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Posted: March 27, 2003

Triathlon: Catching Up With Sharon Donnelly Down Under


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 Sharon down "Down Under" and got these comments:

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.

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.
Of course, the week of the race was a bit hectic, but since I was very relaxed and confident in my training, I was able to handle the stresses better. (I arrived in Cancun on Wed and found that I had been kicked out of my hotel that I had confirmed only 4 days prior! The remainder of the Canadian team was still at the hotel; Carol Montgomery and I were both forced to move) I had to move to another hotel, and my room was atrocious - I had no sleep the first night. The following day I slipped $20US to the front desk manager to get me another room - I moved once again and finally I was comfortable! But I still had to travel back and forth to the other hotel for CBC interviews, out of competition drug testing and obtaining information! It was exhausting! It was doubly frustrating seeing the support of other countries who had their teams together, their elites being taken care of by team masseurs, mechanics etc. (we did have a 30 min massage - but it was by a Mexican who they got from a information flyer given out at the airport) So even with all of those distractions and frustrating events, I remained positive and focused on what I had to do in the race.

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.
After the race, it took me awhile before I found out that Leanda had won - I was so happy for her! Later watching the CBC coverage I was surprised when she mentioned our training preparation - it was very thoughtful of her. I was a bit disappointed that so much emphasis was made of me getting that place for the money (which isn't a lot compared to other countries!). But, yes I was going for top 8 for funding - but not so much for the money but for the recognition of being at that level. I have been among the top triathletes in the world for 7 years, winning Pan Am Games, 3 time Canadian Champion, 2 World Cup podiums, Olympian but I was 'not good enough to be a carded athlete' because I had been injured for the one race that counted - World Champs. I see so many other athletes getting funding that are nowhere near as competitive in their respective sports, and that was frustrating for me - so by achieving 8th, I was finally able to get recognition in my home country like no other result had done before. I was now on the books of COC.
But afterwards it was mainly a feeling a satisfaction that I had achieved this result on my own. By that I mean it was my plan and my team of friends, sponsors, family that were 100% supportive of me.

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)

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.

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

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 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

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.

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!

Sharon's web site is at:

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