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Talking Tri with Spencer Smith

We've had former double world Triathlon champion Spencer Smith with us for the last week. He now coaches this generation's top triathletes, such as our very own Eimear Mullan & Ritchie Nicholls. After enjoying the Yorkshire Grand Départ at the weekend, Steve sat down with him yesterday to ask him a few questions.

So what have you been up to since you retired from racing?

I don't really have a date when I said "This is it, I'm done". I think I finished racing around 2006 or 2007 and since then I've tried to get into the coaching side of things as I was a professional for 21 years and that was my next progression. If I can't do it myself I'll teach others so now I've been coaching and that's pretty much what I've been up to the last few years. Always with Planet X trying to mentor others.

Do do you still compete at all for fun or as a hobby?

You know what, I don't, but there is an itch. As a former professional who raced for a long time, you can't help being interested when you see other people race, even if you've not done it for a while yourself. For the first few years, I really didn't have any desire to come back, race and have a go but in the back of my head I've this crazy idea, perhaps wanting to go the fastest anyone has ever gone for a 42 year old, which is how old I'll be next year. That's something that interests me. Whether I can do it or not. Talk is cheap and money buys houses as my dad used to say. It's a lot of work, lot of preparation and I haven't been racing for 5 or 6 years. I've been training of course, it's a lifestyle that I love but I just think it's something in the back of my mind. I'd like to have a really good crack at a fast Ironman race - a fast course that is - and see how close I can get to 8 hours. I've never gone under 8 hours. Obviously going under 8 hours is a big ask at 42. You're only as old as you feel and if I feel good, the body's good and more importantly the mind's good, I'd like to see what I could do. For now it's just talk but if the Planet X owner Dave has his way, it will be coming to fruition!

Never say never and I love the sport. Some people get out and they've had enough. I never had that - I always had great passion for it and hopefully that comes across with the people I coach. It's something I feel that is very dear to me and it's something I'd perhaps like to do next year or the year after. It depends on how quickly my conditioning improves but it's a long term goal. If don't feel I can do it and can't give it my best I won't do it. That's why I stopped mentally eight years ago - I felt that I wasn't giving it my best and I wasn't bringing the results that my body should. I think it was more a mental thing than it was a physical thing. Mentally now I'm fairly fresh having this time off so we'll see.

How does coaching compare to competing?

You know that's a good question. Obviously the big difference is that I can't control what other people do. I can give them all the information and tell them we're going to train this way or we're going to run the race this way. I'm going to try and mould you or sculpt you into a certain athlete the best I can but in the end I can't do anything, it's out of my control and that's the difference. When I used to race obviously it was all under my control. Everything I did and every move I made was up to me and was my decision. Sometimes it can be a little frustrating because you've told your athletes certain things and then suddenly something happens that maybe they weren't prepared for. It does happen - you can't prepare for everything - and it's frustrating because you think "I wish I'd told you that" and "this is what we should have done". But it's something I really have quite a passion for and I really enjoy watching people race because when they're racing, a part of me is racing - indirectly of course - and that's what I do love about it. You know when they're on the start line I'm mentally right there on the start line too and that's important.

You mentioned about using a fast course, would that be somewhere in this country?

No, definitely not in this country. I would think most likely a German course. There are some very fast German courses. Maybe Roth. I know the Challenge Roth course is a very fast course. Austria is a very fast course but I'd like to do a race I've not done before and Roth is something that interests me because it really is fast. Fast times are more interesting to me than doing harder courses. I've always liked to go fast, I'm coming from an Olympic distance background and a short distance background, which is very explosive and very fast. That to me has a little bit more excitement over purely just slogging it out on a really tough course.

Where was your favourite place you competed?

I do love racing in England. It's dear to my heart and one of my favourite races was Windsor. It's very historic and you're going through Windsor park and finishing right by the castle.

I won the world championships in Manchester and there's nothing quite like racing at home. I live in America now but England is always going to be very dear to me because I am English. I could live in any other country for the rest of my life but I'm always going to be English and to me that's very important. When I raced here I just felt a little bit more of a lift which just gives you that extra bit more. I did my first triathlons here, I won the world championships here and I do love coming back here to see races or where I used to compete.

I can imagine the British guys at the Tour last weekend got quite a boost?

Absolutely, I had the good fortune of winning the World championships in Manchester and you can't explain the feeling of running down the chute and you see your mum, your nan or your father all there on the finish line. It's something that's just so special and something I'll never forget. It was truly really amazing moment.

Would you say that triathlon has gain a boost in popularity the last few years?

It definitely has. Its inclusion in the Olympics has helped but in general I think it's one of the fastest growing sports and I think that within this country, within England, it can't do it any harm to have 2 super athletes like the Brownlees winning the Olympics. It makes you very proud to be British, to be English and I think it gives elevation to the sport. It's great to see it progressing so much.

If you were the person in charge or control of all of Triathlon what is the one thing you'd like to change?

I'd like to see the barriers come down. Training, entry fees, travel... Triathlon is a very expensive sport. I'd like to see some foundations set up so everyone has the opportunity to race. I've like to see it a little bit more inclusive.

There is also quite a discrepancy between long distance and short distance races. I'd like to make the barriers to come down a little bit between long and short distance. The problem with it is there is a lot of different organisations who are fighting and whenever you have that fighting it causes splits. It's disheartening and it's always been there a bit with Triathlon. It would be nice to be one. It's a bit of a fairy tale idea, a fairy story, but it would be nice if the Federations and organisations like Ironman and the ITU would sit down and say OK we've got a great sport here let's try and develop the sport not just try to make money.

Sort of work together, put on some joint events all together sort of thing?

Yeah it would be nice to have a weekend or a week of different races. Kind of a festival which isn't a fight between all the different organizations and federations and so they can do some big marketing to help drive the sport forward. It would be lovely to see and it's a bit of a fairy tale I know because at the end of the day there's a lot of people with a vested interest. I just look at the sport as a sport that I love. Everyone wants to make a little bit of money but some organisations it's more about making the money than it is actually about helping the athletes. That's just my take on it and it's a shame.

If someone was taking up Triathlon for the first time what advice would you give them?

Take it slowly, have patience. Rome wasn't built in a day and you just have to take your time and understand where you are. Don't expect to go from A to C . You have to remember there's a step in between. So be patient and enjoy it. Don't see it as a chore, see it as a passion. Once you let that go and once you think of it in that respect you'll enjoy it a lot more.

10 July 2014

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