Newly crowned British Super Series champion Emma Pallant gives us the low-down on her first season as a pro.
Who is Emma Pallant?! You may well be thinking that right now. You aren’t the first – I’ve heard lots of people say it this season and the answers have varied: ‘the runner giving triathlon a go’, ‘Michelle Dillon’s girl’, ‘the one who stopped for the loo at Windsor.’
All true to some degree, but I thought I’d take the opportunity in my first blog for TriRadar to clear up once and for all who I really am and let you in on the secrets of when, why, how this ‘Team Dillon need-a-tenorlady runner’ took up the fantastic sport of triathlon.
As a kid I never sat still – I was outgoing and sport mad. Our child minder probably wished my mum had stopped at one, or at least skipped the middle one. My older sister is quiet, dead easy going, sensible and responsible. My brother shares a few of her qualities but is younger than me and so was more easily led. I used to drag him along to sports clubs, summer holiday camps, force him to play football in the garden until it was dark, and play epic tennis matches for hours until we finally reached a score line where I was ahead.
It’s probably no surprise that he now works as a professional ballet dancer, one of the few physical exertions I refused to go near and where there is no winner or looser!
My mum always remembers the child minder telling her that I would cause her twice as much sorrow and twice as much joy than the other two put together – maybe that’s why we’re so close. My mum – well known in the running world as ‘Muv’ – is my biggest supporter. She used to spend hours in the car ferrying me from sport to sport while holding down a career in medicine – never once moaning and always putting up with my foul moods when I lost. Simply put, Muv is a legend.
She also influenced my choice of career. I have a bit of an obsessive tendency – I do things to the extreme, I love routine and I love to plan. Even at the age of eight, I was convinced I knew the path my life would take – I was going to be a Spurs midfielder.
Then disaster struck. I was told I was no longer allowed to play in Farnham Town Boys club, and I had to join a girls club instead. I was absolutely devastated and angry that in one fell swoop they were shattering my childhood dreams. Apparently, the ‘man of the match trophy’ I’d won was not an acceptable proof of gender identity. So football was dropped and my running became the most important sport to me.
I decided I wanted to follow in Muv’s footsteps and become a doctor. But again my well-thought out plans hit a fairly big stumbling block – I faint at the sight of blood. So what profession was fairly blood-free, but doctor-like and sport related?
By the age of 12, I decided I would be a physio – third time lucky! By now I was also getting good results in running so decided to focus entirely on this and quit all other sports.
Soon my first international vest came and my life – and poor Muvs life – revolved around running. I met so many great people – it was my social life down at the Aldershot track as well as my passion. At the World Juniors I won bronze in the 1500m and my best friend and training partner won gold. From that she was selected for the Beijing Olympics, and at the time that was one of the best nights of my life.
But there were also some pretty dark times in running for me. My excessive nature meant I kept on getting quite a few overuse injuries. For about two years, I ran through patella tendinopathy before I finally decided to seek treatment in my 3rd year at uni. Ironic really, considering I was studying physiotherapy and should have known better.
Luckily, I was on UKA funding and so went under one of the world’s leading knee surgeon’s knife. Dame Kelly Holmes was mentoring me and helped me a lot psychologically at this point.
To be honest though, the fact that I couldn’t run probably got me my Physiotherapy qualification as any spare energy I had, when I wasn’t belting out hours on the hand bike or going one-legged on the rowing machine, I poured into my dissertation. Everything happens for a reason!
I then set up my own physio and massage business in a local gym and managed to get back running – but my knee just wasn’t the same.
I still managed to clock some ok track times, and come first at the European Cross Country Championships in 2011, but my knee constantly hurt and so my training was so inconsistent and sporadic.
As a physio, I told people not to run on pain. I felt like a hypocrite as I was doing the exact opposite. I told myself I was different, and pain would make me tougher. In fact it just made me more miserable.
The Olympic 5km trials last year were a turning point for me. There I was running in an amazing stadium, with an awesome crowd, against classy athletes and all I could think about was my knee. I pulled out of the race in tears, frustrated, unhappy, and totally lost. I didn’t want to speak to anyone. Thankfully Kelly came and found me.
Talking to Kelly on that miserable day really helped and she was so supportive. She offered me a place in the Virgin Active London Triathlon for her charity team and I jumped at the opportunity. I needed a new goal, a fresh goal that would let my knee settle down. I finally had the balls to tell my coach that I was quitting running and going to give triathlon a go. He wasn’t happy. I wanted to stay with him because he had been like a Dad to me for so many years, but it was him or triathlon. I chose triathlon.
I think most people thought this was just another ‘Emma phase’. I’d had these before, like when I’d decided that it was my head holding me back in running because I lost focus in long races so decided that I was better suited to the steeplechase. I convinced everyone that the barriers would make me focus on the way round and I could make a world-class steeplechaser. The fact that this was actually putting even more pressure on my bad knee didn’t put me off, but when I face-planted the water jump and smashed up my good knee, that put a rapid end to my short-lived steeplechase career!
Anyway triathlon was different, I was serious about this one and started hunting for a coach who was just as serious, just as passionate. Michelle Dillon’s name kept popping up. I got in contact with her and for some crazy reason – known only to her – she agreed to take me on. That was the day my life changed. I now had a structure, a plan, a team and in a matter of weeks she coached me to 6th place in the London triathlon elite race. My swim wasn’t the greatest, I managed to stay on my bike, and then smashed the run – recording the fastest split of the day by two minutes.
A couple of weeks ago I returned to this race a totally different person and athlete. I now feel settled, happy and feel like I was born to do triathlon because nothing beats being able to push your body to the limit every day, in one form or another in training.
In the race this year I lined up on the start line as double British National Champ and raced my way onto the podium in third place. I also won the British Super Series overall.
So much has happened in this past year to get me onto that podium. Michelle and her husband Stu Hayes (also my training partner) have worked tirelessly with me especially when we all went out to Australia during the winter. There has been a lot of sweat, blood and tears shed and it’s fair to say that I’m not the easiest student – but no matter what they always picked me up and made it fun in the end.
I think that’s the most important thing – you have to enjoy your training. Now Michelle has got me injury free, I enjoy every single pain-filled training session.
I’ve still got a long way to go and I’m far from world class just yet, but I’m enjoying the journey. My next big race will be Stockholm. I really didn’t expect a World Series start in my first season, but I’m so happy and excited to be there and learn from the big girls of the triathlon scene.
So, right now, if someone asked who I am I’d probably say I’m a triathlete who loves to run, a proud product of Team Dillon
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