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Chrissie Wellington, the world’s number one female Ironman athlete and four-time World Ironman Champion, presents her struggles, wisdom, and experiences gained from her hard-won career as a triathlete.
With close to 2 million core participants, triathlons of various distances and challenges are attracting more participants than ever before. In TO THE FINISH LINE, one of the sports’ greatest legends brings triathlon to life, with guidance for newbies or experienced athletes, to achieve their best triathlons-no matter their ability. Filled with training tips, practical advice and inside information from a champion, triathletes of all levels can benefit from Wellington’s experience and insight. Her book will guide readers on their own journey, whether that be a sprint or an Ironman, and encourage them to rise to every new challenge.
BECOMING A CHAMPION
Mention the word “triathlon” 20 years ago and you would probably have been met with a blank stare. Back then, triathlon was perceived as the sole province of muscle-bound masochists. Thankfully times have changed. Triathlon made it on to the Olympic stage in Sydney in 2000, and ever since has been one of the world’s fastest growing sports. Triathlons of all shapes and sizes (see the Annex for more details on different types of triathlon) are appearing on our television screens and reported on in newspapers, triathlon clubs are spreading like wildfire and the annual race calendar is chock-full.
It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties, and with a demanding full-time job, that I had my first foray into triathlon, and a few years later I was fortunate enough to start making a living out of the sport with which I’d quickly fallen in love. I was driven by a desire to know—to find out what I was capable of and how good I could be. I never want to look back on my life and think “what if.” Triathlon presented me with a fantastic challenge truly to be the best that I could be, and I was determined to rise to it.
There is a multitude of benefits to triathlon. Combining three different disciplines spices up training and racing; you never get bored. Plus the range of events—from relays to sprints to long-distance triathlons—means there is something to suit every slow or ch-muscle fibre. Then there are the numerous health benefits, the chance to travel and, best of all, you can share all this pleasure and pain with the thousands of others who have taken up the challenge of swim, bike and run.
One of my most treasured memories is of my first Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, when I watched in awe as competitors ran, walked, staggered and crawled their way across the line. There were people of all ages, from 18-year-old students to 80-year-old grandparents, to daughters, wives, husbands, fathers… even those who have been on the brink of death and survived. I realised then that each triathlete has a unique and special story to tell, but they are all united by one thing—the journey to that hallowed finish line.
Never in a million years did I think that I would be where I am today—writing this book as a four-time Ironman World Champion. It still baffles me to think about the paths I have travelled and the experiences I have been fortunate to have along the way. I see life as being like a tree—branching in a range of wonderful ways, and triathlon is one of the most prominent branches; one which changed my life for ever.
I achieved more than I ever thought possible in the sport, but after Challenge Roth in 2011 and the World Championship later that year I instinctively knew that I’d reached my personal pinnacle. A crash I had only two weeks prior to the latter race had left me with wounds all over the left side of my body, and internal bruising that caused intense pain. Yet it was the race I had always dreamed of; the one where I dug to the depths and battled with my valiant competitors to cross that finish line in first place, conquering fears, adversity and self-doubt. It was my perfect race, even though—paradoxically—the build-up and the race itself were fraught with imperfections. I felt utterly complete. I felt liberated. I’d achieved my holy grail. It was now time to carve out a new path, and one that didn’t have triathlon as the axis around which everything revolved.
Since retiring from professional triathlon in 2012, I’ve continued to add new branches to my own personal tree; whether that be collaborating with the UK government to inform the development of sport and physical activity policy, working for parkrun and setting up the successful junior parkrun series of events, lobbying for gender equality in sport (and, specifically, successfully calling for a women’s race at the Tour de France), throwing myself into different endurance events or giving birth to our daughter, my proudest achievement to date.
Although I am no longer a professional athlete, not a day goes by when I don’t think about triathlon and the fantastic opportunities it offered me as well as the thousands who take up the challenge every year. The triathlon door is now open to all, and I am living proof that anything truly is possible with some passion, self-belief, support and a lot of hard work.
I want to seize the wonderful opportunity that I have to inspire and encourage others to take up the sport or push that bar a little bit higher, and it is to this quest that I now dedicate my life.
In 2015, I headed out on my bike to the hills of Somerset (aka the Mendips). It was a glorious day and I felt free, psychologically “light” and at peace. I often find that this is when I am struck by my best ideas.
I have written for 220 Triathlon since 2008. The prose has taken various forms, from ramblings about whatever tickles my fancy, to answering readers’ questions and more recently as a mentor to novice triathlete, Katy Campbell. It was during this ride that a bolt of inspiration hit. I had a collection of articles that aimed to inspire, enthuse and inform readers about all things triathlon-related: contributions that have hopefully enabled the reader to understand the mind and body of a champion and, in turn, learn from what I, and my fellow professionals, do.
I have also had the privilege of delivering countless presentations and seminars on all manner of subjects related in some way to my triathlon journey. During these presentations, I have conveyed some of the important lessons that I have learned and been asked a wide variety of questions by people in the audience, which I’ve done my very best to answer. I have also received countless emails and social media messages requesting my advice on all manner of issues, which, again, I have tried to answer as comprehensively as possible.
I realised that, if brought together, all of these articles, presentations, emails and conversations could enable people, no matter their ability, to act like champions in their daily triathlon lives and provide a guide for getting to whatever finish line they set their sights on.
The reality is that there is no single ingredient or magic wand that can turn an athlete into a champion. But what does being a champion truly mean? Is it crossing the finish line with your arms aloft and a smile on your face? Is it demolishing your personal best? Or is it a title that can only be bestowed on those who have won a significant sporting event?
In my view, anyone can become a champion, if you act like one. As an athlete, you don’t just perform on race day, you demonstrate the behaviour and habits of a champion on a daily basis. Day in and day out. Put another way, champions are defined not by achieving their goal but by their willingness to try.
“I want to inspire and encourage others to push that bar a little bit higher.”
And so this book was born. This isn’t a compilation of all the material I have written or presentations that I have delivered. Nor is it my (very entertaining!) autobiography, A Life Without Limits, which I published in 2012. Nor is it simply a dull, dry training bible with tables of swim, bike and run plans or academic-sounding ramblings on hourly percentages of carbohydrate consumption. It is much more than that. In creating this book, I wanted to bring triathlon to life: to make it accessible to everyone—no matter his or her ability. I wanted to create a book filled with tips, practical advice and information, but also musings on other issues related to triathlon, sport and life in general. Along with the best of my articles in 220 Triathlon, I have added a wealth of new material from which triathletes of all standards can benefit.
The book is based on a holistic perspective that sees triathlon training and racing as being so much more than swim, bike and run, and includes advice and information on, for example, goal setting, strength and conditioning, psychology, nutrition, rest and recovery and effective race preparation, as well as on my latest topic of interest, pre- and post-natal exercise.
“Champions are defined not by achieving their goal but by their willingness to try.”
Each chapter comprises separate sections, some being Q & As, snapshots from my mentee Katy’s triathlon journey and blogged reflections on a few of the most important races of my career. I have been incredibly fortunate to work with many fantastic coaches, advisors and mentors, some of whom have contributed to the book, offering their own perspectives on my training and providing expertise on specific topics. Six-time Ironman World Champion and my coach, Dave Scott, has provided insight and wisdom throughout. I have also leaned on Mike Taylor for his bike-fitting expertise, Professor Asker Jeukendrup as my sports-nutrition guru, and consulted with Kate Percy, creator of delicious and nutritious athlete-focused recipes. Like a sponge, over my triathlon career and indeed my life, I’ve absorbed a wealth of information, lessons and experiences that I can now share.
I have divided triathletes into three broad categories: beginner, intermediate and advanced. However, while you might be new to triathlon, you may have come from an established single sport background. It’s important that for each discipline you train dependent on your current skill, experience and fitness levels. For example, an advanced runner may need to follow a beginner’s programme in the water. It’s also worth remembering that often the biggest gains can be made in our weakest discipline. We all feel most secure when reverting to our strengths, but don’t fall into that all-too-comfortable trap. The aim is to reach the finish line in the least amount of time, not to focus on your strongest discipline in order to achieve the fastest individual swim, bike or run split.
Each triathlete has a different story to tell, and each one of us will seek different ways to improve, but we are all united by one thing—the journey to the finish line. Whether you are targeting a super-sprint or Ironman, my hope is that this book will help guide you on a wonderful triathlon adventure and to write your own sporting success story.
Good luck, and never stop believing in all you can achieve!
You may be reading this as a non-triathlete trying to decide whether or not to do a triathlon; or contemplating whether or not to do an Ironman having previously focused on Olympic distance; maybe even thinking you might have what it takes to be a professional athlete. Or, alternatively, you might be at a crossroads in your career, your studies or your personal life and uncertain about whether or not to embark on a new adventure.
I believe that life is so much richer, more fulfilling, if we follow our passions; when we are able to find, and then pursue, activities/sports/jobs that make us smile, that challenge us, that widen our circle of friends, that make our hearts sing.
We might not always know what these passions are, and that’s when we need to summon up the courage to explore, to venture, to take a leap of faith. If I hadn’t chosen to have a go at triathlon in 2004, I would never have realised my passion for the sport: I would have been forever blind to my capabilities and to something that, as it transpired, had the capacity to give me so much.
This chapter offers advice on finding and then following your passion in triathlon by setting ambitious goals, and a seasonal plan based on these, to maximise your enjoyment and potential in this amazing sport.
FACE FEARS: FINDING YOUR PASSION
My initial plan after graduating from the University of Birmingham in 1998 was to become a solicitor. A London-based law firm offered me a two-year training contract and financial support to undertake the obligatory law-conversion course. That course was due to start in September 1999, and in the interim I decided to go travelling. I bought a round-the-world ticket and left the UK in November 1998 for Africa, thereafter journeying to New Zealand, Australia and several countries in Asia. I returned not after nine months, as planned, but almost two years later. This trip changed the direction my life would take.
It was a friend I made in Africa, Jude, who encouraged me to question my choice to pursue law, look deep inside myself and work out what my passion really was. Through introspection, I realised that I had chosen the legal profession, not because I was truly passionate about it, but because I felt I ought to: because I had been academically successful, and wanted a label with which to define myself career-wise. I realised that my true interest—ever since I was a young girl—lay in international development. After much soul searching, I decided to renege on my contract with the law firm and instead embark on a Masters in development studies. It was a fork in the road and, this time, my passion was my compass.
Fast forward a few years to 2006 and I encountered another such fork. This time it was after having won the World Age Group Championship. I had to decide whether or not to give up my job as a government policy advisor on international development and become a full-time triathlete. It wasn’t an easy decision. Yes, my love for triathlon was growing with every week of training and every race I did. Yet, it was still uncharted territory. I didn’t know much about the professional side of the sport and what being a professional athlete entailed. And I was scared. Scared of what people would think of me. Scared of not being able to make a living and support myself financially. Scared that I may give up everything and not enjoy the lifestyle. Scared of the unknown and, ultimately, fearful of failure.
However, I never want to look back and think “what if.” I never want to be left wondering what might have been. To me the biggest failure of all is the failure to try. Hence, despite the fears, nervousness and anxiety, I decided to leave my job, take the plunge, follow my passion and travel down the unfamiliar path of professional triathlon.
I’m sure that many of us experience such emotions at some point, or points, in our lives. We are worried about making changes, anxious about how we will be perceived, nervous about trying something new. We can either let those emotions impede us, or we can look our fears in the face and follow an existing passion or embark on a journey that could potentially catalyse a new one.
“On reflection, I’m so glad I chose the path that scared me.”
I often think about what would have been had I decided to stay as a civil servant. I would not be sitting here as four-time Ironman World Champion, and nor would I have had the wealth of opportunities that this title has afforded me. On reflection, I’m so glad I chose the path that scared me.
So, if you are reading this and facing a crossroads in your life or have a nagging feeling that something needs to change, spend some time on introspection. Think about occasions in your life when you have been happiest, and the reasons behind this; or something that may have piqued your interest but you never pursued. There doesn’t have to be a huge flame: a little spark is enough to start a fire burning. Then vow to take that one step forward: to try. That way you’ll never be left wondering. You’ll have your answer. You’ll be following a passion.
Assuming that, for you, triathlon or endurance sport is what lights your fire, the next step is to set yourself a goal to give your passionate pursuit some clear direction and focus, and it is to that subject that we will now turn.
Q & A: Picking a Winner—Choosing Your “A” Race
Q “I want to do a triathlon next year but there are so many races to choose from! How do I decide which one would suit me best?”
A It’s always hard to “pick a winner,” isn’t it? I’m not referring to my father’s sage advice when he (repeatedly) caught me with my finger up my nose, but instead to the difficult decision about what triathlon you throw yourself into. If you had entered the sport in the 1970s or 1980s there would only have been a handful of triathlons to choose from, in addition to dayglo Lycra and Dave Scott handlebar moustaches (and that’s just for the girls) being de rigueur. In fact, you could probably have participated in all of the triathlons in the UK over the course of a year, so few and far between were the events. How times have changed. Fast-forward a few decades and dayglo went out of fashion (and is now apparently back in), aerobars are more common than handlebars and the triathlon calendar is bursting at the seams.
“‘A’ hopefully stands for ‘awesome’ but it’s generally used to denote the event that is the focus of your season.”
Whether a novice or a seasoned veteran, you only have to look at a credible triathlon website to see super-sprints, sprints, Olympic-distance races, half Ironmans, Ironmans, aquathlons, duathlons, bonker-thons that go beyond Ironman distance… You name it, there’s a ’thon for you.
There’s the chance that you may simply enjoy the process of triathlon training without ever wanting to race. That’s perfectly fine; however, for those reading this whose goal is to do a triathlon of whatever distance, it’s likely that you’ll want to select an “A” race—“A” hopefully stands for “awesome” but it’s generally used to denote the event that is the focus of your season. Of course, it’s possible to have a couple of A races spread throughout the season. I felt that I could realistically and successfully peak for three races throughout the course of the year, essentially having about three months to prepare for each. I therefore prioritised the Ironman World Championship in October but also selected a couple of other Ironmans, one in the northern hemisphere spring and one in the summer, which I considered high priority.
So, if you’re planning a triathlon season, what factors come into play in deciding what your “awesome” race should be?
Decide what distance you want to focus your efforts on. If you’re a novice, there’s nothing to say that your first race has to be a short-course triathlon. I know quite a few athletes who have thrown caution to the wind and made their first A race an Ironman event, but I would advise doing some shorter races beforehand to help you prepare effectively.
Even for races of the same distance, the type of swim, bike and run course will be different. For example, the swim can be in a pool or in open water. If open water, it could be in the sea (which could be rough or calm), a lake or a canal—with a variety of water temperatures. Bike courses can be hilly or flat or a mix of both. The run can be on the road or on hard-packed trails and, again, can be bumpy or pancake flat. There are also races that are multi-lap and those that have a single lap for each discipline. Race choice is down to personal preference and once you have made that decision you can tailor your training to suit.
Think about what time of year you want to race. This is strongly linked to your current fitness level, your goal for the A race and how long it will take you to reach your desired standard. It usually takes considerably longer to prepare for an Ironman than it does a super-sprint, but much depends on your athletic background. You may also need time to save money to pay for everything associated with this crazy sport, as well as the next factor—the weather.
You may have a preference for a particular type of weather conditions in which to race. I personally love it when the temperature climbs (and luckily for me Hawaii is rather more tropical than your average British summer) and usually underperform in colder conditions when my polar-bear competitors thrive. Hence, I chose races where warmer weather was almost guaranteed. This is linked to the location but also the time of year. If you want to race in the UK and prefer warmer weather, then you may want to hedge your bets and enter a race that’s between May and August (although granted this is no guarantee that there won’t be biblical rain and/or single-digit temperatures). If you don’t want to train in the cold, it may be sensible to avoid entering a race that’s in the early part of the year (if you live in the northern hemisphere) as it would mean training in freezing conditions or inside. You might want to take a look at the heat acclimatisation section on here if you fancy racing in the heat yet live in a place where rain/cloud/snow features strongly.
Think carefully before you enter races at a higher altitude, particularly those above 1,500m, as this can impact you physiologically, especially if you’re not acclimatised.
Do you want to do an event in the UK or travel abroad? If the former, do you want to race close to home or venture to far-flung parts of the country—maybe somewhere you’ve never been, such as Tenby, for instance? The same applies if you want to go overseas. Do you fancy racing in Europe, or have you always wanted to go to the triathlon mecca that is Timbuktu? The decision is obviously linked to many other factors, including cost, travel time, whether you want a holiday afterwards (I hear Tenby is very nice) and if you would like family and friends to be able to attend. Racing in or near a big city might appear to have its advantages, but some of the most revered races can be found in places slightly off the beaten track, in part because the local communities fully embrace the sport.
If your wallet isn’t supersized, then you’ll probably be watching your pennies. Travelling to Timbuktu is far more expensive than getting to Tenby. Of course, racing abroad also means transporting your bike without it resembling a mangled mess (see here for more information about pre-race preparation). You’ll also want to consider the cost of race entry, as this can vary considerably even for events of the same distance. Bear in mind that just because you have paid an eye-wateringly large race fee, it’s no guarantee that the race will be run to a higher standard than cheaper alternatives.
There are many different race organisers out there, from the local triathlon clubs to big global corporations and everything in between. If you’re focusing on Olympic distance, think about whether you want to race an International Triathlon Union (ITU)-organised event or are happy doing the local triathlon arranged by John or Jane Bloggs. If you want to do an Ironman race, there is a similarly large range of options: from the official “Ironman” branded series of events, i.e. owned by the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC); those organised by other large global companies, such as Challenge; or races put on by smaller, national or local operators that may be less costly and offer a slightly different Ironman race experience.
Atmosphere and extras
- "TO THE FINISH LINE is an entertaining and informative guide to training for triathlon. You can hear Chrissie's voice as she guides the reader with a human touch and humor. She adds her own personal journey for reference which will inform and inspire you to literally get to the finish line. I enjoyed this as a coach, as an athlete and as a lifelong fan of triathlon."—Lisa Bentley
- On Sale
- Mar 13, 2018
- Page Count
- 352 pages
- Center Street