From short-course wins to Olympic qualification heartbreak and instant Ironman success, Aussie racer Liz Blatchford has experienced a long and colourful triathlon career.
We caught up with the Cheshire-born 34-year-old at a BMC Etixx pro team camp to discuss racing ITU for GB, her Ironman world championship podiums and what essential advice she has for age-groupers making the jump to long-course racing…
220: UK readership will know you from your ITU days racing for Great Britain. How do you look back on those days?
Blatchford: I see my ITU years as my formative years. I attribute my quick long-course success to what I did in my 11 years of ITU racing; that’s a lot of training in the bag. I did a lot of high volume training when I was coached by Brett Sutton, so that made the transition easier when I turned to long-course. I enjoyed my time in ITU. I tried and failed to qualify for the Olympics three times – yep three times! – but I’ve no regrets. I still do believe tri is an individual sport and shouldn’t be for domestiques, though.
Was Ironman always a long-term goal and why did your body adapt so quickly to the rigours of long-course training and racing?
Ironman wasn’t really a goal in all honesty. In 2011, I thought I’d race the London Olympics and possibly retire. But when I didn’t qualify, I didn’t feel like I wanted to finish on that note. So I went and did some 70.3s that year, and won them. So I really watched Kona with interest in 2012, and that inspired me and put that ‘What if?’ in my head. I didn’t think my body would be that suited to Ironman training because of the injuries I’ve had, but it was probably the speed that caused my short-course injuries.
What have been the major changes when moving to long-course racing?
Learning to ride a time-trial bike and spending five hours in the TT position! That’s so different to riding a road bike! So a lot of it was contorting my body to get into that initially uncomfortable position. I’ve dropped a lot of intensity out of my training, but I wouldn’t say I’ve doing anymore hours than I did in ITU training. Instead of three hard run sessions with ITU, it’s one or two per week.
Did you expect your third place at Hawaii on debut in 2013?
I didn’t expect that. I’d won Ironman Cairns but that wasn’t enough to qualify for Hawaii, but I struggled at Mont Tremblant a little later but that provided a strength boost. I hoped for top 10 in Hawaii but I had something approaching a perfect race, apart from a four minute littering penalty! I was a bit delirious at the time, I threw a bottle in the wrong zone and I realised as soon as it left my hand. In retrospect I should’ve stopped, but I wasn’t thinking straight.
After another third in 2015, how are you preparing for 2016?
I’m definitely always paying attention to my competitors, but you should always focus on your self. I’m carrying a few injuries that I had at Hawaii in 2015 so the goal is to get rid of them first. I know what to do to get myself in the best shape for Kona. I can address my weaknesses but so much depends on how the day goes.
From what we’ve seen over the last few days, it seems a really good set-up at BMC Etixx in terms of support and stability. How much has that benefited you?
We’re using the best stuff in terms of equipment and staff. [Being on a salary] means you’re not having to race every month to make a living, so that’s priceless. Ben and Bob are really supportive and don’t apply pressure. And I really enjoy spending time with my teammates, it makes the 40 hours of travel from Melbourne to Lanzarote worth it! In terms of having Etixx on board, it’s brilliant. We’re drug tested as pro athletes and everything with Etixx is batch-tested so you can trust it; not all nutrition is equal but we know their’s is clean. And they really take on board athlete feedback.
You’ve experienced a lot in your career. Do you think the sport is in good shape?
I think the teams like ours, Bahrain 13 and others make it the best state it’s been in for a long time. The whole Ironman side, there’s definitely a lot that needs to be worked on there. We had a few meetings with Andrew Messick in Boulder last summer, and they want to hear our ideas but we need a united voice. So I hope the Pro Tri Union makes some positive changes.
You studied marine biology. Is that something you’ll return to after tri?
It’s still an interest but I can’t see it being a career. I’m actually looking into a teaching diploma to teach science and physical education at secondary school. My mum was a teacher and it’s not a bad way to spend your days! They’ve just added triathlon to some curriculums in Australia, so it’d be good to impart some of my knowledge onto teenage kids. Less focusing on myself, and more giving time to others!
And what key pieces of advice can you give to our readers making the move from Olympic to long-distance triathlon?
1. Spend a lot of time on your time-trial bike! And on the aerobars as you want to be comfortable.
2. If it’s your first Ironman, try and enjoy it. You only have your first time once! So try and enjoy and embrace the experience, as it’s pretty special.
3. Going into your first half or Ironman, train with your nutrition in your key sessions. Make sure you use your gels, bars or isotonic drinks to get your stomach and digestive tract used to taking those on board. You need to know how much sports nutrition you need and how much you can tolerate. That’s a big part of your training as well.
Image: BrakeThrough Media