Michelle Dillon on going from retirement to AG World Champion in less than a year

By Dave Colley | 5 Minute Read

After 11 years in retirement from racing, 2x Olympian and former World Champion Michelle Dillon qualified for the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final Age Group Sprint Distance Champs on the Gold Coast in Australia. 

Her goal was to win her 45-49 Age Group. Not only did she do that, she also clocked the fastest female time outright on the day. Not a bad comeback!

We caught up with Michelle after the race to get some insight into her race, training, taper and more...


First off, congrats, not only on your Age Group win, but also on having the fastest time on the day! We're sure winning your AG was a goal, but what about having the fastest time, was that on your mind at all?

Thanks so much! Yes, winning was definitely on the radar for me when I started my journey back in February this year.

But to have clocked the fastest time out of all age groups was a real surprise to me. It shows me just how hard I worked for this and that I still have the drive and mindset to push myself to fast times.

How did you plan your final training, travel and taper leading into the race, with it being such a long journey from the UK to Australia?

One of my strengths is my ability to taper, I have experimented a lot over the years with my own training and know how fresh you need to be to get the most out of yourself, especially over a sprint.

First of all you train hard, very hard, I do a lot of over distance work. Then you can have the confidence to pull back your training knowing the work has been done.

I usually taper 2 weeks out from a big race, so we planned the travel around that, I got over the jet lag and then I did my last prep when arriving in Oz. I was really happy with how I felt on race day, all the hard work paid off :-)


Michelle Dillon Olympian


How did you balance running your coaching business with training to win a World Title?

That's a good question. It's not always easy, work has to take priority, however I'm at the stage with our business now where I have a bit more flexibility to train around the work.

I would usually do all my training first thing in the morning, up to lunch time then spend the afternoon on work. I am also fortunate to coach Emma Pallant who I would normally be coaching, but this time I trained alongside her, which pushed me to my limits!


Michelle Dillon with Stu and Emma


Back in Feb you mentioned that your swim had taken a back seat and you were only swimming 6-9k per week.

The fact that you lead out of the water suggests that you may have shifted some focus to your swim as the event got closer?

Yes, it was only back in May at my first race back at Dorney Lake for the World Qualifier where I was halfway around the swim getting dropped and swimming on my own! I said to myself "OMG, I didn’t swim enough, more swimming is needed, 6-9km per week isn't going to cut it".

I remember going down to the swimming pool for my first swim back in Feb after years out of the pool and trying to do a swim session, I couldn’t swim 2 lengths of a 25m pool without stopping.

Things progressed, but only after that kick up the bum at Dorney. I changed my training and focused loads on the swim, so much so that I was swimming close to PB’s one month out from the Worlds, I knew then that I was ready to swim well.

My aim was to get to the first buoy in 1st place, but I didn’t expect to hold my lead and have a small gap on the rest of the field, that's never happened before...


Michelle Dillon coaching

What else in your training changed as you got closer to the Worlds?

I have learnt so much from being a coach over the years, technique is so important and I focus a lot on this across all disciplines.

I also realised how important strength and conditioning was, in fact I wouldn’t have been on the start line if I didn’t do my S & C 4 days per week. I'm a walking injury-risk, I was forced to retire due to a double fusion in my spine, last year I had knee surgery and also broke 6 ribs!

S & C training has allowed me to gain strength in the right places and keep me on the road. I still get pain in my back and knee, but its been more manageable now.

I also train smarter now, I focused a lot on the swim and bike with less focus on the running, I did just enough to get my run speed up for 5km hard off the bike. It wasn’t the smoothest road and it was testing at times but thankfully I got to that start line in the best shape I could.

You had the fastest swim and run, and your bike was right there at the top too. Your transitions were fast as well. Talk us through your race?

To be honest, the swim was the thing I was most nervous about. When I came out of the swim first I was happy and knew I could position myself well, I had good company with Sam Warriner from NZ - I've raced Sam many times over the years and she is super strong.

She bridged up to me on the bike and from there we started pushing the pace and working well together. We opened up a good gap on the rest of the field and came into T2 together.

I wasn’t sure what form Sam had on the run, but just got off and started running and immediately felt a gap, so I kept pushing and was really pleased to run away to the win.

Everything pretty much went how I would have expected and it felt easier than some of the training sessions I have been doing, thats a sign that my taper was spot on, I always say "train hard/race easy!".


Michelle Dillon with medal

Is there anything you'd do differently if preparing for the Worlds again?

Probably not, now that I know my training was spot on and all my sessions worked for me I will continue to train this way. I can always feel if something needs working on in my training.

Since I've already qualified for the Worlds in Lausanne next year, I may as well take a break now and then start my winter training for that early next year!

It'll be a well-earned rest! Would you consider "stepping up" and going after World Champ titles at longer distances in future??

Even if I wanted to step up in distance, I don't think my body would allow me to!

It's the run that's the problem for me, I still have a fair amount of speed, so for now will stick to the Sprint distance and enjoy that.

But, never say never, I will go back and work hard in the gym and see if things improve with my knee and back, so you never know...


You can follow Michelle on Twitter and Instagram and find out more about her excellent coaching business at teamdilloncoaching.com

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