Ironman set to test Sofia's mettle

CLOCKING UP MILES: Sofia Murillo de Gagne is using Nelson as her training base for the Ironman New Zealand.
CLOCKING UP MILES: Sofia Murillo de Gagne is using Nelson as her training base for the Ironman New Zealand.

Sofia Murillo de Gagne expects to be put through a physical grinder in about four weeks.

On March 2, the Mexican-Canadian triathlete will attempt her first ironman distance at Ironman New Zealand in Taupo, and is currently using Nelson as her training base.

Born in Mexico City, the 37-year-old qualified accountant moved to Canada aged 21, but has only been competing in multi-discipline events for the past four years.

Her background is in running, having competed in several half-marathons and one full marathon before eventually trying her hand at triathlons.

"I've been running for about 15 years now and when I trained for a marathon, I thought that took too big a toll on my body. So I was looking for something that would challenge me, but wouldn't be as hard as running for that long," she said.

"So then I thought triathlon seems to be really good because you have three disciplines ... that's why I tried it and I really liked it."

She is currently on a leave of absence from her fulltime job in Edmonton as she and husband Andrew Gagne fulfil their desire to travel and, in Sofia's case, compete in what is expected to be the toughest physical assignment of her life.

She has been based in Nelson fulltime since mid-December.

"I was looking for a place that I could train and I wasn't sure where to go. I thought about Christchurch and once we got here, we did a little bit of touring on our bicycles.

"[Christchurch] seemed a little too big and it's not rebuilt yet obviously. We came through Nelson and stayed about three or four days here and I really liked the city, the size, because it's a smaller size but it has the amenities of a bigger place as well.

"Then I saw there was a triathlon club and the sea swims every Thursday, so I thought that was perfect."

Andrew is an itinerant worker and is currently in Africa, but will rejoin his wife for the Taupo event before the pair eventually head back to Canada.

She has a best time of 3hr 6sec for the Olympic-distance triathlon, achieved at the Banff Subaru Triathlon in Canada last September, and is targeting about 14 hours to complete the ironman, comprising a 3.8-kilometre swim, 180km cycle and 42km run.

Her running background means she struggles in the swim, but she said that as her technique improved, she was gradually becoming more confident in the water.

"I'm not getting any faster, I'm just feeling more comfortable. I'm just getting through it and mentally I find that's the hardest part.

"The sea swims here in Nelson have really helped because sometimes they can be really rough ... just knowing that I can get through it."

She is nervous about the ordeal ahead of her but is also realistic about her goals.

"Sometimes I feel like I don't know why I got into it," she joked.

"I don't mind the heat too much, I just hope it's not windy because on the bike I really struggle [in the wind].

"Sometimes I just can't see myself doing the whole thing, yet, but I know I'll get there.

"I just want to continue being healthy and fit. It's not so much I want to win anything, I just want to continue to be healthy."

The Nelson Mail