By: Habiba Elhady
Thursday October 27, 2016
Amany Helmy Khalil, the 50-years-old mother of two, is the first Egyptian woman in this age category to complete the Ironman Triathlon in Barcelona, Spain on October 2, 2016.
The Ironman Triathlon consists of a three sequential stage competition that includes a 2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim, a 112-mile (180.25 km) bicycle ride and a marathon 26.22-mile (42.20 km) run, without a break.
This high endurance extreme sport is considered the most challenging single day event in the world. Many competitors are professional athletes, but as it is gaining popularity the sport is attracting people from all walks of life. Amany is among many who have joined the growing Triathlon generation in Egypt.
A business administration graduate from the AUC, Amany worked for some major banks and financial corporations in Egypt. Unable to continue in an unfulfilling career, and with the encouragement of her mother, Amany turned to sports. She became a certified aerobics instructor and sports became her career and passion.
Habiba Elhady interviewed Amany Khalil for WOE to learn about her Triathlon experience and her future plans.
WOE: Every story has a beginning. When did you start competing in triathlons and why?
Amany Khalil: The reason I decided to do triathlons was because of this group of young athletes who traveled to London to compete in their first Olympic triathlon and came back victorious. One of the team members told me that if you know how to swim, and run, it was easy to learn and love cycling. As soon as I returned from my annual marathon, I started training for my first triathlon in Gouna in June 2014, but unfortunately I injured my right arm while training for the event and it was not possible to compete in the swimming segment. So instead of the Triathlon, I competed in my first duathlon, which is running and cycling only. My experience in the duathlon was great, and even though it was my first, I came in fourth place, so I decided to take it seriously and trained for the first triathlon in Sahl Hasheesh in December 2014. I came in fourth place again overall women but first in my age category. I was 48 years old then.
WOE: Do you feel that there is a particular personality that is drawn to the Ironman Triathlon? If so, how does your personality fit that mold?
AK: Yes of course it requires a particular personality. It requires discipline, perseverance, strong will power, patience, and focus. If your personality doesn’t match that, Ironman will be tough to battle and finish it strong. And this is exactly what it took me. My two boys were in college, so they did not require a lot of my time. I am an early riser, so it was easy for me to start practice every day at 5:00 am. I had to sacrifice a lot of socializing and fit my home obligations around my training schedules. I was completely devoted to the Ironman race and what it needs to achieve it. And I am grateful that my personality is compatible for such requirements. I love challenges and love to plan how to achieve them and to follow my plan. I have a diary where I logged in my whole 10 month of training sessions. And that in itself shows you the discipline, focus and commitment to achieve the full Ironman medal.
WOE: How did you first become interested in athletics?
AK: I fell in love with sports at the age of fifteen. I was living in the United States with my family then. In junior high school, the school announced they would be holding basketball tryouts, and I was chosen among 15 girls for the basketball team.
WOE: Many people only think about the physical aspect of competing in an extreme event, but don’t take into account the mental part. Which is the more difficult aspect of preparing for the competition, the physical or the mental? Or are they equal in difficulty?
AK: Excellent question. Not every sport requires physical and mental capabilities. The Ironman requires both. Actually sometimes, I felt, it required the mental more than physical. Why? Because of the amount of training it requires. You can be fit and ready to train, but after a month or two, you get bored, sick and tired of repeating it again or increasing the intensity. This is where your mind has to be controlled. I had to always go back and think about what my goal was, and why was I doing this to myself. But deep down inside me, I wanted to proof to myself, my family, my friends, even my coach, that I, at the age of 50, can swim 3.8 km, cycle 180 km and run 42.2 km back to back. And when I saw myself crossing that finish line in my mind, I kept going and told my mind, “Yes, I can do it.”
WOE: Which part of a triathlon is your strongest? Your weakest? Why?
AK: My weakest point in the triathlon is the swimming. I know how to swim, and I loved to swim with my friends just for fun, but when it comes to long distance and speed, it wasn’t my favorite. Unlike running, I love running. It makes me feel good. I feel as free as a bird when I go running. The swimming, if you are not originally a swimmer, requires a lot of techniques and certain style to help you swim lighter and faster. I used to see swimmers beside me swimming, gliding like a real fish and no matter how I tried my best to be like them, I couldn’t. And so I searched for expertise coaching until I found the Techuatics Swimming Academy, led by national team swimmers. They taught me how to swim for long distance and at good speed. And I developed. Running is my strongest point. I guess I was born to run. It’s in my blood.
WOE: Preparation is obviously the key to success. What is your training regimen?
AK: In a simple form, it’s comprised of swimming 3 times per week of up to 3.5 km each session. I also ran 3 times per week, a long run of 15 to 21 km on Saturdays, and 2 short intervals and speed runs during the week. Meaning running fast at a high heart rate. Then I cycle 3 times per week. I take one long ride on Sokhna road that ranges from 3 to 5 hours. I attend a spinning class once a week to work on strength and speed cadence. I also set my bike on a trainer and I just spin in place for an hour or two, as if I am cycling on the road. I also go to the gym three times per week to work out with machines and weights. I train very early in the morning to avoid traffic. And then I go home and rest and at night I train in the club, usually on the treadmill or trainer.
WOE: What are your future plans?
AK: My next target is the Boston Marathon scheduled for April 2017. Getting accepted in the marathon is an honor in itself, since only runners with the highest records are accepted.
WOE: What would be the one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring endurance athlete who’s about to embark on his dream?
AK: It’s never too late, if you have the passion, perseverance and will to commit, go for it. If you fail, no problem, it only makes you stronger and better. Still go for it. The reason why I can give this advice is because in my first trial for the half Ironman in May of 2015, I passed the swimming segment and as I crossed the finish line for the cycling part, they disqualified me, for being one minute late. And it had been one of the toughest routes, because it was a 45 km uphill climb, and a 45 km steep downhill. I was so thankful that I made it safe to the finish line but never imagined I would be out of the race, and they did not allow me to continue the running part. That day I cried and I was more than determined to repeat the same race again, the following year. It was my dream to prove to the organizers and to myself that I can not only do the half, but also the full Ironman, and sure enough, I did it.
I finished them both in one year, when I turned 50 years old, this year. So again, I went after my dream, with more strength, will power, commitment, experience and most important, the passion to achieve it. This is why I say, it’s never late, you just need to go for it.