Support through Sport UK's Helen Barratt talks to World Sprint Triathlon Champion Stacey Penn ...
Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by Support Through Sport UK, Stacey. Last year you became World Champion in the World Sprint Triathlon 30 - 34 Age Group Championships. How did it feel when you won?
It was an incredible feeling! I went into the race not really knowing how I would fare. I had a good idea where I stood within the British team, due to the qualifying and national races held throughout the year, but once you get on the international stage, it’s very difficult to know the standards of the other girls competing. Due to the nature of the races at the Worlds, my age group race was actually combined with the age group below (Female 25 - 29) and so this made it very difficult during the race to know where you were coming within your age group. Also, the other age groups were only three minutes apart in their start times, so there were lots of mixed age groups all competing at the same time. I just tried to stay focused on having the best race that I could. I hoped I was within the medals, as I knew I had come out of the water (the first discipline) fairly high up, but it was only when running the last 100m down the finishing tunnel that I heard the commentator announce that I was the winner! I think the look of shock on my finisher’s video says it all!! It took a while for it to sink in, but when it did I was so pleased that all my hard work and training had paid off and I had finally won the gold! (I had competed at two previous World Champs but had only managed a bronze in both of those!).
What drives you to be the best?
I have always participated in competitive sport from a very young age and so I think it is almost part of ‘me’ now to continue to compete! I am driven by a number of factors, including wanting to make my friends and family proud of me, and wanting to fulfil an ambition borne out of countless hours of training! Triathlon races are good as you have so many elements that you can improve on and compare your next race against and so that drives you to always want to keep getting better. It also helps having competitive training partners as you are constantly driven to try and beat them! Last year, I was particularly inspired and driven by watching all of the incredible athletes during London 2012. Obviously, the triathlon final was great to watch (and I was actually in Hyde Park for it so had the opportunity to see the athletes up close!) but just seeing everyone push to their absolute limits and achieve such amazing feats was very inspiring.
For the benefit of those who don't know about triathlon, it's a combination of swimming, cycling and running, all in one race. Do you prefer any one of the three sports over the others?
I was originally a swimmer when I was very young and so I do enjoy this discipline, especially in the open water races (although I never like to think what I am sharing the water with!). A lot of athletes come into triathlon from a number of sports, without having a swimming background, and so this is definitely an advantage for me. As I am a relatively strong swimmer, it means I can try and stay out of trouble and not get too bunched up in the main pack. The cycling is only something that I took up when I started triathlon and so I still feel that I have some improvements to make here. I love the training element of the bike, especially in the summer months (although the tan lines are not great whenever we do see some sunshine!).
What do you love about triathlon?
There are so many things that I love about triathlon! I love the variety, as training over three disciplines means that you don’t have a chance to get bored with any one thing! I love being part of a club, both to train with and to socialise with. I love the inclusive nature of the sport - the races, particularly the age group ones, show such a wealth of talent across huge age ranges (the oldest competitor in the Worlds was 87 I believe!) and this is great to see and be involved in. And I love the friends that I have made within the sport (plus it was where I met my fiancé!). Following the Olympics last year, the sport has seen a real surge of interest, and our junior club in particular has gone from strength to strength, which is great to see. I love the fact that it doesn’t have to be an expensive sport (although the latest gadgets and gizmos are always fun!) ... you just need a pair of trainers, a bike, a swimming costume and some enthusiasm!
How did you get into it?
I stumbled upon the triathlon by accident! I had recently moved to the area through work and was looking for a local swimming or running club to keep my fitness levels up. I was passed the details of the club through a girl at work and I started to join the triathletes for their weekly swim sessions. After about a year of them badgering me, I finally succumbed and bought a second hand road bike, and before I knew it I had entered myself into my first sprint distance pool triathlon. I loved every second of it and I was hooked!
What makes a good triathlete?
The wonderful thing about triathlons is that there are so many different events and distances that can suit all different types of people. Along with the sprint and Olympic distance triathlons, there are Ironnman distances, multi-terrain triathlons, Deca-ironmans, Endura events, duathlons ... the list goes on! To be successful you will need to be motivated and prepared to put some time into training (including the fourth discipline of rest and recovery!). I don’t think there is any secret ingredient to being a triathlete - you just need to have a strange love of lycra and the ability to smile at 6am when you are jumping into a freezing cold lake!
Do you belong to a club? If so, what support do they give you?
I belong to Northants Tri Club and I love belonging to a club. There are so many clubs to join across the UK and it is beneficial in so many ways. It’s great to have other people to train with from a motivational point of view, and it’s great to speak to others to get advice on training, racing, kit etc. Our club has a real wide range of athletes (across a number of different distances) and it is brilliant to have other people to ask ‘silly’ questions to, or just to chat away to during the run or bike to pass the time! The club also has qualified coaches who can assist with training plans and techniques, which is really great. The club also organises lots of social events throughout the year and we have a great ‘supporters crew’ - it’s amazing how much faster you can run when you have a group waving pom poms at you!!
What do you think are the benefits of doing a sport like triathlon?
Obviously there are the physiological benefits, like improving your health and general fitness levels, and becoming less prone to injury through the multi-sport training as opposed to continually using the same muscle groups. There are also psychological benefits too. These can include increased confidence (when you are improving on your results through training), the ability to cope under pressure / stress situations and an improved social life with all the activities that you can become involved in. It is also an opportunity to inspire and motivate others around you, which is a wonderful feeling.
Would you recommend it to others? What advice would you give if you were trying to get someone to give it a go?
I could not recommend it highly enough! If anyone out there is thinking of giving it a go ... go for it! You won’t regret it! There are so many events now for beginners across the UK (including pool swim events if you don’t fancy braving the open water swims) - these are so inclusive and encouraging to new starters and so there is no need to feel intimidated in anyway, and there are plenty of races that are specific charity events and so you can raise money for a good cause at the same time! If you have a local club near you, then get in contact with them and they can help steer you in the right direction.
Thanks for talking to us, Stacey!