A Change In Pace: Triathlon To Ultra Running
For six years, I have been a professional triathlete and have enjoyed achieving at a high level and racing the best athletes in the world. After winning an Ironman 70.3 in 2016, my initial goal was completed and in my heart I admit I felt it was ‘job done’. However, I embarked upon another few years in the hope of taking the ‘next step’ – however good you get, there is always a next step! Triathlon has always been a little ‘faffy’ and techy for me though and you have to love what you do.
I am so glad I got the opportunity to compete at such a high level, but at 37 years old I have other things to achieve and if I’m to do them, it’s now time to get a move on! So come this summer, it was time to put triathlon to one side (though not abandon completely, as you will see!)
Ultra running. That’s where I came from and that’s where I’m heading now. I restarted triathlon after a run injury sustained shortly after my last long ultra: a successful 100 miler in 2012. Then aged 30, if I wanted to seize the opportunity of trying to be a pro athlete, triathlon was my best bet, and the time window relatively small. So when the opportunity presented itself, I put ultra to one side in the hope I could return one day (ultra runners tend to get good results when older - so in that respect I hoped I could afford to wait a while).
I have big goals for ultra and I have my eye on some British records that are rather mind-boggling, but I’ll give it a go and see how close I can get. I am not scared of failing, as I’ll still achieve lots along the way. It’s good to have a target though. Unlike triathlon, where there are no real times to aim for as courses are so variable, it is refreshing to have something specifically time-based as a goal.
The only problem with ultra running is the extreme nature and the need to build resilience without too many injuries. I have already overcooked it once in the past few months and had to take 3 weeks out from running - hard to do when you love it so much. Hence, the cycling and swimming will stay in place a bit this year, whilst we ‘transition’. I’ve already done my first cyclocross race, Redbull Timelaps and have a local duathlon lined up for December. It’s nice to be able to mix it up a bit - being ‘pro’ means you’re generally quite restricted in that respect.
As for life balance, I’ll continue to work closely with my key sponsors, including Sundried (watch out for some exciting new kit drops arriving soon!) and as well as paying the bills with freelance copy writing, I’ve relaunched my other passion, art.
Messy, crazy art. I studied art when younger but didn’t touch it for years. I have now ransacked my partner’s son’s old bedroom and it is now a splattered ‘art studio’, out of which comes all sorts of creations made with resin and/or acrylic pouring. I am still in the exploratory stage, but the business is gaining traction, particularly in ‘useful art’ - bespoke trophies, coasters, clocks, table tops, jewellery etc. Follow @aliceartuk on Facebook or Instagram to see my experiments!
In summary, it’s hard to make changes, especially when a routine is so drilled, but if you take a few weeks out of the sport every year or two, and let the dust settle, then you can truly reflect on what it is you want to be doing. I found a week off here and there doesn’t break what essentially is a habit, but after 3 weeks, it became clear where I wanted to go. Take your time to reflect. The body WILL thank you for an extended rest anyway!
Whilst I slowly build towards record attempts (I anticipate 3-4 years but that’s a guess), I simply want to get out and enjoy the blissful feeling of rhythmical running, take part in ultra events, enjoy some success and see some amazing sights, that can be right there in the doorstep.
My advice to you:
- Try new things in the off-season.
- Your gut instinct will tell you all you need, if you let it.
- Change is always possible.
- Take time to reflect: no goal is going to be a joyous upward trajectory so there will be ups and downs. Knee-jerk decisions are risky.
- Accept you cannot have success without failure.
- Having said that, make sure to regularly check in with yourself that you are predominately enjoying your journey, wherever it takes you!
About the author: Alice Hector has been a sponsored Sundried athlete since our inception and has been competing professionally in triathlon since 2014.