Joanna Lin: The Couch Potato that went Full Ironman

Joanna Lin never considered herself to be a sporty and active person. Pris Chew tells us what triggered her to change her lifestyle.


Photos Lionel Kong

Dr Joanna Lin, 53, had never considered herself to be a sporty and active person. The medical oncologist remarks, “I think that ‘couch potato’ was a very apt term for describing me. I had a bad habit of not keeping to an exercise schedule because I was spending a lot of time at work and juggling that with bringing up a young family. So apart from the occasional tennis game or playing in the pool with the kids, I didn’t do any exercise at all.”

Time to Take Charge

In 2009, when a cousin of hers had passed away at 50 from heart disease, Joanna realised that it was time to do something about her own health.

Said Joanna, “As a doctor, I could also see that I was not as fit as I should be. So I started running; I used to hate it, but I forced myself to pick it up and not make excuses anymore. As a way to stay motivated, I set event goals and did a vertical marathon and the 10km race at the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore that year. Those were my first two races.”

From Running to Triathlon

Joanna’s brother-in-law was a strong amateur triathlete, and so he encouraged Joanna to get into the sport herself. She said, “He thought it was an interesting sport for me. I had just started running, and I could swim too, though I wasn’t a strong swimmer. It was also a logical step, moving from running to a type of cross training with triathlons.”

Joanna entered her first triathlon in 2010, and she was immediately hooked. She said, “My brother-in-law and sister-in-law came out to support me. It was great fun and though I was slow, it was the first time that I had swum such a distance in the sea. Of course, these things take some getting used to, but once I did, I became comfortable with open water swimming and found myself looking out for races that were longer in length.”

While she did not have outright speed, Joanna discovered that with adequate physical conditioning, she had plenty of stamina for long distance events.

“That was how I wound up doing half Ironman distances. My first half Ironman was in 2012, and that was the last edition of the Aviva Ironman 70.3 in Singapore. The next year, I entered the Ironman 70.3 in Bintan, and then after that, I thought it was time to go further! It had seemed like an exciting thing to do, though I had no idea if I could finish one.”

The Ironman Distance Race

To train for her first full Ironman race in Melbourne in 2014, Joanna gradually increased her mileage gradually by about 10 percent per week, to a maximum of 10-12 hours a week. She said, “I felt that this was reasonable and did not risk overtraining - I realised early on that I was not young anymore.”

About 50 percent of her training time had been spent on the bike. Roughly 30 percent of her time was spent running, and 20 per cent had been on swimming.

Joanna also pointed out that her Ironman training didn’t really require sacrifice in terms of her social life though.

She said, “We do not work 24 hours a day; the time spent surfing Facebook, watching television or reading, which is how most people spend their spare time, could be spent on something more productive, such as physical activity. But my social life is still quite normal; I still go out for lunches and dinners with friends.”

She also added that doing physical activity can be used as a social gathering with friends - as you train and meet up with people who may eventually become your training buddies.

“My children are already grown so that’s one less thing for me to worry about, but between my work and training schedule, I find that quality family time is still in the mix. It’s just a matter of what I feel is important, and I think that a sporty, healthy lifestyle beats sedentary pastimes now,” she adds.

Completing More Races

Joanna completed the Ironman Melbourne in 16 hours 44 minutes and 33 seconds, and since that experience, she has fully embraced the active and sporty lifestyle - in fact, Joanna has gone on to complete two more full Ironman races, as well as plenty of other shorter events.

Said Joanna, “If someone had said to me 10 years ago that I could do a full Ironman race, I would have thought they were pulling my leg or having me on. My 40-year-self would never have anticipated that I would end up doing such races; I am a bit surprised at how much I have grown as a result of taking up triathlons.”

Pris Chew is a fitness and sports blogger with a passion for endurance sports, especially running. She shares her personal experiences on the blog,, about races and events, as well as seeking comments and tips from elite and inspirational athletes through interviews with them. She also reviews sports related products ranging from sports headphones to running shoes, GPS watches, fitness trackers and other apparel. To find out more about her, you can head over to her website - which won the 2015 Singapore Blog Awards - Best Health & Wellness category



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