Last month we had a long-distance post-Kona chat with Chrissie Wellington. As you’ll see from the current issue, 267, understandably, she had a lot to say. But she said so much that we couldn’t physically get it all in. So here are the answers to a few readers' questions that we posed to the Queen of Kona…
You’ve mentioned your favourite poem in the past, If. Did you recite sections of this throughout the race?
‘If’ was written on all my water bottles and also I drew heavily on ‘keep your head, keep your head, keep your head.’ And also the line about people doubting you, me doubting myself actually. So yeah, definitely.
In the past you’ve also mentioned reccing a course beforehand and listening to a ‘banging track’ at certain points that you can draw on during the race. Did you this time? If so, what was the track and where on the course?
Yes, I did. It’s a playlist that I have called Kona, but I use it before all my races. It’s got about 25 tracks on it and the artists are a wide range, from U2 to Placebo, Foo Fighters. But the three that I really want to hear are Hey Jude, the Beatles, just cause Jude was a very special person in my life, and We Are The Champions and The Circle of Life from The Lion King soundtrack. But those are the three that I want to hear, which says nothing for my music taste but it seems to work.
I was staying on Al’ii Drive and that’s where I was doing my 30-minute run the day before, and that’s really where I listen and identify the landmarks.
You’re 34 now but, injuries aside, the evidence suggests you’re getting quicker. Against this backdrop, how fast do you think you could race a) Roth and b) Kona?
Fast. I think I’ve got as near to my maximum at Roth, close to what I think I’m capable of at Roth. I could have biked a few minutes faster this year, so maybe it could go by another minute or so but you never know how that’s going to affect the run.
Kona, I think, this year a 55 [min] swim would have been reasonable. It was a bit slower this year so maybe 56. I mean I don’t need to absolutely annihilate the bike so I think a 4:48 [hr] bike, and then I think a 2:48 marathon is possible. So you top those up with the transitions and see what you get.
For me, I just want to say, the time is irrelevant. The time wasn’t indicative of my fitness or my level of performance but it’s the most perfect race I’ve ever done and that’s the most important message I want to get across.
With this fourth title, are Paula Newby’s eight Kona titles now a great motivator?
No. If people see the articles I’ve written on motivation they won’t see x number of victories.
British triathletes would love to see you race in the flesh. Is this something that could happen soon?
I think a lot has to do with timing. And the fact that I’m based over in the States, but then that’s not an excuse because I come over and race Roth. I think the likelihood is that people will see me at a race next year and it will not necessarily be a high-profile race. It might not be Ironman UK or Challenge Henley. It might be that I go down and do a relay at Eton Super Sprints. It might be something like that because that’s where I started and that would be fitting. So yes, my presence will be felt at a race next year.
Although The Sun picked up on your Kona win, is there a frustration that your achievements haven’t received the attention you would have hoped for from the mainstream media in the UK?
No because I think it’s a slow incremental process getting increased publicity. It’s not going to happen overnight. And I think the coverage is growing, you know the BBC, The Telegraph, getting the Sunday Times award, getting the coverage in The Sun, there was something in The Metro… You know all of those things, they’re always going to be steps in the right direction and we need to keep plugging away. And this is my role, this is my job. It’s not to get my own face on the front, it’s not for narcissistic reasons, it’s to promote the sport and that’s what I want to do.
What people don’t realise also is that I’m doing quite a lot of corporate public speaking, so that gets triathlon into a non-triathlon audience. We’re never going to be football or rugby because the money isn’t there. To be totally frank, if someone was to put up a million dollar prize purse for a race that’s when the media would care.
[220: It's worth noting that since Chrissie's fourth win in Kona, and since these questions were posed to her, she has appeared on BBC Radio 4 and Radio 5 Live, BBC Breakfast and CBeebies 'Live and Deadly' TV programmes, and has also featured in the Evening Standard and on the front cover of The Independant's 'i' daily newspaper.]
How did it feel to be the four-times world champion, and still be the second fastest that day in your house [boyfriend Tom Lowe clocked an 8:29:02]? And would you still do an Ironman as an age-grouper knowing all the extra challenges and sacrifices?
[laughs] You know I was desperate for Tom to beat me. I did not want to see Tom other than crossing him. I didn’t want to come up behind him, same at Arizona in our first race. So I’m more than happy that I’m the second fastest person in our household and I definitely have some washing up to do. There were no pre-race bets but I think I still have the marathon record cause Roth was 2:44 and then the Kona one… but I knew that on any given day Tom was more than capable of beating me and I’m glad he did.
[second question] Are they trying to retire me? Yes, I would. You need to be careful regarding the rules really because I don’t know how and when I’d qualify as an age-grouper or whether people would be willing to race against me. But definitely.
After missing last year's world champs and your recent crash, does this year’s win mean more than your previous Kona wins?
Yes, but they’re all incredibly special for different reasons. But this one hopefully is reflective of the athlete that I truly am.
I’d like to know what goals you have? How does Queen Chrissie motivate herself? The fear of losing possibly?
There are many different carrots and sticks. The first one’s being the best I can be, trying to fulfill my potential but potential is elusive. So we’re always unsatisfied. You know I can achieve one time and then you want more. So you never know if you’ve reached your potential, I think that’s kind of a nebulous concept. But it is to get the most out of myself, each and every day. Not only each and every race, but each and every day that I train.
I’m motivated by my love for the sport, my passion for the sport, I’m motivated by the desire to make my parents proud, the desire to eat lots of carbohydrate-rich food…! I’m motivated most of all by the desire to have a platform and that grew ever stronger last year when I didn’t regain my crown, and didn’t have that title. And I felt in some way that I wasn’t the figurehead, or the representative, or the ambassador for the sport.
So just knowing, without wanting to sound too trite, that with the world championship crown comes a huge opportunity [and] that’s a huge motivational force. Just knowing I can roll across the line in memory of Jon Blaise and that can be captured across the world, that kind of thing is a huge motivational force. I think knowing that somehow my achievements can affect change beyond sport is what drives me.
220: And a fear of losing?
Of course. The desire for success and the fear of failure are two sides of the same coin. And I think many athletes are motivated by that. And I’ve read many sporting autobiographies, and that’s a huge driving force of course.
Where will you be in 5 years’ time?
Lying on a beach drinking a Mai Tai. No, I won’t be racing at the highest level. I doubt. And I would like to think I would have started my own foundation, working with kids and sport. That I would be doing a lot of motivational speaking.
I would like to do some kind of bonkers adventure endurance challenges. On a personal note I would like to think that Tom and I would actually have more than our bike boxes to live in and would have created a family home, with or without kids at that point. But that definitely we would be a little bit more settled, and that I would definitely be spending a little bit more time in my home country, in the UK. I would like to get into television work, whether it’s sports presenting, whether it’s children’s TV, something like that. Especially related to sport.
What do you feel you got right in the race and what do you admit you got wrong (if anything)?
I did the best that I possible could on that day. I wasn’t in the right position for the swim start, that I will freely admit. So I didn’t get into the pack that I wanted. But maybe it was a blessing in disguise. There were not many other things that I necessarily got wrong. My nutrition I think was spot on.
How long after the race until you felt human again?
Cecily Amechi Lewis
It took a plate of chips and chicken nuggets. Probably three hours. After drugs testing.
How do you deal with the pressure you put on yourself and how do you avoid personal disappointments?
You can never avoid personal disappointments, they’re what enable you to grow and develop. My life is replete with disappointments but the key is to use them to make you a better person.
No one puts more pressure on me than myself. I always have, to make the most out of myself. So this pressure is not new, the difference is that it’s in the public eye obviously. But I just try and have self-belief and to have confidence in the work that I’ve done and to trust in myself and to have perspective. Win or lose my world should not fall apart because of what happens in a race. I have to see myself as much more than an athlete – as a sister, as a daughter, as a girlfriend, as a friend. You need to almost disassociate yourself from the result. Your identity can not be bound up. So that’s really really important.
So yes we’re all disappointed if races don’t go to plan – I’ve had my fair share of times when races, when training sessions have not gone according to plan – you need to learn from them, you need to back them up and you need to move on.
Do you have a favourite quote? And if you could describe yourself in five adjectives what would they be?
My own personal mantra is ‘never, never give up’. But I’ve got a few favourite quotes, one from Frank Orwell, my first running coach – “there’s no such thing as can’t, only I will try.” I really like the overused Lance Armstrong quote – “pain is temporary. Quitting lasts forever.” And that was really in the fore of my mind [in Kona this year]. “Believe in yourself and all that you are, know that there is something inside you that is greater than any obstacle.” I like that one, that was on the front of a card that I carry around with me. And there was an Eleanor Roosevelt quote…
[second question] Passionate, erm, friendly, smiley, stubborn. [Tom Lowe shouts 'untidy' from the background] Don’t put that cause I’m very tidy! Brett always used to say that the state of your wardrobe, like the state of your bike, is like a window into your soul. So if that’s the case then mine is just chaotic! Er… outgoing and active, that’s really boring. One more. Loyal, yeah that’s a good one.