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Louise Fox talks off road dreams
Posted by: Editor
Posted on: Wednesday 5th November 2014


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From Maui to Nottingham: Louise Fox talks off-road racing

With the all-encompassing annual coverage of Kona, the 'other' World Championship in Hawaii - the XTERRA World Championships in Maui - tends to go somewhat under the radar. One British athlete who raced in the Pro ranks there this year was Louise Fox (www.louisebardsley.co.uk), who after a successful number of years racing on the domestic and ETU/ITU Age Group triathlon scene, has now turned her attentions to racing as a professional off road.

With the English National Duathlon Championships coming up this Saturday - where she will start as one of the favourites (if her bike arrives back in time!) - I thought it was a good time to find out more about Louise, her transition to the off-road triathlon ranks and of course, her experience of Maui this year.


What was your sporting background before you turned to triathlon and multisport events?

I've been a runner since I joined Dorchester Athletics Club at the age of 10. Although I tried all the track & field events, middle distance and cross country running were the only ones I was ever any good at!

I also started cycling to school at 16 - a 10-mile round trip - to avoid smokers on the school bus! I've commuted by bike ever since (mainly so I didn't have to buy a car), but it wasn't till I was 27 that I discovered triathlon. I had some ankle injuries which meant I couldn't run, so I started cycling and swimming to keep up my fitness. A couple of friends persuaded me to join Thames Valley Triathletes, saying it would be more fun to train in a group. I've never looked back.

Looking back on some of your results – and from familiarity with the Tri247 weekend roundups over the years (!) – it seems like you've got a fair bit of experience in the Age Group ranks in particular, with plenty of success there at both national and international level. What disciplines / distances have you focussed on, and what have been the highlight results for you during that period?

I started out with sprint triathlons; as a novice the Olympic distance sounded like a long way! I was also drawn towards duathlon as a relatively strong runner and not-so-great swimmer. I was inspired by members of TVT who'd raced for the GB Age Group team - representing your country sounded an amazing, almost mystical achievement to me at the time. I made it my goal to try and qualify the next year! 

As anyone who has qualified for the Age Group team can probably attest, that feeling when your GB trisuit arrives in the post with your name on it… still has to be one of the most exciting moments for me in my journey as a triathlete.

In terms of highlight results I would have to say Silver at the World Duathlon in Gijon 2011- my first medal in a World Championships - and all the more special that my boyfriend (now husband - Simon!), helped organise my parents to fly out and surprise me by cheering me on in the race. Another highlight was Silver at the World Aquathlon Championships in Auckland, 2012. I still can't believe I got a World medal in an event that involved 50% swimming… but I ran faster than all the Elites ;) That made me smile!

Louise Fox Lukasz Warzecha / www.lwimages.co.uk
(©Lukasz Warzecha / www.lwimages.co.uk)

You are now racing on the professional XTERRA circuit, which appears to be a relatively new direction for you – how did you get into that scene, and how are you enjoying that versus your previous events?

It was actually a whole load of coincidences that brought me to Xterra!

I'd done a handful of off-road events in the past, and always enjoyed mountain biking, but it was always easier to ride the road bike from the door than drive 2-3 hours to a trail centre. I started riding more regular MTB weekends in Wales when I first met Simon. But it was only last year when we got married - and he suggested spending our honeymoon in Boulder - I wasn't going to argue! Two weeks of epic MTB rides in Colorado improved my skills to the next level and I wanted to put them to use in competition.

Louise Fox Lukasz Warzecha / www.lwimages.co.uk
(©Lukasz Warzecha / www.lwimages.co.uk)

I was also losing my enjoyment for road riding, as at the time it seemed like I could hardly go out without having a near miss with a car. Many of my club mates were involved in accidents in a short space of time- one just before her wedding day! Another was seriously injured. I've been knocked off several times myself, the worst resulting in a broken collarbone, and all these memories kept being brought back.

The final piece in the jigsaw was that this time last year I was looking for a new coach. A friend recommended talking to Sam Gardner (XTERRA legend!) whose knowledge and enthusiasm for XTERRA well and truly convinced me this was the path I wanted to take!

I believe you are being coached by Jez Cox (www.howgoodcouldibe.com), who has a huge amount of experience on both the duathlon and off-road circuits – how did that relationship come about, and is what you are doing now in terms of training very different to what you have previously done?

I first met Jez in Gijon in 2011 where he was Age Group Team Manager. We have done some ad-hoc work together over the last couple of years, and it was fortunate he had space to take me on for coaching this year when I was looking!

Louise Fox with Jez Cox

My training is completely different now compared to when I was focussing on road triathlons, as so much time is spent on bike technical skills. Lead-up to a race is different as well as it's always worth recce-ing the bike course and ideally the run too... and you don't have the option to drive round! The only way is to ride it and even if this leaves you tired for race day I still think it's worth it. My routine all summer has been: fly out to race venue, two days to recce the course, race, fly home, recover, a few days of training and off again! This is a whole new pattern for me and you can't actually do too much volume as well as all the travel.

Every coach has their own way of working - and like any relationship you have to find someone that suits you as an athlete. I'm sure Jez gets the way my mind works which is often more important than training the engine!

You have raced XTERRA events this year in the likes of Malaysia, Denmark, Greece, Sweden and XTERRA England. Has it been a big learning curve adapting to the different demands of off-road racing, and how have those events gone for you?

XTERRA has been a massive learning curve for me, and I definitely underestimated the level of challenge. On paper you see "1500m swim / 30k bike / 11k run" and think it's going to be about the same effort / time as an Olympic Tri. Think again!! Some of the courses have a vertical mile of climbing on that 30k bike and you'll spend two and a half hours just on that discipline! Every course is very different, but there are usually parts I can't ride. I'll decide during my course recce any bits I might need to walk - this could be a gnarly descent or just a bottleneck where others could get in the way. Plans can change on the day though depending on weather, course conditions and other athletes around me.

Louise Fox

The European Tour went well for me as I finished all six races inside the top ten. I did much better in England, Denmark, Greece and Sweden where the terrain is more familiar with what I've trained on. Italy and Czech Republic were tough for me as I'm not used to mountain riding like a lot of the athletes from central Europe. Malaysia was a different experience altogether with the oppressive heat and humidity - it's the first time I've lined up for a race unsure whether I'd even be able to finish!

For a ‘road' triathlete / duathlete looking to either make the transition to, or perhaps race in the winter on the off-road circuit, what are the biggest things you have learned and the specific things that you need to work on to make your fitness work in a different format of racing?

The biggest difference is the skill needed on the mountain bike. You can get so far on fitness but you'll gain a lot more time by improving technique. I would recommend training or racing off-road over the winter to all triathletes, even if your ‘main' event is on the road. It will pay dividends on bike handling skills. MTB also forces you to do interval training without realising! And if you want to race off-road you need to be able to handle going into the red repeatedly and recovering from it.

Louise Fox Lukasz Warzecha / www.lwimages.co.uk
(©Lukasz Warzecha / www.lwimages.co.uk)

You've just been out to Maui for the XTERRA World Championships – we always see a lot of Kona coverage of course, but before we talk about the race, can you give us a bit of an insight into the event itself in Maui, and what surrounds it?

I get the feeling (having never been to Kona myself), that the XTERRA World Champs are far more laid back than Ironman! The whole atmosphere is very inclusive and encouraging. That's why you'll often hear reference to the ‘XTERRA family'. Pros, Age Groupers, Challenged (Paratri) athletes alike will be out recceing the course, going to the same parties and mixing together. There is no hierarchy like you can get at some ITU events with Elites/Age Groupers pretty much in separate camps. Maui itself is also very laid back with tropical sandy beaches like you'd imagine. It's easy to get into relaxing holiday mode and forget you're there to race!

What were your expectations / hopes before the event, and how did that pan out in your race? Were there any big learning points or things that surprised you?

I hoped to make the top 20 Pros - and believed this was achievable if all went well. In reality, not much went to plan! The biggest surprise was how tough the swim was. I've never swum in such big surf before so didn't really get the technique right on entry and exit. Along with many others I was bowled over and dragged under by the huge waves: had my goggles ripped off and smashed, swim-skin ripped open and my chip ripped off so it was hanging by a safety pin! 

Louise Fox Lukasz Warzecha / www.lwimages.co.uk
(©Lukasz Warzecha / www.lwimages.co.uk)

I had a reasonable bike leg which surprised me - as this has been my weakest discipline through the season. All that training must be paying off! 

However, despite my attempts to acclimatise (mainly taking saunas at David Lloyd...), I massively overheated by the end of the bike, and it all fell apart on the run. Normally that is my strongest discipline but I ended up walking with heat exhaustion. I was almost 10 minutes slower than expectations (looking at the girls who normally run similar times to me), and had to settle for 28th at the finish. 

Learning points for next time are that most of the Pros spend several weeks training / acclimatising in the States before heading out to Maui. If I had the resources to do that in future, that would be ideal preparation.

We've got the English National Cross Duathlon Championships coming up this weekend in Nottingham – is that on your schedule for Saturday?

Yes, I'm entered and looking forward to it - I just hope I have a bike in time. We just landed at Heathrow this morning to be told all our luggage (including my bike and all my race kit), has been left in Los Angeles!

What are the plans for next year (and possibly beyond) – do you aim to continue to focus on XTERRA, or will you continue to mix up the different formats of racing?

I'm definitely sticking with the off-road scene, in fact I sold my time trial bike to pay for this trip to Hawaii! The 2015 XTERRA tour dates are not finalised yet but I'd love to race in the States (Colorado hopefully), as well as return to some of my favourites from the European Tour. ITU Cross Champs is also on the cards.

Anything else we should know about you?

I consider myself very fortunate to be "living the dream" of racing Pro. I wouldn't be here without the support of Simon, Mum and Dad, Jez, TVT and all my sponsors (Mountain Trax, Zone3, David Lloyd) - thanks as always.

If anyone's interested to know more, please follow me on Twitter (@LouFoxTri) or visit my website www.louisebardsley.co.uk where I update my blog pretty often.


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