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© Richard Melik
Catherine the Great(est)?
Posted by: JohnLevison
Posted on: Wednesday 16th October 2013


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Is British Age Group athlete Catherine Faux the best ever? Quite possibly, says Tri247 Editor John Levison.

Catherine FauxWhen Catherine Faux (www.catherine-a-box.blogspot.co.uk) arrived in Kona last week for the 2013 Ironman World Championships, it was to find that her accreditation for the event had her registered as Catherine 'False'. That error appears to trace from some dubious French/English translation software; Catherine having qualified for Kona at Ironman France this summer.

The results of Saturday would suggest that her name tag was the only 'negative' aspect of her performance, one which I've commented on initially HERE - but one I feel is worthy of highlighting separately, because it is staggeringly impressive.

While regular readers of Tri247 will (or should...) be familiar with her name - if only from this great interview from March this year - we suspect many others have not had the eye for detail that we try to apply here. In a similar vein to Corinne Abraham's victory at Ironman Melbourne in March, my analytics software highlights that 'Catherine Faux' searches in our database have massively increased since Sunday morning. Once again, Tri247 comes to the rescue of many a triathlon features writer...

(All images ©Richard Melik/Tri247)

The achievement - the greatest?

On Saturday, Catherine won the F25-29 Age Group at the Ironman World Championships, moving up one place from her 2012 finish. This will result in slightly larger Umeke, the local, hand carved wooden bowls which are the trophies awarded in Kona - to bring home to Sheffield. A fine achievement, irrespective of the detail which will follow, but not in itself unique. Louise Collins also managed the same result in 2010.

Catherine Faux (©Richard Melik/Tri247)

There is though a (strong) argument in my eyes that Catherine's performance is possibly...

...the greatest female Age Group Ironman performance ever.

Now that is a bold claim, and a high bar, but I believe that there is certainly significant validity in that statement and evidence to back it up

  • Catherine won the F25-29 Age Group by more than 33 minutes (9:15:16 versus 9:48:55 of second placed Michelle Duffield (AUS))
  • Catherine broke the F25-29 Age Group record by more than 30 minutes (previously 9:47:40, Bree Wee (USA) in 2007).
  • The second fastest female Age Grouper at Kona 2013 was more than 18 minutes behind Catherine (Stefanie Adam (BEL), 9:33:29)
  • Catherine broke the all-time female Age Group record by almost 17 minutes (previously 9:32:05, Beate Goetz (GER) in 2011)

Or, should you want it in easy to digest non-statto terms:

Catherine's race on Saturday was, BY A LONG WAY, the fastest female Age Group time in the history of the Ironman World Championship - and nobody was remotely close to her at the finish.

Times in triathlon, particularly at a location such as Kona which is subject to wide variations in temperature and wind are only a part of the story - but when you smash not only records but your opposition too (in the most competitive event of the year), you can be pretty sure you have seen something very special. What Catherine Faux did on Saturday fits into that category.

Catherine Faux (©Richard Melik/Tri247)

The coach's thoughts

I asked Catherine's coach, Judith Brand (www.facebook.com/DrJCoachingAndBikeFitting) for her thoughts on Catherine's race, and what might come next?

"What an amazing result for Cat in Kona, although it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who has been following her progress over the last few years. I knew she had something special in her as all season she has produced one excellent result after another (as she did last season too!). I know how hard she has worked as an athlete to achieve this, juggling her studies and placements to ensure she was able to go to Kona (she is in her final year as a medical student), and to make sure she fits all the training and recovery in. As a coach, its a privilege to work with such a talented, hard-working athlete. We started off with it being very much me writing the plans and the sessions, but as we have developed our relationship, we sit down together and plan, bouncing ideas around. We try to do this as regularly as we can, usually over a meal!

"The future is very much up to Cat, she has the potential to produce more and she is never complacent with her results, knowing that in every area there is always something that can be improved, no matter how little. She is still young and has lots of years ahead of her. People are asking if she will now turn Pro, again that will be Cat's decision, whatever she decides, I will support her in whatever way I can!"

Faux to go Pro?

Of course, that is the obvious next question - and having won the biggest race in the sport by such a large margin - along with two ITU and one ETU Championship over the past three seasons, one would have to suspect that racing in the Professional ranks is the next step. At Ironman France, Catherine's finish time would have placed her fourth in the Pro race. In Kona, her 9:15:16 would have placed her tenth in the Pro race. Now, in both of those events the Pro and Age Group races were separate, and so simply stating "she would have finished top ten" is not a fair comparison due to different race dynamics - but alongside the Age Group statistics above, clearly, the ability to race in such company exists - should she wish to take that option.

Bear in mind that Catherine is still young, especially in Ironman terms (she turns 26 next month), and still very inexperienced - she only did her first triathlon in 2009. The scope for improvement clearly exists - but it is also worth adding, she is improving now. Success has been achieved 'despite' balancing the challenges of being a medical student... though I would suggest that 'despite' might well be 'because'. Whatever Catherine has been doing with her coach, in combination with her work/life/sport balance has clearly been working. Sometimes "if it's not broken, don't fix it" can be a better option than the (supposed) 'living the dream' of making sport your career full-time - something Catherine talked to me about in March.

Catherine Faux (©Richard Melik/Tri247)

The role model?

I would personally like to see Catherine racing in the Pro ranks in 2014 - but I would certainly be recommending she take the 'Lucy Gossage' approach.

Another exceptionally busy medic / talented athlete, Lucy has been able to take incremental steps in her triathlon 'careeer' over the past three years - all of which she has improved in - by balancing her work/life/sport balance, while keeping the fun aspect and minimising (financial and career) risks too. Lucy's first 'Pro' races were undertaken whilst still working full time. Once she had proved she could compete and race at that level (Galway 70.3 win and Challenge Barcelona third in 2011), Lucy was able to change her working to part-time to increase her triathlon focus - without going 'all in'. Unless you've been under a rock for the last two years, that experiment has gone rather well including Ironman UK and Ironman Wales victories in recent weeks.

Subject to completing her PhD over the next few months, Lucy plans to take a sabbatical (which fits naturally at this stage of her career path), to be a full-time triathlete and have "two good attempts at Kona" before returning to her medical career. With increased media exposure developed over the past three years, and some financial support (in part derived from that exposure) to assist that process, she looks well set to continue her ascent of the sport - and has followed a path I would consider 'textbook' to anyone in a similar position. Much like Catherine Faux...

Cat's view of her race?

Before boarding the aeroplane on the journey back to the UK, Cat said:

"I was pleased with second place last year and thought, equipped with that experience and a year's consistent training, a win could be possible. It was a fast day and went mostly to plan - I knew I was having a good race but was still a little surprised with my time and overall position."

Catherine Faux (©Richard Melik/Tri247)

She's got speed, Freespeed...

In March this year, Catherine was announced as one of he new members of Team Freespeed Virgin Active (www.teamfreespeed.com), the very successful Age Group team run by Freespeed (www.freespeed.co.uk) bike fit studio owner Richard Melik. I asked Richard about his thoughts.. and he believes she will one day return to Kona to win again - this time, as a professional:

"Catherine came onto our radar last season and we began discussions for her to join the team. At the time she mentioned to me that she had three goals for 2013:

  1. Defend her title as ITU Long Distance Amateur World Champion 2013, Belfort, France. 
  2. Remain unbeaten at amateur level Iron distance all year and continue to challenge professional triathletes in those races. 
  3. Qualify for and be the fastest amateur at Ironman World Championships 2013, Kona, Hawaii.

"Very pleased to report that Catherine has achieved all three goals and made them all look remarkably easy. Catherine is a very rare talent and I firmly believe that one day she will return to Kona and win the biggest prize in the sport."

Catherine Faux (©Richard Melik/Tri247)

Time will tell in relation to that forecast - but right now, Catherine Faux has time, talent and work ethic on her side. I look forward to following her progress.

Catherine Faux Career Highlights

2013

  • Ironman World Champion, Age Group 25-29, 2013 (Fastest Age Group athlete overall) - Report
  • Fastest female Age Group athlete ever in Kona: 9:15:16 ** - Report
  • Ironman France Champion, Age Group 25-29, 2013 (Fastest Age Group athlete overall) - Report
  • Fastest female Age Group athlete ever at Ironman France, 9:22:51 *** - Report
  • ITU Long Distance World Champion, Age Group 25-29, 2013 (Belfort, France) - fastest Age Group athlete overall (Report)
  • Vitruvian Triathlon winner 2013 (Results) - fourth place overall, course record.
  • London Triathlon 'Olympic Plus' winner 2013 - sixth place overall - Results
  • Powerman UK (Long course) winner 2013 - third place overall - Report
  • Big East Triathlon winner 2013 - fourth place overall - Report

(** Kona time was 10th fastest including female Pro's.)
(*** France time was 4th fastest including female Pro's)

2012

  • Second, Ironman World Championship, Age Group 25-29, 2012 (Fifth Age Group athlete overall) - Report
  • ITU Long Distance World Champion, Age Group 25-29, 2012 (Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain) - fastest overall Age Grouper (Report)
  • Vitruvian Triathlon winner 2012 (Report)
  • Silver, British Middle Distance Champion (Cowman Triathlon) 2012 - Results (punctured on bike)

2011

  • ETU Long Distance European Champion, Age Group 20-24, 2011 (Tampere, Finland) - fastest overall Age Grouper (Report)
  • Outlaw Triathlon winner 2011 (Report)

Kona Age Group Champion 2013 - 9:15:16

Swim: 59:19 / Bike: 5:04:01 / Run: 3:05:20

Catherine Faux (©Richard Melik/Tri247)


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