Liz is a triathlete who uses her years of experience to coach those just starting their journey into the world of triathlon. She talks to Sundried about training and racing.
Have you always been into sport?
I’ve always been running and sport generally - well, in fact I was up a climbing frame before I could walk, which led to riding a bike pretty soon after that. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t playing some kind of sport from fencing, cricket to athletics. I played Under-18 cricket for England back in my teens and ran cross country for the county.
Joining the Army at 18 led to more sports, including hockey, tennis, swimming and running. The latter became my first love, but after running 80+ marathons I got bored and wanted another challenge. So I did more triathlons. When I turned 40 I raced my first Ironman in Sherborne. Since then I’ve competed in 20 Ironmans. I’m not fast. I'm an average age grouper with a huge amount of endurance. I like the mental side to keep going. I like to get my money’s worth. But at 55, I’ve still got plenty left in the tank for more and different adventures.
How did you first get into triathlon?
It was in 1984 when I was in the Army. My senior officer suggested I give triathlon a go as he knew I liked sport. I raced at the Army champs as part of a team but we all had to do the whole event and our times were added together to see which unit won. It was a nice touch that we won the Army Champs on our first attempt.
What has been your favourite race to date and why?
Ironman Austria, without a doubt. I’ve raced this event at least five times now and it’s just majestic. You swim in lake Worthersee, which is like swimming in Evian. The bike is rolling but quick and the run is out and back around one side of the lake and then into Klagenfurt with the locals getting merrier as the evening progresses. There is such great support throughout the day and the locals embrace the event in a way that you just don’t get at some other venues (apart from Ironman Wales). For me though, it’s not just about the event, it’s the journey to the race and the travelling across Europe, stopping off and seeing friends on the way. This is all part of the experience and makes it a very special event for sure.
What is your proudest achievement?
I run Tri Spirit team and have coached several ladies who were total beginner swimmers who could barely swim one length of crawl or those totally new to triathlon, to complete long distance, with some representing GB Age Groupers. I am so proud of these ladies for sticking with the training and achieving something many thought was impossible at the beginning. Personally, my proudest achievement to date is being part of the team that won the Ladies National Team Time Trial Championships back in 2009. This was a combination of time trials at 25, 50 and 100 miles.
Have you ever had any racing disasters?
Wow, yes - how long have you got? Some with nearly massive consequences to my health. A major one was when I raced Ironman Barcelona and I thought I had got my nutrition totally wrong. I came out of the swim in a good time but I had been sick in the swim and continued to be sick on the bike. I wasn’t able to keep any food down. Somehow I managed to complete the bike and get halfway through the run but I was cooked. I thought I was going to be OK but I wasn’t... I got myself to the medical tent and they rushed me to hospital. They diagnosed I had a virus and shouldn’t have been racing at all that day. After being pumped with 4 litres of saline and spending a day in hospital I made a full recovery. It could have been very different though if I hadn’t had the presence of mind to get the help I needed.
Another wasn’t a disaster but just a freak accident. I was hooked in the face by a fisherman on the run section of a triathlon - we were running around the lake. He threw the line back to cast but managed to catch me instead of a fish! Yes, true story. I think the fisherman was in more shock when I asked him to cut the fishing line, so I could carry on running to finish - fish hook still embedded in my face. The medics at the finish had to use bolt cutters to get it out. The race director was concerned but I thought it was funny and as a race director myself just knew that would never have been in the risk assessment.
How do you overcome setbacks?
When I was in the Army, I came down awkwardly from a 12ft wall and damaged my knee. I didn’t get anything other than some fairly innocuous bandages for it to help with the swelling, and a week later I was back at work. But for the last 30 years, this knee had been a problem and it was that long after that I discovered I had ruptured the ACL in the accident, and all the running and sport I carried on with had eroded the cartilage. So, I had major surgery in 2018, which included stem cell replacement and ACL reconstruction. I listened to my consultant and physio and didn’t rush the return to training. I did exactly as I was told and did everything slowly. This has helped me return to full training and racing. In 2019 I completed two 70.3s, one ironman and several smaller races. I think it’s safe to say the surgery worked!
The main thing though is to believe in yourself and be positive, surround yourself with like-minded people. Don’t let people drag you down, you don’t need negativity if you want to achieve.
What advice do you wish you'd been given when you first started out?
Wear the right clothing and swim more than you think. It’s not all about the bike, so don’t neglect the other disciplines. Triathlon to me is five disciplines: swim, bike, run, nutrition and your mind. Your mental strength will get you through any event more effectively than your physical strength. Always stay in the moment.
What are your goals?
It’s so difficult for everyone in the current conditions, but I’m very luckily to be living and training in Mallorca where I run triathlon and cycle camps - or as I like to say a ‘holiday with training’, because life is too short not to have fun doing what you love. If events go ahead this year then I will be racing a couple of long distance events. Going forward though I may try an XTri as they are becoming more popular and they are trying to encourage more women into extreme triathlons. So after racing over 20 Ironmans a new challenge may await me for 2022.
Who inspires you?
The athletes that turn up week after week and keep going. Wanting to learn a new drill or open water swim technique that will help them when racing. They inspire me to be the best I can be. If you have watched Galaxy Quest (and if you haven’t, you really should!)...I use the mantra ‘Never give up, never surrender’ because not only do I believe in the phrase, it also gives me a belly laugh when I need it most during the toughest parts of long-distance racing..
Why work with Sundried?
Fortunately I’ve worked with Sundried for many years as they have kindly offered our event participants discounts codes. One of the things we always tried to do when running the events was to reduce waste where possible - for example, we always had live timing so people didn’t need tiny bits of paper with their times on, that ended up floating around the car park, it was available immediately on their phones.
The fact that Sundried uses sustainable methods to produce outstanding clothes with creativity and flair is very important to me, and the clothing is also really comfortable and ideal for training day or simply chilling out. Their ethos for wanting to not leave a carbon footprint also appeals as I think we all need to try and do our bit for the world.
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