In celebration of St. Patrick’s Day I sat down for a chat with Irish-born age group athlete Keavy McMinn, a 36-year-old software developer and proud member of the Wattie Ink. Elite Triathlon Team. Born outside of Belfast, Ireland, McMinn moved to Glasgow, Scotland at the age of 18 and relocated again to Boulder, Colo. in January 2013 after spending the previous summer training in triathlon’s Rocky Mountain Mecca. The iron-distance athlete with a lilting Irish brogue tackled her first triathlon, a sprint, in 2008 and has since fallen in love with the sport. Her training and race travel is perfectly suited to her professional situation, in which she works remotely full-time thanks to a flexible and supportive San Francisco-based employer GitHub. McMinn’s race schedule for the 2013 season includes the LeadmanTri Marquee Epic in Arizona, Ironman 70.3 St. Croix, Challenge Roth and potentially Rev3 Quassy. She’s on the start list for Sunday’s Ironman Los Cabos, however a viral infection forced a last minute change of plans. But read on and you’ll learn how this indomitable Irishwoman handles setbacks, and I’m sure you’ll share my conviction that her unfortunate withdrawal from Sunday’s race will only serve to open a new window to an as-of-yet unforeseen adventure.
Triathlete.com: How did you first get involved in triathlon?
McMinn: I did a sprint distance in 2008, just for the novelty of it. I was getting a little bit bored just doing spin classes and jogging at the gym. So I tried it and I thought it was the hardest thing ever! But then about a year later I sort of went full on and decided to try long distance stuff and trained for a half ironman. I was at a point in my life when I needed a challenge, and I wanted quite a big challenge. When I started training I remember thinking that I wasn’t quite sure if my body was capable of doing a half ironman. I also thought that the full distance was completely crazy–not even an option for me. I thought it was just for “proper” athletes with gifted bodies. But I thought that maybe I could do a half and just get through the distance. So I did it, and literally the moment I got an Internet connection after the race I signed up for Ironman Switzerland!
Triathlete.com: Did you have any sort of competitive athletic background?
McMinn: No. I didn’t do sport really at all in school. I used to get sick notes to get out of it. I hated sport! But ‘round about age 30 I started going to the gym. I think because I worked at a computer all the time I felt I needed to do something, plus I really enjoyed the social aspect of going jogging with other women and taking spin classes.
Triathlete.com: How many iron-distance races have you done since compulsively signing up for your first?
McMinn: I’ve started six and I’ve finished four. I had a DNF in Switzerland because of an upset stomach from eating something dodgy the night before. I’d never done one, so I was already feeling super ill because I was so nervous, but then something that I ate really upset my stomach. I kept stopping on the bike course because I was so sick, and I stopped so many times that I didn’t make the time cut off.
The other DNF happened last year at Ironman St. George. But the day actually turned into something I’m quite proud of. A storm came in at the start, so 15 minutes into the swim the reservoir was just ridiculous–there were four-foot waves. I had to be rescued in the swim and I was instantly disqualified. It was traumatic. Afterwards I was in the medical tent for about an hour. I was so cold and miserable and utterly devastated to have trained and paid all this money and traveled to another continent to do the race. And I was worried that nobody back home watching would know where I was and that my mother wouldn’t know what had happened. I turned in my timing chip, but then I decided that I’d come all that way, I might as well try and make something out of the day. I partly did it just to warm up because I was so cold, but I went out on the bike and did one loop of the course and then about three quarters of the run. It was really weird because I didn’t technically exist on the course–I wasn’t timed and nobody knew where I was–but I was proud of the fact that I sort of rescued the day!
Triathlete.com: What are some of your other significant triathlon accomplishments?
McMinn: The first Ironman I finished was Cozumel and that was a nice achievement. And Challenge Roth last year was my best result–a PB by over an hour on the bike and a half hour on the run. But probably my most meaningful accomplishment was when I trained for Ironman Lanzarote. Lanzarote was the second Ironman I finished, and when I registered for it I really wasn’t fast enough on the bike to make the bike cutoff time. It’s so hilly and windy there; it’s sort of out of proportion to the other races. Even people that have done a lot of Ironmans are like, “Oh! Lanzarote!” When I registered, my previous coach said, “Are you sure you want to do that course?” A lot of people basically said to me, “Well, hats off to you for having a go, but you really might not make the cutoff.” But I trained my arse off and I finished! In the lead up I had gone there to train because it’s a really easy place to get to from the U.K. But I was still a bit nervous, so I told my coach I wanted to go back for another week. I wanted to do the bike course one more time, just to be sure I could do it. He said, “I don’t want you to do it one more time. You’ll be there for a week, so I’d like you to do it twice. And actually, why don’t you just forget everything else and do the bike course three times that week.” And he said, “If you need a get out of jail card, if you really need to quit one day, you can.” But when I was over there I thought, “Was that a trick?” That bike course literally took me nine hours in training, and I had to do it every other day, with a 20-minute or so run-off after. I did a few swims on the days in between, but that was it. Lanzarote is brutal. The wind in Kona is nothing in comparison. It’s really exhausting at times, and I was on my own, and of course I wanted to just quit. The second time I rode the course I was so miserable and uncomfortable and I remember sitting on the side of the road, feeling like a toddler, thinking, “I don’t want to keep going!” But there’s literally nothing you can do at that point–there’s no bus or cab or anyone to pick you up. So I got through it, and then I did it a third time. And when I finished the third ride I texted my coach and said, “I did it. I did it three times.” He wrote back, “Oh my god! I didn’t think you were actually going to do it!” He asked me if I was still scared of the course and I said, “No, I’m just sick of the sight of it!” But I was pretty thrilled. It was a huge confidence boost.
Triathlete.com: Do you work with a coach now?
McMinn: Yes, I’m coached by pro triathlete Cat Morrison. We’ve been friends since I started in triathlon and she’s always been really supportive. She just started coaching me last year after Roth, but even when she was just a friend she would send me emails with extra little challenges before my races. For example, in the run I always used to stop at every aid station and lose too much time, so Cat sent me email saying, “I challenge you to only stop at every third aid station!” And because she challenged me, I did it. She has a really good affect on me.
Triathlete.com: What’s your next big triathlon goal?
McMinn: It sounds boring, but I would really like to get my run time down. By the end of the year I’d like to get a sub-four-hour Ironman run.
Triathlete.com: As an Irish lass, how important is St. Patrick’s Day to you and what will you do to celebrate?
McMinn: It’s not really that big of a deal. I mean certainly when I was a kid we used to go to Dublin–they have a huge parade there and that was great fun. But since I’ve been out of college I haven’t really celebrated it that much. But I do like that people around the world celebrate it, and that being Irish is associated with having good fun and drinking. I like all that. My original plan this year was to race Los Cabos on St. Patrick’s Day and enjoy a celebratory green beer afterward; now I may be hunting down a green elixir to kick this virus instead!