Q/A session with Helen Jenkins – 3X World Champion!


This question and answer session took place at the triathlon show, Sandown Park, 4 March 2012.

Helen Jenkins and R2H director Melanie Ryding

We want to know you, how did you start?

I was swimming till I was15. I was in the right place right time. A girl who I used to swim with, her father was member of Welsh triathlon he got me into it. My parents helped getting me about country. 3 x sports are far better than the black line at the bottom of the swimming pool!

Good swimming background, does that give you extra prep – a head start?

It helped me to be swimmer. Was at front near start of swim then I made it my job to hang on. I was always off to good start. Swimming provides a lot of discipline from a young age

GB juniors right through, you were getting there, then 2005 – injury..?

2005 was my first two world cups. I was 3rd in both. Seniors started well, 2006 started well then the Achilles injury. In 2007 only managed one race. It was a long injury long period. I had to get over it.

Everyone who gets into a sport – think about Olympics. Injury gave you another fight to qualify. How did that go?

I knew I had potential. Beijing was massive motivator. A long injury is a negative experience. I believed I could do it. I if I got over the injury.

 Having to get the qualifying points to even be recognised.. how was that?

Points are complicated. There are lots of points lists. I had low ranking listing and couldn’t get a selection. Mark my husband then started coaching me. The early season in South Africa was to get points, to enable me to start selection races in May and get selected. It worked. It was tough but made me stronger to have goals along the way.

From the outside we look at you and we are jealous what a wonderful life? It’s not as easy as that is it? Your office is the pool, the bike or the road, even if you’re injured?

I love what I do, I am lucky, there are days when it’s hard. The first South Africa trip was eventful. I don’t speak Spanish, the flight was cancelled, I missed the flight, got to station in Buenos Aires – 8 hr bus trip and we missed the last one. It was a dodgy area. The closest hotel was the Sheraton – got dead cheap room… Dramas you have to go through make you realise how much you want it. It’s funny.

The first world title: Vancouver. It was a huge day?

It seems age ago. It was an unusual day. 2008, very cold. The age group swim was cancelled. Me and a US girl got a bike break away – 2.5 minutes. I expected to be caught. Someone shouted ‘you’re 1.5 mins up’ and I thought this was amazing. I thought the other girl would beat me – how amazing to be second in the world!? I can’t let her beat me I thought, and Mark will kill me! My sprint wasn’t the best but hers was worse! I stuck my head down and went for it. I could barely stand up. It was unbelievable!

Your first break through, was it life changing?

No, nothing major. I am the same person. There are more commitments from sponsors but nothing major. You still swim Bike and run.

The main focus is a little race in August. Last year – it was the series – do you prefer it to a stand alone race?

I don’t mind either way. My last win in 2008 was the last one off one. I wasn’t worried last year, my focus was the Hyde Park selection event. It wasn’t till then that I thought ‘wow I can win this’. There’s more TV coverage, it’s more professional to race over a series, more exciting a sport.

Hyde Park last year was a stunning victory. Home race, does that mean more pressure?

Yes, it can be. I enjoy home racing. The face that you don’t have to get on a plane, I feel comfortable. The support is amazing, it was so early last year and there was still lots of support. I could hear everyone shouting for us when Jodie and I were running at the front last year.

You’re in prime spot for Olympics for selection have you?

Yes I have been selected I have met their criteria. The team is never officially announced till June / July though.

You spend time with your enemies pre race before the races around the world how is that?

It’s a great atmosphere. On race day you are out to beat them, but I don’t mind who I share with before the race.

Olympics, Emma Snowsill, Finlay, the new kid on the block. Who is your main threat?

Paula has had an amazing 2 years she has done a lot of racing. All three Australian Emmas, the Kiwi Hewitt. Triathlon is so unpredictable you have to believe they all can win. I use them for motivation in training I focus on myself and what I can control.

Mental attitude. How important is that?

Very. The mental side is half the battle – I used to get sick, couldn’t eat. I keep it under control now. It’s very important. It’s so easy to be motivated with the Olympics but you do get those days when you don’t feel like training. Use your goal to motivate you to get out the door. I want to line up at the start knowing I have done everything that I can.

Triathlonseems to be more a team support sport and no longer an individual sport will that happen with UK girls?

I’m not sure. There are still selection races to come. There is more talk, we are lottery funded and UK sport are interested in medals. The selectors will decide.

Living as a full time athlete plus living with your coach. How great? Also how all enclosing?

It works well for us, training works well; he sees me day to day. Training is very flexible. He sees if I am tired, or if I can train more. It’s a job and we can switch off, we don’t sit and discuss it in the evening my family and friends also switch off too – My friend said to me the other day ‘I forget you’re a professional, you’re like a proper professional’! I have a very none pressure environment at home.

Swim club – we did interview with Rachel Joyce. She said as a youngster she swam with Karen Pickering. This meant she was never content. Was there anyone like that for you?

Not one person no. I respect a lot of people and how hard they work. Like those who work full time while training for the love of it, all the ordinary people. I find that inspiring. The kids that are up at 5:30, then school then a couple of hours swimming later then gym, I’m lucky just to do training!

What is your typical training day?

I do 5 swims, 5 rides 6-7 runs, 2x gyms and stretching each week. Monday, for example, I swim at 5:30, physio, gym, run, then in the evening hard turbo (once a week I do hard turbo)

I start at 5:30. Bed at 8:30pm sleep by 9:30pm!! How exciting eh?! My drug testing is 9:30-10pm slot, I hate that!!

The relay team race last year. There’s talk of the commonwealth games. Would it make Olympics?

It was great fun, nerve wracking to know everyone is relying on you. On my run 1.2km felt like forever! I handed over to Alistair Brownlee and he took off like a bullet and I was hanging! Great atmosphere, great to watch.

Mark is your coach How much does he use his experience of the Athens Olympics how much does he use his experience to help your preparation for Beijing and London?

I learnt a lot he does pass that on and I hope it can help me prepare. It will be different because it’s a home Olympics, media pressure etc. Markhas 20+ experience all over the world from racing. The best experience for me training with other elite athletes.

Are you restricted to types of training as an Olympic athlete?

No – we have been working together years, we have support but can do what we want. We have good support if we need them but it’s not forced.

Hyde park last yr – how useful will that be this year?

Will be more comfortable knowing I have raced it before

How do u get through the last part of the run?

Sometimes 10k seems far sometimes not. In last 2.5k last year – 2.5secs was not much, I thought about the pain I got through in good training sessions and other races. Chrissie uses music for the last part of the run

Coping with injury long term – have you any advice?

It’s hard. I got through because the Beijing Olympics was 1year off and I had belief in myself that I could make it. It is very frustrating though, when you are sitting at home. Frustrations were taken out with the training that I could still do. Have a long term goal in mind, it gets you through, remember the feeling of achievement at the end of the races

Race pace at the end of a race, what would your training advice be?Don’t do all your sessions all one pace. Mix it up. Speed and fartlek. Speed at the end of the race – practice that in your sessions – imagine when you are running that the next lamp post is the finish line.Know the course contours. It does sometimes get tactical therefore. E.g Madrid.

You have to be prepared for everything and every scenario in a race

This year: defending world champ what next?

I am stuck on August the 4th!! Commonwealth games are in 2014 – would like to represent Wales. I like ironman- it’s intriguing but I don’t know if I like my bike enough to stay on it that long!

If you weren’t the best junior – how did you get 3rd /4th

Dedication, I wouldn’t be here now if I didn’t have any talent. Consistency over the past few years. 5th,4th,1st, I was gradually getting better and stronger . Alistair burst onto the scene, I was more gradual, a slow progression over a number of years.

How do you keep a balance in your life?

A break at the end of the season, holiday, a few weeks to get back into it. I have to have time off. 1 day off every 2 weeks, I plan around that. Being able to switch off from the training walk the dog, not discussing triathlon I don’t train in a squad so I can switch off easier

Once the team is chosen will you train as a team?

It will depend on who is selected, you do want to work together not against each other. It depends what happens over the first few races this season and who is selected.

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