Our Chrissie Wellington appreciation continues with part five of our exclusive interview, looking at the champion’s training and rest.
Whether as an age grouper or pro, having a vast amount of energy is something that has come naturally to Wellington, but over the years she’s learned to direct that energy in different ways and even relax once in while.
The same can’t be said of her beginnings in the sport, where Wellington threw herself into 28-hour training weeks in addition to her nine-to-seven day job in the Civil Service.
“I’m anal, obsessive, disciplined and live my life at 100 miles an hour,” she says by way of explaining her apparently superhuman ability to consume excessive workloads. “I didn’t get any rest. I did what I’m sure a lot of age group athletes do now. I’d get up at six, cycle to the pool, I’d do a 5k and I’d be at my desk with dripping wet hair at nine. Or I’d run to work or I’d grab an hour at lunch so I fitted everything in. There wasn’t a lot of free time or sitting around. I did what the majority of age-group athletes have to do now.”
Despite charity work, sponsor commitments, family life and international development being just a few things on her plate, Wellington now makes the time for rest days having overcome her inability to sit still long enough to take a deep breath.
“I appreciate rest days so much because I’ve seen the changes that have taken place in the programme; the volume has decreased and yet my performances have improved so much. That’s down in part to rest and to higher intensity, lower volume training.
“It’s not suitable for everyone; I’ve got this base now. If you’re new to the sport, you need to develop that endurance, that capacity. You can’t go straight into doing the kind of interval that I would do, but now I don’t need to do the long, hard session. I never do six-hour rides. Never. Nor do I want to; I want to get bang for buck in terms of my training! I rarely do a lot of steady stuff. A lot of my sessions are race pace and above, but the intervals are lower, but one run a week is 40 minutes steady.”
With rest days now integral to her training programme, Wellington uses the time not spent in the water or on the road to relax her mind, visualise race eventualities and reflect on her training.
“I’m still nowhere near perfection in that regard, but I think that’s part of maturing as an athlete. When Brett [Sutton] said he was going to have to chop my head off, he meant I’d got to stop being so analytical, stop being so frantic, stop overanalysing everything, stop rushing at things like a bull in a China shop. I’ve tried to change that, I’m not always successful, but that’s all part of the journey.”
Wellington would recommend these calming practices to all athletes, particularly those who have commitments outside their athletic aspirations.
“You’ve got to be able to quiet your mind and there are times where you need to be able to accept that you can’t give everything and you need to be content with what you can do especially in a situation with family, jobs and then training. There are going to be times where you need to be flexible, where you need to adapt or you get sick and you can’t train, but what you have to see is rest is part of training and part of making your body stronger.
“I see people out flogging themselves 40 hours a week and yet they spend no time visualising, they spend no time on their diet, the spend no time resting, no time getting a massage and I think ‘You’re never going to reach your potential’. You do have to prepare to be a little bit flexible and to adapt.”
This message was no truer than before last year’s Ironman World Championships in Hawaii, where Wellington had to draw upon all her powers of mental calm and self control to keep cool in the face of a suddenly changing pre-race situation due to her crash in training.
“Before, everything had to be lined up, my preparation had to be exact or my mind would spiral at the idea of a lack of control, but this taught me that I could have a good race even if the preparation isn’t as I would’ve liked or expected.
“At Kona, people wondered, ‘Why didn’t you panic?’ Well, at Alpe d’huez, I got a flat tyre and still came back and won. At Korea in my first Ironman I got a flat tyre and still came back and won. So, it’s not the end of the race. You have to learn from those experiences and carry them with you.”
Such experiences, even those that seemed negative at the time, can come with the benefit of hindsight to be seen as building blocks for future success.
“When I came fifth or six at Columbia Olympic distance, at the time I was just devastated, then I thought how that gave me a huge kick up the backside in terms of how to prepare for the race, the respect I showed to a race and how to deal with defeat. All those kinds of things, you carry those lessons with you.”
A Life Without Limits by Chrissie Wellington is out now published by Constable at £18.99
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