A former Campbell Riverite battled through biting pain to win the women’s title in this year’s Subaru Ironman Canada in Penticton.
But it wasn’t easy.
Gillian Clayton, who was born and raised in Campbell River, sacrificed potential careers in soccer and marathon running before finding her niche in the gruelling sport of Ironman.
“I’ve done a lot less than others,” Clayton, 31, said. “Most people have done 40 or 50 Ironmans. I started as a runner and got into the sport later.”
It was worth the switch when on Aug. 26 Clayton beat out a field of 13 competitors in her first time competing as a professional.
With a time of 9:46:07, Clayton was nearly five minutes faster than runner-up Karen Thibodeau, who finished in 9:50:52.
Clayton, who now lives in Vancouver, spent all summer preparing for the race. Her focus was on long, hilly bike rides in the mountains to prepare herself for the 5,000 foot vertical climb she had to tackle in Penticton.
Clayton also cycled 180 kilometres each way to visit her parents in Black Creek and hit the pool five or six days a week.
Despite Clayton’s extensive training regime, it was still a battle to the finish.
“I had cramping but when I got to the line the pain was gone,” she said. “It’s still kinda just sinking in. It’s wonderful, it’s like a dream – something I didn’t think was possible at all.”
Growing up, Clayton attended Carihi and played on the Tyees senior girls soccer team under the guidance of coach John Jepson. Clayton said one of the first phone calls she received after the Ironman was from Jepson, calling to congratulate her.
“It was a very successful program,” Clayton said. “John Jepson (has) done great and he’s been there a long time.
“I also played volleyball, I played basketball really badly in Grade 10, I tried cross country, I tried it all because of the great sports programs at Carihi and the great coaches,” said Clayton, who moved on to Halifax’s Dalhousie University at the age of 18.
At Dalhousie, Clayton pursued soccer and had the opportunity to play against members of this year’s bronze-winning Olympic Canadian women’s soccer team.
Clayton switched from soccer to marathon running a few years later and ran in her first marathon – the now defunct Comox Valley Country Roads – in 2004. Since then she has competed in the Victoria Marathon each year.
Clayton took up distance triathlon in 2009 and competed in her first Ironman in 2010.
Since then she’s completed five half-Ironmans, five Ironmans, and one sprint triathlon, but Clayton said this year’s was special because it was her first win in her first race as a professional.
“It was totally overwhelming,” she said. “It’s still a blur. They gave me a really nice plaque because it was the 30th anniversary.”
Clayton also won $5,000 as the first woman to cross the finish line.
Clayton, who works part-time as a physiotherapist, said she plans to return to the Penticton Ironman next year.