Nicola King - meet Lancashire’s Iron Lady
PUBLISHED: 00:00 03 March 2014
At 42 and with a demanding job and family, Nicola King needs to be on her mettle to compete in global tests of strength and stamina. Sarah Briggs reports
Who says the age of romance is dead? Nicola King’s birthday treat from husband Andy was an entry into the Ironman Wales contest. What’s more, he followed it up with a Christmas present in the form of a temporary gym membership so could keep training over the holiday period. For a little light relief over the festive period, she and the family went mountain biking.
While some spouses might feel a shade miffed, Nicola was delighted and she showed her appreciation by coming second in the Welsh competition. And that meant she qualified for the triathlete’s holy grail - the Kailua-Kona Ironman in Hawaii.
Nicola has now completed her third visit to the World Championships in Hawaii. This places her among the top Ironman triathletes in the world and in the top 200 in her age group, which is 40 to 45,
It was Andy who encouraged her into triathlon while they were both at college. He had started a triathlon club and she had been a county-standard cross-country runner. Nicola laughs when she admits she could barely swim a length of the pool back then. Now she does the Ironman swim of 2.4 miles in about an hour and a quarter.
It sounds as if Andy is a hard task master but, in fact, he’s very supportive. Likewise, when you ask Andy about Nicola, he speaks with pride and admiration as well as affection. He knows how much triathlons matter to her and is also aware of the training required, in particular to compete at Ironman distances and at such a high standard.
‘He knows when to tell me to take the pressure off a bit, or when the boys (their sons, Sam and David) need to give me a bit of space!’ Andy still competes in triathlons when he can – as MD of a leisure company, a parish councillor, a rugby coach, chairman of Active Cumbria and a father-of-two, time can be at a premium. At weekends schoolteacher Nicola will get up early to train so that there is time for the family to do something together for the rest of the day. This frequently entails watching the boys play rugby. She tries not to miss a match although at times work commitments or racing mean she has to make a choice. ‘I know it sounds like we are a family constantly on the move,’ she says. ‘That’s because we are!’
The Kings are close-knit team, but balancing family life with training and work is not always easy. Nicola teaches three days a week at a school near Preston, travelling down there from their home in Penrith. The couple lived in Clayton-le-Woods for ten years until Andy moved jobs.
On work days she has to leave home at 6am to get to Penwortham Girls’ High School in time for lessons. This means she is sometimes out running at 4am even on winter mornings. On a Tuesday, when she isn’t travelling down to Lancashire, she does a 90-minute swimming session first thing, sometimes followed by a bike ride or a run – but is then free to meet the boys from school.
She had always thought Ironman beyond her – obviously the amount of training needed for a race of that distance is huge.
In 2003 her New Year resolution was to qualify for the GB team for a standard distance race in the World Championships in New Zealand. She did, and her dad – now deceased but a huge supporter – accompanied her to the contest where she came 68th.
Then, in 2009 an Ironman race which was a qualifier for the World Championships in Hawaii came to Bolton, near her home. It seemed as if fate was telling her to give it a go. ‘All I wanted to do’ she says, ‘was complete the course within the cut-off time of 17 hours. In fact I came first in my age group in a time of 12 and a quarter hours. And I was hooked on Ironman!’
She’s had her ups and downs. In Hawaii in 2011 she got her nutrition wrong and post-race ended up in the medical tent on a drip, followed by hyperthermia as the tent was so cold. In the 2013 contest in Hawaii she was ill from the Thursday before the race and wouldn’t have participated if it wasn’t for the fact that it was such a special event in such a special location. Sadly, she struggled badly on the run in particular, yet still managed an impressive time of 13 and a half hours.
Nicola is a down-to-earth, positive person and a real inspiration to anyone who wants to get fit and compete and is a great role model for her sons. As Andy says: ‘It’s good for them to see their mother diving into cold water and getting covered in mud.’
Her drive might also rub off on the girls at Penwortham High - the Year 7, 8 and 9 netball teams all recently won Lancashire titles and the under 16s ranks 5th in England.
Having spent most of her adult life in Lancashire, moving to neighbouring Cumbria has offered more challenging terrain and races for triathlon training, but she misses the lovely flat roads of West Lancashire for fast bike training sessions.
At 42, how long can she continue? ‘Forever!’ she laughs. ‘I’m competing in Bolton Ironman this year and I’ll just go on and on. There’s no age barrier to Ironman - everyone can do it.’
Iron in the soul
Ironman, and the whole sport of triathlon, was ‘invented’ in 1978 when a group of people decided they wanted to create the ultimate sporting challenge. They had been debating for some time whether swimmers, cyclists or runners were the fittest athletes. Existing long-distance events were combined - the Waikiki roughwater swim, the Around-Oahu bike race and the Honolulu marathon. The first competitors completed the race in just over 11 hours. Last year the winning time was 8 hours 12 minutes.