We talk to the first woman to step up from U23 level triathlon as World Champion and move on to win the senior title too. Non Stanford has enjoyed prolific success since moving from specialist running distances and she was mentored by double Olympic gold medallist Kelly Homes as part of the On Camp with Kelly project. She also has a liking (allegedly) for ferrets!
How good do you think you could have been as an athlete and specifically as a 1500m runner?
That’s very difficult to answer. I obviously showed a lot of talent as a young athlete and therefore may have had the potential to go on and be competitive internationally.RELATED: RECOMMENDED PLANS FOR YOU
However, that’s a big may! A lot of athletes run fast when they are young and don’t necessarily make the transition to the senior ranks. When I was younger I was quite small and powerful – perfect for middle distance running. But like everyone I had to grow and as a result I’ve developed into a different type of athlete.
I’m definitely more of an endurance athlete now, I’d really struggle to run as fast as I did when I was 15 over the shorter distances.
What and who inspired you to take up triathlon. It seems at face value a tougher proposition than running?
I was frustrated with my running, as I’d been injured for a number of years. I was cross training to maintain fitness and triathlon seemed like a fun and attractive alternative to lonely rehab hours. I think it’s difficult to compare sports. Everyone thinks their sport is harder than the next.
Track running is very demanding on your body and injuries are rife. Triathlon is obviously more demanding on your time. At the end of the day you’re training for three disciplines. But that doesn’t mean what we do is more difficult than what a middle distance runner has to do – it’s just different.
Did you think that you would have a talent for triathlon? Were you worried about the cycling or swimming aspects in particular?
I was a swimmer before I was a runner. It was only when my running really took off did I stop swimming and that was mainly from a time management point of view. I’d had three years out of the pool when I first started so it’s been a long slog but I guess I had a platform to work from.
I was initially worried about cycling, I couldn’t believe people cycled for more than two hours, I thought they were crazy! But I actually took to it quite quickly and I love it now!
How did the change of sport affect your participation in ‘On Camp with Kelly’?
The Aviva ‘On Camp with Kelly’ was fantastic, I was selected to join in 2004, just when the programme started. I was one of the lucky eight who got to go away with Kelly for a month’s training to South Africa. As a young, impressionable 15 year old, it was truly life changing.
And that support and opportunity has never wavered. Even when I decided to change to triathlon, Kelly insisted I remained part of the ‘On Camp with Kelly’ family. To have been voted their 2012 Athlete of the Year meant the world to me and is testimony to their acceptance of my decision.
What was your first competitive triathlon and what do remember of it?
My first race was the British Elite Championships in Strathclyde in 2009. I remember it being very hard! I was so proud of myself for even finishing, and definitely thought to myself on the 10km run that I would never entertain such a stupid idea ever again. Years later I’m still at it so I’m obviously a bit fickle!
It seems that running is your strongest event, but how was it affected by having to do the other two sports?
There’s some evidence that triathlon training can actually improve running performance do you think that this is the case?
Triathlon is very good for all round aerobic conditioning and can give you a fantastic base of fitness to work from. Look at the number of sports people who use triathlon to keep themselves fit for their own sport (for example, F1’s Jenson Button). Initially my running suffered, but that’s because I was tired from picking up two more disciplines.
I knew I could run so it was low priority for a while. Now that I can handle the volume of training I’ve been able to bring the quality back into my running. I’m definitely not as speedy as I used to be but that’s because I’m training for 10km now not 1500m. I’m obviously a different athlete.
I think endurance runners could use triathlon training to supplement their own training quite effectively as it has the potential to reduce stress related injuries by reducing run mileage. Middle distance athletes would have to be far more careful as to how they used triathlon to aid their training.
What have you taken from your track background that has benefitted your triathlon training?
A number of elements of elite sport are transferable. I learnt a lot as a young international track and cross country athlete that I have been able to draw upon as a triathlete. I might not be the most experienced triathlete, but I’m quite an experienced athlete in the general sense of the word and that has stood me in very good stead on a number of occasions.
How has your degree in sports and exercise sciences helped your triathlon preparation and performance?
My degree gave me a very good understanding of a number of principles surrounding performance sport. From the psychology of training and racing, to nutrition and physiology, my degree has put me in a better position to understand, input and effectively manage my own training and performance.
Who coaches you?
There’s an effective team here in Leeds which is headed by Malcolm Brown and Jack Maitland.
What back-up services are available to you and are you regularly tested physiologically. How important is this in your preparation?
As a Podium athlete I have access to all the services I could ask for and am very well supported by British Triathlon, The Welsh Institute of Sport and UK Sport. However, I don’t feel the need to over complicate matters.
I don’t need a treadmill test to tell me how fast I can run – I go to the track once a week and run as fast as I can. Sport Science has its place and I appreciate how it can benefit performance, but regular physiological testing isn’t part of my preparation.
Tomorrow we continue our illuminating conversation with World Champion Triathlete Non Stanford.