Your home country is hosting the Olympics. Do you ever consider racing the Olympic-distance in triathlon?
I’ve raced the Olympic distance, but I enjoy the Ironman a lot more. My talents and characteristics are better suited to it. I don’t like, for example, the drafting you can do on the bike in Olympic-distance races. I like everything I have to achieve to be down to me and me alone. I love the duration of Ironman, the highs and lows, the rollercoaster ride. I love the masochism.
What aspect of training for that distance is the most difficult for you?
Resting. As an obsessive-compulsive person, it’s the rest that underpins the training that’s the key to success. Not only resting my body but learning to rest my mind.
Last year, two weeks before the Ironman World Championships, you tore your pectoral and intercostal muscles, yet still raced and won. How did you prepare yourself?
I readjusted my goals. That was the hardest thing to do. Ordinarily I go into a race feeling like I’m ready to fight for the win, but I didn’t feel that way. And that was a very strange position to be in. My goal for that race was to do the very, very best that I could on the day with what I had. It was the most gratifying race of all because I just gave every ounce of myself to my performance and I crossed the finish line mentally, emotionally, and physically spent.
What do you tell yourself during a race to get through those moments when you hit the wall?
Over the last few years, I’ve trained my mind as much as I’ve trained my body. Prior to a race I visualize myself as strong, successful, confident, and powerful. I’ve also visualized myself encountering and overcoming problems—practical things, like changing a flat. I have a personal mantra that I repeat over and over and over again. I write it on my wristband, I write it on my water bottle, I write it everywhere. And that gives me a mental boost.
Can you share what it is?
It’s “Never ever give up” and a smile. I also carry with me a dog-eared copy of Rudyard Kipling’s “If.” For me, it encapsulates everything that it takes to be a good person and reminds me of all the qualities I need to be able to succeed.
I think it’s also important to learn to hurt a little bit in training. And that doesn’t necessarily mean annihilating yourself every session, but it’s this continual, sophisticated process of refinement whereby you test your limits. Then when you race you’ve given yourself the confidence that you can always overcome pain and discomfort because you’ve already done it in training. Music is a really important motivational tool and I have songs that I play in my head. (Related: Best Songs to Fire Up Your Workout) I break the race down into manageable segments, which makes a huge goal feel slightly less intimidating. So for me, the marathon isn’t 42.2 kilometers, it’s 4 times 10-K. And I guess the last one is to race for a cause that’s bigger than you. I’m a really active and passionate patron of various charities and I draw heavily on thoughts of those who have overcome adversity and those who I represent to give me that physical and mental boost. I dedicate the last few miles to those people and those causes that I care about.
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In the wake of the Lance Armstrong investigation and Alberto Contador’s conviction, is doping an issue with triathlon?
There have been positive drugs tests in triathlon but I think it’s the exception rather than the rule. I really do. And I know that those who don’t dope can beat those that do because I can. I was the first athlete to ever publish my full drug test history on my website. For me that transparency is really, really important. People can see how many times I was blood tested, how many times I was urine tested each year. I’ve always been incredibly vocal for the need for consistent and rigorous testing and it’s something I will continue to do.