SHE is the sportswoman from Feltwell who has never come within a million miles of winning BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

But if there was any justice, then Chrissie Wellington would be near the top of just about any list of great sport achievers – not just in Britain, but worldwide.

Chrissie, 33, is the girl from the rural backwater who has conquered the world in the most gruelling of events – Ironman triathlon.

That consists of a 2.4 mile (3.86 kilometres) swim, 112 mile 180.25 kilometres bike ride and full marathon of 26 miles or 42 kilometres – all undertaken without a break.

The cut-off time for an Ironman event is 17 hours. Chrissie holds the women’s world record at eight hours 19 minutes 13 seconds – an incredible 26 minutes quicker than the previous record.

She is the first British athlete to hold the Ironman Triathlon World Championship, and remains undefeated over the Ironman distance.

In Hawaii – the home of Ironman – she is the current female course record holder with a time of 8:54:02 in 2009.

Chrissie recently received some much overdue wider acclaim when she was presented with the MBE at Buckingham Palace by the Prince of Wales for her services to the sport.

She was also in the headlines early in the New Year when she announced that she had decided against competing in the 2012 London Olympics.

Only the short triathlon course is available for competition in the Olympics – the 1.5km swim, 40km ride, 10km run.

But the incredible thing is that the former civil servant did not even take up sport until she was in her 20s.

In 2001 after finishing her geography degree at Birmingham University, she took up running as a way of keeping trim. She entered the London Marathon and was surprised how easy it was to finish in three hours.

A road accident compelled her to take up swimming for a time to keep fit – and a coach spotted her and suggested she should try triathlon.

She was no instant success – she nearly sank in her first swimming race. But she persevered and acquired a controversial Australian coach and improved until in 2007 she was ready to enter the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.

She won to pull off the greatest shock ever in the sport – and to prove it was no fluke she went back to win again in 2008 and 2009.

She could not retain her title last year as the strains on her body had left her suffering from West Nile, amongst other ailments.

She is now getting back to fighting fit again and said in a recent interview with The Observer that when it comes to Ironman she is a bit of a masochist.

“I go beyond what I think is possible; I punish myself and really learn to suffer,” she said. “That gives me the peace of mind and confidence to know that when I’m racing and it hurts, I can overcome it. When I get off the bike, for instance, I don’t think: ‘Oh Lordy, I’ve got a marathon to do’, I think: ‘Bring it on’.”

By Mark Leslie
Published on Thu Jan 13 10:48:13 GMT 2011 –