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Exclusive: Chrissie Wellington interview
Posted on: Monday 15th October 2007
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Simon Ward, founder of TheTriathlonCoach.com and Tri247's 'Man in Hawaii' got exclusive access to Chrissie Wellington for an interview after the post-race press conference.
We conducted this interview in the media room at the King Kamehamea Hotel with the new Ford Ironman World Champion Chrissie Wellington, who is currently eating pizza (and still giggling).
Chrissie, it has been a whirlwind two years. Did you ever think you’d be winning triathlon races, let alone beating best athletes in the world?
CW Never in a million years when I was using clip-ons and racing at Milton Keynes did I think this would happen. I turned professional to compete in standard distance races. In fact it was only five weeks before Korea that my coach suggested I do an Ironman. I said “Am I ready?”. He said "Sure” and it’s all happened very quickly. I’m overwhelmed.
SW I almost felt embarrassed to ask question in the press conference about your triathlon history and how you got to this point.
CW Brett (Sutton) made me conscious of the fact that I have not yet 'served my time'. I am very grateful for my achievements in such short space of time. I also think that my other life experiences have brought something to my triathlon performances instead of the years of training and all the hard work the other athletes have done. I have come in very late to the sport.
SW Brett suggested that you were ready for Ironman. Does this indicate that training volumes you were doing to compete in standard distance races are similar to Ironman training?
CW The training is very much tailored to the individuals’ strengths and weaknesses. We can do a swim session and the athletes will all do different swim sets. So my training was more geared to standard distance, with not much high volume. I don’t seem to need high volume work like three hour runs. I’ve done none of these since I’ve been with Brett. Some of the other girls will. This is why he is so special, he has an ability to spot potential even if the athlete can’t. He said I was ready even on the training I was doing.
SW Even after IMUK 70.3 this year, you told me that Brett said you were ready and now here we are six months later and you’ve zoomed forward to doing an Ironman and winning the world championships. It’s been an incredible journey!
CW It has been a steep, steep learning curve. I’ve found it incredibly hard to adjust to the life of a pro triathlete. It is mono-dimensional. I am used to juggling 101 different things; zooming round London on my bike, working, meeting friends and socializing. It was difficult to adjust and come into a squad where there were so many extremely successful athletes. I have learnt a lot and Brett helped me cope, challenged me mentally, and made me stronger. Not just physically, most importantly mentally and I think that’s what it takes to win an Ironman.
SW When you are not training are you just resting then?
CW Yes, eating or resting. I don’t tend to take naps during the day. We train two or three sessions per day, seven days week and between sessions we rest. I spend time on the internet, put my feet up and take it easy. That’s what the life of a pro triathlete is about. Rest is training, eating is training, staying in on Friday night is training so it's a 24/7 job.
SW Roughly how many hours of training would you do per week?
CW It's difficult to quantify because the weeks vary. I don’t think it matters how many hours I do. It’s the intensity and the way the sessions are put together that matters. The type of session and the structure, rather than hours, is more important. The volume might be 30 hours per week, but I have never added it up. Brett doesn’t encourage us to keep logs. He keeps it all. We don’t even have a programme. We know what session we are doing the night before. He juggles it depending upon how you performed in the last session and things like that.
SW So, you are living in Phuket now?
CW Yes. In fact we have two camps; one in Leysin, Switzerland and Phuket.
SW And how do you think the climate there has helped you cope with the conditions here in Kona today?
CW I’m lucky for Brit in that I can cope with heat. I’m have always liked the heat so I’m not afraid to race in the heat. The climate in Thailand has helped my career so far and (obviously) here.
SW Coming into the race then, when did you get to Kona?
CW I got here on 4th October. It lasted about 48 hours for me because I just kept going back in time. It was like Groundhog Day. (She laughs a lot.) The 4th and the 4th and the 4th. (She's still laughing!)
SW Is this the first time you’ve been to the island and to the Ironman?
SW So, how did you find the experience of being at the beach and feeling the atmosphere build up during the week before the race?
CW I didn’t really come down into town at all. I did one swim here in the sea but mostly I did my swimming in the pool. I was really still following my programme. We are not staying on Alii Drive and we didn’t go to any restaurants. I deliberately tried to stay away from the hype and the build up. Part of me feels I have missed out. I didn’t even go to the expo and so I didn’t feel any of the pre race excitement, but I think that made my race better, not to be in the thick of it.
SW I’ve heard a few athletes say that it's possible to use a lot of your energy out here.
CW I did the same training and Brett gave me the sessions to do and I know that in between sessions I rest. I don’t go shopping or walking around. I try to keep it as normal as possible. Living so far out (six miles from town) made it a bit difficult getting around but I think it did work to our advantage as well.
SW I’m sure you’d agree that it was a good trade; all of that in exchange for having the title.
CW Definitely. It’s worked out fine. It’s what Brett told me to do. He said “Your naivety is your weapon. You don’t know anybody, you have no expectations, you’ve never been there before, so just keep your head down, train and see it as another race” and that is what I did.
SW And of course no one knew who you were.
CW Exactly. A couple of UK magazines asked me for interviews before the race and I didn’t want to. I wanted to let my performance speak for itself and if I did well people would be interested and if I didn’t there would be nothing to say anyway. So it was important to keep up a low profile and not build up Chrissie Wellington as a product, as a star and just to race and if you race well that says it all.
SW Well that’s it. The genie is out of the bottle now and there’s no putting it back.
CW (Laughs) Yes, now I’ll have to give a few more of these interviews.
SW And of course it's sponsors duties that takes the time. I’m sure Brett will help you to keep a lid on it all.
CW Absolutely. Our motto is 'keep it simple'. And that’s the way I like it. I do the sport because I love it and to see how far I could go; How good I could be. I didn’t even do the sport to make a living, but it just so happens that I am making a living. It is important to me to use the sport and my position to encourage, empower and inspire other people to do sport. Not just triathlon but any sport and to galvanize funding for sport in Great Britain.
With the Olympics, interest is growing. Funding is few and far between and very selective. I think a lot of work needs to be done in schools, not just netball and football but a wide variety of sports. I mean how many 50m pools we have in the UK? You can count them on the fingers of two hands, whereas in Australia they have them in every town, that’s why they have so many successful swimmers!
SW What now then? What is your immediate schedule?
CW I was due to do some more races in the next six weeks – three more races, so I have to speak with Brett. Obviously I will have obligations now with sponsors; interviews etc, and we can decide what is best. I’m sure tomorrow I’ll go for a swim, probably not a run. I’ll do something to keep me ticking over. I don’t know whether race plans will change. I would think not. He (Brett) might say I have to try for the double and go to Clearwater.
SW Was that part of the plan?
CW Yes. I qualified at UK70.3 and took the slot, so it's there if I want to race, but I will talk to Brett to see what he thinks.
Q Craig Alexander said he was going to defend title and of course Lisa Bentley went from third in Kona to Florida last year and came second.
CW We’ll see then!
And that was it. Chrissie had actually stayed around and patiently, and graciously, fielded questions from various magazines and TV stations for 60 minutes after the press conference had ended. Then she walked out into the night and spent the remaining two hours until midnight at the finish line having her photograph taken and greeting the final finishers as they crossed the line. As an observer it seemed that she had started her reign as the new Queen of Kona, perfectly. Long live the Queen!