cycling road bike uphill athlete race

Rachel knew she loved triathlon from her very first race and is now qualified for the Ironman 70.3 Age Group Championships. She talks to Sundried about training and racing.

Have you always been into sport?

No, I have always loved being outside but was never particularly into sport until I was about 16. I lived by the sea growing up and loved swimming but there were no swim clubs near me so I wasn’t a ‘swimmer’ as such. I was particularly terrible at ball sports. Then when I was about 16 I started running a bit; I told my dad I wanted to get fit and he told me to run up the hill outside our house thirty times before school so I did that twice a week for a while with the reps growing every time. I did a few running races and one triathlon around the same time. After I came 2nd in a nearby 5k road racing league, a couple of people in the community started a middle distance athletics group for me and a couple of other girls. Since then I’ve been an athlete of one kind or another.

What made you decide to enter the world of triathlon?

I did a triathlon on a borrowed road bike as one of my first ever sports events at 16 after being encouraged by family friends who were part of the local tri club. It was just a local race but I won it and absolutely loved it. My parents bought me a road bike because I was ‘definitely’ going to do triathlon. Immediately after this, I decided I was going to be a runner instead.

After a couple of years running competitively in Ireland, I came to the UK for uni. I had a lot of injuries and was a bit disenfranchised with athletics, in particular I never really enjoyed track racing. I still loved swimming and I used to ride my bike to unwind after bad races, so at the Sports Fair I joined both the Athletics and Triathlon clubs. The Triathlon club had more training sessions so instinctively I ended up doing more triathlon than athletics and it just sort of took over.

What’s been your favourite race to date and why?

Hell of the West on the west coast of Ireland is an incredible race. It’s a really tough course right on the coast in some of the most beautiful scenery you could find. I also love sea swims, they’re so much nicer than wading through muddy rivers or lakes.

And your proudest achievement?

Winning Outlaw Holkham this year was amazing. The race itself ended in a really close finish which was so exciting. I love sprint finishes because they give you the motivation and opportunity to completely empty yourself at the end of a race. It was also my first time winning a race that had a tape to ‘break’ so that was great too!

Have you ever had any racing disasters/your toughest race yet?

I crashed on some slurry on the road once mid-race, so gross! They warned us beforehand that a farmer had spilled some slurry on the road so one of the corners was a ‘bit dodgy’. I thought I’d slowed down enough but before I knew it I was sliding along the road on my back watching my bike go the other direction. I got up and was about to cry but then the marshal handed me my bike and said ‘GO’, so I got back on and off I went.  I probably only lost about 30 seconds in the actual race but the event was really far away and I had a 6 hour drive home. Sitting in the car with the road rash and bruises all tightening up was really awful, as was the whip lash the next day.

How do you overcome setbacks?

I try to see the long term picture. I don’t focus too hard on any one race or aim. That way if I get sick or injured and have to miss a race, it’s not that big of a deal because that one race was only a building block to the next one and each year is a stepping stone to the next year etc. The goal is always to improve and get stronger and sometimes setbacks are signs that there’s something important I’m missing in training.

What is the best bit of advice you wish someone had told you before you started competing?

I wish someone had told me not to worry about what I eat. There is so much damaging messaging about food and I spent ages thinking that to be an athlete I had to stop eating chocolate, takeaways, sugar, and all these other things that I really enjoy and only ate within a normal diet anyway. I didn’t stop eating any of them but I wasted a lot of emotional energy feeling guilty about the choices I made.

For me, the stress of worrying about diet is much more damaging than eating what you feel like when you feel like it. The same goes before races. I wish I’d been told that a meticulous pre-race routine is not necessary or helpful. The most important thing is to arrive at the start line without any additional stress, in my experience being too attached to a pre-race ritual almost always creates additional stress.

What are your goals for 2019?

I am qualified for Ironman 70.3 age-group world champs in Nice, so that will be my main race-goal. Otherwise I want to get enough solid results to earn a professional license in 2020 and generally I just want to keep improving on all aspects of my performance from this year.

Who do you take your inspiration from?

There’s no-one in particular that I aspire to be like but I take a lot of inspiration from the people I train with every day. People have a lot of different approaches and attitudes which challenges me to learn and question how I think. For example, I often fall into a trap of dreading really hard sessions but I have friends who love and live for them which often makes me adjust the way I approach aspects of my training.

What do you like about Sundried and what’s your favourite bit of our kit?

I’m a PhD student studying atmospheric science (mainly clouds) so climate and environmental sustainability is something I spend a lot of my time reading and talking about. I’m always trying to make more sustainable choices; it’s extremely difficult to do that when buying activewear. I love that Sundried provides that option. My favourite is the Grand Tournalin Long Sleeve Training Top.