all the time.
Q. If you become a doctor, does that mean no more Ironman?
A. We’ll see. I know other people who have successfully combined both careers. I can be a doctor when I’m old, with failing knees and things tying me down like a mortgage and family, whereas now I’m young and free, so I feel like now is the time for silly things like Ironman.
Q. You’re competing in the finals in Hawaii in October - which sounds both glamorous and expensive. How do you fund yourself?
A. Ironman is anything but glamorous. And Hawaii is awesome but so, so hot (I don’t cope well with heat) so most people are just dripping sweat constantly – again; not so glamorous. But yes – it is very expensive. I’m blessed with sponsorship by Team Freespeed Virgin Active (teamfreespeed.com) who help out with my kit and some of the expense. All things bike-related are taken care of by Cannock-based Bridgtown cycles (btownbikes.com) and I get my recovery drinks from Sheffield post-exercise recovery brand NouriSH me now (nourishmenow.co.uk)
Q. Has sport always been a big part of your life?
A. My family aren’t really sporty, although I had an active childhood. I loved most sports and competed a lot at school level, but didn’t particularly shine at anything. I discovered triathlon in my second year at uni and this is my second season of competing seriously.
Q. You only discovered the triathlon at 19 and now you’re almost a champ. Why do you love it? Is it addictive?
A. I love it because I love the outdoors, and being free and whizzing along at speed on a bike. It’s a way of enjoying creation – the countryside and your own body and what it can do. I’m easily bored, always looking for the next thing, but triathlon holds my interest because of the three disciplines, and because there are so many aspects on which to improve. It means I will never hit the limit. Training is like juggling, and performance in each sport seems like a dynamic equilibrium: as one goes up, another goes down and they all affect each other. I guess endorphins have something to do with it too, and obviously it’s nice to shine at something.
Q. Have you had any sports injuries?
A. I am extremely blessed to have never suffered with a serious injury – I’ve had knocks on my bike, but nothing that’s put me out of action. I can’t claim this is any of my own doing though – I rarely stretch and am not very disciplined when it comes to warming up and down, although I do get regular sports massages from Mat Thompson (epsportsmassage.co.uk), I eat a super healthy, anti-inflammatory diet and take NouriSHmenow for recovery, which may all help. And I get plenty of sleep!