Interview with pro triathlete, Emma-Kate Lidbury

Emma-Kate is a professional triathlete who specialises in Ironman 70.3 triathlon. She is a five-time Ironman 70.3 champion who is based in Santa Monica, Southern California.

Highlights of her career so far include winning Ironman 70.3 Texas (2013), Ironman 70.3 Mallorca (2012 and 2011), Ironman 70.3 UK and Ironman 70.3 Augusta (both 2011). She achieved top 10 finishes at the 70.3 World Championships in both 2010 and 2011 and is widely regarded as an up and coming talent with a bright future in triathlon.

fitnaturally worked with Emma-Kate throughout 2011 honing her training and racing nutrition.

I feel well educated about nutrition, having worked with fitnaturally in 2011, and having Matt’s input now.

fitnaturally (FN): Hi Emma-Kate, thank you for taking time out from your hectic training schedule to chat with us. We hope you’ve recovered well from your recent victory at Ironman 70.3 Texas. We’re all dead proud of you back home, how are you feeling now?

Emma-Kate: Thank you. I’m still smiling about the Texas win – it was a great race. I’m fully recovered and raring to go for my next race, which is Ironman 70.3 St George in Utah next Saturday. It’s the US Pro Championships and has a stacked field so it’s going to be a good one!

FN: You had a dislocated shoulder, which kept you out of Ironman 70.3 Oceanside the week before Texas – was that maybe a blessing in disguise?

EK: Perhaps! I’m not sure anything about that injury was a blessing, but many people have suggested that perhaps these things happen for a reason…

FN: Did the shoulder give you any problems during Texas?

EK: During the swim I did get knocked a few times and I was a little concerned about it, but I wouldn’t have raced if I’d had grave concerns about potential damage.

FN: You recently moved to the States, how do you think it has improved your training, Wiltshire to Southern California is quite a change?! *jealous*

EK: It has completely transformed my training. I’m a different athlete in absolutely every sense. Obviously the climate is a huge bonus, but more than anything it is the people I am surrounded by and the coaches whom I now have so much better access to that have really helped turn things around for me. My coach Matt Dixon and I felt that remaining in the UK, where I had limited training partners, was likely going to stunt my progress. I don’t think either of us anticipated I would settle in so soon and progress so well in the first few months. It has been truly brilliant. I’m now based in Santa Monica, which is north of LA, and am part of the Tower 26 swim programme which is led by distinguished swim coach Gerry Rodrigues. A lot of my purplepatch team mates are also based here, so I have a ready-made group of training partners to push me every single day. In short, I love it!

FN: How hard was it to leave Blighty and what do you miss?!

EK: I left in mid-January just as the snow was starting to come down, so the quick answer to that is “not very”! I come from a close family so of course it was hard to leave them all behind but we are used to me being away a lot now. Skype and FaceTime make it easy to stay in touch. I miss them all, but they’re never too far away from me, electronically at least.

FN: Has any one of the three disciplines improved more than others since you moved, if so, why?

EK: My swimming, for sure! And there’s one reason for that: Gerry. He is, without doubt, the best swim coach I’ve ever worked with and his attention to detail, outlook and energy is unrivalled. I’ve been swimming with Tower 26 5+ times a week since January and I’m stronger, faster and more efficient than I’ve ever been. There is still plenty of room for improvement too, especially as I build back now from the shoulder issues.

FN: You’ve had an awesome couple of years, taking five 70.3 titles; which key things helped you to move up a notch?

EK: Working with Matt and seeing our partnership evolve has been a key factor. I trust him greatly and working with him more closely here in the US is only going to yield greater benefits. Consistency is also vital: although it is not a glamorous or exciting answer, this really is the key to moving up a notch – consistent training, day in day out, layered with good rest, nutrition and strength work. Belief in what I am capable of achieving should not be overlooked either. There was a real shift in mindset for me back in 2011 (when I won three 70.3 titles). What goes on between the ears is equally as important as what we do physically.

FN: Do you get nervous before each race?

EK: Yes, always! But I soon get bored of going to the toilet that often so it all works itself out!

FN: And do you have a pre-race ritual or any superstitions?

EK: I always have the same race day breakfast (oats, milk, honey plus coffee) followed by
High5 energy drink and will listen to the same tunes in transition as I set up (Eminem, Snow Patrol, Florence and the Machine, Lily Allen). Warming up well is important for me so I’ll make time for that and I have various notes from different people that I’ll take a peek at just before I hand my kit bag in. I’m not superstitious so can’t entertain you with quirky tales here!

FN: If someone is properly racing a 70.3 where should they be on a discomfort scale of 1-10, where one is a breeze and 10 is on a par with having your lungs ripped out?!

EK: That largely depends on which stage of the race you’re at. In the swim, you want to take it out fairly strongly but settle back (so no more than 7 or 8). On the bike, you’ll need to sustain a measured effort throughout if you want to run well, so again, 7 or 8. On the run – ha! – this is where it gets good. Up to miles 7-8 (maybe a little earlier) I’d say you’ll need to keep it at the manageable level, but then on the back half of that run you need to climb into the hurt box and do up the lid. Strap yourself in tight because if you’re racing this correctly you are going to be hitting a lung-ripping number 10. Be sure you know how to cope with this mentally; prepare yourself for it in training when doing high intensity workouts. Remember that not everyone gets to feel that pain – view it as a privilege you’ve earned – and remember it won’t last forever. Suck it up!

FN: What are your bike to run tips, this can be a nightmare point for many recreational triathletes

EK: Ensure you run off the bike during training. You don’t need to run for long, 10-15 minutes can be adequate. You just want to get your body used to the sensation. Also, don’t panic if when you first get off the bike your running legs don’t come to you. Mine don’t always. Switch your brain off of panic mode and fill your head with positive things. Focus on run form. Breathe. Soon enough, your legs will come around.

FN: What’s your view on doing brick sessions in training, I’ve heard for and against?

EK: See above. Essential once a week in my opinion, especially at this time of year.

FN: Having seen a lot of your training plans I know you’re not a girl who rests much! How do you recover from a race such as Texas?

EK: The day after the race will just be about “moving blood”, as Matt calls it, so that could be an easy swim or spin, nothing too long, likely 20-30mins or so. I’ll also focus on good nutrition – lots of high quality protein to help the muscles recover. Sleep and massage help me a lot too. And switching off from triathlon helps the brain recover nicely. After the first couple of days, my training will build back up (a reverse of the taper) and after a week or so we will usually test my body with some intensity to see how it’s coming back. I seem to recover differently from each race, it’s very interesting.

FN: What attracts you to the 70.3 distance?

EK: The distance suits me down to the ground, I just love it. The fact it’s a non-drafting bike is what initially attracted me to it after a few seasons racing Olympic distance. I also like the fact that you can race and recover quickly (unlike Ironman) and it’s a relatively new, dynamic distance.

FN: Can you see yourself racing any other distance, I know everyone asks about IM but what about Olympic distance?

EK: I always say I’ll race Ironman next season, but I’ve been saying that for a few seasons now! To be honest, for as long as I feel I have plenty to achieve at 70.3 then I will continue to focus on it. Ironman has a limited appeal to me and I’ve no desire to race Olympic distance. I’ve found my distance and I’m sticking with it!

FN: You’re using Huub wetsuits at the moment, what do you like about them?

EK: I love them! I was just at a purplepatch training camp in San Francisco where we did a lot of open water swimming and my love affair with my Huub Aura has only deepened J You can tell it’s been intelligently researched and developed (for the full lowdown check out Huub’s website) and the fact there are different suits for different style swimmers says it all really. The breakaway zipper is simply awesome – one pull on the zipper and the suits breaks open!

FN: And you’ve recently teamed up with some new sponsors in the US too?

EK: Yes, in addition to my main sponsors back home – Morris Owen Chartered Accountants and telecoms firm Virtua – I’m excited to have some new sponsors on board this season. I’m working with Smart ENVE Wheels which is a partnership between Simon Smart, a UK based ex Formula 1 aerodynamics expert, and ENVE, who are in Utah. What Simon doesn’t know about cycling, speed and aerodynamics simply isn’t worth knowing. I say this not just because I’m sponsored by them, but because I honestly believe it – their wheels are the fastest out there. I raced them in Texas and without a doubt they helped me post the fastest bike split. I’m excited to get in the wind tunnel with Simon’s company, Drag2Zero, when I’m next in the UK too. I’m also working with Rudy Project (helmets and sunglasses) and love their gear. I continue to ride to power with CycleOps and am very pleased to continue working with Compressport UK, Speedfil and ISM Saddles. Great products from great people!

FN: Do you have a general nutrition strategy, we’ve heard you like the odd Percy Pig and Ritter Bar, yet you look ripped and the picture of health!

EK: It’s all about balance! Chocolate, Percy Pigs and ice cream do tend to feature in my diet every now and then. You need everything in moderation! Just yesterday a package of Percy Pigs arrived here from the UK for me – it made my day J I feel well educated about nutrition, having worked with fitnaturally in 2011, and having Matt’s input now. Fuelling workouts adequately is vital, which I do with High5 drinks, gels and bars. Post-workout protein is equally as important. As I swim early (5.45am start) I tend to have two breakfasts (one pre, one post) and that sets me up well for the day ahead. I tend to eat my carbohydrates earlier in the day and avoid the starchy carbs such as pasta and bread. Lean meat and fish are vital as are lots of fresh fruits and veg, good fats, juice and water. I enjoy eating out and love all kinds of food. One of my sponsors is a terrific organic farm pub back home, The Royal Oak on the Oxfordshire/Wiltshire border, and believe me I’ll be sure to return there once I’m back in Blighty!

FN: How about race nutrition, what’s important to help you race well?

EK: I aim to take on between 200-250 calories an hour and am diligent with hydration during races. I’ll take High5 isogels before the start and drink High5 Energy Source Plus during the bike. On the run it’s back to isogels. Monitoring how I’m feeling from an energy standpoint throughout the entire race is critical to me racing well.

FN: So what’s the food like in Southern California?

EK: Great! I love it. Sushi is big here as is Mexican, so the steak burrito fan in me is very happy. I’ve also discovered an ice cream parlour here where they make their own ice cream fresh each morning. It is out of this world! There are some crazy flavours too: parmesan, olive oil, Earl Grey – I even tried a taste of the Madras with raisins recently. I’ll save my next visit until after St George!

FN: It’s a way off but what will you do when you retire from racing, back to journalism or would you consider coaching or supporting your sport in another way?

EK: I realise I live a privileged lifestyle now so the thought of returning to an office terrifies me! I couldn’t see myself returning to newspapers but the writer/journalist in me has never gone away, so I can definitely see me continuing to put pen to paper in some way. I am so passionate about triathlon and love the sport so much I think I’d have to combine the two in my next venture.

Thanks Emma-Kate, on behalf of all of us in Blighty WE MISS YOU but keep making us proud!

To find out more about Emma-Kate visit her website or follow her on Twitter @eklidbury


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