Checking In With Three-Time Ironman Champion Chrissie Wellington
British triathlete Chrissie Wellington is the current and three-time Ironman Triathlon World Champion. Her debut to the sport, winning the 2007 Ironman less than a year after turning pro, which is a feat unheard of, shocked and amazed the triathlete world. Chrissie’s victory was described as the “biggest upset in Ironman Hawaii history.” With her third Ironman win, last October, Chrissie continues to inspire and even set a new course record of 8:54:02.
Chrissie’s athletic ability and her strong desire to give back make her an unbelievable role model and wanting to know her better, and hoping to make us better by understanding her, we asked her a few questions.
Wow! As a three-time Ironman champion how has your life changed?
It has changed beyond recognition. Just over 3 years ago I was working full time as a civil servant in London and never in a million years did I think I would be triple World Ironman Champion! To know that I am the best in the world has brought me immeasurable joy and a wealth of fantastic opportunities. Of course, it has also resulted in more obligations, commitments and pressures – not to mention expectations, both those I put on myself and those that others have for me. The crown is only as heavy as you let it be though. For me, the best way for me to deal with the added pressure is to try and see everything as a positive.
For example, my experiences at other races have made me realize that I won’t be able to walk the streets (at races at least) unnoticed. There are always tons of autographs to sign and photos to pose for, and I love doing that. The same goes for the media. It can be tiring, but as I said, I have to see the positive side of this attention.
Ultimately though dealing with additional pressures, expectations and commitments is what being a professional athlete is about. Not just being able to perform on race day, but coping with the various demands and being a good role model all the time. It is up to me to stay focused, strong and happy, continue doing what I love and go out there and give it everything I have, and more.
Being World Champion has also meant that I have been able to work with some great sponsors – including TYR, Cannondale, Cytosport (www.cytosport.com), and Oakley. All my sponsors give me fantastic support, in and out of races. Without them I wouldn’t be able to do what I do.
I also have an amazing platform to motivate, inspire others, spread important messages on a range of issues, to promote the sport in the UK and overseas, put GBR on the map, and most importantly be the ambassador for triathlon that I would want to see. I will never take this for granted and will seize every opportunity I have, now and in the future.
And for the negatives…..chaffing, huge calves and bad tan lines! Seriously, being away from family and friends is hard, as is the mono-dimensional nature of the lifestyle. I do miss the spontaneity of being able to go to the theater, to music festivals, to travel, to have long weekends in far flung places. But hey, these are negatives, and they are far outweighed by the huge positives! Like being able to eat my body weight in oatmeal each and every day!
Have you kept a similar training routine for each Ironman?
Pretty much yes! There have been a few adjustments over the past few years. But I think the key to success is consistency and small changes here and there. If it isn’t broken I see no reason for wholesale change to fix it!
I see myself as training train 24/7 though. It’s not just about when I swim, cycle or run, it’s about when I’m eating, when I’m resting, when I’m sleeping. All of this is part of training my body to be the best athlete that I can be.
And of course, getting the body in shape is only half the battle – all the physical strength in the world won’t help you if your mind is not prepared. This is part of training. The part that people don’t put in their log books. The part that all the monitors, gizmos and gadgets in the world can’t help you out with. You need determination, drive, perseverance, focus and most importantly a passion for the sport…..and masochistic tendencies and a desire to suffer!
Describe a typical day for you when you are training.
It’s hard to give a typical day as each is different given that we have to train for three disciplines. I tend to get up around 7am, have a small breakfast and do my first session. This is followed by a second breakfast a rest and then a second and third session with lunch in between and dinner to finish it all off. I go to bed between 9.30-10pm. Of course there are days when I only do two sessions for example on a Saturday when I do a swim and a long 4-5hr ride or a Sunday when I do a long run followed by a shorter run in the late afternoon. No one day is the same although the weeks look remarkably similar in their structure.
Will you incorporate anything different into your training this year?
There will be a few tweaks. But like I said above, nothing to drastic. I do hope I can incorporate more naps into my daily routine though!
Are you following a certain nutrition plan? Are there any foods that you have had to give up?
I love to eat! My stomach is a bottomless pit, and I am renowned for having one of the biggest appetites amongst the female pros, including hovering up everyone’s leftovers – when they are full to the brim, I always seem to have room for more!
I read a lot about what foods will help me optimize my performance. It is not rocket science and I think common sense tells us what is good for us. A healthy, balanced diet – with fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, good fats (with some saturated ones thrown in too) and I also eat some type of meat once a day, with red meat once a week. For snacks I have a lot of fruit, nuts and seeds, Muscle Milk recovery drink and chocolate.
I haven’t actually given up on any foods. Nothing is ‘naughty’ – it is just eaten in moderation. A square of chocolate a day definitely doesn’t do me any harm, and as for pizza – well, I can always squeeze one of those in!
In the two days before an Ironman I stick to plain, simple food to maximize my energy reserves and limit any possibility of GI distress during the race. I have a bowl of porridge with tahini and honey for breakfast. Lunch is a couple of sandwiches or bagels (white bread), cheese or sliced chicken and olive oil. And dinner is tuna pasta with tomato based sauce. I keep hydrated with Cytosport energy drink throughout the day, but don’t over hydrate. Immediately after the race I crave chips, a kebab, pizza or burgers, and tend to indulge in more than one!
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
My goals and ambitions sporting wise are to get faster and stronger. It’s a simple goal as I don’t have x number of races I want to win or times I want to achieve, I just want to push my body as far and fast as it will possibly go as I really enjoy that challenge. But in ten years time I will be 43 and I don’t think I will still be competing at the highest level.
I really want to do more adventure racing and take part in some bonkers, multi-day, multi-week, Ranulph Fienes, style endurance challenges. Not really ‘sporting events’ in the conventional sense, but definitely something I dream of doing more of one day.
I also have the opportunity to combine my two passions – sport and development work. As a result of my triathlon achievements I have the platform that I have always dreamed of to achieve my mission, and bring about positive change. That’s partially why winning is so important to me. I am currently an ambassador for a number of organizations, like Jon Blais’ Blazeman Foundation (www.blazemanwarrior.org), GOTRIBAL (gotribalnow.com ), Janes Appeal (www.janesappeal.com) and the UK youth empowerment charity Envision (www.envision.org.uk). But in the future I want to get much more involved in sports development work and set up my own non-profit organization which uses sport as a vehicle to empower young people and particularly young girls. Champions come and go, but to me the real judge of my personal success will be whether I actually do something positive with the opportunities I have been given.
Do you participate in any other sports?
I love hiking, kayaking, mountain biking … anything energetic and outdoors really. I did gymnastics until I was 5 when I realized that I have the coordination of a baby giraffe….I also love playing Scrabble! Julie Dibens (World Xterra and Ironman 70.3 World Champion) and I have some fierce battles when we are together in Boulder. The dictionary often has to come out to adjudicate!
Where is your favorite place to train?
My top picks would be New Zealand (for its sheep and spectacular and diverse scenery), Nepal (because of the wonderful memories I have of living there), Indonesia (simply beautiful), Hawaii (the place where I climbed on top of the World!) and my home in Norfolk, UK.
I also love running and biking in Richmond Park in London, as the sun rises. Richmond Park is a haven of tranquilly amidst the noise and chaos of London, and never ceases to lift my soul, even on a dull, rainy day. The Park changes each day and with the seasons – the sight and smell of spring is particularly heartwarming – as the landscape is coming alive with new growth, as well as athletes preparing for the London Marathon in April. The trees are amazing, like old grandfathers that have seen generations of athletes pass beneath them, and the deer that inhabit the Park are simply beautiful – seeing a regal stag silhouetted against the rising sun never fails to take my breathe away.
What discipline do you enjoy the most?
But of the three disciplines I probably love biking the most. I love that I’m powering able to go 40 kilometers an hour powering my Cannondale, whilst experiencing so many different environments – flats, rolling hills, farmland and mountains – in the space of one ride. The mountain biking in Nepal was amazing, and was the start of a very special endurance journey for me.
What is the biggest obstacle you have overcome? How?
In triathlon I think it has to be at the World Championships in 2008 when I had a flat tire at 90km on the bike, and didn’t manage to inflate my new tire properly, so was stranded for about 10 minutes by the side of the road. Fortunately for me my knight in shining lycra came along in the form of fellow competitor Bek Keat. She gave me her spare gas canister and I was able to get back in the saddle a few minutes later. What she did epitomizes everything that is great about the sport.
It is incidents like this that make you realize the importance of mental strength. I was nervous, but somehow managed to stay relatively calm. I think I took a lot of confidence from the fact that I had flatted twice in other races, and still came back to win. It taught me a valuable lesson – in that it definitely isn’t over because of a flat piece of rubber….
It’s important to practice visualization before the race, to try and prepare yourself for different eventualities. But when the going gets tough (and believe me it happens to all of us!) I try to stay in the moment, relax and remember hard or difficult times in training, racing and life in general when I have pushed through and come out on top. I also have a bank of positives memories and experiences that remind me that I can achieve anything I want to and I draw on the support of the crowds, and most importantly smile lots….
Who are your influences/heroes and why?
My parents and close friends of course – they have been behind me every step of the way. I also really admire people like Rick and Dick Hoyt, Scott Rigsby and Jane Tomlinson who have faced adversity and still achieved great things. Jane was a British woman and in 2000 was diagnosed with breast cancer. Despite being told she would only survive for six more months she bravely completed a full Ironman, two half Ironmans, four marathons, three London Triathlons and three long distance bike rides – the final being the 6781.8 km Ride Across America. Jane’s efforts raised over £1,850,000 for charity. She sadly died in September 2007, but her courage, determination and selflessness in the face of adversity are an example to all. I am now a Patron of her charity Jane’s Appeal
What is one piece of advice on improving in your sport?
Can I give two?! Consistency in your training and most importantly enjoy it!
What is the best advice you’ve heard?
My former running coach, the legendary Frank Horwill, always said “there is no such word as cant, only I will try”. I always try to live by that motto, and give everything I possibly can. You might not always be on fire, or have fantastic training days or races – but as another of my coaches once said – “some sessions are stones and some are stars, but they are all rocks and we build with them!”
What are you working on?
Getting stronger and faster; being kind to myself and learning to relax my mind and body.
What are your strengths?
Large calves and a capacity to withstand pain.
What is something fun you have done recently in your time off?
My boyfriend and I went to Nepal and trekked in the Everest Region up to 5300meters with backpacks, snow, yaks and the most beautiful Himalayan mountain scenery. So much fun but not exactly the most restful of holidays!
On your website it states that you were hit by a car in 2003. How did that happen?
I was riding along in the cycle lane in London on my commuter bike and a car driver turned left in front of me I hit the side of the car and somersaulted ungracefully over the handlebars and face planted into the pavement. I cut my chin and hip open and damaged my quad muscle. I developed myositis ossificans in the muscle – where my body basically decided to grow a piece of bone 5cm long out of my femur. It’s still there, but I don’t let it hinder me. It did stop me doing the London Marathon two weeks later though – much to my disappointment. These things make us stronger though and the injury meant that I started to swim again. And that is how I got into triathlon!