Keri to Kona
Introducing Keri Houston, who has qualified for the Ironman World Championships on October 8th 2016. All the best Keri!
At age 50, Keri Houston is one of the toughest and most persevering age group athletes competing in ironman. She recently qualified for the Ironman World Championships in Kona by winning her age group at Ironman Cairns, 29min ahead of her next rival and claiming 24th woman overall out of 226 (including professional athletes). This wasn’t the first time she has qualified for Kona over the gruelling distance, it was her 5th. However, family priorities has meant in October this year it will only be the second time she has toed the start line in Kona.
Keri epitomises perseverance and she does it with a professional, punctual and hard core attitude. She is inspiring because she sets goals, works incredibly hard and sees them through year after year, juggling her passion around working full time and raising a family with her supportive husband Grant.
Competing in her first ironman aged 38 Keri has finished 13 out of the 13 ironman races she has lined up for so far. She has had setbacks but has never quit. Perseverance is running a marathon on a fractured heel (.....she didn’t know it has fractured at the time, just 'quite sore'). She has struggled to the finish line of ironman races with an inflamed knee, hyponatremia, a bike accident during the race and been in misery racing with a virus. Despite the races where things don't quite go to plan, when Keri toes the start line, she finishes what she started.
Last year Keri set a goal of qualifying for Kona in 2016. As usual we watched her committing to her training program, chipping away at the block in the lead up to Ironman New Zealand. She was in great shape before the race, fit and fast. Unfortunately swimming 3.8km, riding 180km then running a marathon with sodium levels dropping abnormally low isn’t going to win you any races. Lesson learnt. Disgruntled and frustrated that the months of training didn’t reflect her ability on race day, she booked tickets within 24 hours of IMNZ to race her second ironman for the year in Cairns and it paid off. Eight weeks short of her 50th birthday Keri finished in 10:49hours. First by nearly 30min in her age group and gaining her ticket to Kona.
As a friend and casual training partner, I wanted to share some of Keri’s journey because I think she is a truly inspiring individual, it would be great to see her have a strong race in Kona this year and if anyone reads this that can help Keri make a dent in the $5000 it is costing her to compete in Kona, she has a Give a Little webpage here: givealittle.co.nz/cause/keritokona
Below are some questions I sent Keri about training for ironman, working with her coach Cameron Brown and preparing for Kona.
Keri, what attracted you to racing ironman?
A friend from the UK came over to race IMNZ in 2001. I had never heard of ironman and thought he was mental. We went down to support him and I came away from that day hugely inspired after watching athletes of all ages and sizes challenge themselves and realise their dreams and aspirations. I made a promise to myself that day that I too would cross that finish line. It was a pretty big promise because at the time I could not swim, hadn't been on a bike since I was a kid and I only ran if I was being chased.
What sporting experience did you do before racing ironman?
I grew up on a farm in the King Country with 3 brothers. Every day was a competitive adventure trying to keep up with the boys. We were all home schooled until 13 and enjoyed snow skiing, water skiing, hunting, tramping etc, but did not participate in any mainstream sport until we attended boarding school. I rode horses from the moment I could walk and eventing and endurance riding was my life. I used to run beside my horse to get fit for the 50-70km endurance rides and would think nothing of running around the hills for an hour or two. Once at boarding school, I lost confidence in my ability and spent most of my time trying to avoid all sports.
Where does your motivation come from?!
Passion - the sport smokes my tyres.
Other athletes - I love being around like-minded people and the lifestyle.
My parents - they taught me to have ambition.
To set a good example to my kids and show them that you can succeed at anything in life if you have a positive attitude and are willing to put in the effort. As the legend Erin Baker said "it's easy, it's just hard work".
One of the key elements to being successful as an athlete is having good support from your partner, friend or family, tell us about your husband Grant
He is pretty awesome. Always a cup of T, hot bath and/or a gourmet meal awaits me when I get in from training. He has given me a priceless gift of self -belief over the years. I never thought I could even finish a triathlon when I first took an interest in the sport as there seemed to be so many obstacles in my path. But over time his quiet encouragement & support has led me to push myself bit by bit and enjoy much success. I could not have achieved what I have without him - we make a great team. I have never been prouder of him as when he crossed that line himself in 2014. I knew how far out of his comfort zone he was but he faced his fears and conquered his goals. That to me is the essence of ironman.
What has been your most challenging race so far?
There have been a few - running with a broken foot, crashing on the bike etc but IMNZ 2016 would have to take that particular award. I was in a world of difficulty on the run leg suffering from cramps, nausea and eventually hyponatremia which saw me reduced to a walk for the last 14km of the marathon and ending up in the medical tent. Sheer bloody mindedness got me to the line that day but I never want to put my body through that hell again.
Really well. I am so excited, motivated and grateful to have the opportunity to work with and learn from such a master of the sport. The program is asking questions of me and so far I am liking the answers.
Can you give us a brief look at your typical training week?
My week comprises 4 swim sessions, 4 bike sessions, 4 run sessions and 2 strength and conditioning gym sessions.
What is one of your favourite training sessions?
Mid-week tempo/interval based run. I love the fact that I head out the door to embark on the unknown and return having hit the splits and discovered that my body is capable of more than I thought it was. There is nothing more motivational for me then to 'feel' the performance gains.
You work very hard, but you always seem very balanced in your approach to your training, family and working life, how have you achieved this?
Ironman is a selfish sport due to the huge amount of training you need to put in but I have been very lucky to have an understanding and supportive husband, family and employer. Through discipline & time management I make sure I stay in control by careful planning. Of course life doesn't always conform and when it throws a curve ball I try to be flexible and prioritise the things that matter. I certainly won't be remembered for having an immaculate house and garden that is for sure.
What is the longest training session you have done on your indoor bike session?!
6 hours continuously when I was training for Kona in 2009 and a freezing southerly was blowing the rain in sideways. Grant was in the Police at the time and he came in off night duty at 6am when I had started the session. He went to bed, slept, got up and came out to the garage and couldn't believe I was still on the bike.
How do you like your coffee?
Freshly roasted, lots of it and 'always' in a takeaway cup.
What is the most unusual training advice you have been given?
The friend that introduced me to the sport in 2001 has a motto when it comes to training - "less is more". He always seemed to roll up to races 'more on the less side' when it came to preparation. However saying that he has finished 10+ ironman races. I guess like all training advice, find what works for you and stick with it.
Are there any changes in ironman you would like to see?
I would like to see age-groupers drug tested. I like to think the sport is clean but expect I am very naive in that respect.
Are you worried Grant might get ‘lost’ in the Kona brewery while you are running 42km in the scorching heat?
He is a "pro" when it comes to supporting and runs his day like a military operation and even though he been caught on the course with a beer or three in hand, he has never yet gone awol on the day.
What are you looking forward to most heading to Kona?
Some warmth! Kona is a magical place with great mana. I am looking forward to re-connecting with the spirit of the island and testing myself against its unique and challenging conditions and some of the best ironman athletes in the world.
Have you decided to do the undie run yet?
I have decided that the world does not need to see me running around in my undies so it's a big no from me. Grant on the other hand appears to be well up for it so watch this space.
What do you love most about pursuing Ironman?
Life is short and you only get one shot. I want to make the most of my time on this planet living outside the norm of the hamster wheel with no regrets. Life can sometimes be tough and scary but it is an adventure worth living and for me it is about being challenged and doing things that make me feel good about myself - improving, learning, exploring. Ironman constantly challenges me to grow, to be better, both as a human being and an athlete. It also allows me to eat chocolate without consequences.
Do you have any sponsors you would like to mention?
Unfortunately I do not have any sponsors but I would like to take this opportunity to thank those that have contributed to my Give a Little page. Your support is greatly appreciated - thank you so much. I look forward to representing NZ and being the best I can be.out there on the day.
To sum things up, Keri shared a race report on her Cairns race which you can read here. She started it off with these words which I think illustrates her attitude perfectly and gives great insight to how this champions mind works:
“More often than not life throws curve balls at us, and we have to make one of two decisions: do we live in fear of failure and let ourselves be consumed by defeat or do we accept setback as an opportunity to learn and improve.
The highs of sport are high. The lows are low. Sometimes you can overcome it. Sometimes you can’t. That’s a big part of what makes sport worthwhile to me. Nothing is guaranteed and there is no better teacher of resilience than adversity”.
All the best Keri.
If you can assist this amazing woman at all please go to: givealittle.co.nz/cause/keritokona