Sunday, April 22, 2012

Review by Lucy Smith

From the great Paula Newby-Fraser, who in the 1980’s set the bar as high as possible for female iron distance triathletes, to Chrissie Wellington, who is still pushing it ever higher, this book is a peek into the world of endurance success, and the guts and mindset that goes with it.

The great thing about this book is that it is double faceted: it’s a factual, if brief, history of the racing statistics of great female triathletes and it’s a book that offers some fun insider information on an unique and popular niche in endurance sports, the Ironman triathlon.

It is a snapshot of amazing athletes, how they achieved their peak performances, how they perceive and define success for themselves and what makes them tick. It’s only at the end of the book that the reader might reflect on the fact that reading a book that contains stories of 22 incredible women who have gone sub nine hours for Ironman is, in itself, remarkable.

Remarkable in a culture that has only embraced women’s endurance sports in the last thirty years, and where women didn’t race the Olympic marathon until 1984. This is a women’s success story with no gloss. As Moore says in his conclusion: “There are no shortcuts.”

Going under nine hours in Ironman is an immense achievement. In order to do this, the athlete has to swim 3.8km in under an hour, ride close to 5 hours for 180km, and then run a 3 hour marathon, give or take several minutes. Many of the athletes in the book did this more than once, on more than one course. Wellington’s were done on six different courses! By the time this book was written only 22 had actually gone under 9 hours, so it’s a pretty elite club.

Timothy Moore has managed to gather as much real fact and information as he could about the women in the book, using only themselves or their blogs or websites as sources. This makes the book less biography, and more a direct account and factual listing of their accomplishments. I like this: stories and history can be largely subjective, and history about women can often be misleading and full of conjecture about being female.

There is nothing subjective here, and the result is an entertaining and lively read of how some women with super athletic genes got themselves to the pinnacle of their sport. The women are as different from each other as their athletic accomplishments are the same. But these are women who took themselves and their sport seriously, who trained hard, sought out the best training environments and coaches, and who had an obsessive drive to win and be fast. The women talk about professionalism and success, finding a way to make a pay check, choosing races carefully and planning their seasons. They are unabashed in their commitment to the win and that’s what makes the book so entertaining.

For anyone who has been following Ironman for years, this book puts many of the performances in perspective, showing the context in which women were steadily improving on performance and proving that women belong in the world of endurance sports.

It is a retrospective of Ironman winning and Ironman popularity and the people and personalities that are behind the events. Moore should be commended for his respectful treatment of the athletes in the book, both in his unwillingness to intrude in the personal lives of those who are retired, and for his enthusiasm for showcasing their true talents and contribution to the sport of triathlon. Sub Nine is not simply an inspiring story of greatness, but a tribute to the work of a generation of amazing women, a story that should be read by every fan of the sport!


Lucy Smith is a 19 Time Canadian Champion, and World Championship Silver medallist in Duathlon. She has been competing professionally for more than 25 years and now coaches, writes and still races. Lucy is the author of First Triathlon: Your Perfect Plan for Success.

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