Following a successful year as an AG athlete in 2014 (including 3rd place in Kona) Caroline started to race as a PRO on the Ironman circuit in 2015. What began as a bit of an experiment quickly turned into a successful year with podium results in two Ironmans (UK, Lanza) and one 70.3 (Turkey). She continued racing while working full time as an engineer in 2016 but has recently changed to part time for the next season with an eye on qualifying for Kona.
What do you do? What is your profession?
I am a civil engineer by profession – currently specialising as a geotechnical design consultant. I work part time for Coffey Geotechnics in Harrogate.
How long have you been a triathlete?
I started triathlon in 2003 while I was training to be a British Army Officer. I was in the military for ten years from that point so although my motivation was always there I didn’t have the opportunity to train consistently until 2013/14.
Do you think your education or your career has helped to prepare you mentally for racing?
For me it definitely has. Tough experiences in the military gave me the tenacity, mental toughness and physical robustness that are needed in the sport of Ironman.
Have you been an athlete all your life or did you have some sort of epiphany that got you into it?
I have always loved sport and the outdoors, and I am a bit “all or nothing” with it. From 1999 to 2004 I was a very keen rock climber, doing expeditions all over the world and even putting up my own routes in remote parts of Africa and South America. Long days doing multiple pitch routes was great for endurance and strength. Hiking at altitude with heavy climbing equipment on your back certainly builds strong legs. But a physical training instructor in the Army was the person who pushed me to do my first triathlon, and I was hooked from that point. I did not start to train properly or take it seriously until 2007 when I met my coach (now husband) Mark. I did many years of shorter distance triathlons before taking on my first Ironman in 2010 to “just complete one”. I loved it so much I have never looked back.
What do you do when you're not training or racing?
I do a lot of training and racing and I also work part time! So there is not much time for other hobbies. I do love to cook though, and spend a lot of time thinking about and making new recipes! I also coach through Xhale platform and love interacting with my athletes on a daily basis and watching them grow and develop.
What's been your worst moment in a race?
I raced Ironman Frankfurt in 2016 and it was a race that tested me to my limits. Water temperatures on the morning of the race were borderline for the PRO wetsuit cut off at 21.9 °C. The race organisers took the decision that the PRO field would race without wetsuits. The air temperature was just 11 °C at the time of the race start and getting into the water in just a swim skin did not feel comfortable. Despite a good start, by about 2000m of swimming I could feel that my core body temperature was dropping fast. My stroke slowed, I was struggling for air and I began to feel disorientated. The last 1500m were a real battle as my stroke became more and more deliberate and I got both colder and slower. With numb hands, delerium and uncontrollable shivering through my core it was only autopilot that got me through T1 and onto the bike. The air was still very cold and for the first hour of the bike I was as uncomfortable as I have ever been during a race. I could not control the shivering and struggled to put any power through the pedals. In hindsight I probably should have stopped and asked for medical attention, but it was so important to me to finish that I kept going.
How did you overcome this?
As the race progressed I gradually warmed up and started to feel better. It was a huge effort to just pedal in those first miles, but I tried to stay strong mentally and focused on each five mile block. I told myself that if after one hour I didn’t feel better then I would stop. Of course after an hour I did feel better and made the decision to race as well as I could for the remainder of the race. It was important for me to put that experience behind me during the race and to focus on what I was doing at the time. So once I warmed up I just concentrated on biking well, and then running as well as I could for the marathon.
Unfortunately I had lost too much time in the early stages of the race, and the physical stress of being so cold had taken its toll so I didn’t get the result I believe I could have. But I learnt a lot from the experience and as with every Ironman I race, I believe those bad times in races are part of the challenge. Overcoming them is all part of the journey to becoming a stronger, better athlete.
Tell us the differences you see between physical and mental strength.
As many of the best athletes in Ironman have said – the sport is as much about mental stamina as it is about physical fitness. To have a really good race you have to be strong in both mind and body. They have to work together. So I don’t see them as separate things, but that you have to train both together so that on race day you can execute with the best possible combination of the two.
When you feel you can't go any further, when you want to give up, what goes through your mind? What does your body tell you and what does your mind come back with?
In almost every race there are numerous points where my body feels like stopping, or feels pain or weakness in some area. The experience of this in many races has taught me that if you can overcome those times with strong mental strategies then they usually don’t last too long. I try to move my mind away from those physical messages and concentrate on something else. I have positive triggers to elicit good feelings, and if they don’t work I try distraction with a rewarding snack or a small change of position on the bike. It is amazing how important the small things become in a long race.
How do you normally feel before the start of a race?
How I feel before a race can vary hugely depending on the race, climate, situation, and just generally on the body itself. I love racing though so I always feel positive. I feed off the energy of all the other athletes on race morning in transition and in the build up to the race start.
In triathlon is it necessary to have inner strength? Be made of iron maybe?
I don’t think it is possible to even complete an Ironman, whatever level you are at, without inner strength. People do this sport for many different reasons and you only have to stand at the finish line of a race to see the whole range of human emotions pouring out of people as they cross the line. But whatever the reason, and whatever emotions are experienced at the finish, every single athlete has dug deep to get there. The will to keep going when every sinew of your body wants you to stop is necessary to finish, but it is also inherently the trait that sets apart those athletes that are at the top of our sport. An ability to suffer and embrace pain is one of the things that makes the champions of Ironman truly great.
- Caroline Livesey
- United Kingdom
5th Ironman Lanzarote
12th Ironman European Championships Frankfurt
7th Ironman 70.3 Xiamen
13th Ironman 70.3 Middle Eastern Championships Bahrain
2nd Ironman UK
3rd Ironman Lanzarote
3rd Ironman70.3 Turkey
5th Ironman 70.3 Middle Eastern Championships Bahrain