There are few challenges bigger or tougher than undertaking an Ironman race, which is exactly what a good friend of mine from my days at Bristol Vet School has just undertaken. Hers is an inspirational story and she is a role model for anyone looking to apply to vet school, juggle athletic and academic pursuits, or simply take on a colossal challenge. The Iron Vet in question is Adelle Isaacs, Junior Partner at Larkmead Veterinary Group, based in Oxfordshire.
Who are you? Where did you study? When did you first decide to be a vet and what kind of vet you are now? Where do you work?
I decided that I wanted to be a vet when I was 7 years old. I loved animals and had a menagerie of small pets. A family friend was a vet and I was lucky enough to be allowed to hang around the practice after school, I never really looked back. I went to my local comprehensive school, got the necessary grades and studied at Bristol between 2002 and 2007. I am still in my first job at Larkmead Veterinary Group in Oxfordshire, which happens to be at my foster practice from university. In January I became a Junior Partner in the practice. I am a large animal vet and spend 90% of my time working with cattle and sheep.
You are undertaking your first Ironman race. What drove you to sign up for the toughest event in the sporting world?
I read Chrissie Wellington’s book (for those that don’t know she is one of the greatest ironman athletes of all time). There was a chapter in the book about a nun who was 80 years old and still competing in Ironman events. I was reading this book on a flight to Auckland, I was on my way to represent GB at an age group level in the World Championships for Sprint Distance triathlon. My brother, and training partner (Danny) had also qualified and had read the book. We had a conversation about this nun in New Zealand and both decided that if an 80 year old could do it there was absolutely no reason why two fit people in their twenties couldn’t do it too. Once we were back in the UK we signed up within a couple of days. Then there was no going back! We chose the race at Mont Tremblant in Canada as it was late in the season, giving us time to prepare, and the scenery looked beautiful. We decided we would try to raise some money for cancer charities in memory of our older sister who unfortunately lost her battle with cancer a few years ago.
How did you first get into triathlon? Why?
I was swimming, mountain biking and running to get fit and I wanted a challenge to keep me motivated. My first race was in 2010 and was a super sprint at Dorney Lake near Eton. Since then I have competed in all of the mainstream distances (sprint, olympic, half ironman and ironman) as well as a half marathon and a few cycling sportives. Triathlon is an amazing sport, it is competitive, but for many (including myself and my brother) the most important contest is with yourself and challenging yourself to give the best performance that you are capable of. Triathlon has a hugely supportive spirit and the atmosphere at races is always really friendly and encouraging.
Were you a sporty/ athletic person before and during vet school?
Whilst I was at school I played lots of girls’ football, I absolutely loved it. I played for our county team and had dreams of going to America (where ladies football is massive) and becoming a pro (I was never really talented enough to do this!). I tore my cruciate ligament in a game the season before coming to university and had it surgically repaired the summer before I started at Bristol. Once I was at vet school I kept thinking I would join the ladies team, but it never really happened. Free time wasn’t really something we had in abundance and I spent more of my time at the bar then exercising and as a result I got really unfit!
What are the challenges associated with balancing training, your work as a vet and a social life?
I am hugely lucky to have an incredibly supportive and understanding boyfriend, and family and friends that are second to none. My colleagues at work have been amazing also, offering to cover some duties so that I can fit in long bike rides every weekend and just generally encouraging me. Without these people I could not have even made it to the start line of the Ironman. Balancing the training and increasingly responsibilities at work has been challenging, sometimes more so than the actual training. I’ve had to improve my skills of time management hugely and I wasn’t exactly disorganised before.
What have been the highlights of both your professional and sporting lives to date?
The highlight of my professional life is gaining a place a Bristol Vet School, professionally everything else has followed on from here really. Obviously I am really excited to have joined the partnership at Larkmead Veterinary Group. In terms of my sporting life the major highlight has to be crossing the finishing line at Ironman Mont Tremblant, the race was pretty eventful and there were times when I thought I wouldn’t make it so it was a very emotional moment. We also raised over £6000 for Cancer Research and Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research and this is something I am hugely proud of. My brother and I also represented the GB age group team for sprint distance triathlon at the World Champs in New Zealand last year, racing in the GB trisuit was a very proud moment and I was so happy to share the experience with my brother.
What are your sporting and professional ambitions following Ironman Tremblant?
I want to focus more on work next year, everyone has been very supportive and understanding during my Ironman training but I feel I owe the practice more of my mental attention going forward. Becoming a partner has taken a bit of getting used to, but I am enjoying it and I hope to progress to Senior Partnership within the next 5 years. I will focus on olympic distance and half ironman distance racing next year as these distances are a bit more compatable with a ‘normal’ life. I hope to return to Ironman racing in 2015 and maybe even a shot at Ironman World Championship (Kona) qualification in the future.
How was the race?
Eventful!!! The swim started really well but half way through my hat came off which unleashed my hair! Every time I turned my head to breathe I almost choked on my own hair and it made it very difficult to ‘sight’ and swim in a straight line. I was pleased to get out of the water and looked like a drowned rat by the time I made it to transition. The bike started really well, I felt so strong after a couple of weeks of tapering and I was flying along! This was until then 40km mark when I was hit by another cyclist and knocked off my bike at an aid station! The bike went flying as I landed on my shoulder, elbow and head. I quickly realised that I ‘wasn’t that bad’ and was relieved to see my bike was fine. I got back on and although my arm was really stiff I was confident that I would make it through the remaining 140km on the bike and tried not to think about the marathon that awaited. I got to T2 feeling pretty sick, the energy drink offered on the bike course was slightly different to what they had advertised and it didn’t agree with me!! This really frustrated me as my brother and I had imported some of the advertised product from the USA to try during training to avoid this very scenario. Anyway, there was nothing I could do, I felt awful and seriously considered pulling out after the bike. I couldn’t imagine how I was going to make it through a marathon feeling how I did. I made myself start the run, I couldn’t have lived with myself if I hadn’t even tried to run. After 2km of running I realised that the energy drink was now making its way through my system, I was having serious stomach cramps and as a result I had to visit the portaloos at every aid station in the first half of the run. As well as being really painful and disgusting I found this so frustrating as I just couldn’t get into a rhythm and my legs actually felt fine. Things got really bad at the halfway mark, I could run more than about 50m without doubling over in pain. I decided at this point to walk until my stomach settled, this took about 30 minutes, during my walk I discovered that my shoulder was actually seriously painful after the crash. It was just one thing after another! I got really low at this point, but after seeing my friends and family I attempted to start running again. I felt fine for the first time in about 6 hours. I ran the last 15km of the 42 km marathon well and finished strong. Running down the finishing chute felt totally surreal. I couldn’t believe I had done it. I knew my brother had finished about 2 hours before me, so crossing the line I knew we had both done it! It felt incredible! I’m so glad I didn’t drop out after the bike, the human body is capable of more than our minds give it credit for!
What tips and advice do you have for anyone thinking of applying to vet school? What about any current athletes or prospective athletes?
Achieving a place at vet school is not easy! It takes dedication, commitment and hard work, but if it is something that you are passionate about and you are willing to put in the effort it is achievable. Getting a broad range of work experience with many species is vital. It is important to get some longer work experience placements to show that you have the required commitment, for example, work at a farm every Saturday for a prolonged period. I would assume that all those applying have similar grades to you and probably similar work experience, so you need to do something to set you apart from the masses. This is where extra-curricular activities come in handy, whether it be sport, music or drama, anything that demonstrates that you are a balanced individual with a passion for non-veterinary matters will stand you in good stead. These activities may also demonstrate that you have developed some skills such as teamwork and communication, which are so important as a vet. If you are lucky enough to be invited for interview, prepare for it meticulously, read up on current affairs and key cases you have seen during work experience. Prepare for it as though it is an exam and then try to relax during the interview so that you can communicate clearly and allow your personality to shine through.
If you are an athlete thinking of applying to vet school don’t be put off. Your skills of time management will probably be more developed than those of people who have applying for vet school as their sole focus, this skill will be invaluable at vet school when spare time is very limited. Dedication to sport will teach so many of the transferable skills that you will be able to use during the application process, at university and during your working life. Sport will also keep you sane!