Posted: April 8, 2003
Triathlon: Catching Up With Sharon Donnelly and Leanda Cave "Down Under"
An email interview with triathletes Sharon Donnelly and Leanda Cave
Triathletes Sharon Donnelly and Leanda Cave met in Florida last year prior to the Cancun ITU World Championships. They trained together and both had great races at Cancun - Leanda winning and Sharon placing 8th.
They have been training together in Australia and recently they raced in the Devonport Triathlon where Leanda placed 5th and Sharon 9th.
The Runner's Web tracked them down "Down Under" recently and got these comments: [S. = Sharon, L. = Leanda]
Q. Could you describe how you met and started training together and the benefit you think you both got from it?
S. We have both been racing against each other on the World Cup circuit for a few years - she hasn't attended a lot of races - a few only. I got to know her better in spring of 2002 when she was at the Geelong World Cup and we had a few days after the race and we went together with her boyfriend, touring the Great Ocean Road. We had a blast. We only hooked up again a few weeks before Cancun in Florida where Britain was having a pre-Worlds prep camp. I was in the same living complexes alone and I approached Leanda and asked her to join me on some of my workouts. She and her coach sat down with me and we looked at each other's schedules and worked out the best for both of us. Even though the Brits had their whole team there, they all tended to stick to their own schedules - which is how I prefer it too. I get along well with Leanda and our schedules were very similar.
L. Sharon and I had been racing in the same events for about 2 years before we crossed paths and chatted with each other. I remember the first time I raced against her was in the World Champs in Edmonton 2001. It came down to the final part of the run. I was following this arse with Donnerly on it for about 9.5km and I was running in 18th position. I thought of how many other top athletes were in front, and I said to myself 'just pass Donnerly so that at least I can say I beat one'. So I did. It wasn't till we met again in Australia later that year in Geelong, when we started chatting at the pool that we became friends. She had agreed to come on a road trip with my boyfriend and I to the 12 Apostles along the Great Ocean Road, and we really had a ball. We met up briefly in the Commonwealth Games, however never had a lot of time to socialize. However in Florida, prior to the World Champs in Cancun, we were both glad to see each other. We were both there virtually training on our own (I was there with the British Team, who were still all yet to arrive), so we decided to hook up. We found that our strengths were so similar and that we really enjoyed each others company and attitude towards training and racing. I thought I could learn a lot form Sharon in her approach towards our sport, and I did.
Q. Could you briefly describe how you felt going into the World's at Cancun
S. I felt very positive going into the race. It was the best prepared I have been, I knew that there really wasn't anything else I could have done to prepare myself. I was confident in my preparations. I had organized my own heat acclimatization camp when the Canadian coaches out in Victoria told me that they were not going to, I knew I had to do it on my own. I also wasn't injured. I had been very cautious with my running all year and progressed it at a good pace through the year. I knew that I wasn't at top running speed going into Cancun, but I wasn't injured and I know I can get 110% out of myself when I am a little under-prepared than when I am tired or injured. I was swimming the fastest I had been in a long time and my cycling was strong. I also had focused (and did key sessions with Leanda) on the swim to bike transition as I knew it would be the key to the race since that part of the race would be extremely long. (that was the case, as it was almost 1.5minutes long) I checked my transition time and it was among the fastest, male or female.
L. I felt pretty fit going into Worlds, but I was not that confident as I was at the Commonwealth Games. After winning a silver there, I considered
that to be the best result I would get all year, and therefore Worlds ended up just feeling like the last race of the year which I couldn't wait to
finish and let my hair down for a few weeks afterwards. But surprisingly, my coach, Chris Jones said that I am training better than he has ever seen
me, and thinks it highly possible to get top 5 if I make the swim pack. But after flying into Cancun, the weather was so humid, and I was so
exhausted from the 8 hour travel journey from Orlando, that I could barely stay awake the Wednesday before the race. I went for a run the next day.
I had intended to go out for 30 minutes......I lasted 10 and had to walk back to the hotel. Later I swam and cycled a bit and felt a lot better.
Friday, again I ran and lasted 15 minutes and had to walk the last 5 to get back. I felt absolutely terrible. Saturday I just cycled, and thought
that the race the next day was going to be a killer, but I wasn't really concerned as I thought it didn't really matter, it was the last race of the
Q. Describe your feelings during the race, and afterwards?
S. During the race, I was positive and never panicked. In the swim, I had started beside fellow Canadian, Jill Savage and was behind her by the 300m mark. I knew the pace was too slow and the front pack would be getting away - I knew how the pace should feel at this point from competing in so many races. I turned around the far buoy and saw that I was correct - the leaders were getting away. I didn't think of giving up, or staying put - I decided to give it my best effort and put in a hard effort to catch them. Even by the swim turn-around, I was still behind. Diving back in to do the second loop I knew I had to give 110% to catch them - now or never. I was hurting but I knew if I caught them I could relax - just a bit. I finally caught them at about the 1km mark. I exited the water just behind them and sprinted up to transition harder than I ever have to make sure I could get on the pack. I ended up going out second onto the bike! During the bike portion of the race, we were only about 40sec ahead of the chase and we were working well together (7 of us - including Leanda). I dropped one of my water bottles the first time I went to drink from it - but even with that I didn't panic. Sheila Taormina saw it drop and offered to give me some drink later if I needed it! (I took her up on her offer later and had a few more sips - that was so nice of her!). A crash happened in the chase pack and after that, our pack started put time on the chase pack each lap after that. It felt great to be working so well together. We were encouraging each other so much - it is much different than being in the chase pack when everyone seems to be swearing and shouting! After the bike, I started at a controlled effort due to the heat. I wanted to make sure I gradually worked into it. I was conscious of what place I was in and knew that coming 8 or higher meant government funding for me. By the last 2km I was in 8th place. Sandra Soldan (BRA) , who is a great heat runner was just behind me. I knew I would have to dig deeper than ever to maintain my placing. I was able to hold on and was only 10secs ahead of 9th place. I had nothing left. I was so happy because I had not given in to the pain or the arguments in my head telling me - that if I didn't come 8th or better it would still be okay. I fought those thoughts and I am happy I did.
L. See above
Q. How has the training gone during the winter (Canadian) months in Australia?
S. The training here has been very tough. I joined up with a squad of British athletes in Noosa at the end of January. The coach, Chris Jones, and Leanda had invited me to join them and since I had already planned to come to Australia - I accepted immediately. I get along well with both of them and I also was confident that the camp would be well organized. We did 6 weeks of very tough base work - I was very tired, but I knew that this would be very good for my long term plan. I also maintained my strength work in the gym - this was an addition to my plan this year. My decision to train away from home this winter was confirmed though all the weather reports from back home! I certainly picked a great year to get away. Also, the weather in Noosa was ideal this year as well. Half of our time here has been rainy - that may sound crummy, but faced with the alternative like last year's record heat where training at any time of the day was difficult - I will take the rain! I have about 4 weeks more of training, interspersed with a few races, before I return home via Japan (World Cup #1 in Ishigaki)
L. Training kind of never stopped after Worlds. I kept it low intensity and went out when I wanted. I just had fun with it for a couple of months. The main reason I didn't stop was due to all the publicity I had post Worlds, and all the functions and sports awards I had to attend. I said when I have my break, I wanted to get away and do nothing for a good couple of weeks, but unfortunately, with all the commitments I had as a successful athlete so to speak, I couldn't enjoy time off. So I just enjoyed myself by training with my boyfriend in the icy cold UK climate. This lasted up until I headed out to Australia for the Europe winter, where Sharon joined a few other Brits for a training camp in Noosa. Since then, we trained really well. Both of us went into the camp relatively unfit compared with the other athletes. But we just seemed to get stronger and stronger, while the other girls found it difficult to maintain a high level of fitness overt the 5 weeks. I guess that it the benefit of having time out.
Q. Were you satisfied with your Devonport race?
S. It is hard to say "I was satisfied." I was prepared going into the race that it would be a tough race because I was tired and had not taken a break and had not done any kind of interval work necessary to prepare for racing. So I was kind of satisfied with my efforts in the race. It is still frustrating to be so far behind others, but I have to follow my plan. Some athletes are peaking for their upcoming selection races and a few others like Barb Lindquist, seem to be able to hammer the whole year! I know my self, and I must periodize my year and my peak races are later. So the race was good for a return to the mental side of racing. That was probably the area that I was not satisfied with in Devonport - I should have been better prepared on that side of my preparation going in. I will make sure to focus on that in the upcoming races.
L. I have raced in Devonport 7 times now. And for as long as I can remember it has hurt more than any race. It has been a good indicator for the past 3 years as to where my strengths and weaknesses are in the 3 disciplines. As I soon discovered in Devonport, they were my swim and run. The camp in Noosa had a strong bike focus, which paid off, however, lack of consist ant run/swim milage proved to be a disadvantage. Sharon was much similar. We had a bit of a tangle in the middle of the swim leg, due to our strengths being very similar. On the bike, I felt flat from possibly not resting up enough before the race. I managed to stay with a few good cyclists, but my legs were dead after that, and I ran OK, and finished 5th.
Q. Do you have problems in dealing with the expectations of others - such as coaches, federations, your home countries, etc.?
S. No I don't have any problems with that. The only expectations are results and that is the same for any athlete and those are fair. I race for myself and so any expectations are ones that I set. Those are tough enough. I am extremely fortunate to have incredible sponsors that understand sport and do not put pressure on me to win. I want to do well for them, and I don't feel expectations upon me from them
L. I am a pretty simple person, and if I don't like something, rather than make a song and dance, I will just go my own way. Most people who know me also know that this is the best way I get good results. I don't always make people happy and sometimes I think that really bothers them, but when they see my results they realise that somehow I know what I am doing. But my coach gives me the best advice ever, and he encourages me to do what I think is best for me. Chris and I have a similar attitude, which is why we work so well together. He does however find the odd occasion to put me back in my place when I lose my focus. Chris also takes a lot of the brunt from my federation, performance director and Home Nation, leaving me with not a lot to worry about other than training.
Q. What are your strategies for the rest of 2003 in terms of training and racing? Are you looking for one or more peaks for competitions?
S. I have only begun to plan as much of my planning depends on Pan Am & Olympic qualification standards. I have had a great base prep and I am now entering into the pre-race prep part of the season plan. I want to have a good June race period and then have races through July and peak for Aug (whether that is for the Pan Am Games or the New York World Cup - depends on if I make the Pan Am team). I want to test out how I feel with a mini pre-race peak in June time frame to simulate 2004 and then get back up and peak in Aug. (give or take a few weeks for this year's schedule). The Athens Test Event has recently been moved from end August to Oct, so that will change my year preparations a bit. It is hard to say at this time, my specific focus areas with races that are still moving around. Plus, we still do not have an Olympic selection policy - it is in the works right now - and that will obviously affect my planning. We already have the COC qualification standards which can be seen on the Triathlon Canada website and that is my primary goal. But I when I return home, I will sit down with the local coaches who I train with (Ken Anderson, Kingston Blue Marlins swim club and Francois Beaupre for overall planning and strengthening and conditioning) and discuss the details, races rest etc. I will likely travel to Europe for the European World Cups and the Athens Test Event on Oct 25th. Then I will take a break at home in Kingston and start back up for the 2003 World Champs on Dec 10. I will keep my website updated with my training and racing plans
L.Training this year will be focused towards the 2004 Athens Olympic course. I am still yet to make the team. That is going to be a huge hurdle for all the British athletes alone. So my coach and I are trying to get things in the best situation both in and out of training to make this task easy as possible. We have been working hard at the bike in Noosa for this reason. Strength is a big issue for the Olympics, and will also be big on the training agenda. My main races for the year will be British based, to include the National Champs in my home town of Swansea, the Manchester World Cup, and the Athens Olympics test event, which I will peak for. At this stage there is a question mark over the World Champs in December, as this falls around the time of year I usually take my break, and it will be my last break till after the Olympics if I take it.
Q. Have you formulated your plans towards Athens in terms of training, including locations, and racing?
S. In regards to most of my personal training, yes I have a very good plan and I am getting great input from many sources. I have viewed video coverage and I know the exact wattage and times required for the various stages of the race. I have applied this knowledge to my training. I would like to organize pre-Olympic training venue and accommodation while at Olympics (since the venue is very far from the Village) but I did all of that for Sydney and it was so exhausting. I can't afford to do all of that fighting and planning.
L. Racing and training will always be course specific, so anything hilly on the bike will be my focus, both in training and racing. I will be in Britain from May till the end of October, then will head back to Australia for another stint at winter training in the heat.
Q. What is your major race of 2003?
S. My most important race will be the Athens Test event. I don't necessarily have to be peaked for it - but it will be the most mentally exhausting race. Other than that, possibly Pan Am Games or a few other World Cups that I focus on - wanting a podium finish.
Thank you Ken for all of your support - it is great to have you along for another journey!
L. My main race in 2003 will be the test event over the Olympic course. I will try to prepare for this as in 2004 for the real thing. However all the races I do will be important for me, and that will include about 6 ITU World Cup events (mostly in Europe), and my British National Champs, in which I want to win for the first time. It is a bit strange being the World Champion, to not have won the National Champs, also not to have podiumed in any World Cup event. So those things are high priorities also.
Sharon's web site is at: www.SharonDonnelly.com.
Leanda has a mini-site at the ITU website at: www.triathlon.org.
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