Welcome to our first transition talk of 2020, with none other than Hannah Peel, our two-time Sheffield representative at Kona. I sat down with Hannah to talk about the difference between a cappuccino and flat white, hoping the on-call phone will ring when doing turbo sets and stupid mistakes that we’ve made (limited to triathlons). Oh yes, and some things that might interest everyone else too:
STC: Hi Hannah, thank you for agreeing to this.
Hannah: Well, at least there’s no microphone!
STC: … or camera. We’re both safe.
So, many club members will know that you used to row at a very good level. How and why did you turn to doing triathlons?
Hannah: I rowed for Cambridge Lightweights but after university I had to choose between trying to see how far I could get, or my career as a vet. I chose the security and (mainly) job satisfaction of being a vet. My work hours meant that I couldn’t do much crew rowing so I mostly trained in a single scull. I didn’t have the time to train ‘properly’ for the 2k standard races, but fell in love with the challenge of longer distance races, such as the 100 mile race around lake Geneva, where finishing rather than winning was the satisfaction.
In 2013 I dropped my boat, and I don’t mean that I quit rowing; I quite literally dropped my boat and had to send it off for repair. I was already curious about triathlon as my old college rowing coach, who used to run along the river bank to coach us, had done an Ironman, but I’d just never found time to try. So while I was waiting for my boat to be mended, and to broaden my training, I started cycling. It took three months for my boat to be returned to me and I was hooked by the convenience of not needing to commute to the boathouse to train. Friends talked me out of doing an Ironman straight off but that year I did my first triathlon, a middle distance called The Beaver.
STC: And I’m guessing it wasn’t long before you were winning races?
Hannah: I actually did a sprint distance later that year, with my very novice equipment including my bike with the shifters on the down tube and my drink in a hydration pack on my back. One flat tyre (thankfully before the start) and a painful dismount later, I won it. My whole intention in doing triathlon was to do something I’d not be competitive in, where just taking part and completing it gave enough satisfaction, but I think I’ve failed there somehow.
STC: Fantastic! It just goes to show that you should keep on pushing in a race no matter what… especially in a sprint distance where you can’t really know how you stand against anyone else until afterwards.
And how long did it take to do the Ironman that you knew you would?
Hannah: That was the next year. For the last few years, I’ve actually done two each year, three or four months apart, but that hasn’t always been the plan at the outset! I think the quote ‘if you could choose between a relaxing holiday and an Ironman, which Ironman would you do?’, rings a little too true. Plus with online entry it is way too easy to have too much to drink and enter things. Last season, I only did Kona. Doing a full-distance triathlon is a bit of a one-shot thing. You’re not going to recover and do another race in a couple of weeks and it’s actually very hard to peak for two in a season.
STC: So I’m curious about Kona – What’s it actually like, both as a place and as an event?
Hannah: Well it’s a cruise ship port, and there’s very little there to do with the Ironman World Championships until about two weeks beforehand. Then, every day something new appears until the entire place is taken over with the Ironman event. Two days afterwards, it’s all gone again! That said, the ‘roadshow’ element of Kona is limited to the central area. It’s considered a tough race for the solitude of the bike and run legs as well as the heat.
STC: How did you find the heat? It really doesn’t appeal to me!
Hannah: It’s true that Kona is like its own thing when it comes to Ironman racing. The people who do well there aren’t always at the top of the world circuit. This year, I made a lot more effort to improve my ability to cope with heat stress. I did treadmill workouts in lots of layers, I spent regular time in a sauna (STC- It’s a hard job…), I went out to Kona two weeks early – and it certainly helped.
STC: But you weren’t well?
Hannah: No, I went down with a cold four days before the race. But you don’t go all that way to sit around with a box of tissues. Two days before the race I felt so bad I entered two races for next year! On the day I was hacking up grim stuff from my chest. I felt like I could still race ok but it left a big ‘what if?’ having put all my eggs in one basket for the year. That said a mechanical could have easily lost me more time so it’s all part of it.
STC: That must’ve been very disappointing. With two trips to Kona under your belt now, what advice would you give to someone who would like to go?
Hannah: Look for sponsorship or start saving now! I’ve been lucky that both times I have qualified in late season races for Kona the following year. This gave me time to book the holiday from work and spread out the cost of going. (STC – Hannah qualified for Kona 2019 at Barcelona 2018, going under 10 hours for the first time). Most importantly make sure you’re enjoying what you’re doing, because there’s no guarantee that you’re going to qualify. I’ve never set out to qualify, just done the races that appeal to me or that friends have been doing. I’d hate the pressure of ‘trying’ to qualify as there is so much that can go wrong. (STC – note that you can only qualify for Kona in an Ironman branded full distance.)
STC: What about coaching? Should you look for a coach if you’re serious about qualifying?
Hannah: I had a coach for the first time this year, for the three months leading up to Kona. It took a lot of the mental effort out of the training, because when I decided to have a coach I was also deciding to go all-in and do exactly what they said. It was quite intense, sticking to what I was told, and I don’t think I could do it all the time. I enjoy planning training and being flexible both for work and training with other people so it took a bit of the fun away. But I also think that maybe my coach didn’t know me and how I work well enough and so in that sense maybe it’s worth sticking with a coach for longer if you want to get the best out of it.
STC: And, finally, why do you belong to Sheffield Triathlon Club?
Hannah: Triathlon is an individual sport, and belonging to a club brings a social element to it. There’s the camaraderie at races and at training sessions, and the support of club members when it all goes wrong, like when I had a shoulder injury. And, of course, club social events where you get to see people not in lycra!
STC: Thank you Hannah, and we hope you have another great season ahead of you.