Road to Recovery

New Zealander Philippa Glover likes to push her body. And as a breast cancer survivor, she has more reason than most to celebrate her recent successes in triathlons and half ironman races, writes Karola Clark.

Philippa came to competitive triathlons only recently, competing in her first half ironman at the age of 39. “I hated sports when I was younger. I was picked last for all the teams. It wasn’t until I was about 25 that I started running and doing occasional gym classes or weight training.”
One of Philippa’s strongest motivations for training is her health. Several years ago, while living in Dubai with her husband, Nick, Philippa found a lump in her breast. “You know how people say, ‘feel for a frozen pea’, that’s exactly what I felt. I was 33. I ignored it for six months and then thought, I better go see a doctor.” Now, Philippa is happy to talk about her story to make others aware of the need for action. “Even if you’re in your 20s or 30s, go and get checked. It’s too scary not to.” Philippa went through her cancer treatment in Dubai. “I had a mastectomy, and then chemotherapy for 18 months because the type of cancer I had was aggressive.”

Back on the bike
Fitness was an important part of her recovery. “I did a lot of walking, because we’d gotten a dog and I had to get up and walk him outside. It was quite good being in a country where everyone wears headscarves, because I didn’t stick out as a cancer patient!”
Her previous fitness from running and gym classes helped. “The treatment was pretty exhausting, but I don’t think I suffered as much as some people because I was relatively fit from the bit of running that I’d been doing. The doctors had to monitor my heart because the chemo can cause heart problems, and they could tell I was a runner. The scans showed my heart was quite strong.”
After her treatment, Philippa and Nick relocated to Singapore for his job. “Nick is also a cancer survivor, and he’s Type 1 Diabetic. He decided he was going to do half ironman a couple of years ago. It started when we moved to Singapore and realised it was cheaper for him to buy a bike and cycle to work every day. Riding to work turned into proper road cycling which required another bike, because he started with just a fixie with no gears. Then road cycling turned into triathlons, which required a special triathlon bike. We have a two-bedroom apartment, and one room is just for bikes!”

Social benefits
As well as the health benefits, the social network that her husband was making quickly drew Philippa in. “I actually did one triathlon here and hated it. But then I started meeting people, including Kim Bradley from ANZA Cycling when I bought a bike from her.” Joining a few triathlon groups helped her build confidence. “I started to make a network of really good friends. There’s a lot of us girls that really build each other up and motivate each other to do races.” Philippa quickly moved from triathlons to the bigger challenge of half ironmans. “At first, I hated cycling, swimming was terrible and only the run was okay. But Nick was doing it and it was something to do together.”

Back to Dubai
Philippa’s love for her former home led her to choose the Dubai Half Ironman as her first real challenge. “I signed up when the race registrations opened in November 2017 and had 12 weeks to train for the race in January 2018.” The half ironman distance is a 1.9km swim, 90km bike, and a 21km run, which she completed in 6 hours and 30 minutes. Philippa got more serious about her training and went on to do the Busselton Half Ironman later that year in Western Australia. “I took 40 mins off my Dubai race time.”
Most recently she trained for the Port Macquarie Half Ironman in May this year. Her arduous weekly training program includes three runs and rides and two to three swims. “On the weekend we do up to a four-and-a-half-hour ride, with a run after that. My husband and I often cycle a lap around Singapore on a weekend, around 115km. The next day is a two and a quarter hour run.“

Strong finisher
Philippa’s training has proved successful with strong finishes in her recent races. In the Powerman Malaysia Duathlon (20km run, 60km ride) in March this year, she finished 4th in her age group. She also competed in Singapore’s Metasprint series, scoring a podium spot in the Duathlon (run and ride), coming 3rd in her age group. Then she capped off the series by winning her age category in the Triathlon.
Although Philippa is cancer free, the treatment had a lasting impact on her body. “My body does feel different. When I had the mastectomy, they took my lat muscle (latissimus dorsi), from my back and brought it to the front to reconstruct my breast. The weird thing is when I’m swimming, I can feel the muscle working in the front, rather than the back. I like to blame that, if I’m last during a swim!”