Chrissie Wellington is a bit of a hero. I just finished reading her book, Chrissie Wellington: A Life WIthout Limits and I thought it was fantastic – would really recommend reading it. However, it is a biography, not a training manual, so don’t open it up thinking you’re going to get Chrissie’s training plans and race strategies. She’s not a coach, she’s an athlete, and so part of what she does is just follow the plans her coach sets for her. If you want a training plan, go for a different book! But if you want to know more about the life and personality of this incredible athlete, it’s a great book. I thought I’d review it in a slightly different format than normal – so here are my ten reasons to love Chrissie Wellington
1) She has won the Ironman world champions in Kona four times – 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011 – she has won every single ironman she has ever competed in – thirteen in total. She broke Paula Newby-Fraser’s record at Kona – a record which had stood for 14 years prior to Chrissie’s race. She also holds the overall world record at the ironman distance (set at Challenge Roth) and the official Ironman-branded world record. Miranda Carfrae took the Kona course record in 2013. She came out of nowhere in her first Ironman world championship – winning on her debut was a feat that was previously seen as unachievable, leaving commentators empty for words as they just did not know who she was. Then in her final world championship in 2011, she won after a major bike crash just a few weeks before. The book really shows the toll that put on her – swimming 1km just a few days before Kona had her pulled out of the water in agony and spending six hours in hospital. The accident meant she came out of the water down on her usual times and had to fight her way back through the pack – an incredibly gutsy and hard-fought win, resulting in setting a new course record for the run (to be taken again just a few minutes later by Miranda Carfrae).
2) She is quite clearly an incredible female triathlete – however, she is an incredible triathlete in her own right, with marathon times that are often just a few minutes behind the lead man, coming second over all in the Alpe D’Huez long course triathlon. She often finished in the top ten overall – an impressive feat for any triathlete but she has slowly been chipping away the gap between the male and female times.
3) She is just pretty incredible in terms of her ability. She had no background in sport or athletics as a child or junior, a bit of swimming but she wasn’t always winning and it was a bit of fun rather than anything serious. She ran her first marathon at the age of 25, with no structured training plan and ran it in 3 hours 8!!!!! This just makes you realise how incredible she is. When you think about other professional athletes, you can think “oh they’re that fast because they have very good coaches and they train all the time and they eat all the right food” etc etc. Even when you think about faster age-groupers, you can think “oh they’re much better than me because they train more and do the right kind of training” (or whatever it is). But Chrissie just went out there in old beaten-up trainers, knowing nothing about “structured” marathon training and ran a 3hr 8 marathon.
4) One of her mottos is to always smile – she says this relaxes her body which is obviously useful in a race, plays mind games with her competitors, and just makes her feel better – but it means that she always looks like she is having fun, and that triathlon is the best thing in the world. Which it is!
5) She is searingly honest about her battles with anorexia and bulimia in her late teens and early twenties, the disordered thinking that led to them and the importance of triathlon in her recovery. She now loves her body for what it can do, and nourishes it so that it can do those things – no longer is she worried about being “thin”. Having said that, she is also very honest about her super-organised, super-obsessive mentality and it is easy to see how that can translate from counting calories to endurance training.
6) She is also searingly, disgustingly honest about bodily functions during an ironman, discussing openly having diarrhea running down her leg or in the water pre-start. She advises peeing on the bike, not only to save time but also to prevent others drafting – apparently if any of the other girls get too close she lets off a “few warning shots” of wee!!! Urine as a weapon…. I like it.
7) She is proud to support, inspire and be encouraged by all the other competitors including age-groupers. She stays at the finish line at ironman events until the last person has crossed the line, supporting and cheering on the other athletes as they come to their finish. A chapter of her book is dedicated to athletes she finds inspiring, from disabled ironman athletes to Madonna Buder, the 84yr old ironman nun, to each and every age-grouper putting in the training hours on top of a 40-hr-a-week job.
8) But she is not just a triathlete, and her book is not just about triathlon. Chrissie is incredibly passionate about development and specifically the importance of sport in bringing together impoverished communities. She worked for DEFRA for several years until she became fed up of the hypocrisy of staying in a five star hotel, travelling first class, drinking champagne, all the while talking about ways of improving the lives of people in poverty throughout the world. She believes it’s really important to use the opportunity that has been given to her to be a role model, to raise the profile of the issues that matter to her and to increase participation in sport throughout the world – she is a proud ambassador for park run, the wonderful initiative that sees volunteers hosting free timed 5k runs every Saturday morning in parks around the world.
9) Chrissie is also a passionate supporter of women’s equality in sport, submitting a petition in 2013 together with professional cyclists such as Emma Pooley and Marianne Vos for there to be a women’s tour de france – “We thought women couldnt run marathons until the late 1960s! Hindsight has taught us how foolish that was. Hopefully 30 years from now, we will see 2014 as the year that opened people’s eyes to true equality in the sport of cycling, and also generate equality all the way down to the grassroots level.”
This resulted in La Course on the Champs d’Elysee this year.
10) This article could be ten reasons in itself – Be The Change:
“So, ask yourself these simple questions. What am I passionate about? What causes are of interest or concern to me personally and why? The environment, climate change, senior citizens or children, certain diseases or illnesses, sex trafficking, domestic abuse, natural disasters, animal rights, social inequality, obesity, pollution, sustainable energy, organic farming….the list is endless.”
Go on to ask yourself what your skills and experiences are that may be of value to others.
“You don’t have to make huge changes or sacrifices. The smallest stone creates a ripple that will spread across a pond. Think in terms of what you CAN do, rather than what you cant.”