Rebecca Romero MBE talks exclusively to TriRadar.com about her Ironman debut later this year.
Rebecca Romero MBE is an Olympic silver medallist in rowing and double-world champion and Olympic champion in cycling. Now she’s turning her attention to Ironman.
“I’ve been around quite a lot of triathletes and Ironman competitors over the last few years but I never thought it would be something I would even contemplate doing,” she says.
“I think because I’ve stepped down from the British Cycling team and I wasn’t going to get to the games, I sort of see myself as an athlete until next year. I was just really disappointed because I’d put in a lot of hard work training and I had to finish cycling at a time when I was actually really enjoying training and still felt that I had something more in myself. I felt like I just had to end with something that would be a big target to aim towards.”
Romero is keen to stress that she’s competing for the challenge, rather than a desire to join the ranks of iron-distance pro triathletes.
“With the Ironman, it’s not an elite target or a medal which if you don’t reach, you’re a failure. It’s more of a personal challenge; it becomes something to work towards. Completing it is the ultimate goal.
“I’d love to be carrying on as a full-time athlete, and dedicating lots of time to it, but now I’m not paid or funded to be a full-time athlete, so it really is just a part-time project.
“A lot of people have been saying that this is the next sport I’m going into and expecting me to be amazing, because I’ll be able to train 30 hours a week. In fact there are some weeks where I hardly do anything because I’m busy with other stuff.
“The only opportunity I’ll get to do it is around now, before I get wrapped up and miss the chance.
“I was really keen about doing the Ironman because I just love taking on new sports and finding out what they’re all about – and hating the fact that I’m useless at them. Going through that whole process of being new to this but breaking it down and getting excited about going in the pool again or going for a run to see what improvements you can make. It’s that new challenge and new experience and seeing what I can do that excited me about it.
“The Ironman is just one of those iconic endurance events. It amazes me, the people who go and do it and their inspirations and stories. You have a whole range of abilities all mixed into one – that will be great. I can’t wait to go out on the day with the other hundreds or even thousands of people who are there and you’re all experiencing that together.”
As Ironman experiences go, the UK race in Bolton certainly isn’t the most glamorous on the planet, but Romero sees it as the perfect location.
“You hear comments about Bolton not being very picturesque, but I’ve spent so much time travelling abroad for racing and these days I think if I’m going to spend money and travel abroad, it’s going to be for a holiday!
“Also, during the race, I’m not going to be that aware of things going on around me, I’m not going to be wishing I was in some luxurious country. I’ll just get my head down and do it.
“From my experiences, competing in my home country feels much better and why not support a British event? I see myself as a bit of an ambassador for encouraging people to take up sport and get involved in endurance challenges.”
Although she’s competing for the challenge of it, that doesn’t mean Romero’s going to take it easy on herself.
“All I’ve ever done is compete at what I do and push myself harder and harder. I guess the cycling events I’ve done have always been against the clock; you’re just trying to get your best performance out. But I think this is going to be really extreme.
“It’ll be tough in my first one, thinking how hard to push, that pacing element; not wanting to blow up and making sure I get to the finish.
“I’ll go as hard as I can because it’s in my nature to, but obviously there are limits to how well you can do with seven months of training and taking up two new sports I’ve never done before.
“It’s going to be tough just from the fact that I’ve got no swimming or running background whatsoever. I’m aware it’s a big challenge to take on from that respect. Initially I’m just looking to get to the start line injury free and then compete it.”
Without those critical swimming and running skills to fall back on, Romero has had to literally jump in at the deep end with the rest of her training.
“I did used to swim when I was a really small kid so I think it’s in there somewhere, but let’s just say my breaststroke is about twice as fast as my freestyle!
“My boyfriend has been my coach for the last few weeks. It’s tempting to plough up and down to get faster, but I know that it’s going to come from technique work and drills first of all, and that’s what I’ve been focussing on.
“Through my experiences in sport I know that the key thing first of all to create that foundation and then it’s just setting those little targets for improvement and not expecting that you can do it overnight.
“But it’s the most frustrating thing; I have a strop in the swimming pool every day: ‘Oh, I’m so rubbish!’ but the speed with which I’m improving is quite promising so I think I’ll get there in the end, but that open water experience will be totally different.”
Taking up running was equally difficult for Romero, who had to respect the limits her cyclist’s physique was placing on her.
“I’ve got the fitness to train and push on but my body’s not adapted or built up for running. Whenever I’ve tried to run in the past, I’ve literally not been able to do it. I’ve either gone too hard or gone too long too soon, so I really did start with controlled, short runs. It’s about having the nerve to hold back, go gently and progress slowly that I think will set me up well over the next few months.
“It’s slowly coming but it seems like a massive mountain to climb. When I started off just running for 15 to 20 minutes, I’d have to stop after ten minutes because my knees were hurting.
“It’s about being clever with your training and planning it carefully, listening to your body and not being tempted to push too hard too soon or you’ll take a step backwards. All of the experiences I’ve had before with training and knowing my body are really useful.
“I think instead of one sport where everyday, twice a day, you’re getting on your bike again and again and again, in triathlon it’s broken up and that makes it so much easier.
“It’s easier to train for and because there’s that mix of three sports, if you’re not good at one it doesn’t matter because you can make up for it in another. It’s not that cut-and-dry line where you’re either good at it or you’re not. People are really encouraging about the sport and getting into it. It’s not closed at all, it’s open to beginners and very welcoming.
“I think in each sport, there’s a very different breed of people and a different environment and I think triathlon is so friendly. I’ve had such a great response from people. I guess that’s why I’ve moved into triathlon; through gravitating towards the people I’ve been training with and those I know who are triathletes.”
While the days count down to the July 22 race date, Romero is readying herself for her first triathlon task, Ironman 70.3 Mallorca, using the event as a marker to work towards and get some triathlon experience before the full Ironman.
While it’s going to be an adventurous year for her, Romero is undecided about future challenges in triathlon.
“I don’t envisage it carrying on beyond that point just because there are other things in my life like a career and potentially looking to start a family, but you just don’t know. Hearing how everyone gets the Ironman bug and triathlon bug…I can see it being the sport I carry on with afterwards.
“I kind of feel like I’m coming full circle, just doing sport for the fun of it and taking on challenges for the enjoyment of it.”
You can keep up to date with all of Rebecca Romero’s adventures via her website: http://www.rebeccaromero.co.uk/
Triradar.com is the online home of Triathlon Plus. Save time and money by having every issue delivered to your door or digital device by subscribing to the print edition or buying digitally through Zinio or Apple Newsstand.