Before she defends her Ironman world championship title in Hawaii on Saturday, two-time winner. Chrissie Wellington explains to Sport how she’s preparing for the 140-mile battle.

Sport UK Magazine: Triathlon Ironlady

“Two years ago I was a naïve rookie who didn’t know anything. That naïvety was a blessing,” admits two-time world Ironman champion and Ironman distance world-record holder Chrissie Wellington, who is aiming to win her third title in Hawaii tomorrow. When she won the first in 2007, Wellington had been a professional triathlete for less than a year and tackled just one Ironman distance race before arriving on the Big Island. On the start line, among a field packed with experienced pros, she was anonymous. Nine hours, eight minutes and 45 seconds later, the then 30-year-old from Bury St Edmunds crossed the finish line first. It was more than a shock to the Ironman community; it was an open palmed slap in the face for the super-fit athletes who try for years to triumph in the world’s toughest one-day endurance event without tasting victory. Wellington did it again 12 months later. So, ahead of her attempt to make it three wins out of three, Sport asked Britain’s first Ironman world champion to reveal what it takes to swim 2.4 miles, cycle 112 miles and then run a marathon – a mere 26.2 miles – faster than any other woman. And most of the men, too.

The philosophy

“I am confident and feel strong. I trust in my mind and in my body, and in the preparation I have done. I know the course, I know what it takes to win – and most importantly I know how it feels to win, and I crave that feeling each and every day. To know that I am the best in the world has brought me so much joy but it can be daunting, too. I try to keep everything in perspective and make sure I don’t get caught up in the hype that surrounds the race. I have the target on my back, but instead of letting it crush me I thrive on it, and will enjoy every moment of defending the crown. The Big Island is hot, humid, and tough… it hurts, but I’m excited about the challenge, and the opportunity to really push my body to its limit once again.”

The necessities

“Physically you need big calves and skin that is thick enough to withstand lots of chaffing to be an Ironman athlete, but mental preparation is one of the main keys to success. All the physical strength in the world won’t help you if your mind is not prepared. This is part of training. The part that people don’t put in their log books. The part that all the monitors, gizmos and gadgets in the world can’t help you out with. You need determination, drive, perseverance, focus and most importantly a passion for the sport. Masochistic tendencies and a desire to suffer help. If they put their mind and heart into it, anyone can do an Ironman. I have seen double-legged amputees, blind people, those suffering from cancer, 80-year-olds, and more, all cross the finish line.”

The preparation

“The day before an Ironman I do a 30-minute swim, a 45-minute bike ride and a 30-minute run, which all contain some short sharp efforts to prepare my body for the next day. I also take time to relax and focus my mind, eat a lot of low-fibre food, watch television, read trashy magazines and get someone to give me a foot rub, which is very pleasant for me, and less pleasurable for them given the state of my plates of meat. The night before the race is the only time I watch re-runs of Kona 2007 and 2008, just to get my blood pumping. It’s only natural to feel nerves before a race. But confidence in your preparation is key and the butterflies soon disappear when the gun goes off and you are focused on thrashing your way through thousands of others in the washing machine-style swim start.”

The best bit: The food

“I love to eat. I have two breakfasts. The first breakfast is a frozen banana with tahini or nut butter, with honey or creamed maple spread, plus a coffee to get things moving, shall we say. The second breakfast is my own muesli with plain yoghurt and honey on top. Lunch is sandwiches or a jacket potato, with chicken, fish, beans or eggs and a big salad. At dinner I have carbs, meat and veggies. The carbs are wholegrain, and the meat is lean steak, chicken, oily fish or liver and kidneys. After a race I’ll eat fatty and salty food – a kebab, pizza, chips. And a glass of vino or two.”

sarah shephard

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