Two time Olympian and former World Champion Michelle Dillon won her age group at the Eton Dorney World Sprint Triathlon Qualifier, earning a spot at the World Champs on the Gold Coast in September in the process. Not bad for her first race in 11 years.
We wanted to get you some insight into what it's like returning to racing as an age grouper after so many years out of the game...
So Michelle, what did your training plan look like in the months leading up to the race? Were you focusing on any of the disciplines more than others?
I only decided to race this race in February of this year, I was out in Spain on our Team Dillon training camp and doing my usual long rides with our training group - which included Stuart (Hayes) and Emma (Pallant) - and I started to get fit doing the harder sessions.
I love pushing myself anyway, but this year I really needed a challenge, so I decided to choose a race to aim for and qualifying for the World Age Group Champs became my goal.
In the lead up, I focus very little on the swim. In fact, I only swam 2-3 times, ~6-9 km total per week. I regretted that when I was halfway around the swim course getting dropped off feet!
I did however work on my biking and that felt strong. I had a lot of injuries (as usual) in the lead up to the race as I have double fusion in my spine, but also had knee surgery last year. I was having some knee issues in the lead up to the race and I could only run 3 x 5km per week off the bike.
So, most of my training was on the bike to keep my fitness high, thankfully it was enough for me to qualify!
Although I hadn't raced a triathlon in 11 years, I just went in there - almost forgetting what it was like to go from swim to bike to run! It was a massive shock and I was completely rusty!
How’s your training changed from a traditional 'all-in' full-time athlete to someone running a business who trains on the side?
It's completely different, when I was a professional athlete I focused completely on my training and would go from one session to another with lots of recovery time in between.
Now I wake up early, do a session then go and work for a few hours, do another session and then go back to work, so less recovery time and no time to nap thats for sure!
But running your own business does also give you a bit more flexibility as well, which is nice...
You and your husband - fellow Olympian Stu Hayes - coach and manage Emma Pallant and she's a regular training partner of yours. How much of a difference has it made training with Em, who's in her prime and smashing it right now?
I'm not standing pool side anymore, I'm in the pool swimming with her. Today we actually did a session of 30 x 100m off 1.30 cycle for example. I lead out the first 5 and she sits on my feet, then I sit on her feet for the remainder of the session, its fantastic that we have each other to work off of.
Tomorrow I'll ride a nice steady long ride 3 hours with her and during the week we do more swim sessions together and a few hard bike sessions in the gym, sitting side by side so I can still motivate and coach her but also have someone to push me at the same time!
It's really pushing me on. Emma and Stu are the best training partners, Im very lucky to have them both!
Nice. Ok, so how big of an influence does Stu have on your training?
I set my own training sessions but Stu comes to pace us on the swim occasionally and joins me on bike rides too. Sometimes he rides besides me on the bike when I', running hard off.
I like doing my own training too, I'm very self disciplined and motivated if I have a goal.
What's it like knowing that you're not going to be able to perform at the same level you did when you last raced? Presumably the drive is the same and that must have taken some getting used to?
Well, when I retired 11 years ago, I was actually told I would never run again and swimming used to hurt my back, so I took up bike racing for a while - until there were just too many crashes in the races I entered - so I gave that away because I didn't want to get into a serious crash and hurt myself.
I know I'm not getting younger, so can totally except I'm not ever going to be at the same level as I was as a professional athlete, but I do feel fortunate that I can still compete and do what I'm doing.
My drive will always be there, I'm very determined and competitive and I don't think you ever lose that. I now just want to see how far I can get against my age group with my body the way it is. If it holds up, I'm in the gym 3-4 times per week trying to prevent further injuries!
Sounds like your outlook is spot on there Michelle. How did you deal with the different pressure of being on the start line having not raced for years, with plenty out there keen to scalp an Olympian?
Ha ha, I didn't think of it like that at all, in fact I'm more worried about the pressure I put on myself than any pressure coming from others.
I'm very hard on myself and wanted to be the best I could be on the day, so I prepared the best I could with what I had.
I also know how to manage my mindset when it comes to pressure as this is a huge part of the process of racing. I guess when you have done it so many times in the past you know how to deal with everything a race throws at you.
It certainly wasn't easy in the lead up, things were falling apart with injuries and I had to get my head in the right place to deal with the pain in my knee, but I did a lot of visualisation of the race and pretty much did what I thought I would do - except I lost my shoes in T2...
You can prepare yourself physically but preparing mentally is equally as important.
Did you find it odd not starting at the front of the race?
We were actually set off in waves and I was in the 2nd wave. What did confuse me was others being out there on the bike course, you just weren't sure who was in your AG, that was something I wasn't used to!
What was your nutrition/hydration strategy in the run up to and on race day?
It was actually a warm day, so staying hydrated was really important. Everything I used on race day I had tested in training previously during my hard brick sessions.
I woke up and immediately started drinking PH 500. I then had a shot of coffee and a sports bar for breakfast. Since it was a Sprint race and it started super early, I didn't want to eat too much, so kept it light and planned to mostly fuel myself during the race.
I had a gel just before the start, then in my race bottle I had PH 500 and a small bottle of water plus I carried another gel.
After the race I had more Precision Fuel & Hydration electrolytes as I felt I needed help rehydrating because the day was heating up. I felt like I got my hydration/nutrition right - everything felt spot on!
Sweet. As it was your first race in 11 years, how long did it take you to recover and did you feel worse than you remembered you used to?!
I actually recovered really well. I did have a few drinks to celebrate that night, so I think that's what made me feel a bit dodgy in the morning, not the sore muscles from the race, I could walk down the stairs fine so that was good news...
So, do you regret not getting back on the start line sooner?!
I didn't miss swimming for a long time, so had never felt the need to race a triathlon before now. But, now I'm back and getting into it and feeling stronger and stronger in every session, I'm actually loving it again, its good to be back and I can't wait for my next race.
Great to hear. Does that mean that, leading up to Worlds, you plan to go "all in" and train like you used to, or will it be the same approach as your qualifying race?
I will train hard for sure, I want to do well and I know the race will be very competitive.
As I'm no longer a pro athlete, I still have to work of course, so will do as much as I can with the time I have to get myself to that start line in the best shape possible.
I have to train sensibly because I'm so injury prone, so if I did go "all out" I would probably end up injured anyway.
I will "train smart" and hopefully that'll be the best approach. I also hope to do a few little races in the lead up as well, because I definitely need some open water swim practice :-)
Fellow Olympian Michellie Jones won your AG at the World Champs last year and you'll likely be racing her this year. How do you feel about that?
Yes, she's definitely a lady who I look up to, she has done everything in her career and ticked all the boxes, over all distances.
She will be very hard to beat if she is racing, we have had a few good battles in our time. The last race we did together was the Cancun World Champs Triathlon in 2002 where I placed 3rd and she was 4th, so it'll be great to race her again. I love racing the best athletes because it makes it an honest race. It's going to be fun...
It sure is! Last question; We saw Stu performing some pretty cool magic tricks at the finish line. Do you believe he can be the next David Copperfield?!
I love Stu's magic tricks! Since stepping away from triathlon he has been focusing on his magic and really enjoys it.
I'm not sure he's quite David Copperfiled but he's certainly getting better and people really love watching him perform tricks. He's definitely a natural performer without a doubt and it's good fun!