Michelle Dillon claimed her third ITU World Sprint Triathlon Championships title by winning the 50-54 age group in 2023.
It wasn't all plain sailing for the 2x Olympian and her partner (and 2012 Olympian) Stuart Hayes, who finished 4th in the 40-44 race, though.
We caught up with them to find out how they both fuel sprint-distance races, and to get an insight into the challenges that they faced in the build-up to their A race of the year in Germany...
Hey both! I saw you post on Insta that you nearly didn't make it to the start line in Hamburg. What made you decide to start?
Michelle: It was really difficult to make a decision whether to start the race or not because both myself and Stuart had been injured and hadn't run in over two months. We weren't sure if we wanted to go all the way to Hamburg to have to walk on the run. We were in great swim and bike shape as our training had gone well and we were really consistent in those areas.
However, I had a frustrating injury where I couldn't sit on the saddle for long periods of time or stride my leg out due to a trapped nerve. To cut a long story short, I also had an enlarged ovarian cyst which came on coincidentally in the scan; we feel this was contributing to the nerve compression, so it was all a bit complicated.
I'd seen a few physios and doctors and I was so close to not racing, but it was the fact my dad had major heart surgery in Australia that inspired me to race for him. I'm glad I did!
Stu: Yeah, it was tough, but I was reasonably pleased with my performance considering I only just recovered from tearing both calves. I've now qualified for the World Champs next year in Malaga, so I'll definitely be training a lot harder.
Michelle, how did this world title compare to your previous two?
This world title means the most to me, because of the fact it was so tough to make it to the start line and how frustrating it was for me in the lead up.
I think when you have such difficulties in your preparation and you come out and win a big race, it shows mental strength plays a huge part in success and results. Hard work always pays off.
The main reason I still love to compete is because it gives me so much pleasure. I enjoy training and racing so much still, it keeps me healthy and I still have that racing fire in the belly, which drives me out of bed to train. I'll use that while I still have it!
You've both been around the sport for a long time. What's the #1 reason for your longevity in triathlon, Stu?
I love staying fit and healthy, and I get really excited when I race. The training also keeps me mentally healthy, so I can't see myself ever stopping. I also like to test everything I give my athletes in terms of the training, nutrition and equipment, so staying in the sport really helps my coaching as I get to test before I subscribe.
Michelle, you also mentioned about your experiences of the menopause in your post-race Insta story. How's that affected you?
I started having menopause symptoms about two years ago now. I was missing periods and feeling different within myself, which is when I got talking to the doctor about it!
I've always eaten really healthy, but I might eat even healthier now than before which I feel helps the menopause. I have to be smart with my training these days because I'm so injury prone with my double spinal fusion anyway, but as we get older, we have to realise we can't do the same running training as we did when we were 20.
One of the things I continue to tell myself is "hold back on the run", especially when I'm injury-free because I tend to get carried away with doing too much. I'm certainly much more sensible now.
As a woman in menopause (and someone with a high sweat rate anyway), it's so important to stay hydrated because it just adds to helping you feel good and brings your electrolyte balance back to where it should be.
Michelle certainly nailed her hydration and fueling strategy on race day...
As did Stu en route to his 4th place finish...
What did your post-race celebrations involve?
Michelle: We probably celebrated a bit too hard, but when you become World Champion you have to! You never know when the next world title is going to be, not with my body. We had steak and chips and way too much red wine, but it was so much fun.
And what are your overriding feelings after completing your goal race for the year?
Michelle: I feel very satisfied now that I've achieved my goal this year, because this will be the only race I do, so to be able to execute such a great performance on race day means a lot.
I'm busy for the rest of the season with my coaching clients, camps and I also have a management role in Super League Triathlon as well, so plenty for me to focus on. When I'm so busy, I don't have a chance to think too much so I'll stay fit and tick over lightly with training, and then pick things up early next year when I start to plan for 2024 race season.
Stu: I'm definitely pleased that I was able to race reasonably well at the World Champs. Michelle and I like to pick the races that we can race together. Going to take a racing break now and let my calf heal, and I will make a racing plan for the 2024 season at the end of the year.