UK triathlete Phil Wolfe is a rising ITU star from South Staffordshire who is currently mixing it up with some of the best in the business, having raced numerous World Series and World Cup races in 2013.
We caught up with Phil to find out the trials and tribulations of a fledging elite triathlete, his career highlights and what’s in store for the future…
220: What’s in your schedule for the rest of the season?
I’ve got a couple of European Cup Races I’ll be doing in August, and then the Aquathlon World Championships in London. I’ll be training in the UK until the race season begins again next spring, so no exotic winter locations planned unfortunately!
When did you decide to take the plunge and become a full-time triathlete?
I decided to take it up full-time nearly four years ago, that summer I’d just come third overall in the British Super Series and I wanted to see how far I could get. It’s taken me to some interesting places all over the world and I still think I can improve.
Have you always wanted to be a professional athlete or is it something that fell into place as success started to come your way?
I swam competitively from a young age and I got into running through my dad who ran marathons in the past, so triathlon seemed like an obvious choice.
It wasn’t something I thought about back in my swimming days as a junior, but in my teens people around me mentioned I could have potential as a triathlete. I entered a small aquathlon and won it quite comfortably – I haven’t looked back since!
Any career highlight so far, and what are your targets for the future?
I’d say my first year in the British Super Series was a breakthrough for me, particularly coming 2nd at the Bryn Bach Park race. In 2010 I won the World U23 Aquathlon Championships in Budapest which was a real highlight, and I’ve had some great experiences picking up wins in East Asian races over the last couple of years.
For the future I’d like to put some more consistent results together on the main ITU circuit and keep gaining more ranking points. I’d love to be considered for the Commonwealth Games next year, but there are a lot of fast guys out there and some great young talent coming through, so I’ll have to put some results together and we’ll see!
It has become apparent that athletes trying to establish themselves on the ITU circuit often struggle financially. How do you make it work without the more lucrative sponsorships and backing that the athletes in the top 10 enjoy?
I’m lucky to have sponsors that help me with kit and equipment, but it is difficult to earn a living from triathlon unless you’re at the very top. I still work part-time as a lifeguard when I’m back home in South Staffordshire just to keep some money coming in, which isn’t always ideal.
Sometimes it’s a case of doing extra races to get ranking points and pick up prize money when you know it would be more beneficial to get a solid training block in.
My family and fiancée are very supportive which is also important. My parents have been coming to my races since the start and without their help I would find it a lot harder to carry on competing.
What would your advice be to others who are trying to establish themselves in triathlon, but might not feel it’s possible due to financial constraints?
Just keep working at it, supportive family and friends definitely help so make sure they are all aware of what you want to achieve so you get all the support you can get.
It is going to be tough financially sometimes, but if you train hard enough and get to a level where you’re racing the best in the world, it’s a great experience and it makes the sacrifices worth it.
How long do you see yourself staying in the sport and competing at ITU level? Do you plan to experiment with other distances in the future?
At the moment I see myself giving it another couple of years on the ITU circuit, but you never know what’s going to happen. I still think I can improve, and I want to realise my potential at the top level.
As for longer distances I may try a 70.3 at some point in the future and take it from there, but it really would be stepping into the unknown, I don’t know if I’m built for it!
Financially it is difficult in triathlon if you aren’t right at the top of the sport, so whether I carry on for a lot longer will depend on finances to some extent, but that’s how it is for a lot of us currently.
Image credit: Fanny Schertzer