Chrissie shatters Ironman record in steamy Hawaii

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The Independent Online

Before sealing her position as perhaps the strongest ever female athlete in the world’s toughest sport, Chrissie Wellington was used to dealing with challenges. A former UK Government policy advisor on international development she had briefed cabinet ministers on reconstruction in Iraq as well as managed a sanitation project in a conflict-ravaged region of Nepal.

But it is in her chosen discipline of the Ironman – a notoriously gruelling sport which sees competitors complete a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride before taking part in a full marathon - that the 32-year-old has really made her mark. This weekend the former aid expert scored her third successive victory in the event at its spiritual home of Hawaii breaking a course record which has stood for 17 years.

Ms Wellington described competing in the 90F heat and 90 per cent humidity of the island’s sun baked lava fields as like “running in an oven” finishing in eight hours and 54 minutes – 20 minutes ahead of her nearest rival and shaving more than a minute off the long-standing course record. In a sign that the best women triathletes are closing in on the top men, the Briton came home just 35 minutes behind the overall winner, Australia's Craig Alexander.

Speaking today she described walking “like a tin man” after crossing the finishing line cheered on by her family. “I feel tired. My feet are a bit the worse for wear but I am absolutely overjoyed and elated with the victory so I think all of the pain pales into insignificance compared to that. It is definitely a very tough day. The race takes no prisoners,” she said.

“It is a nine hour event and even to cross the line there is a whole mixture of emotions from joy, elation, immense pride and of course relief.” Along with the searing heat that begins for the 1,770 competitors as soon as the sun rises above Mount Hualalai, the event is notorious for its gusty headwinds which batter athletes especially during the cycling.

In order to achieve her astonishing fitness levels Ms Wellington trains for more than 40 hours a week, consuming more than 4,000 calories a day to have the energy to remain in peak form. But being the best requires both psychological and physical toughness, she said. “It requires me to dig to the very depths of everything that I have and I think that is why I like it. You learn so much about yourself in each and every day you are training and each race I do. Each race is like life itself. You have highs and you have very deep lows and you have to tackle these head on and overcome them,” she said.

Having only turned professional in 2007, it took just 10 months to become the first Briton to win the world title in what was then only her second outing at the event. Born in Thetford, Norfolk, before studying at Birmingham University, she was a relative late-starter having bought her first road bike at the age of 27. As well as training full time from her base in Colorado she campaigns to get more women into sport.

She insists that driven on by a fire that “burns inside me” her finest achievements lay ahead and is already being tipped for Sports Personality of the Year as well as a possible medalist for the shorter Olympic version of the triathlon in 2012 currently one of Britain’s fastest growing participation sports

“I definitely don’t think I have got the best out of myself yet. I think there is more to come. That is what will keep pushing me forward. The desire to be the stronger and faster and be the best I can possible be,” she said. Her goal after top-flight competition will be setting up her own sports-related charity, she said.