Three years after tentatively setting out to see if she had the talent to become a professional triathlete Chrissie Wellington dominates the sport after a series of astonishing Ironman performances.

Next month the 33-year-old Briton aims for her fourth successive world title at the iconic Hawaii Ironman competition and will arrive on the back of a staggering world record.

At the Roth Challenge in Germany in July she completed the 2.4-mile (3.8-km) swim, 112-mile (180-km) bike ride and marathon run in eight hours 19.13 minutes to beat her own 2009 world record on the same course by almost 13 minutes.

Her current mark is more than half-an-hour faster than the 1994 world record of Zimbabwe’s Paula Newby-Fraser that stood for 14 years, and was 31 minutes ahead of the second-placed finisher, Australia’s Rebekah Keat. Only six of the elite men’s field finished ahead of her.

Wellington’s achievements have earned her an honorary doctorate and led her to being named a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE). Fans say she should be a favourite to win Britain’s sports personality of the year award.

“Often I look at what’s happened over the last few years and can’t believe it’s me. It’s surreal really,” Wellington told Reuters in a telephone interview from Boulder, Colorado, as she fine-tuned her preparations for the Hawaii event on October 9.

“It’s still really strange to think I’ve gone from being an absolute nobody civil servant to being three-times world champion. If you’d told me a few years ago I’d be getting an MBE or an honorary doctorate (from the University of Birmingham where she took a first in geography) I’d have thought you were absolutely mad.

“I didn’t go into triathlon thinking I would be a world champion, it was just a personal challenge. Likewise when I won the world age-group championship what if I hadn’t taken that leap of faith and gone professional? I never would have known. The key message is that you have to take that chance in life.”

HARD WORK

Once she took her chance, Wellington’s rise was meteoric. Having won the world title within eight months of turning professional she went on to destroy the accepted benchmark of performance and has won all nine Ironman races she has entered.

“I didn’t have any preconceptions about what women should do, I just did as much as I could and worked as hard as I could in training and racing and in doing so raised the bar,” she said.

“Now women are training to those faster times and consistently breaking nine hours when before it was an anomaly.

“Some technical and nutritional improvements have enabled faster times but the key to success is still hard work,” said Wellington, now coached by six-times world champion Dave Scott.

“You need base talent of course but physical strength and mental strength count. At 30km into the marathon your speedy, lightweight shoes aren’t going to help when your mind and body are screaming for you to slow down.”

On her website (www.chrissiewellington.org) Wellington describes her Roth record as “the elusive perfect day” but it was by no means plain sailing.

“I had some setbacks and niggles in preparation but it’s how you deal with that which determines your day,” she said.

“I had physical and emotional ups and downs during the race — I had hip pain for a while in the run and it was very windy on the bike which was tough mentally — but really it all came together exactly as I would have wanted it to.”

BROAD VIEW

There was no going back to the hotel for champagne and a warm bath, as, like many Ironman professionals, Wellington spent the following eight hours cheering home the age-group competitors and handing medals to athletes who had taken twice the time to cover the distance.

“I love going down there and meeting people, it’s a special part of the race,” she said.

“I do appreciate how much it means to them to receive their medals from the professionals and it’s a small token on my part.”

It is a refreshing attitude from a world-class sportswoman but Wellington, who is equally dedicated to the cause of third world development, has always taken the broad view.

“It all boils down to what motivates an athlete and if that’s money or times then you are going to end up unfulfilled in this sport,” she said.

“First and foremost it’s about being the best I can be and getting the most out of my body and my mind.

“Then every win is part of creating a broader platform for me to do the things I want: to inspire girls and women, set up my own foundation and help charities.

“I hope it’s not just that I win but that I do it honestly and fairly and with a smile.

“I don’t always feel like smiling when I’m racing because it bloody hurts but hopefully my love for the sport shines through and that’s what people will remember.”