Anna-Marie combines the disciplines of long distance triathlon and ultra-running with the odd adventure race thrown in for good measure. She is a performance coach who loves to head into the great outdoors with clients before, during or after work. Her coaching philosophy and ethos are reflected through her consultancy business Reach for More.
Anna-Marie has raced the Ironman 70.3 World Championships twice, then placed second lady overall and in the top fifty in the Marathon des Sables in 2015. In 2016 Anna-Marie placed first lady in The ONER by Brutal Events along the Jurassic Coast, XNRG Around the Island and Salomon Cappadocia Ultra in 2016. She’s supported by the French endurance equipment company WAA Team.
Tell us what brought you to running and triathlon? Do you think that a sporting background as a child is important in order to be competitive in racing?
My immersion into the running and triathlon world didn’t happen overnight and it’s been a gradual shift over fifteen years. Admittedly it’s now developed into an all-encompassing lifestyle and I adopt a holistic approach tailoring my sleep, nutrition and work to support my training and racing goals. Looking back on my personal sporting background, my dad was always a keen fell runner and triathlete. I’ve got countless engrained memories from my childhood, usually sat in the rain in the Lake District, waiting for him to finish races such as the legendary Borrowdale Horseshoe, Coniston and Langdale. Despite this parental influence I have to admit PE lessons at school were generally avoided whenever possible, mainly by re-scheduling my piano lessons to overlap PE until the PE teacher unfortunately cottoned on to my tactic!
I think we can hold onto constructed narratives from our past where we repeatedly tell ourselves “I’m not sporty”, “I can’t run”, “I’m not good enough to race” and other fabricated nonsense. It can be super scary to take the plunge and do something different though I believe anyone can be competitive in racing if they have the confidence and courage to have a go. I’m massively inspired by some amazing ladies within my network who’ve overcome their fear to dip their toe into the triathlon world. It’s phenomenal what you can achieve when you put your mind to it – learn to swim in your mid 30s, master the initially incomprehensible dark art of bike cleats and cross the line of your first sprint triathlon determined to tackle a longer distance.
Where do you live now and what benefits and/or limitations does your area have for training?
After living abroad in hot, sunny and generally sandy places for the last six years I’m currently based in Wiltshire, UK with Ben, my partner. I’ve been a certified global nomad for the last seventeen years and I’ve lost count of the number of countries I’ve lived and worked in. Saudi Arabia definitely tops the list of challenging places to live from a female perspective though it’s possible to work around most constraints if you put your mind to it.
Looking back on my time in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (with potentially rose tinted glasses!) I had a 22m pool and gym on the compound where we lived within 2 minutes walking distance, the Riyadh Wheelers, Riyadh Triathletes and Riyadh Road Runners all held regular events and training on my Cyclops Powerbeam Pro turbo trainer improved my power massively. Even though I’ve been back in the UK for eighteen months I still appreciate being able to step out my front door and head out into the countryside to run or cycle. Every country has its benefits and limitations – I definitely find the damp, wet and cold British winter challenging and occasionally need some proper internal motivational inner self-talk to head outside.
How many hours do you train per week and how do you manage to balance everything together?
The quest to balance everything together is constantly work in progress! I have to admit I focus on the work/life balance challenge with some of my performance coaching clients and I always learn (or re-learn) strategies through our conversations together. My training volume varies and I work with my coach Danny Moore from Moore Performance to balance my programme around different races over the season, work travel and my business. After moving back to the UK from Saudi Arabia in the summer of 2015 I re-launched my performance coaching business Reach for More and it’s been a roller coaster ride developing a sustainable client base and building a presence online. I’m totally Type A and can find it difficult to “switch off”; Ben is a helpful influence and reminder to step away from the laptop, switch off and indulge in some idle time whether that is watching back episodes of NCIS, reading in the bath or cooking.
Do you feel that running and triathlon eat into your social life?
Running and triathlon generally constitute a large part of my social life. My birthday celebrations this year are currently being planned around the DBMax duathlon at Castle Coombe, followed by Sunday lunch with friends (many who I have convinced to race!). Looking back my student days at Manchester University, then as a young officer in the British Army; my 20s were filled with enough socializing (aka drinking!) to last a lifetime. Nowadays you are far more likely to find me tucked up in bed by ten in preparation for the next training session on evenings and weekends. I’m a proper duvet monster and enjoy nothing more than tucking myself into bed early, listening to a podcast or reading. Such is the rock and roll lifestyle of an ultra-runner/triathlete!
Was there ever a time when you were close to quitting? What keeps you going through the tough times?
I try not to dwell on negative training or race performances and always attempt to draw something positive from every situation. Looking back on previous races, IRONMAN 70.3 Port Macquarie in 2013 sticks in my mind for picking up a drafting penalty on the bike. This ultimately cost me the chance to qualify for the World Championships in Mont Tremblant; to say I was annoyed at myself is an understatement. I literally spent four minutes in the penalty box in floods of tears before I raced off determined to nail the run leg. Post-race once I’d mentally processed everything it made me even more resolute to qualify and it provided an additional mental boost to my training regime.
I’m lucky to remain relatively injury free from season to season though at the end of the 2015 season I fell off my mountain bike and tore my abdominus rectus muscle during the Burn Series adventure race in Cardiff. I was literally confined to the couch for most of November, progressed onto a gentle rehab in December, then started a slow build gradually in January as the 2016 season loomed. It was pretty frustrating at times; though I believe in listening to your body (and coach) and easing back into it is key.
Do you have a visualization/race specific meditation routine? Would you mind sharing it with us if you do?
My mental preparation for any race is embedded within my regular physical training programme as it’s usually our mindset that hinders our physical performance. I find thorough planning and preparation (generally derived from my military training with the famous 7Ps – Prior Preparation and Planning Prevents P*** Poor Performance) with detailed research into equipment, route, nutrition and hydration are essential to focus the mind and support optimal performance. Once I’m into the pre-race taper phase there’s no time for regrets or “should haves”. It’s simply time to be present, savour each moment and most importantly enjoy yourself! I find concentrating on each breath and dialing into your pace helps enter a form of moving meditation. Your find that perfect moment of “flow” where everything falls into place and you feel like you’re effortlessly gliding across the ground.
How do you spend your off-season? Are there sports that you enjoy doing that you feel compliment running and triathlon?
I’m making a concerted effort to ensure the elusive “off-season” remains properly “off”. I’m super competitive with myself so even my local Parkrun can descend into chasing PBs on a weekly basis. At the end of 2016 I was physically and mentally fatigued from a combination of training, racing and work. I headed to Cuba with my husband for Christmas and New Year for a proper digital detox and some relaxation though we still managed to create a few active adventures along the way with a self-supported cycle tour from Havanna to Vinales and the Holguin 500 (aka a gentle training session involving climbing a set of steps with 100m vertical height gain five times).
I’m a strong advocate of incorporating regular Bikram yoga sessions and sports massage into my programme to support my core strength and (try!) to develop my flexibility. When I’ve lived in warmer climates I tend to add a wide variety of different sports into the mix: ideal for cross training; you might find me stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking or trekking. I’ve also been known to throw the odd adventure race into the race calendar for something different with Ben. Ultimately I love being outdoors and a day confined within four walls is a missed opportunity to head outside.
What is your favourite race and why?
I always find this question super tough to answer! I’ve so many different, happy ultra-running and triathlon memories that simply can’t be compared or ranked. From the larger more commercialised IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships in Las Vegas and Mont Tremblant, Canada, to the legendary Marathon des Sables in the Sahara Desert, to Riyadh Wheelers road races at weekend, the Everest Marathon set against the stunning Himalayan backdrop and the low-key Isle of Jura Fell Race across the Paps…every race holds a special connection and meaning. Ultimately I’ve been lucky to race in some remarkable locations across the world.
More recently casting my mind over 2016, winning the Salomon Cappadocia 100km Ultra trail in Turkey was an unforgettable moment. I was lucky to have a mini documentary filmed by the Turkish channel TRT from Beyond the Game (https://youtu.be/QZQ-j-eQXp8) and it’s the perfect reminder.
What are your next goals?
2017 is ALL about the Ultra Tour de Mont Blanc (UTMB). I was delighted (and slightly petrified) to secure a spot through the ballot in January. Over 170km with 10,000m ascent within a 48-hour time period possibly beats every other challenge I’ve faced. The next few months are all about getting to the start line in the best possible shape working with Danny to specifically refine my descending technique and build leg strength further. I’m currently finalising the rest of my training blocks to be properly prepared for 1st September 2017. I’d like to head along to another XNRG multi day event as I enjoy the relaxed environment Neil and Anna create, it would be great to squeeze a 70.3 distance triathlon and I suspect I’ll head out to the French Alps to check out the route.
Major race achievements in the past
I’ve only really started to focus seriously on ultra-running and triathlon in recent years. I’ve listed some of my major race achievements below though I was similarly amazed with my initial accomplishments at the very beginning of my running journey. These included plodding around my first marathon where it was a small miracle to cross the finish line (London 2004), setting a PB marathon time (Edinburgh 2006) and then literally sneaking under the cut off time for the CCC by minutes (2007).
I only embarked on my triathlon journey in 2011 after conquering my fear of the seemingly technical complexities of bikes. I remember coercing a friend to accompany me to Wolfie’s bike shop in Dubai to purchase my first road bike complete with shoes, helmet, shorts, basically everything. Once you’ve caught the triathlon bug it can be a time consuming and expensive game!
2013 IRONMAN 70.3 Pays D’Aix (3rd AG 30-34)
2013 IRONMAN 70.3 Luxembourg (5th AG 30-34)
2013 IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships Las Vegas
2014 IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships Mont Tremblant
2015 Marathon des Sables (2nd lady & top 50)
2015 XNRG Cotswold Way (1st lady & 2nd overall)
2016 The ONER (1st lady & 2nd overall – by 4 secs & I basically paced the lead male for 100km as it was his first ultra & he “dipped” his timing chip before me!)
2016 XNRG Round the Island (1st Lady & 2nd overall)
2016 IRONMAN 70.3 Weymouth (3rd AG 35-39)
2016 Ultra Trail World Tour Future Series Salomon Cappadocia Ultra (1st lady & 5th overall)
Connect with Anna-Marie on:
and her website: www.rfmcoaching.com