Helena Kvepa Ironman Triathlete
Helena worked as a bike fitter and got into triathlon to improve her service to her customers. She tells Sundried how that first triathlon led her on to complete Ironman races.
Have you always been into sport?
I have always enjoyed playing sport and loved riding my bicycle since I was a child. I also enjoyed winter sports too - from cross country skiing to downhill slopes. Apart from playing basketball competitively in school for a few years, sport for me has always been something I do for fun.
What made you decide to enter the world of triathlon?
My 1st triathlon was an experiment for work. I worked as a bike fitter and we did setups and worked with a lot of triathletes. So entering a triathlon was a way in which to better understand our clients. I signed up for a pool-based super sprint triathlon in 2013. At that time I could only swim one pool length in front crawl before choking and getting out of breath. I got my first road bike a week before the race. I hated running. I joined Hampstead Triathlon Club and somehow managed to finish as 2nd lady. Not long after, I qualified as a triathlon club coach to help others in their journey and give back to the sport which I enjoyed so much.
What’s been your favourite race to date and why?
I absolutely loved Ironman Lanzarote! Not just because it's such a beautiful course or because it was my first full Ironman event, but also because the physical pain I endured and what I learned about myself and how far one can be pushed in the process. The bike leg didn't go as planned so I was worried I wouldn't be able to run. Also, it was my first ever marathon - what an experience! It was great to finish the race feeling strong and seeing my boyfriend and sister at the finish line. It's an amazing race and the whole island is out to cheer you on!
And your proudest achievement?
Finishing Ironman 70.3 UK in 2016. I entered the race on a whim spurred on by friends. I didn't look at the race course and was totally unprepared. My training was chaotic and I hadn't put in enough miles. I'm a fairly strong cyclist so finished the bike leg feeling strong and didn't walk a single hill, like many did. It's a beautiful but brutal bike course. However, the run nearly destroyed me. It was hilly and mixed terrain. After the 1st of 3 laps I was ready to quit. My quads had seized up, I was angry, tired and demotivated. I didn't feel like I wanted that medal enough, I just wanted to sit down, have food and go home. I don't know where I found mental strength to continue and finish it, but I persevered and came through to finish the race. It was my worst 70.3 time to date, the toughest finish line I ever crossed and as such felt like a real achievement when it was finally all over. I really had to work for that medal! Sadly that particular race has now been cancelled, but I still feel I have some unfinished business with it.
Have you ever had any racing disasters/your toughest race yet?
I don't think of it as my toughest race, but it was certainly a hard day. Me and a friend did a Women's Running 10km in Finsbury Park, not long after I had a bad bike crash in June 2014. What I didn't realise was how badly my leg was hurt - I was more concerned about my missing front teeth from the accident! It was a two lap course. Towards the end of the first lap my left calf started to hurt and it felt like I had no spring in my step. I started the second lap but had to admit to myself that the pain was too much. Amazingly, the fantastic volunteers still gave me a medal and goody bag for my efforts trying to get around the course. I didn't feel like I deserved it, but at that time had no idea what was causing the pain, which was intense. My boyfriend had to almost carry me home. A bit over a month later I found out that I had a tibial fracture. It turns out that the pain was from a broken leg, which was a clean fracture all the way across the bone. I could barely walk, no wonder I couldn't run! That would have to qualify as my racing disaster.
How do you overcome setbacks?
I'm not very good with setbacks if I have people around me. I can be a bit of a drama queen and get emotional. When I'm by myself however, I just tell myself to get on with it and motivate myself to keep going. I deal with what I can and ignore what I can't deal with. I tell myself I've been in worse situations or that it could have been worse - I'm still alive. Then I do the drama afterwards once it's all over!
What is the best bit of advice you wish someone had told you before you started competing?
It's not glamorous. Most importantly, racing is not the tough part, the training is!
What are your goals for 2018?
I've entered the Ironman European Championship in Frankfurt. I want to do better than Lanzarote. Also, if it can be considered a goal, to get a time trial bike - I never felt as destroyed as in the 70.3 Worlds in Chattanooga this year. My trustworthy Trek Mad One is a great partner, but it's time to step up the game.
Who do you take your inspiration from?
From my friends and club mates. It's great to see pros, but it's even more inspirational to see us average Joes overcoming obstacles, achieving, reaching goals or dealing with not getting there.
What do you like about Sundried and what’s your favourite bit of our kit?
I like that Sundried makes kit that does the job. Too many brands these days over complicate things. Having an eco-friendly approach is also a bonus, I spend a lot of time outdoors so feel passionate about preserving the environment I train in.
The kit looks great, I'm really looking forward to racing Frankfurt in a Sundried suit.
I love the seamless tights. Comfort is all on those long runs.