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Why triathletes are drawn to the ‘Iron Lady’

The first Filipino woman to compete in the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii, Ani de Leon-Brown is an in-demand coach, and now, a wife and mother

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RUN FINISH in Ironman Cairns, Australia

Flat abs, toned arms and legs, and a deep, almost golden tan that suggests she’s constantly outdoors. The girl who steps into the room is an athlete, all right.

Her long dark hair is tied in a neat high ponytail, lightly touching the back of her body-fit sports tee, like she doesn’t want all that to get in the way.

But this one is not just any athlete. This is the “Iron Lady,” coach Ani de Leon-Brown, the first Filipino woman to qualify and compete in the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, and the only Asian in the Timex International Multisports Team.

Brown is the race director of Iron Kids, and holds triathlon clinics for personal and group training sessions.

Married to Australian triathlete and coach Dan Brown and a new mom to Dash, the 38-year-old coach is now learning the ropes of balancing family and professional life.

At home, she has her hands full looking after little Dash, while training multiple groups and running private sessions with personalities like Sen. Pia Cayetano, Maricel Pangilinan, Tessa Prieto-Valdes, Anne Curtis and a whole bunch more. She has her own training, too.

All these are enough to keep her busy the entire week.

“I used to be extremely anal about training. I think most triathletes are. You can’t help it. But now I live a well-balanced life. I make sure the major things are accomplished first. Sometimes, the training takes a backseat,” Brown said.

BIKING to a third place Elite Female finish at the Cobra Ironman 70.3 Philippines;
at right, the Browns going for a swim

Despite a full schedule, Brown joins an average of six full-distance triathlons a year, with Olympic-distance races, half-Ironmans, duathlons and aquathlons in between.

One would think an extremely active lifestyle such as hers would leave its battle scars on her body. But, no, not this Iron Lady. Her last injury was in 2005.

By following a flexible schedule instead of doing the rigid triathlon regimen, Brown was able to dodge injuries. “If I see that I have only a 20-30 minute window, I take that as my session. I maximize the little time I have by giving it my optimal best,” she said.

Elite category

In the recent Ironman 70.3 in Cebu, Brown clocked in a 5:22:43 time, 20 minutes slower than her personal record. It was disappointing, she said, knowing she could have done better.

Rain poured in the morning, but the weather cleared up when the race started. Although the muddy road for the bike event soon dried up, she lacked a lot of saddle time during training. That slowed down her overall time. Even so, Brown made it as the third Filipino woman in the elite category.

The almost 5’2” Brown, whose personal record stands at 11:45 during the 2009 Ironman Langkawi, believes that anyone can become a triathlete. Anyone who really wants it, that is, since training in three different disciplines will require time, commitment and dedication.

And, yes, anyone can go from zero to full-distance triathlon, as long as they take it one baby step at a time.

So how do you juggle work, training and motherhood, and still finish a 3.86-km swim, 180.25-km bike and 42.2-km run with lots of grace and a big smile? How would the Average Joe and Jane, who work an eight-hour shift, fit training into their schedule?

Assuming that you are relatively fit—you run, work out in the gym or swim—Brown said to give yourself two to three years before joining a full-distance triathlon.

Body composition is also vital in endurance events, and especially important for a good split run, she said. Brown, for instance, only has 12- to 14-percent body fat.

But that’s for elite athletes, and way below that of the average Jane who, according to the World Health Organization, must have anywhere from 21- to 36-percent body fat (depending on age) to be in the healthy range.

Brown started exercising at age 10, doing gymnastics after she first saw Bea Lucero’s Milo commercial on TV.

At 14, she started swimming when she tagged along to her older sister Sinag’s swim sessions. She finished her first short-distance triathlon in 1994, was a member of the national team from 2000 to 2006, and finished her first half-Ironman in 2007.

Brown was born to academic parents. She is the daughter of National Commission for Culture and the Arts chair Felipe M. de Leon Jr., the son of National Artist for Music Felipe Padilla de Leon Sr., and music writer/women’s issues advocate Anna Leah Sarabia.

Her brother, Diwa, is an award-winning composer.

Brown herself is a licensed interior designer, funding her overseas triathlon trainings with her earnings as a designer until she decided to become a full-time coach in 2005.


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