What made you get into triathlons?
It’s a pretty familiar story that a lot of triathletes share: I got injured and couldn’t run. However, I was fortunate that a university team was in the process of being set-up at the University of Stirling and the coach asked if I wanted to join their cycling and swimming sessions. I learned how to swim and, gradually, I got talked into doing the British University Championships (once I had learned to run again). The rest as they say is history…
What has been your proudest/best triathlon moment?
I could say winning medals, but that would only be a half truth. The proudest and most emotional I have ever felt in a triathlon was when I finished the swim across San Francisco Bay which is part of the Escape from Alcatraz triathlon. I had just gotten back into triathlon after taking 2 years out to finish my degree (after having only been in it for 9 months) and was offered an entry to the Escape. I had never swum in the sea before and had severe issues with open water swimming (I still do). But I still said Yes. After a swim recce, I felt more confident but I was still worried if I could manage the distance before the cut off and if I could negotiate the notorious Bay currents. When my hands touched on the beach, I was in tears and nearly raised my arms to the heavens kneeling on the beach. It took me a good 2 mins to pull myself together and carry on. The best thing was that everyone understood. Other competitors, marshals, spectators, they all cheered, gave you a pad on the back and shared the sense of achievement.
What has been the biggest challenge you have faced?
I have serious issues with open water swimming. It’s a bit of an issue if you want to do triathlon and most races are in lakes or the sea. Getting into the water is the biggest hurdle. If you meet me before the start, I am likely to talk your head off just to keep my mind distracted. Once I’m in I manage to just focus on what I’m doing and block everything else out. This has gone to the extent that I didn’t see coral reefs and a diver under a turn buoy, both quite unmissable objects. I am slowly getting to grips with it, but it’s still a long and challenging process.
Who is your inspiration, and why?
I wish I could pinpoint one person and say: this is my hero. I find that quite impossible because there are so many people out there that achieve great things, in sport and everyday life. Some are world stars, some are unknown to most. What I find inspiring, is people putting their all in what they do and not giving up. Seeing what it means to them on their faces when they achieve what they have been working towards, is all the inspiration you’ll ever need.
What are your future goals?
As I’ve just had another stint with injury my focus for the foreseeable future will be to remain healthy and simply enjoy what I am doing, whether that is triathlon, bike racing, running or a different sport. Of course I want to be competitive, but I have learned that my health has to take priority. In the long run, I want to complete a race in all 28 EU countries. I’ve done 5; 23 to go.
What would be your one piece of essential advice to someone looking to start up triathlons?
Triathlon is a wonderful sport and most people I know that have tried one have come back for more. It is perfectly fine to start with a short one (currently, there are lots and lots of GoTri events) and to beg, steal and borrow kit together (ok, maybe not steal). I did my first triathlon on a borrowed bike. For my next one, I borrowed a wetsuit on top of the bike. Don’t think you have to buy a load of flash (and expensive) kit if you are not sure you will continue with it.
What is your favourite piece of triathlon kit?
Ohh, that’s difficult… triathlon is a sport of 3 parts, 5 even, if you count transition and recovery. So here goes:
Swim: Zoggs Predator Flex Polarized googles, hands down.
Bike: My red Prowell R6800 helmet (I actually wear it everyday even on commutes) – but I also love my bikes, Mighty Whitey (a Kuota Kharma) and Black Hart (a Felt B16).
Running: I swear by Saucony shoes; I’ve tried others but have always come back to them. They just work best for me.
Transition: My new favourite is the Huub Transition Rucksack, it looks deceptively compact, but has enough space for all your kit and stuff for a weekend away.
Recovery: CEP compression gear and a bottle of Elivar Recover.
What’s your favourite thing about triathlons?
I love the camaraderie and the support from the other athletes. Since I started, those who are more advanced than me have been generous with their advice and encouragement to persist. There is always someone who will offer help if you’ve forgotten something. It’s a sport where PBs are irrelevant because each course is different and even on the same course, conditions differ. So each race is simply a question of how well you are coping and overcoming adversity. If you manage that, you are a champion no matter where you finish.
As it’s Women in Sport Week: What do you think is the biggest challenge for women triathletes, & how do you overcome them?
One of the focal topics in triathlon over the last months has been the “50 Women to Kona” (5Q) campaign, which aims to get female pro competitors the same number of spots as men at the Ironman World Championships in Kona(currently, there are 35 female and 50 male places). While I fully support the campaign and have decided not to enter an IM branded race until this issue is positively resolved, I think there is a wider problem in recognizing the equality of female performances and female participation in sport in general. There have been great strides for instance in cycling with many promoters now offering equal prize money and a number of female pro teams being launched. I applaud and support the efforts of organisers who are putting women only races on to encourage more women to participate and compete. However, these are only part of the solution and in some ways also support the segregated view of women’s sport. I have no solution because there are a plethora of issues that all interact, from gender stereotypes, media coverage, female body image to a lack of female coaches, etc. There are some great initiatives out there to address some of these (e.g. This Girl Can or Us Girls) and there is great political interest (particularly from a health perspective) in increasing female participation in physical activity more widely. Personally, I try and do my bit by encouraging other women to come along and give physical activity (not just competitive sport) a go, and by putting information out there via Twitter and Facebook on women’s achievements in sport to maybe change perceptions, male and female, a little bit each time.