Pro Athlete: Chrissie Wellington
By: Carlos de Guzman | SWIMBIKERUN.ph | Philippines’ Multisport Source
A four time Ironman world champion, Ironman world record holder, a humanitarian, and now she has her own book! The wins just keep on coming for our next In[FOCUS] athlete.
When SWIMBIKERUN.ph debuted last January 1, 2011, it had the honor of being launched by an athlete who won the Ironman World Championships on her first try. A victory that to date, is deemed to be a impossible task for any athlete racing as a rookie on her first Ironman World Championship.
SBR.ph is super proud and honored to pick the brains of the one and only 4x Ironman world champion, Chrissie Wellington.
: Hi Chrissie! Welcome to SWIMBIKERUN.ph! First of all, THANK YOU for taking the time to do this interview. Not to suck up but, your welcome greeting on our front page will be there forever! 🙂 How are you enjoying your break so far?
Chrissie : Kamusta and thanks so much for this wonderful opportunity! The Philippines and its people have a very special place in my heart, so it is great to be able to talk to you, and share my thoughts, advice and inspiration with SWIMBIKERUN.ph!
You know, I never thought I would say this, but I really am enjoying having a break from full time Ironman training and racing. Making the decision to have a sabbatical was reminiscent of the time in 2006 when I was deliberating whether or not to embark on an unknown path as a pro triathlete. Although having such choices is a blessing making these decisions is never easy: but now, as then, I simply try to follow my gut instinct and do what I feel is right deep in my heart. But yes, it was a HUGE decision, and one that I deliberated long and hard over.
I have devoted the whole of the last 5 years to being the best athlete I can be. No short cuts, no stone left unturned. And I have loved every minute of it. I feel so incredibly fortunate and grateful to have found a sport that I love; to have had the chance to actually make that passion my career; to have continually defied what I thought was possible; to have made so many great friends; to have travelled the world (including to the Philippines!), and of course to have developed a platform on which I can now build.
But I believe that racing cannot always be the axis around which my life revolves. It should not be an end in itself – never the be all and end all of my life. Never defining me. It is just one branch on a tree that I hope is as big, rich and varied as I can possibly make it. I want to inject some variety back into my life, some balance, and some spontaneity. I want to be freer to explore and seize other opportunities. I have also realised that I need to take the time to truly truly cherish what I have achieved in this sport and actually appreciate ‘what is’. So yes, I am doing all these things and more, and actually I am busier than ever – just in a different way than before!
: Last march, we turned the site pink in support for Women Empowerement and Breast Cancer Awareness. You have been very vocal about women’s rights and about your support for Go Tribal. A group who’s aim is to empower and connect women through the journey of endurance sport. Talk to us about your involvement with Go Tribal.
Chrissie : It really is so great to hear what you are doing. Your support for Women’s Empowerment and Breast Cancer really does show how sport can be a vehicle for change – an amazing tool for raising awareness and funds for really important causes. It’s something I feel really strongly about.
You know, 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. I try never to take for granted the opportunities I have to encourage others, to increase participation in triathlon and other sports and to generate more interest and support amongst the media and businesses, in the UK and around the world. That’s what motivates me – and, for me, that’s the beauty of sport. It is a vehicle to achieve so much more.
I hope that as four-time World Champion, I can be a role model and ambassador for others and leave a legacy that goes beyond race times and numbers of victories. That includes my support for various charities and organizations, including GOTRIBAL.
It really is so important for people to have a support network: people around to help, advice and encourage you to achieve your goals, in sport and outside. GOTRIBAL is an organization that I helped to set up which connects women together around the world who love sport. It is open to people of all ages and abilities – regardless of whether they do triathlon. It provides a network so that women and girls can get the support they need: whether that be coaching, get nutrition advice, find people to train with, or to link up with another GOTRIBAL member at a race. All the information is at www.gotribalnow.com, so I would encourage all the women and girls out there to click on the link and see what the organisation has to offer!
: You have a book out entitled “A Life Without Limits”. Can you give us a sneak peak of what the book is all about and what the readers can expect from your book?
Chrissie : The autobiography truly has been a labor of love, and I have invested so much time and energy into this project over the past few years. My motives for wanting to publically recount my life story in print are varied. Selfishly, I craved the intellectual and emotional challenge, and fulfillment, that comes from cathartic self-reflection. I also want to use it as a means to thank all those who have played a part in my life, both before and during my career in professional sport.
I wanted to share some practical tips for the triathletes out there, but more important are the ‘life’ lessons and philosophies that transcend sport, and are applicable to anyone – whether or not they are a pro athlete or a coach potato. These come from all areas of my life: my childhood, academia, whilst traveling, during my career as a civil servant, in Nepal and also through sport. Through my words I want to encourage people, young and old, to take up sport, to travel, to pursue their dreams. I want to inspire people to take a chance, to attempt defy what they deem impossible and to be willing to look fear and adversity in the face and truly live their life without any preconceived limits. The book is one such the vehicle for doing this.
But effectively conveying these messages meant ‘humanizing’ myself. I am sometimes held up as this robotic, infallible ‘freak of nature’, but of course I am no such thing. In order for the reader to be able to relate and identify with me I had to expose the good, the bad and the ugly. I wanted to reveal my strengths, my weaknesses, my fears, my concerns, my likes and dislikes, my passions, my true nature. There are things in the book that people may not have known, for example my battles with eating and body image – but it is only by sharing some of these stories, that I can break down the facade, and really impact – and hopefully inspire – the reader.
In writing a book that transcended triathlon I wanted to try and take the sport out of the minority, and into the psyche of the majority. I wanted to showcase our sport to those that may have never heard of ironman, and show that it truly is accessible to the masses. A lofty ambition perhaps, but the more exposure I can get of book, and of triathlon, in the mainstream media the closer I get to making this pipe dream that a reality. And that’s why I want to invest as much time in promoting the book as I did in creating it. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!
: A lot of people here in the Philippines may not know this, but prior to winning your first ever Ironman World Championship, you trained here in the Philippines and actually competed last 2007 in the Subic Bay ITU Asian Cup! Which you won of course!. Can you talk us thru that race? Do you still remember any part it? Do the words Ocean Adventure and Binictican still ring a bell? 🙂
It is true! I met some of the Philippine duathlon and triathlon team at the Mekong River ITU race in March 2007, well to be more precise I had danced funky chicken style to the song ‘It’s Raining Men’ with the Filipinos and a group of thai lady boys. They were obviously so impressed with my dancing prowess that I was invited to complete at the Subic Bay ITU race in May 2007. I travelled to the race a week early to do some training (sightseeing!) with the duathlon team, who were based in Clark. I lived and trained with the athletes and was given a unique, albeit brief, insight into your customs, culture and way of life. I was treated to three local culinary specialties: adobo chicken; sinigang (I think it was called!), and of course ‘halo halo’! I think I said ‘hello hello’ to halo halo a few more times than I probably should have!
As I said above though, what struck me even more than the tasty culinary treats was the warmth, good humor and overwhelming generosity of the people I met. Some of the families I met didn’t have much on the way of material possessions, but yet I was served sumptuous feasts of fish, chicken, vegetables, rice and lots of halo halo. I was repeatedly reminded of what a privilege it is for me to be able to do this sport, see these things and learn from, and be inspired by, these types of people and experiences. I also saw first hand the power of sport to empower people, particularly those athletes I met who were part of the duathlon team, headed up by the amazing and inspirational Melvin Fausto. I have so much respect for Melvin, and his passion for helping others through sport.
But yes, the Subic Bay ITU points race! I remember lining up with the usual mix of nervousness and excitement in my stomach. It was a two lap swim, with a beach start. I quickly realized that running into the ocean requires rather more skill than I had anticipated or was blessed with, so I found myself trailing behind, but I put the hammer down on the bike and managed to bridge the gap, catching the lead girls after about 7km. It was a three lap bike course, with the same 1.5km 8% climb on each lap. Yes, I DO remember Binictican! The pleasure and the pain!!!! I came into T2 with about a 4min gap, and the four lap, flat 10km run ahead of me. I managed 37mins, which wasn’t too bad considering it was like racing in a sauna. I crossed the finish line in 2.03 and with a beaming smile on my face, for my first ITU race win! Of course I celebrated with adobo, halo halo and dancing of the funky chicken with all my Filipino friends!
Of course, I also came back to train in Subic Bay for 3 or 4 months in early 2008. I knew every inch of that road to Ocean Adventure and I poured more than enough sweat and tears onto the running track too! But of course, I went on to win Ironman Australia, Ironman Germany, and Kona that year – so I think it was a great training and racing location for me!
: Triathlon in our country is getting bigger and bigger every year. We will be having our 4th Ironman 70.3 Philippines here in August with a record 1500 participants! Is there any chance we’ll get to see you do a comeback race here? Maybe next year? 🙂
Chrissie : I think is absolutely wonderful that triathlon is taking off in such a big way, and that your races are attracting such a large number of participants, both Filipino and internationals. Pete Jacobs has told me all about your race, and says its one of the best in the world! I would love to come back there one day, if not to race then definitely to visit – there is so much of the country that I want to explore!
: It’s not everyday that we get to talk to a 4x Ironman World Champion. When you won your 4th world championship, without giving anything much away, can you give us a glance of your typical 1 training week block?
Chrissie :A lot of the secrets are in the book, so you will have to read it!!!!!
But there are a few philosophies and strategies I will divulge! For starters, I believe that triathlon is a 24/7 job. I devote my life to it. Exercise, resting, sleeping and eating are all part of training. It is not just about when you are in the pool, on the bike or running. If you forget to focus on rest and recovery then you will never fulfill your true potential. For me, it is crucial to get consistency in my training – week in week out. That means that I don’t ramp up the training just because a huge race is around the corner. I work hard for 11 months of the year, only varying the programme slightly as big races approach. For example I might try and hit faster times for my 1km run reps on the track, or alternately hit the same times but with a reduced recovery. But the overall structure of the programme won’t change too much in the months and weeks leading into a big race.
I balance the physical training, doing 6 sessions of each a week. So, for example, of the 6 run sessions – I do one long run of around 32km (around 2hr15); two interval sessions – one with 800 -1600m (faster than race pace reps) with shortish recovery and the second interval session is hill repeats. I do a brick (bike/run session) with a 3hour bike straight into a hard 10km tempo run, and two steadier, 45-50min run sessions. I also do strength and conditioning work, around 3-4 sessions of 45-60minutes each. I focus on my areas of biomechanical weakness, such as my core, my feeble gluts and my dodgy hamstrings. I don’t lift heavy weights or grunt like a body builder!
Of course, training also comprises rest and recovery, including nutrition, hydration, massage, physical therapy, and the all important hours of sleep! And 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. I invest a lot of time in training my brain, as well as my body.
Good nutrition is also incredibly important. A good daily diet is not rocket science and I think common sense tells us what is good for us – so I eat a little bit of everything that my body needs to optimize its potential. Food is my fuel. To eat badly would undermine a key pillar of success. I eat a healthy, balanced diet – with fresh fruits and vegetables (I am a big salad fan!), whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, cous cous, good fats from avocados, nuts and seeds (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, plus bowls and bowls of cereal! I always use Muscle Milk recovery drink after intensive sessions. I have it as a smoothie, with frozen berries (or sometimes pumpkin instead), frozen banana, molasses (for iron), some ginger, ice and water. Delicious!
I haven’t actually given up on any foods. Nothing is ‘naughty’ – it is just eaten in moderation. A few pieces of chocolate a day definitely doesn’t do me any harm, and as for halo halo – well, I can always eat that!
In the two days before an ironman I stick to plain, simple food to maximise 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 Cytomax energy drink throughout the day, but don’t overhydrate. The morning of the race I have cream of rice for breakfast and nothing until I am on my Cannondale. One the bike I have two bottles of Cytomax (400 calories in each), two gels and a small chocolate bar. On the run I have one gel every 25minutes washed down with some water. I try to get one gram of carbs per kilo of body weight per hour. Immediately after the race I crave chips, a kebab, pizza or burgers, and tend to indulge in more than one!
: Of all your achievements and accomplishments in Triathlon, what is the one thing that you are most proud of?
Chrissie : Really it has been the fact that I have defied what I thought was possible for me to achieve. Every step of this amazing journey I have managed to go beyond any limits I have placed on myself. That’s the most satisfying thing of all.
But in terms of one race it has to be overcoming more than I ever thought possible to win my fourth World ironman Championship in Kona last October. This was definitely the most gratifying, satisfying and proudest moment of my career. I had a bad bike crash two weeks before, and sustained some serious injuries, both superficial war wounds and also internal damage, which affected me physiologically as well as physically. I dug to the very depths of my soul and truly pushed beyond any limit I thought existed. It was the hard-fought race I have always dreamed of, and I feel that maybe at this race I proved to myself, and others, that I really was truly worthy of being called a champion. Of course, I couldn’t have raced like I did without my great support team and the other competitors, pushing me every step of the way, so my victory is also, in part, theirs.
: Describe to us what Chrissie Wellington is like when she’s not training or racing. What other sports activities are you in to? What keeps you busy nowadays?
Chrissie : I don’t like to do things by halves, so although I wont be racing ironman events this year I hope that doing other sporting and non sporting related activities will give me a huge amount of joy and gratification – albeit slightly different from crossing the finish line. Some of those goals may not be as grandiose as winning Kona, but are personally important to me, such as spending more time with family and friends, reading more widely, going to concerts etc. I want to work more closely with my chosen charities, to attend different races around the world, to work with my sponsors, to be able to attend the Olympics (although not to compete!), to promote my autobiography, do some public and corporate speaking engagements and to try and inspire as many people as possible. Yes, I could do this whilst training and racing full time, but not to the extent and with the energy and passion that I feel is necessary.
My desire to work a lot more actively with all of my chosen charities was a key reason for my decision to step back from full time training and racing for a little while. I have an amazing opportunity to use my platform to raise funds and awareness for causes that are important to me, and simply felt that I couldn’t do as much as I wanted to do whilst also trying to be the best athlete I could be. The charitable work will focus on those that I am already actively supporting, such as Janes Appeal, the Blazeman Foundation for ALS, Girls Education Nepal and Challenged Athletes Foundation and well as helping to grow GOTRIbal.
I have organised specific events, such as ‘Runs with Chrissie’ (www.runwithchrissie.com) in the UK where people pay to run 5km with me, do a training session, have dinner and then attend a Q&A and presentation. All the money goes to Jane’s Appeal and we have raised over £10,000 already through two events. I have also done some clinics and events in aid of the Challenged Athletes Foundation. I am also fortunate to be able to use other projects (such as the recently launched motivation and training downloads I made with Audiofuel) as a vehicle to support worthwhile causes.
My next sporting Challenge will be in April and will a big one! I will run the Paris Marathon, cycle 1000km and then run London Marathon, all in the space of a week!!!! My aim is to help pace others around, and so I wont be trying to so a personal best time in the marathon. Its all about teamwork, and helping others to also complete this amazing Challenge in aid of Janes Appeal. But even if I don’t want to actually race fast I still need to start training!
: Any message to your Filipino fans who voted for you as the 1st Annual SBR.ph Awards Female Triathlete of Year? I’m sure everyone can’t wait to get their hands on your book! 🙂
Chrissie : I simply want to firstly thank you all for the support and encouragement you have given me over since I became a pro in 2007. As I said at the start, the Philippines has a special place in my heart and its people are among the kindest, most passionate, caring and enthusiastic I have ever met. Secondly I would like to wish each and every one of you all the very best for an amazing 2012 season, and beyond. Always remember to live your life without limits. Look fear in the face, and go out there and try and defy what you, or others, think may be impossible!
: Thank you for this awesome opportunity Chrissie! We all know how precious your time is and we super appreciate it. We really do hope to see you race here once again in the Philippines! If ever you do, you have chicken adobo, courtesy of SBR.ph, waiting for you. 🙂
Chrissie : Maraming salamat for this great opportunity, and the chance to relive my great memories of an amazing country. 🙂