When Emma started the journey to her first Ironman finish line, little did she know that it would completely transform her life — this is her story.
In 2013, London-based Emma Payne was working a summer mountain season in Austria. Yet, despite being surrounded by the beauty of the Alps and glittering sunshine, she was struggling.
‘I’d suffered from depression for years,’ Emma says, ‘and my self-esteem was at an all time low. I felt that if I wasn’t around any more, I’d be doing the world a favour. So I took an overdose, and ended up in an Austrian hospital,’ she says. ‘I was flown back to the UK without any choice in the matter. I felt so ashamed.’
Back in the UK, Emma went into hiding, but eventually regained enough strength to secure a new job in London as a recruitment consultant. ‘The days were frantic and the nights and weekends were a blur,’ Emma says. ‘It was one long party of cigarettes, drugs and booze. I was smoking 20-a-day and constantly feeling hung over, it was crazy.’
Emma was in the thick of it, but whilst ‘party Emma’ was on form, the wild lifestyle began to take its toll. ‘I started struggling again – getting smashed every night was losing its appeal,’ she says. ‘The pace of it all became impossible.’
“I was smoking 20 a day, it was crazy.”
Having studied Sports Science at University, Emma’s natural interest in sports alongside a timely break-up, inspired her to join her local triathlon club in 2014. ‘My weekends transformed,’ Emma recalls. ‘I began to love it – I’d wake up without a hang over and see new places. The people I met were passionate about what they were doing and I could relate to them; some of them had also battled with mental health. I realised there was a whole world out there that I was missing out on,’ she says.
Not wasting any time, Emma completed her first three triathlons within a year: a sprint, an Olympic (where she placed third!), and her first Ironman 70.3. ‘I finished the half Iron and said, “I’m never doing anything like that again!” But two weeks later, I’d signed up for Ironman Austria. I wanted to go back and do something incredibly positive there – I wanted to lay my demons to rest.’
Emma hired a coach in preparation for her first Ironman, yet despite this, alongside her commitment to training, her first Ironman did not go to plan. ‘I was race-fit, but it was an utterly gruelling day. I got pushed under during the swim and swallowed a lot of silty water.’
During the course of her race, which she completed in just over 13 hours, Emma was sick dozens of times. ‘I had painful stomach cramping on the bike and barely took on any calories at all — I finished the day on a drip,’ Emma recalls. ‘It was horrific, and it hurt. My body was screaming at me! Getting to the finish line was purely down to mental strength.’
“It’s been an amazing transformation — I owe a lot to one crazy sport.”
Returning to England, things felt different for Emma. ‘My coach told me he didn’t know anyone else that could’ve done it, and I received so many cards of kind words from people. I began to feel proud of myself.’
The road to Ironman transformed Emma’s life. ‘I don’t feel inclined to hurt myself any more. I feel a new-found sense of self worth and an ability to tackle the tough situations in life, it’s been an amazing change. I owe a lot to one crazy sport – life is worth living again.’
After Ironman Austria 2016, Emma completed her second half Iron distance, a distance that she plans to focus on in 2017. Have your own triathlon story? Get in touch!