Chrissie Wellington

Chrissie Wellington winning the Ironman triathlon world championship 2009. Copyright: Cannondale

The World record breaking triathlete's key message is "You never know how good you're going to be, or how much you're going to enjoy something, until you try it, so you give it a go."

Raise Your Game: What was your pathway into triathlons?

Chrissie Wellington: I was always a sporty kid, but I never grew up with aspirations of being a professional sportsperson. I originally wanted to be a Blue Peter presenter (laughing), but I travelled after my first undergraduate degree, did my masters and then started running.

Profile

Name:
Chrissie Wellington

Born:
18 February 1977, Bury St Edmunds, UK

Sport:
Triathlon

Achievements:

  • Sets new Hawaii course record beating Paula Newby-Fraser's 1992 record (2009)
  • Winner - 2009 Ford Ironman World Championship triathlon, Kailua-Kona, Hawaii (2009)
  • Sets new World record for Ironman distance triathlon races at Quelle Challenge Roth, Germany (2009)
  • Winner - Quelle Challenge Roth, Germany (2009)
  • Winner - 2008 Ford Ironman World Championship triathlon, Kailua-Kona, Hawaii (2008)
  • Gold - ITU Long Distance Triathlon World Championships, Almere, Netherlands (2008)
  • Gold - Ironman European Championship, Frankfurt, Germany (2008)
  • Winner - World Championship Ironman Triathlon, Kailua-Kona, Hawaii (2007)
  • Completed London marathon (2002)

I started off very slowly - 20 minutes, 30 minutes, and 40 minutes. One of my childhood dreams was to run the London marathon. A couple of friends had done it and I just thought why not? So I entered to run in 2002.

It went really well and I think that's when the running bug caught. I'd been a swimmer as a kid and I could still swim, so all I needed to do was learn to ride a bike. It was in 2004 that someone just said 'Why don't you try a triathlon?' and I said to them 'You know I've never ridden a road bike.' They said 'Well you know now is a good a time as any.' So I bought a third-hand road bike and set about learning how to ride it.

I entered a few sprint triathlons as a complete novice, not really knowing what I was getting myself into, but knowing that I loved this new sport of triathlon.

RYG: You found out that you had a talent for endurance sport?

CW: Yes, and I think for me the key message here is that 'You never know how good you're going to be, or how much you're going to enjoy something, until you try it, so you give it a go.' I just think back and imagine that had I not met that really inspirational character in 2004, that said to me 'Why don't you give triathlon a go?' and really encouraged me and showed me the path, I wouldn't have found out that I had a particular talent for endurance sports.

RYG: You've astounded experts in endurance sports, but what do you think makes you different from other competitors?

CW: If I knew that, I'd be giving all my trade secrets away. I don't think it's one particular quality, though I think one thing I have in my favour is my varied background. There's a lot of things in my life that have shaped me and as important as physical strength is mental strength, particularly in Ironman competitions, is of equal importance. I think that's also where I have an edge. I love to hurt, I love to push myself, and I love to push my limits. I have a supreme amount of confidence in my mind and in my body to carry me through.

RYG: You won your third successive Ironman Triathlon World Championships in 2009. What do you think it takes to maintain that level of success?

Chrissie Wellington winning the Ironman triathlon world championship 2009. Copyright: CannondaleCW: I don't think there's one quality that makes a successful, and a continually successful, professional athlete. Obviously it requires talent, but I don't think raw talent alone is sufficient. I think it also requires drive, dedication, and an incredible passion for what you do and a true love for the sport.

Although I compete as an individual, and I'm on the sporting stage alone, I couldn't compete without my support crew behind me. I think that behind every professional athlete is an amazing network of people that enable you to get to where you are, and I think that's incredibly important.

RYG: You smashed the 17-year-old course record at Hawaii. How did you manage to do that?

CW: I'm still quite new to the sport and I think that my best is still yet to come. Paula Newby-Fraser, the lady that held it, is an icon in our sport and to have broken her record and be listed in the same sentence as her is very humbling.

I really believe records are meant to be broken. I think it shows the depth and the strength of the women's professional field in this sport that I and the others are really raising the bar. When others raise the bar I then have to step up my game. It's part of an incremental kind of process that means we're continually pushing each other, striving for more and most importantly proving that more is possible.

RYG: What keeps you motivated especially when pushing through that pain barrier?

CW: Most importantly you have to have goals. You have to have smaller stepping stones and then the wider goal, which is invariably a race. That goes for professional sport and life in general.

It's important to have goals and to measure yourself against something to feel that you're progressing and not to get disillusioned if you fail to achieve a target. Just use it as a springboard to moving on to trying to do more and trying to improve. I love the sport and if you love what you do, then it's easier to motivate yourself.

A huge motivating factor for me is the more I can achieve in the sport, the more I can achieve out of it. The more I achieve in the sport, the bigger my platform for change will be. That's a huge driving force for me and something that I think about each and every day.

It's not sport for sports sake, not winning for winnings sake. Certainly not any financial gain. It's the knowledge that I'll be able to achieve so much more within the wider world, if I can achieve more within my sport.

RYG: What sort of training regime do you have to prepare for events?

CW: It's gruelling and arduous, but I train 11 months of the year. I allow myself a month to six weeks off after the World Championships. I train seven days a week, four to six hours a day. There's rest days incorporated as and when I need them and I rest in between sessions.

I like to say that we train 24/7 as it's not just about when I swim, cycle or run, it's about when I'm eating, when I'm resting, when I'm sleeping and it's about the mental preparation. All of this is part of training my body to be the best athlete that I can be.

RYG: How do you keep yourself mentally strong?

CW: There's a wide variety of techniques that I use. Visualisation is incredibly important, memories of tough times that you've encountered and managed to overcome, positive images of places that I love to go, images of my family, images of people that have struggled and managed to overcome adversity. The wider goal also really keeps me motivated.

RYG: Your body is a vehicle for success and you need to fuel it properly. How disciplined is your diet?

CW: Nutrition and hydration are incredibly important and they are the fuel that keeps my body functioning. I eat a well-balanced, healthy, varied diet, which includes a large proportion of complex carbohydrates. I eat protein in the form of fish, red meat once a week, white meat at other times, soya products and lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. I also eat chocolate and cheese, particularly because they give me a lot of energy for a small amount of food.

RYG: When you're competing what snacks do you use to keep yourself going?

CW: We generally have a liquid diet when we're racing, so I use an energy drink on the bike and energy gels.

RYG: You were named 2009 Sunday Times Sportswoman of the Year. How did that feel?

CW: It felt incredibly surreal to have my name even listed amongst the other greats like Vicky Pendleton and Jessica Ennis. It was an incredible honour and I really didn't expect to win. I think the photos of me at the awards ceremony showed how shocked and incredibly delighted I was.

It's a fantastic opportunity for me to put triathlon firmly on the map and Ironman in particular. It's a great honour for me personally, but also for the sport to have that high level of recognition. I'm incredibly grateful to everyone that voted and it's a real privilege to hold that award.

RYG: Are you aiming to take part in London 2012? If so, will that be in triathlon or a different event?

CW: The World Championships in Hawaii is my Olympics. It's where the very best triathletes in the world meet. There are other sports I would potentially consider, maybe time trialling, but for now my focus is very much on Ironman and I feel like I've achieved my Olympic gold medal having won it three times.

RYG: Why do you think rest and downtime are important?

CW: You need to enable your body to recover from the stresses that you put it through in training. Training is very stressful on your body and if you don't incorporate rest and recovery, the culminate effect of that training can lead to overload. So rest and recovery is just as important as the rest of the training in order to be able to reap the benefits of the physical activity that you're doing.

RYG: Do you have a favourite triathlon event?

CW: Of the three disciplines I really enjoy being out on the bike. I love the feeling and the sensation that cycling gives me. I love being able to see some beautiful places while I train. I guess out of the three cycling is my favourite, but it can swing between cycling and running.

RYG: Do you have any advice for young people looking to follow in your footsteps?

CW: First and foremost you've got to enjoy what you do. So whether it is a sport or a choir or arts or theatre, you've really just got to enjoy what you do and do it with a passion. Don't worry too much about whether you're amazingly talented, just have fun doing it and enjoy the camaraderie that comes with a group of like-minded people.

If you really do feel that you want to take it further, I'd recommend joining a club and potentially having someone to guide you, like a coach because it's important to set the structure.

If you're keen to race and get in competitions, there's many triathlon events for all ages and all abilities, male and female, around the UK. There's so many to choose from. They're incredibly safe and a great way to get out and to meet people. So I'd recommend that if people like competition and they're keen to try their hand at triathlons, to enter one of these races and give it a go.

Everybody's nervous about trying new things and doing something different, but imagine what my life would have been like had I not started triathlon. I never would have known I was good at it and I wouldn't have been sitting here as World Champion.

RYG: What are your goals and ambitions for the future?

CW: My goals and ambitions sporting wise are to get faster and stronger. It's a simple goal as I don't have x number of races I want to win or times I want to achieve, I just want to push my body as far and fast as it will possibly go as I really enjoy that challenge.

Out of sport I want to get much more involved in sports development work and set up my own NPO (Non-profit organisation) which uses sport as a vehicle to empower young people and particularly young girls.


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