This is the remarkable story of how triathlon has completely transformed Renee Kiley's life.
In 2014, the Australian came 252nd in her first ever sprint distance triathlon. “I pretty much walked the 5km” she says.
In 5.5 years, Renee has gone from weighing 104kg, with alarming blood pressure readings to racing in the pro ranks.
Long gone are the long, boozy Friday lunches, the 7 day working weeks in the office and the daily packet of cigarettes!
We go pretty deep in the interview, but Renee is ridiculously open and honest and she reveals she still struggles with her body image.
*The 'lightbulb moment' that made her start to change her life around
*How she ran on the treadmill and avoided the pool at busy times when she first started exercising, for fear of what others would say
*The lessons she's taken from the business world into the triathlon domain and vice versa
*Her struggles with body image and disordered eating
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INTERVIEW TIME LINE* (not the whole episode)
00:00 A typical Friday 6 years ago? “My ultimate was a long lunch at a fancy restaurant, which means leaving the office by 11.30am, and pretty much drinking at the table until they would come up and say ‘we need to get ready for dinner service' which was around 3.30 in the afternoon, then we would head for drinks in bar, with cigarettes, cocktails and wines and I’d be home by 7.30 or 8 and sleep the hangover off. That was the ideal Friday about 6 years ago.
01.25 Today (Friday) was I woke up at 0540am because that’s the body clock now, then did the house work, came home and had a coffee and then got ready for this interview.
02.00 There are still moments where I have memories and I think ‘wow, my life has changed a lot’.
02.40 2012/2013 I was at the height of my unhealthiness, I was running a successful business which I had been growing since 2007 and I was obsessed with work. But now in hindsight I realise I was unhappy and unhealthy. So 2012, I was in the office 7 days a week, I would sleep in a bit on a Saturday and Sunday but I would still go to the office. And my business partner came up to me at some point in 2012 and he said ‘I don’t care what you do next week, but you are not coming in to the office, you need a break.’ So I booked myself into a health retreat and it was just to de-stress.
05.35 I remember when you got there, they did a series of health checks on you and my heart rate got to 155 beats on a bike just turning the pedals for a few minutes, they weighed me and I was 104kg (16 stone) and my blood pressure was something crazy 151/110. I was wearing probably a size 18.
07.00 In 2012, I went to stay with friends in Queensland and they were going to watch a friend competing in the Noosa triathlon.
07.45 I was always a sporty kid and I had grown up around sport my whole life, so I loved watching it. This was November 2013 and I went and watched the bike course and I was wondering how I would sneak away for a cigarette surrounded by health freaks. I had never seen a triathlon before, but I remember having this moment thinking wow, there are all sorts of shapes and sizes and ages and they all look so happy. And I thought maybe I could do this Noosa triathlon in 12 months time. I didn’t stand there and think ‘I need to lose weight, I need to go healthy, it was more about 'I want to do this triathlon’
11.30 I didn’t tell anyone because I was afraid of failing, but I did enter the race. But I didn’t make any changes. I probably thought in my head I’ll start in the New Year. So on January 2nd, I googled bikes and went and brought a bike, with normal pedals and I remember coming home and getting on the bike.
14.00 Oh my god did I feel self-conscious? Yes. I was super self-conscious and in those early days, I would run on a treadmill and I would swim during the day when I knew there weren’t that many people at the pool, because I was too self-conscious.
17.00 I played basketball as a teenager to a really good level, so I knew about fitness and I knew that too much running wouldn’t be good, so I did a lot of swimming to start off with. I also starting eating more healthily.
20.29 I remember crossing the finish line at Noosa and I just remember being really p*ssed off because I was so bad. I had always been really good at things and one of the best. And being 252nd was not something I was proud of. It wasn’t in a bad way, but it was fuel for the fire and it made me think ‘I want to be better than that.’
22.00 I was always really competitive and I just wanted to get better. As soon as I found triathlon, I found perspective and I’m sure as soon as I got that first bike, I stopped going to work at the weekends.
23.20 Going back to noosa, I set myself a goal “I wanted to finish in the top 30% in my age group. I came 25th and did 2h 30 in my second Olympic distance triathlon, but I didn’t care about timings or placings. We just had the best time.
25.30 After Noosa, I did my first 70.3 at Geelong in 2015. I did another 70.3 in Cairns in the June and I came 3rd in my age group and that was when I started thinking ‘wow, maybe I could be a good age grouper’ but a lot of people in my tri club were doing Ironman Japan in the August and someone said ‘you should do it’ so then I did my first Ironman in Japan and won my age group. Kona was 6 or 7 weeks after that, so I ended up racing Kona in 2015 too.
28.00 After kona that year, I decided I wanted to go back and I thought I might be able to go back to Kona and get a top 5. So I did Ironman Australia and came 3rd in my age group. And it was in the May that I thought perhaps I could have a go at racing PRO. Training mates in the tri club at the time would mention it and I was cycling really well at the time. But I thought no, I’d be too old. But then I ended up having a really bad race at Kona. That was a really big disappointment. But I pulled myself together and I just had huge self-belief that I could do it. And the following June, I won the age group race.
31.30 I did worry about what other people would think, I thought people would look at my results and think ‘oh, she should be racing pro.’ My results were solid, but there wasn’t anything special about them.’ But my perspective was I’ve been on a TT bike for 2 years and if I can do this now, already, then who knows what I can achieve over the next few years.
33.00 I haven’t struggled with imposter syndrome in triathlon because I am pretty sure of myself and I know I work really, really hard and when you know you work really hard, you don’t get that, I don’t think.
34.00 The lessons taken from the corporate world into the triathlon world: Mental resilience. It’s crazy the amount of businesses that fail and when I was first pro I got absolutely smashed in my first two races and that’s really tough to deal with, coming from winning as an age grouper. And as an athlete, you have to have it in you to keep getting back up and keep trying and keep putting yourself on a start line.
36.30 Would you take anything from the professional world into the corporate world? I often had no life outside of work and I often look back now at how that might be different and there is no way in hell that I would be working 7 days a week!
37.30 How has your relationship with your body changed? “I still struggle with disordered eating to an extent. I have gone from corporate world to elite sport and because I am now in elite sport, 90% of the people I am surrounded by are life time athletes and I lost 42kg and I have about 3kg of excess tissue. I know where it is and I am surrounded by athletes who have looked after their bodies their entire life and have toned figures and I find myself with lower body image when I am surrounded by people who look like that. As lean and as light as I can get, I will never look super lean or super light, simply because of excess tissue. So has my body image improved? Of course, I know I look better, but I don’t think I look amazing and I think it’s because of the space I am in at the moment.”