Professional Ironman athlete Erin Furness is not only successful in her own right, but is doing what she can to help others on their own fitness journey.
Erin has been competing in marathon running and distance triathlons for many years, turning pro after the 2012 Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii where she placed 10 in her division. She now balances a full training load with personal training and coaching.
For those with even a basic awareness of Ironman racing, you’ll know that it takes a huge amount of time and effort to train – but it’s that training Erin loves the most, along with the challenge of racing.
“It’s a pretty long day out there and I think you’ve got to be resilient to be able to make it through,” she says.
“I definitely love the challenge, and I really enjoy the training side; pushing myself and always trying to improve and get a little bit better each year.”
The aerobic nature of the sport means that once you reach a certain level it can take years to make marginal gains and improvements, but that’s all part of the Ironman challenge.
Erin started out as a marathon runner, taking up distance triathlon in 2010. These days she mainly specialises in triathlon and Ironman coaching now, and is a personal trainer at Fastlane Fitness.
With a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Waikato in Sport and Leisure studies, she began personal training 12 years ago and was hooked instantly.
“I really enjoyed helping people towards their fitness goals. Once I started professional triathlon I began to do a little bit of coaching on the side as well.
“My coaching business is probably a bit bigger than my personal training business at the moment.”
Erin has coached a number of athletes to achieve and surpass their expectations, with some qualifying for the Ironman world champs in Kona.
“It’s very rewarding working with people and helping them achieve goals, particularly in something like triathlon where you have people who never thought they could do an Ironman and after two years they’ve actually done one.”
Erin thrives on helping people improve their overall health and wellbeing through training, and seeing achieve things they never thought possible.
“Health and fitness should be enjoyable and that’s something I really focus on, for myself and anyone I’m working with.”
As if training full-time, personal training and coaching wasn’t enough, Erin is currently also providing her services to two teenage girls (first-timers in terms of joining a gym and deciding on a programme) aimed at creating awareness around the importance of starting the gym experience the right way.
Erin is working with Kate Potter and Nicole Taylor, who are sharing their experience with INSPO Fitness Journal, hopefully to encourage others to get active and try new experiences.
Erin recognises the gym can be an intimidating area for teenagers, but with the right help and guidance it can be a rewarding habit to create.
Her advice to young gym novices is “Definitely work with a personal trainer or gym instructor, just to learn the basics of what you need to be doing. Definitely work with someone you can be open and honest with so they can really help you achieve your goals.”
Erin’s key personal focus is on rehabbing an injury and she has her sights firmly set on next year’s IronmanNZ event in Taupo. Her goals are to gain a top five placing at the event before heading offshore for the Pro Ironman season.
Her long-term goals are to get back to the World Champs in Kona in a few years’ time as a professional, as well as helping her athletes achieve their goals and be in form for their upcoming races.
Five quick questions with Erin
What advice would you give someone considering tackling an Ironman?
Get a good coach, and a few good training buddies to help you through those long sessions. I believe a huge part of my athletes’ success is that they train together as a team, in an extremely motivational and encouraging environment.
When the going gets tough … ?
I have mental strategies that I use when things really start hurting in training or racing. I have key phrases that I write on my drink bottles on the bike – I use a lot of positive self-talk and mental imagery.
I also stay in the moment and concentrate on what I can control – making sure my form is efficient, I’ve taken on adequate nutrition. I also focus on the fact that the tough times will pass – the lows in this sport can be very low, but the highs are also very high.
Above all, I always remind myself why I am out there – because I love it.
How important is rest, and how do you rest and relax?
Recovery and rest is as important as training. As an athlete, part of your role isn’t just to log training mileage – it’s also to allow yourself to recover from this. Mentally you need a rest period as well.
Favourite relaxation activities include power napping, catching up with friends for coffee or lunch, going to the movies, spending some quality time with my husband – or a slightly more active form of relaxation would be walking my dogs, or hitting the beach and possibly getting a bit of surfing in if I have the energy.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
Look after your body. This was from my Opa, who was an ultra-runner (running several Comrades marathons). Back in those days, I guess you just ran a lot, without what we now know about massage, mobility, muscle balance, nutrition. Needless to say, his knees and hips weren’t great in his old age, and he always lamented the fact he could no longer run – a fate that he repeatedly tried to save me from.
What’s your favourite guilty treat?
Ice cream and/or gelato. I definitely have a fair bit of this post-racing.