Inspiring women in sport: Annie McMonagle

From brunches to triathlon in one year – a radical change of lifestyle

Originally from Scotland, Annie is 49 years old. She moved to Dubai nearly 8 years ago to start a very stressful job in facility management. Up until over a year ago, she was working long hours, drinking up to 15 cups of coffee a day, smoking and not exercising at all. Now she is taking part in every single running or cycling race she can register for and she is aiming at finishing the Dubai Ironman70.3

Annie, take us through your epic year and tell us what triggered all these changes in your life?

I had been working for the same company for 7.5 years and my job was very stressful. So, I decided to quit and to move back to Scotland. But, as things happen for a reason, I was offered another job and I stayed in Dubai. All of a sudden, I had so much more time on my hands and I didn’t know what to do of it. I had Fridays and Saturdays off, all this free time but I was genuinely lost. I was not going to spend my time just sitting and drinking. With no particular reason, I decided to buy a bike, just to ride around the community I live in. The person who sold me her bike, Zoe, became my best friend, and she and her husband started to take me out for rides in Al Qudra. Before I knew it, I was learning about tire pressure and saddle height. I really started to be hooked when I rode the Spinney’s Build Up Ride. But Zoe kept pushing on my trying on a triathlon. I really didn’t believe it was even possible for me to do it. There
is such stigma attached to triathlon that it is only for super athletes.

But things out of my control happened anyway. In January 2020, I was diagnosed with double hernia and underwent surgery. In March 2020, Covid-19 stroke and I was stuck to stationary bikes and treadmills. After the lockdown, I decided to start taking on running seriously. I signed up with a coach, Sara-Lise Harris, and I discovered that endurance sport was actually for women of all ages, sizes and body types. It gave me a lot of confidence, so I decided to join their cycling group as well.

One day, I decided to go to the beach to overcome my fear of putting my head underwater. But it was not going to be that easy so I signed up for a swimming class with Sara-Lise. By this time, I had also joined the Team Angel Wolf, thanks to Zoe. Honestly, having Sara-Lise, Zoe and Team Angel Wolf on my side gave me the support I needed. For them, it was never about the performance: as long as you get up and do something, it’s all that counts.

I first read of the Sunman For Rich on the internet and I decided to do it. It’s a half ironman distance triathlon. With the support of my friends, I managed to swim the 1900m in the sea at Kite Beach. The next day, I ran the 15km at the mall, and finished the last 6km in the evening. My legs were dead. On Saturday, we all did the 90km bike ride together in Al Qudra. I was so chuffed by the fact that I managed it. I was overwhelmed. I still had doubts at first but everyone’s support was amazing and made the difference.

The amazing thing is that I would have never been involved in any of it if I hadn’t bought that bike from the right person. I was told: just try and do your best, as long as you put the effort. The problem with a lot of women is that they think ‘it’s not for me, I will never make it’, because of the stigma that endurance sport has.

What is the biggest lifestyle change you have undergone since you bought that bike a year ago?

The first change came when I changed jobs. It gave me a much better work-life balance.

Then I changed my diet. I used to drink and smoke. A lot. And I could easily go through 15 cups of coffee a day. I used to eat whatever take-away was available. Generally, I didn’t want to make the healthy choices because it was just easier and less stressful to just have another cup of coffee and to order meals. Now I am more organised. On Saturdays, I spend time planning and preparing my meals for the week. I am eating a lot more vegetables as well.

I was really inspired by the whole thing: exercising, eating healthy, performing better. I kind of learnt how to eat healthier on the go. Thankfully, I was surrounded by the right people who were happy to pass on their knowledge and experiences.

Do you miss the lifestyle you had before?

I do sometimes, but I have a much better balance now. My friends say I never want to come to brunches anymore. Sometimes I still go and I really enjoy having a nice lunch and a few glasses of wine. It’s almost like normality. I am an all or nothing type of person. I think that now I have a balance that suits me better. It is such a great feeling getting up and not feeling hungover, or going for an early workout and realising at 9 o’clock that you have already done your workout for the day.

How are you friends and family reacting to your new way of living and to your new goals?

My parents are very pleased. They were very concerned when I was having a stressful life and when I had the double hernia. My friends gave me a hard time for a while when I was not going out anymore. But now they are happy when I go out with them and offer to drive the car because I don’t drink anymore. Generally, everybody is very supportive. I am trying to motivate my friends to start moving as well, but they are not all sold on it.

While doing all of these races, even virtually, what was the biggest challenge you had to overcome?

While racing, your head constantly tells you to stop. But when you just try to put one foot in front of the other, you realise that you can always keep going. My goal was to never finish last. Last Saturday, I did the time trial in Al Qudra. I was so happy when I realised I didn’t finish last.
I get so excited about the medals, I love the medals. It’s a stupid thing really but it motivates me to have a bigger collection of medals.

Do you think it’s harder for women to stay fit when you are older?

Maybe, but I was fortunate enough to go through menopause early and it didn’t represent too much of a challenge for me. I think that exercising regularly makes a difference for both men and women.

Of all the things you have accomplished in one year, what are you the proudest of?

The Sunman For Rich and the time trial I did last Saturday because I cut 3 minutes off of my time. Last Saturday, I pushed myself so hard that I felt sick when I got off the bike.

Which advice would you give to anyone who doesn’t know how to make the first step towards an active lifestyle?

I would support them. Support is key. I sold my first bike to a girl who is not into triathlon at all. I am going to take her out next week, I want to complete the full circle. In the end, it’s all about community and inclusion. I learnt that from Team Angel Wolf. I was by no means an athlete, but Nick (Watson) said ‘who cares?’ They motivated me to keep going. I have never felt left out. They gave me the motivation to get better and to give the best of myself. Some women of my size and shape feel embarrassed. With Team Angel Wolf, I had a real sense of belonging.

What’s your next goal?

I am going to do the Oceanic Super Sprint tomorrow morning. It will be my first ever solo triathlon. I am very nervous about the swim but I have to do it to gain the confidence.
Then I am planning to run the 10km Mai Dubai Run and the Roy Nasr Sprint Triathlon. Next Monday, I will start the 16-week training program Sara-Lise put together for me to prepare for the Dubai Ironman70.3.

What an inspiring story of determination and addiction, and of friendship and community spirit!

Isn’t it what sport should be all about?

We interviewed Annie on the afternoon before she completed the Oceanic Super Sprint Triathlon. With her determination, we are convinced she will do well and achieve a lot more great things.

Interview by Anne Muehlenbeck

Posted on 2nd Oct 2020