The prominent footprints that women continue to build in triathlon where endurance, physical prowess and mental fortitude form the core fundamentals of the sport come as no surprise.
Judy Collins co-founded IRONMAN with her husband John and co-organized the first ever race of the worldwide renown series back in 1978 through the Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon.
A year later, Lyn Lemaire was crowned the first female IRONMAN World Champion after becoming the first woman to complete the iconic race in Hawaii.
Julie Moss crawling across the finish line at the 1982 IRONMAN World Championship remains one of the most powerful images of the multisport series, and just last year women had their own day of racing at the IRONMAN World Championship.
This was to ensure gender equality, which means equal participation for both male and female athletes. More importantly, it was also to ensure a cleaner race for the women and to give them a stage of their own to shine and showcase their true potential.
Dr Au Yong Pui San, a Sports & Exercise Medicine Physician explains that when it comes to competing in triathlon, women are equal to men.
“Finishing times may favour male athletes but that in itself is the anatomical and physiological differences based on sex. Physiologically, both women and men can excel in any endurance sports with adequate and proper training.”
“In the past decade, the popularity of triathlon has been on the rise, and so has female participation in this sport. I would like to think that this trend is due to more exposure to prominent female triathletes both local and international, and more female friendly training environments,” notes Dr Pui San, who works at the Hospital Tuanku Ja’afar in Seremban.
According to the 41-year-old who was a 2014 IRONMAN Malaysia finisher, there is a rise in female awareness of “cycle-syncing” their training to their menstrual cycle to optimize training and performance.
“A lot of women juggle work and triathlon training with the responsibility of family, household chores and childcare. This may contribute to intrinsic stressors that may affect her ability to recover well and take on high quality training sessions.”
Dr Pui San also notes that many women started in this sport as a way to manage their body weight. However, with increased training volume, the right nutrition is pivotal when it comes to recovery.
“While there are benefits in each individual diets, someone training hard for triathlon should avoid being too rigid with their diet, unless medically advised. Calorie restricting or macronutrient restricting are not recommended for heavy volume training, especially in women as we do not respond well with strict chronic dietary restriction.”
With the ideal nutrition and training plan, it is definitely a great time to be a female triathlete. What comes as a significant breakthrough is gains made in female-specific research for endurance sports to help guide female athletes through menopause, providing crucial information to guide them through the most challenging times of their lives.
Women For Tri, a program launched to increase female participation in triathlon back in 2015 has also amassed over $300,000 (RM1.4 million) in grants.
As for this year, a huge advancement for female triathlon comes in the form of the all-female race at the IRONMAN World Championship in Kona, Hawaii.
For 53-year-old Jazmina Yean Abdullah who will compete at the upcoming 2023 IRONMAN 70.3 Langkawi, her opportunity to shout to the world that anything is possible couldn’t come soon enough.
“I have always been a challenger in life as a career woman and a young widow, and I want to affirm that it is never too late to do anything in life. I needed to set a right role model for my two young teens. Joining IRONMAN has expanded my horizon and the best part is my kids were so supportive. I think some of the advantages for women over 50 to join a sport like triathlon is our wisdom, determination to succeed, and a strong, happy mind body and soul,” she said.