On Sunday April 14 some of Ireland's most powerful athletes will descend on the city of Galway. Competing in famed strength events such as the max deadlift and Atlas Stones, competitors will push themselves to their physical limits to earn the right to call themselves Ireland's Strongest Woman for 2019. One such competitor is Michelle Guthrie.
The Galway based athlete is aiming to make it a hat-trick of titles after being crowned champion for the lightweight (under 64kgs ) category in 2017 and 2018, and say that preparations are going well as she ups the intensity of the training programme to have herself primed for the three in-a-row shot. "The competition came around sooner than expected so I have a shorter time to prepare but am feeling good. I took a break after Worlds [in December] and am happy I kept training away and fixing my weaknesses so that when this competition came up I was ready to get back into full time training.
"Once events get announced I need to focus my training specifically for the ones coming up. I had been working on the primary lifts while in off season (squat deadlift and overhead pressing ) but now that events are out I am specifically working log press, increasing weight on deadlift, and getting back to moving events like sandbag runs.
"In the lead up to competition it becomes more about timing and getting faster and more efficient at events, because in lots of events being fast is a big advantage. I will dedicate training sessions to simulating events and fine tuning technique and timing."
The joy of competition
Having won her category for the past two years, the 30-year-old is one to beat but Guthrie says she does not find any extra pressure in being the defending champion and hopes that home advantage will inspire her to a third crown.
"I wouldn't use the word pressure, in the end my real competition is me. I need to focus on what I can do and hopefully that is enough to beat the competition. [Competing and striving to win is] the joy of competition and one of the things that motivates me to keep going.
"Having the competition in Galway is great. Over the past three years competing in Strongwoman the majority of my competitions have been up North. This meant taking time off work to travel and the expense of travel and accommodation. Having it at home means I am in my own surroundings and the expense of competing is reduced greatly. Winning at home would be great. I would love to do it with people around me who have supported me since I began my journey in the sport as well as my sponsors, Nutrisci Nutrition, who keep me stocked up on all my protein needs. Their products can be purchased at Molloys Pharmacy on Abbeygate Street or online at www.molloyspharmacy.com "
Also an All-Ireland power lifter champion in 2015, 2016, and 2017, Guthrie's success in Strongwoman is all the more remarkable considering she only took up the sport in 2015 thanks to a chance meeting Ayesha Ullah and Matty Costello at the World Power lifting Championships in Sicilly.
"I took part in the all-Ireland power lifting competition in August 2015 and I won that tournament and progressed to the world championships in Sicilly where I placed third, and at that competition I met Ayesha for the first time. Even though Ayesha was based in Galway, we did not know each other. We were based in different gyms.
"Her coach was preparing a programme for her and I did not have a coach at the time and I wanted to get better so I got in touch with him. He was organising a Strongwoman competition as a fundraiser for Cancer Care West in that December, and because I was not power lifting at the time I decided to give it a try. I had a lot fun, very much enjoyed it, and I wanted to see how far I could go so I spoke with Matty and here I am."
Training out of the Warehouse Gym in Mervue as well as The Gym in Ballina, the Clare native who moved to Galway back in 2005, now solely concentrates on the Strongwoman discipline. She says while combining her training with her job as a sales manager at a water purification company called GULP, the routine of work and gym is something she really enjoys.
"I have been competing since 2015 so every year I get better [at balancing work and training]. There are times when one outweighs the other and I have to remind myself that its important to balance my life. I do all my training in the evening times after work so have figured out a schedule that works. I love routine, so work and gym are important for me. What I have committed to this year is balancing my social life better because that has really taken a back seat over the past few years."
Competing on an international stage
If she is successful in retaining her title on April 14, Guthrie will secure an invitation to the European and World Championships where she can test herself against the best Strongwoman athletes on the planet once again.
"[I competed at] the worlds last year which was both physically and mentally challenging. I injured myself quite close to the competition which hindered my preparation and left me feeling underprepared. The events were very challenging but I still competed and did the best I could. Of course I was disappointed initially but on reflection I've come to realise the achievement of making it to worlds in my sport is something I should be proud of. I guess I'm my own worst critic and can be very harsh on myself, learning to balance my expectations and limitations is something I'm working on.
"Competing at international competitions is so important for both my progression and Ireland's progression in the sport. As the sport is still relatively new here, the level of competition is still a little behind international standards. I find every time I compete internationally I learn something new and get more confident in myself as an athlete. It is a whole different ball game and a lot more challenging but it is exciting to see just how far the sport has gone and that the potential is here in Ireland for us to get there too."