Be sure to keep an eye on Mary Beth Ellis on Saturday. The five-time Ironman Champion’s only finish lower than first place at the Ironman distance was in Kona 2011, when a jam-packed schedule (for Ellis, that meant three Ironman wins in the span of eight weeks) left her drained for the World Championship a mere six weeks later. While she still finished in 15th place – an accomplishment most of us can only imagine – she was deeply disappointed, yet driven to try again. And while Ellis is one tough competitor, she also has a playful side, which was evident during our chat about a variety of triathlon topics, including sprint finishes, swimming fully clothed, sources of inspiration and podium apparel.
Triathlete.com: You won Ironman 70.3 France in a brilliant sprint finish against Jeanne Collogne. With the competition at full Ironman races becoming more and more fierce, what do you think the chances are of a sprint finish this year in Kona?
MBE: I think the chances are probably pretty slim, but Xena [Caroline Steffen] and I were joking about it and she said, “No sprinting once we hit the carpet!” We were doing a session where we did some really short snappy stuff and we were debating who had the upper hand. It was pretty close but we agreed, no sprinting on the carpet.
Triathlete.com: You recently posted this status update on Facebook:
Dedication is walking 1.5 miles uphill, paying to use 17 meter pool, forgetting suit & swimming 4.5k in collar shirt & tights #weirdoinwater
Seriously, you did that?
MBE: Well, Brett [Sutton, Ellis’ coach] said I needed to swim. We drove all the way home from France and the regular pool that we swim in was closed for the Monday afternoon. The only other pool is up in this hotel, and it’s literally straight uphill for a mile and a half, if not two miles. I got up there and realized I didn’t have my suit. So I debated, did I want to walk all the way back down and then all the way back up? I looked at what I was wearing and I had my 2XU compression tights on under my jeans and I had this shirt [her tech material polo-style finisher’s shirt from Ironman 70.3 France] on with a sweatshirt over it. So I decided to go for it. I tried to tuck the shirt into the compression tights and I had a hair tie that I used to try and close up the neckline, because otherwise the drag would have been even worse! It was kind of embarrassing.
Triathlete.com: Your dog Mr. Fur recently had surgery to amputate one of his front legs to combat a cancerous tumor, and has rebounded remarkably. Do you imagine you’ll draw inspiration from his experience while you’re racing on Saturday?
MBE: Of course! Mr. Fur is a big inspiration! It’s amazing to see animals and what they adapt to. I can’t even imagine – the poor guy, we take him to the vet and he wakes up and is like, “Where’s my leg?” He didn’t know he had cancer! But he’s doing really well and it’s just incredible.
I always get inspiration also from seeing the CAF athletes racing. I don’t know what I would do if I lost a leg or was in a wheelchair. I don’t know if I’d be tough enough to be out there. It’s pretty cool. I remember the first 70.3 World’s I did and the Hoyt’s were there. Just seeing them in the water – I mean obviously everybody knows their legend – but seeing them I was like, “Wow! There’s Rick and Dick Hoyt!”
Triathlete.com: Your name is on many people’s lists as one to watch on Saturday – for the top ten podium and even for the win. I’m not going to put you on the spot and ask whether you think you’ll win this race, but what I will ask is this: did you pack a podium dress for the awards ceremony?
MBE: I figure if I win I’ll have money to buy a new dress! Eric’s bringing me some stuff, but I came straight here from Switzerland, so basically I have a wool sweater for the podium! I do have one skirt with me. But I figure if I’m secondor below, I can just wear what I have. But if I win I’m buying a podium dress!