Non Stanford & Aaron Royle on their life together in triathlon
She’s the two-time world champion, Olympian, Commonwealth medallist and European champ. He’s a world champ, Commonwealth medallist, two-time Olympian and 70.3 winner. Together, they’re the fastest tri couple in the world. Yes, it’s Welsh wonder woman Non Stanford and fiancé Aussie star Aaron Royle…
“Can we make it 7.05? Sorry! Dinner took longer to defrost than planned!” says the email from Non Stanford just before we plan to video call. It’s good to know that top triathlete couples have the same dinner woes as the rest of us.
Dinner defrosted and demolished, here they are, Non Stanford and fiancé Aaron Royle at their home in Leeds.
Non, fresh from her phenomenal final major Games (and a week before she’d win the European Champs title in Munich) and about to embark on her farewell Super League tour before retirement (which was yet to be officially announced at time of interview).
And Royle, who’s starting to make some serious waves in the long-distance world, a couple of weeks away from racing his first Collins Cup., where he would beat two-time Kona champ Patrick Lange in his race match-up.
But like their racing style there’s no hanging about, we’ve got a lot to cover…
220: Non, have you come down off your Commonwealth high yet?
Non Stanford: No! It still hasn’t really sunk in, just because we weren’t expecting to get silver at all. We knew we were an outside chance, but I think we really surprised everybody, including ourselves.
I’m just really proud of the rest of the team because they really stepped up at their first time racing at that level. I felt like their mum!
220: Are you able to sum up what that entire weekend meant to you in your career?
NS: It was a really special experience, at almost a home Games! The support was absolutely incredible on both days. Even people with English flags were cheering for us.
I’d like to have done a little bit better in the individual race [6th], but when I look back at the fact that I was on crutches 10 weeks ago, I can’t really complain. But it’s probably the most I’ve ever enjoyed a race. And it was my last major Games so I wanted to make a point of enjoying it.
I’m going to do the Super League season, so hopefully I’ve got a few more good results in me.
220: That’s some turn-around.
NS: Yeah, I tore my calf muscle two days before Yokohama. I went out for a run with Georgia [Taylor-Brown] and pulled up. Luckily she had her Apple watch on so we could get a taxi back to the hotel. I flew back on my own, so that was difficult. Negotiating the airport with all your luggage on crutches! Yeah that was an interesting experience!
But I had to have three weeks off running, and then it was quite a slow, gradual build back. And I definitely pushed the envelope far more than the medical team advised, but we were on a tight deadline for the Commonwealths!
I’d have loved to have had another couple of weeks of running. But I think I still had two of the fastest run splits in both races. I was just probably lacking a little bit of sharpness. It just shows that I’ve probably got enough experience now to just crack on.
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220: The Aussies did well at these Games. Do you think we’re starting to see a bit of resurgence, Aaron?
Aaron Royle: It’s really hard to say. While the Commonwealths were a positive experience, the Olympics weren’t.
Last year in Tokyo, after the Mixed Relays [Aaron didn’t race but they finished 9th], when we [the full Australian team] got back into the village, there’s a common area where Australian athletes from all sports get together and cheer in any athletes who walk through.
But we just couldn’t face going there because we felt embarrassed. But I really hoped the Commonwealth team could walk back through their Australian house and actually be proud of that performance.
220: Tokyo was a very different experience for you as well, Non, being in the BBC studio in Salford.
NS: By the time the race came around, I’d come to terms with the selection decision and the fact I wasn’t there. Working for the BBC was actually a different dream realised. It was amazing to be part of the team that delivered it and just to see how it all works.
And the team delivered the medals, and did what they needed to, so I was just delighted for them. Of course I’d have loved to have been there racing, but it’s such a hard team to make. When you look at Abu Dhabi [Grand Final] last year, we had seven women in the top 12!
So yeah, it opened up a different world to me and something that I really enjoy doing. One door closes another opens.
220: So you’re not tempted to follow Aaron into middle-distance racing?
NS: Absolutely not! It’s not for me. I’ve never really been that taken with long course. I’m looking forward to being on the other side of the fence and a slightly more normal way of life.
AR: I’ve been trying to convince her to at least give it a shot because I think she’d be well suited to it. Then the week after we did the Couples race I raced Clash Miami, so she stayed around for that. But it’s literally just around a race circuit, so I don’t think that really helped.
NS: It was the worst. It was the dullest event I’ve ever been to. It was hot as well, and everyone looked like they were suffering and nobody looked like they were having fun. So yep, that was the final nail in any long-course coffin.
But Aaron really enjoys it and he’s doing really well, so he’ll have to be the athlete in the family.
220: You mentioned the Couples Championship, which you both won, and collected a not-too-shabby $100,000. So is that the bar tab sorted for the wedding?
AR: Yeah a few people have asked that! Some of it will definitely be going towards the wedding, but it actually falls on the same day as the Worlds Grand Final in Abu Dhabi.
We organised our wedding first but World Triathlon had to come and spoil that! But the girls can actually make the wedding but the guys can’t. So when we won the cheque, they suggested we hire a private jet for them to get back in time!
220: Brilliant! What are the honeymoon plans?
NS: We’re off to Peru. We’re going to hike the Machu Pichu trail and then head up to Whistler and go skiing.
220: Nice! Before then, you still have a few races to tick off. What’s it like training and living together?
NS: Yeah we’re with each other every day, 24 hours a day. We see each other at the best and worst of times!
AR: It sometimes makes for boring dinner conversations, though, doesn’t it?
NS: Yeah! But this year has been a bit of a flip cause Aaron’s been away a lot. It’ll be the same this autumn because I’ll be racing Super League and Aaron’s going over to America to prep for the World [70.3] Champs. So I’ll see him at the altar.
220: You’re living in Leeds but train with Joel Filliol’s crew, Aaron. How does that set-up work for you?
AS: Now I’m doing a bit more of the middle stuff, I’m not with the group as much. But Joel’s good, he gives a bit of flexibility. Here in Leeds there’s obviously a good group here to train with.
So typically, when I’m here, I’ll give him an outline of what the week looks like and then he’ll come back with any suggestions.
220: Who’s the most competitive?
AR: Not that you’re competitive but you’re probably faster than me at the easy stuff.
NS: He jogs too slow, it annoys me.
AR: We’re both pretty competitive.
NS: Aaron likes things to be at the pace that he wants to do that day. I’ve got to adapt to that or else he gets annoyed with me [she says laughing].
220: How has Non/Aaron changed you as an athlete, do you think?
NS: Well I never used a Garmin until I met Aaron. He converted me to k’s. I’d always worked in miles as a runner.
But he’s been very good at making me a bit more relaxed with my training. I’d never miss anything, everything was pretty full gas.
AR: I think we both agree that we’re quite independent people. So it’s not like we rely heavily on each other for training. But I think she’s really taught me how, like, she’s really tough.
Maybe her and [Australian pro] Emma Jackson are the two people I’ve met who can properly hurt themselves in training. You have to check if they’re actually doing okay. So just seeing that, you think maybe you can push a little bit more.
NS: I think we both agree that we couldn’t coach each other, though. We’re both too stubborn for that.
AR: I think I could have coached you quite well, to be honest. You just wouldn’t listen. You’d want to do the opposite just ’cause I said it.
NS: I think we’d have too many arguments.
Top image credit: Theo Bettin