IN the Sheridan-Wilson household in Midleton, the motto is “perfect is the enemy of good enough”.
It’s a wisdom won by mum Catherine Sheridan the hard way.
Catherine, an open-water swimmer, attempted a Channel swim in 2012, and was forced to give up just three miles from the French coast. But rather than view the experience as a defeat, the mum of two internalised what she learned about true resilience: that failure is a learning opportunity, and that a fear of failure becomes a fear of trying.
Now, Catherine will take on her first Ironman challenge when the famously tough triathlon event comes to Youghal on June 23. And she’s been taking the training and psychological preparation for the gruelling event quite literally in her stride.
“Swimming is where I’m most comfortable and then it gets progressively worse after that,” she says with a laugh.
“I experience a lot of people passing me on the cycle and then even more passing me on the run, but I’ve learned to tell my ego to shut up. I’m certainly not trying to out-compete anybody. I’m just setting a challenge for myself and trying to achieve it for myself; I’m only ever trying to be my best version of myself.
“I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older that women can do everything, but we just can’t do it all at the same time. Being kind to ourselves is really important and doing the best we can, and that’s enough. We don’t have to try and be perfect all the time.”
Catherine grew up in Midleton and swims from Aghada pier, close to her home.
“I didn’t have a particular talent for sports, growing up,” she says. “I wasn’t good with a ball and I didn’t have great co-ordination, but I did love challenging myself. I did gymnastics and tae kwondo. And I’ve always adored the sea.”
Catherine’s heaviest training weeks have seen her complete 18 hours of swimming, cycling and running, excluding the time spent driving, showering, getting gear ready, stretching, or physio.
An early bird, she usually gets up at 6am.
Juggling her full-time job working as Communications Manager for Ervia with parenting her 12-year-old twins, Oscar and Noah, and the demands of her training schedule, Catherine says her training goal was to work within her boundaries and to do things sustainably.
“That meant that, if at any stage it wasn’t right to do the training, I would have taken a step back,” she says.
“Challenging yourself is about putting the steps in place in training; the Ironman on the day itself is the icing on the cake.
“Those mornings when everyone else is having a lie-in on a Sunday and you have to drag yourself out of bed to get your training in? That’s your success, not the day of the event.”
The gruelling Ironman event, which is coming to Youghal for the first time this summer, involves swimming 3.8km, followed immediately by a 180km cycle, and then a 42km marathon run.
Working with a coach, Joe O’Connor from Coachpact.com, was vital in getting herself into peak physical condition, Catherine says, even though there were bumps in the road; no Ironman-in-training wants to hear they’re anaemic, but last November, Catherine discovered that she was indeed iron-deficient when Joe spotted that her fatigue was a little more than regular tiredness from training.
More recently, Catherine has switched to a plant-based diet, which she says makes her more conscious of eating a balanced diet. Although her family’s passion for environmental movements was her main reason for going veggie.
“I’ve been reading and researching aspects of sustainability in what I eat and how I travel, and I realised that eating animal-based products is not necessarily good for your health and obviously isn’t great for the animals, and the impact on the environment is quite high, so I thought I’d see how I got on and I feel really good,” she says.
“I’m around 90% plant-based though,” she says.
“I’m not full-on about it, so if I’m at someone’s house and they give me a slice of cake, I’m going to eat it, I’m not going to be a zealot about it. There are no absolutes and I’m not trying to be perfect.”
Catherine’s identical twins, Oscar and Noah Wilson, are also very ecologically aware; they’re The Echo’s Green Ambassadors and write a monthly column on sustainability in the Kidz Zone supplement.
Her husband, New Zealander Dean Wilson, is a keen sportsman who just completed the Cork City Marathon and plays football and cricket.
Catherine says the support of a partner who understands the drive to be active is absolutely vital.
“I can’t imagine how someone who loves sports could end up with someone who didn’t understand it, to be honest,” she says. “Having interests in common makes it easy to talk about it.”
Having spent so much time training for the Ironman, the one concern Catherine really has about the event itself is not that her body will let her down, but that an unforeseen hiccup like a puncture on the cycling event will throw a spanner in the works.
“Punctures don’t happen all that often so I’m worried that I won’t be able to change it fast enough,” she says.
And what’s her greatest hope for the big day?
“That I finish with a smile on my face,” she says.
“That’s all I ask for.”