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Fri 3rd Dec 2021
© David Pintens
Corinne Abraham: strength and speed
Posted by: John Levison
Posted on: Thursday 15th January 2015

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Earlier this week I sat down to chat with Corinne Abraham, winner in 2014 of the Ironman European Championships in Frankfurt. Corinne was training at Sands Beach Resort, Lanzarote, along with her Uplace-BMC Pro Triathlon Team at their early season training camp and team launch.

2014 was a big year for Corinne, having had an extensive period of recovery and rehab from a serious injury, to then take her second major Regional Ironman title win, having also won the Asia-Pacific Championship event in Melbourne in 2013.

Corinne is a athlete in a hurry, "I'm 37 now, so I'm aware that I only have a limited time frame to achieve what I hope to", and starting the year healthy sets her up for a big year in 2015 - one in which she'll be hoping to add a North American Championship to her C.V. at Ironman Texas in May. It will also be a year of significant change to, as she is now being coached by the Brett Sutton having "sort of invited myself to Cozumel".

While you were announced as part of the initial Uplace-BMC Pro Triathlon team squad at its launch in January 2014, I understand that the team actually started working with you well in advance of that at a time when you had your serious injury - a broken sacrum. That must have given you a lot of confidence and support at a difficult time about the new team set up you were joining?

In the early days, after we'd agreed the contract for 2014 I got injured, but the support from the team was there from the start. It made good sense for them, because they wanted me healthy and able to be fit and race well, but as an athlete that immediately gives you a sense of the kind of support that they are offering. It's not just support in notional terms or contractual terms, but we want you to be the best athlete you can be. I guess they could have dropped me and got a healthy (!) athlete in at that time - but it just showed from the outset that their support and belief runs deeper, and that gives you confidence. It means you can be open, you can communicate and feel supported without having to fight the battle on your own.

Uplace-BMC Pro Triathlon Team 2015 ©David Pintens

One of the things I've always been impressed with you is your self belief, even when things haven't gone well. In that first year (2011) as a Pro, you didn't have any results to show for your efforts, but still maintained the belief that you had the ability and the potential, which you were then able to display in 2012 and then through to 2013 (Ironman Melbourne) and 2014 (Ironman Frankfurt). Was it difficult to maintain that confidence after having had a massive high of the breakthrough in Melbourne, to be followed up with a serious and long term injury shortly afterwards?

The thing for me is time frame. I'm 37 now, so I'm aware that I only have a limited time frame to achieve what I hope to and be the best that I can be in the sport. If I was in my early 20's, even low 30's you have a stretch of time ahead of you, but as an 'older' athlete you don't know how you can bounce back, will you be as good as you were or as good as you can be? Still, I think you just have to 'play the hand you are dealt' to the best of your ability. So yes, you are injured, but you make the best of it you can. So, with the support of the team and Alex Drummond ( in Maidenhead I just went back to doing a lot of neural programming work and functional training - without the swim / bike / run to focus on - to make me a better athlete in the longer term and concentrate on those small things. That way, I found it easy to flip into the mindset of 'opportunity' rather than woe is me. There was also that safety net of the team, and knowing that I would be able to race again the next season to provide additional confidence.

And with a team environment, I imagine you can also share that feeling with other athletes as at any one time out of ten athletes, there will always be someone struggling with an injury/illness issue or niggle as well?

For me that aspect was very new - I was doing everything on my own previously, so I didn't really know any other professional triathletes outside of the racing environment. Coming in to the sport late and then seeing how they train, how they act, how they recover etc. was a good learning curve for me and interesting to see and hear how others deal with these scenarios.

Corinne Abraham ©Bert Stephani

Ironman Lanzarote was your first race back last year (third place). Given where you had been, and being relatively close to someone as good as Lucy (Gossage) after what you had coming back from, must have been a big boost for you?

Yes, last year my race schedule was really dictated by the calendar and the need to get Kona qualifying points, and so having 'chosen' (!) Ironman Lanzarote, an extremely challenging race, and come through that well without causing myself significant damage or a major setback was the aim. To finish and to get on the podium was as much as I could have expected and so I was very happy with that.

On to Frankfurt after that, and you added your second major Regional Championship title. With the short turnaround from Lanzarote, did you feel like you were going to be able to produce that level of performance there?

Coming out of Lanzarote it was straight back to work - there was very little lag time after that race. I knew how much fitness I had - but also how much I didn't have. While I had Melbourne 2013 as a racing benchmark, in June / July of 2013 I was absolutely flying in training and so I know in my head what is attainable for me. I worked hard between Lanzarote and Frankfurt to gain as much fitness as I could, but I still didn't expect a stellar performance there. Even then, I think Frankfurt was one of those races where the result was actually better than the performance - I was pleased with it of course, but comparatively for where I was previously a year earlier, I still think I've got some progress to make versus that level.

You went to Kona as an Age-Group athlete in 2010 (you can read Corinne's report HERE), was it different going back there as a Pro in 2014?

Not really in all honesty. I was very relaxed going in to Kona in 2010. I'd been in the sport less than a year and I didn't really know much about it at all - ignorance is bliss! I qualified again in 2012 but didn't race then for financial reasons, and did Miami 70.3 and Ironman Arizona at the end of 2012, rolling through to Melbourne in early 2013, so I guess that was a heavy race programme in that period. This time around I felt good, I was excited to be there and knew I had the support of people around me - team, sponsors etc - and having watched the race from the sidelines at a distance it gives you space to think about the race and tactics, which I found really valuable going back as an athlete.

Corinne Abraham, Kona 2010 ©Rob Holden

You said after the race you were disappointed with your performance in Kona last year - it wasn't a 'bad' performance (11th, 9:25:04), so talk us through the aspects of that?

You always want to be your best on race day, and some days like Lanzarote you are able to race to the best you can, given the fitness you have at that point in time on that day. I felt that my build up to Hawaii was really good, I felt relaxed and I enjoy the island and the wind and sunshine and was ready to race.

Swim wise, my weakness, my expectations were based realistically on my ability. I was swimming in a pack and I could see I was with Sofie Goos just in front of me, who is typically a stronger swimmer than me and so I was thinking that's a good place to be. Then you get out of the water and find that the gap is 12 minutes... not quite as good as I'd hoped, but I didn't panic or get too concerned by that.

On the bike I just didn't have the power I expected - and not just in terms of power numbers (watts) - but in terms of who I was riding with and should I be able to ride away from them. I wasn't able to ride away from Yvonne (Van Vlerken) and Linsey (Corbin), and so I made the decision to work with them and then eventually had to make the decision that I wasn't actually much use to them (!), and so I was working hard to not go nearly as well as I thought I should be capable of.

I still know that I've got a good run in me, and so I thought that the best way to make progress was to run a solid marathon, pace it well, not go out too fast - it was ok (3:02:47), but certainly not my best - I sort of expect myself to be a sub-three runner now, and that was not there either!

Overall, the swim time, bike time and run time are ok, there or thereabouts, but really not what I expected and felt I was capable of. It's frustrating to not produce your best performance on the biggest day of the year.

Getting over that, I've still got the confidence that I'm a good athlete, that I've got the potential to be better than I was before and do it on race day. It's important to do that, and not be a great athlete in training, and that's an important distinction to make. That's something I'm very conscious of.

Corinne Abraham - Ironman Record

Ironman Regensburg 2010 (Age-Grouper)
3rd Overall, 1st Age-Group athlete
Ironman Hawaii 2010 (Age Grouper)
10th Age-Group 30-34
*** Professional from 2011 Onwards ***
Ironman Texas 2011
Ironman Wales 2011
Ironman Texas 2012
Ironman Frankfurt 2012
Ironman Arizona 2012
Ironman Melbourne 2013
8:10:56 (shortened swim)
Ironman Lanzarote 2014
Ironman Frankfurt 2014
Ironman Hawaii 2014

Generally, even going back to your 2012 season, you've been in my eyes very good at that - performing to your best on race day - with consistent results given your fitness at that time and been able to perform well when you have raced?

Corinne Abraham ©Bert StephaniThat phase through 2012 and up to Melbourne 2013 was certainly a very consistent 12/14 month period, and that's really the key isn't it to a good career. I can certainly thank David (Tilbury Davis, Coach) for a lot of his work and insights into programming for getting the results that reflect as good as I could be as an athlete at that time. I've got that period as a benchmark, so I know now I'm not just striving towards something that I know isn't there, because I've done it before.

You have some changes coaching wise for 2015?

I've worked with David for I think three years and we did some great work and got some great results, achieved consistency and reached levels of fitness I was really happy with. As I said before, my time frame is relatively limited and so I looked at things and thought how can I learn as much as I can as fast as possible, to accelerate that progress? I've no doubt that we would have continued to progress, and I think that I have a lot of potential to come and so my thinking is that by working with someone else and trying to take on new ideas, can I make that process faster by a different approach and with different experience? You look around, who are the coaches that train the best athletes in the world etc, and I got in touch with Brett (Sutton) and sort of invited myself to go to Cozumel (!) to train with him and see if we could work well together. It seemed logical to see if we were compatible sooner rather than later. Cozumel went well, and we've started to work together for this year. Lots to learn which is exciting and stimulating.

Brett can be direct, he'll have observed and 'tested' you - when he sat you down and went through what he thought you could (and couldn't!) do, what was his summary of Corinne Abraham the athlete?

He said you you might already be as good as you can be - this might be as good as it gets, why do you think you can be better? Why do you think I can make you better, and what happens if you can't? He did quite a lot of that questioning and it really got me thinking about what is it that I want, what are the risks, am I committed? You have to be 'all in' with Brett as an athlete - and I think that's the same with the coach too. Either a coach is committed to an athlete or not, there's no middle ground at the top. So there was a lot of questions, a lot of thinking about what it is you are committing to, what are the things that hold you back? It makes you realise and really think what it is you are committing to, and makes you think deeply.

Corinne Abraham ©David Pintens

What was his assessment of you swimming wise? Brett has extensive experience before his triathlon coaching in elite swimming, and then in triathlon a lot of success in taking moderate - in relative terms of course - swimmers, and converting them into very competent swimmers, for example James Cunnama made the front group at Kona in 2013, having made great strides under his guidance.

I think his words were "there's work we can do here..."! When he saw me bike, swim and run over a few days, he could have said "actually, I think you are as good as you are going to be", but fortunately he did see potential. After we'd had a couple of days in Cozumel and a couple of chats, he said lets get started and so it was literally a couple of pointers, technical queues to think about - it was nothing different in essence to what I was doing with Darren Smith before or Ray when I first started doing triathlon, but I think it's really layering - how the message is delivered, and timing too. I tried the changes, it felt good, felt strong and then he might give me another queue. It then all comes back to effort - working hard and putting the effort into training regardless of what the clock says.

Corinne Abraham ©David Pintens

Historically Brett's athletes have raced frequently, and typically - in part due to injury - you have tended to race relatively sparingly. Will that be something that is likely to change in your schedule in line with that approach?

I think this season I will race more shorter, harder, faster races - I just didn't have the opportunity to do that last year, to push the top end. Combined with the fact that I'm doing a lot of strength work now, that might mean that I'll have to take a bit of a kicking in some races in the short term, but bigger picture hopefully I will not let that impact my ego and see the reasons for doing it! I think it will have a positive impact on my Ironman racing.

What's on the schedule for you Ironman-wise?

I'm going to do Ironman Texas (the North American Championship) in May, and then possibly Frankfurt or Challenge Roth in the summer depending on how that goes. A solid result in a 4000 points race (like Texas), should be enough to qualify along with my Kona points from last year. I don't have a particular 'Ironman' or 'Challenge' bias - I'd have liked to have done Roth last year - it's more about when the races are, the quality of the race and Challenge Roth is something I would really like to be a part of during my time as a triathlete as it's one of the highlights of the triathlon calendar.

Corinne Abraham ©David Pintens

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