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Interview: Kirsty McWilliam
Posted by: Annie Emmerson
Posted on: Friday 28th November 2008


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Scotland seems to have a habit of producing great athletes! This year Bella Comerford became one of the world's leading iron-ladies - out of the eight Ironman distance races she did this year she won five of them, need we say more! In the late 90's and early 'noughties', Steph Forrester was winning national titles, World Duathlon Championships and going to the Olympics. At that time Catriona Morrison was planning and preparing for what has now become a hugely successful career in duathlon and half-Ironman racing. Kerry Lang is proving that she can race with the best of them at World Cup level and Fraser Cartmell's top ten finish at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships proved that he's becoming top class over that distance.

Now to add to that list of world class Scottish triathletes we have the very talented and likeable, Kirsty McWilliam. At the beginning of the year she showed that she'd be one to watch when she stormed to victory at the Corus British Triathlon Grand Prix season opener in Reading, but her big breakthrough came at the World Championships in Vancouver. Following injury and illness during her pre World Championship build-up neither Kirsty or her coach had any idea that she was about to become the next World Junior Champion, but that's exactly what did happen! Tri247 caught up with Kirsty to talk about her breakthrough year and what we can expect next from this talented young lady.


AE Did you start out as a triathlete or did you come from another sport like a lot of triathletes?

KM I started like most triathletes as a swimmer. I had been swimming competitively since I was seven, however by the time I was 13 I was losing enjoyment in the sport and had sussed I was never really going to do anything special in swimming. However I also enjoyed taking part in cross-country at primary school and a PE teacher there introduced me to triathlon when I was 13. I hated my first triathlon, came last and vowed never to do one ever again but that didn't last long!

AE So what made you change your mind and where was your next race?

KM I won my next triathlon! It was the Scottish Schools so I had just agreed to do it for the school but ended up really enjoying it so I kept on doing them.

AE In Vancouver the swim was very long. Did you have any idea how long it was while you were in the race?

KM I had actually noticed before the race that it looked far too long but tried to convince myself it was only the usual 750m... It became quite obvious that it was not just a few metres extra but hundreds once I got in. It went on forever! I can just remember thinking to myself 'I wanna get out, I wanna get out.' Coming out the water early and running up the side of the beach was the best decision I made all race!

AE Did the cold and wet conditions feel like a normal day in Scotland?

KM To be honest, yes it was quite normal. I'm used to training in that kind of weather so although I don't enjoy it at all, I know how to deal with it. I think a lot of the girls had given up before the race had even started because of the weather.

AE We've heard your lead up to the race didn't actually go to plan at all with injury/illness, can you tell us about that?

KM I had possibly the worst prep for a race ever! I wasn't able to run for all of April and very little in May due to an ankle injury. I also caught a really bad stomach bug after Reading which left me unable to train for at least a week. With only ten days to go till Worlds I had just recovered and the day before I left for Vancouver was the only day I managed to get a quality session done before the actual race! Admittedly, neither my coach or I had a clue whether I was going to go well or if it was going to be a disaster. I think it shows that I actually work well off a long taper and I'm going to use that in the future.

AE Obviously you won the world's, but did the race itself all go to plan?

KM The Worlds actually went pretty much to plan. It is sometimes hard to criticise a race when you win but there are still a few things that I can improve on. Tactically I was very pleased with how I performed. The swim still needs a lot of work though!

AE It must have been an amazing feeling coming across the line know you were World Champion, what were you first thoughts?

KM I honestly can't remember what my first thoughts were when I crossed the line! I felt more relieved than anything because it had gone well. It still feels weird now saying I'm the Junior World Champion.

AE How much attention from the press and media has winning the junior world champs made?

KM I have had quite a lot more attention after winning the worlds but not a huge amount since the Olympics have been on this year too. I have so much more admin to do though. My sister is looking for a job right now and we keep joking that I could employ her as my assistant!

AE You've proved you can race well at the sprint distance (winning the Corus Elite Series race in Reading). What have you been doing to prepare you for the longer standard distance racing?

KM To be honest I haven't changed anything yet! I have still one more year as a junior and at the moment I intend on using it. After doing the Olympic distance at London this year though, I really enjoyed it and will hopefully do a few more next year as experience for when I do become a senior.

AE What are your targets for 2009?

KM Nothing has been set in stone as yet for what I am going to be doing next year and I think once we see how the winter has gone we will decide what to do next. Like I said earlier I have one more year as a junior so chances are I will be going for that team. I do want more experience at senior/U23 level though.

AE How important is the support you've received from British Triathlon to your success so far?

KM The support I have received both in and out of competition has been incredibly important so far. Whether it's providing facilities, providing nutritional and medical support or giving tactical advice everything is covered.

AE What does a normal days training look like for Kirsty McWillam and how many hours a week training do you normally notch up?

KM I have just started back training properly recently so I'm not on a huge amount of hours right now, around 14. I get up every morning except Thursdays at around 6am to swim. I am doing lots of short runs right now so six days out of seven I'm either on the treadmill or out on the trails. Just recently I have started learning to use rollers so I am practising on them quite a bit now! They were the scariest things ever when I started but I'm getting used to them now. I learned how to go one-legged on Monday which I am so chuffed about!

AE What do you feel are your main strengths and weaknesses as an athlete?

KM I think my real strength is my determination, motivation and stubbornness. However if you're not careful these can also cause problems so they could be my real weaknesses too. Physically I'd say my strength is cycling and weakness is swimming.

AE What are your interests outside of triathlon?

KM I love relaxing with my girls at home. We have all gone to Uni now so don't get to see each other as much as we used to so its brilliant when we all get together for a catch up on the gossip! I have also discovered I'm pretty good in the kitchen since coming to Uni. Biology is another one of my loves, I could talk about it forever!

AE We guess you must be studying biology, but Which Uni are you at?

KM I started Stirling Uni in September and yes you're right I'm doing a degree in Animal Biology. I am enjoying it so much just now, however exams start in a couple of weeks so I may have changed my mind by then!

AE Do you find it easy to fit in day to day stuff like socialising, studying etc, with your training?

KM At the moment everything is actually fitting in better than it used to! Its really easy to socialise at Uni (not sure if that's a really good thing!) because living on campus there is always something going on. Studying isn't exactly my favourite past time but its getting done...

AE What's it like to be part of a team that includes such talented junior athletes like Hollie Avil and Sophie Coleman – it must keep you on your toes, always striving for more?

KM Definitely. Both Hollie and Sophie have had incredible seasons and I think it's fantastic to be surrounded by so many people like this. When you hear what someone else has achieved it motivates you to push on and try to better it.

AE If you weren't doing triathlon what would you be doing?

KM I would be training to be some kind of scientist I think... I'm a bit of a geek when it comes to biology!

AE Who's your all time sporting hero?

KM I have never really had a sporting hero but I admire Chris Hoy so much. Just being able to achieve half of what he has would be a massive achievement! I met him recently at an awards ceremony and he was the most genuine, down-to-earth guy. He really is amazing.

AE Where do you see yourself in ten years time? Do you think your best events will be standard distance, or any aspirations to race longer distances?

KM At the moment I couldn't think of anything worse to do than long distance racing! I'm just not the kind of person for that. In ten years time I hope to be a successful standard distance athlete with both Olympic and Commonwealth experience and preferably a few titles to show off!


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