We spoke to triathlete & Olympian Non Stanford. You won’t want to miss this.. featuring advice for young athletes and parents, plus what she learned from Dame Kelly Holmes!
Having grown up surrounded by high-level athletes, were you always heavily involved in sports? How did your mother's role as British Gymnastics coach influence your activities growing up?
I don't remember a time when my life hasn't involved or revolved around sport. I was all but born in the gym. I remember spending most evenings and weekends playing on and around the apparatus while Mum was coaching. From the outset I was exposed to elite sport; and more profoundly women in elite sport. For me it was never abnormal or unusual for girls to participate in sport, for girls to be strong, athletic and confident, and for that reason I've never perceived there to be any barriers to my potential or dreams as a female athlete. Growing up watching these young women competing at a high level must have sparked my imagination and set in motion a desire to one day go to an Olympic Games. As a high level coach my Mum, and Dad of course, has always been very understanding and supportive of that too. I'm very fortunate to have been given the start in life and sport that I did.
How did working with Dame Kelly Holmes at 15 shape your athletic career? Was that the moment you realised you wanted to compete professionally?
Having a double Olympic Champion identify me as a future talent and commit to mentoring me during my formative years was without doubt one of the most significant points in my athletic career. I was fortunate to work with Kelly from the age of 15, a few months after her empathic double in Athens. She was my idol and its impossible to quantify or put a value on the experience and knowledge I gained from working with Kelly. It was absolutely instrumental in paving my pathway into professional sport.
Do you have any advice for parents and young athletes looking to pursue their dreams?
Parents; be as supportive as you can, but not pushy. It should be your child's dream and not yours; they should be self motivated to train hard, and not motivated by bribes and the allure of awards from you. My parents were always willing to take me early morning swim training; but I had to be the one who woken them up and not vice versa. If I didn't want to swim that day then that was fine, everyone got a lie in. Although I don't remember ever staying in bed and missing a session!
Young athletes; The most important thing is that you enjoy what you are doing. That doesn't mean that you can't work hard; by all means push your limits and challenge yourself both physically and mentally. Embrace sessions that scare you a little. Don't be afraid to lose either. The fear of failure has sometimes been my undoing; remember you can only do your best and you can't control the performances of your competitors.
Did Dame Kelly pass on any advice to you that's particularly stuck? What would you say was the most important thing you learnt from her?
I learnt a lot from Kelly but two things always stay at the forefront of my mind.
Train smart; more isn't always more. Listen to your body and your coach and take recovery seriously.
Always pack underwear in your hand luggage; and all your vital race kit! It's inevitable that one day your bags won't show up after flying so be prepared to survive without for a few days.
When did you first start competing in triathlons? What is it about the event that first attracted you?
I did my first triathlon in 2009. The British Universities Sprint Championships. That was closely followed by the British Olympic Distance Championships and I swore I'd never do one ever again after that! It felt so far!
I first got interested in triathlon during my first year of University. I'd been battling with injury as a middle distance runner for 18months and during one particular injury I decided to keep fit by returning to the pool. The University triathlon coach, Steve Lumley, let me swim with his squad. By the end of the academic year he'd planted a seed. Triathlon was a new challenge and after so many injuries I was frustrated with athletics. It was never supposed to be a permanent move but I've still not gone back; 10 years later!
You've competed all over the world — where has been your favourite place to compete? Is it difficult adapting to different climates?
I generally find that I like the places where I race well. I think medals also come with rose tinted glasses. I won my first major title in Auckland, New Zealand, becoming the U23 World Champion, and I always say that New Zealand is one of my favourite countries in the World. It's literally breath taking! In terms of races themselves though, its difficult to beat the atmosphere and crowds at Hamburg, Germany, and I always look forward to going there. Racing around the world does mean that we are exposed to an array of elements and differing climes. I generally find the hotter races more difficult, but we try to prepare for them with heat chambers at home, or warm weather training destinations, to try and soften the blow of very un British weather.
Can you describe a typical day of training for a big event?
It really depends how far out from the race we are. Three weeks before a major event my training will be very specific to the demands of the course; key bike and run sessions will be tailored to the specific challenges that that particular race presents. Volume will still be high and I'd still be in a 'big block' of training where a week might entail up to 30hours of training. Whereas three days before will be very different. The focus will be on resting and recovering without becoming 'flat' or lethargic. Training volume reduces, but I'll keep little pockets of quality to keep me firing.
When you're training, what are your gym-bag must haves? And on race day?
I rarely leave home without electrolytes in my water bottle, my favourite New Balance kicks and Pretty Athletic's Workout Glow Tonic; especially with all this warm summer weather its keeps me cool and feeling refreshed on the go! Packing my bag on race day is far less straight forward though; 3 sports is complicated and cumbersome. I have a big bag for race day!
Triathlon is a big event, which would you say is the hardest to maintain while competing — physical or mental stamina?
Whilst competing you have to rely and trust the physical training that you have already done. Yes it will be hard, often painful, but training has prepared your body for that. The mental element of racing is often what puts limiters on your performance. Maintaining concentration during the build up and the 2 hours of racing that follows can be hard, and dealing with discomfort and rough patches is definitely a mental battle. I think the both go hand in hand, and neither is more or less important than the other.
Do you find that training / regular exercise causes any particular skincare issues?
Triathlon means that I'm always in and out of chlorine, and showering up to 3 times a day! This means that my skin is often dry and itchy so a good moisturiser that doesn’t clog my pores and stop me sweating during my next session is really important. That's why I love Pretty Athletic's Gel Moisturiser. It's light and fresh and smells amazing!
Is there a stage of triathlon that you enjoy the most? Would you consider competing individually in running, swimming or cycling events?
Running was my passion growing up and will definitely be something I will always do recreationally. I like the simplicity and ease of running and I like the headspace running on your own gives you. It's very good therapy. Saying that I've also grown to love cycling; I like how far a bike lets you explore and that mid ride cafe stops are the given not the exception! However, when I eventually retire from triathlon, I'm pretty sure that will be the end of my professional competitive career. I might toe the line of a local cross country race, but it will be purely be for pleasure so you'll probably find me laughing in the mud half way down the field rather than battling thought it near the pointy end!