It sounds like the set-up for a TV sitcom: Up-and-coming pro triathlete moves with boyfriend/coach into mom’s English countryside apartment, just down the road from Stonehenge. They all live together on the second floor above the small pub owned by mum. Hijinks include taping up plastic sheeting to simulate a heat chamber for indoor riding, buying a kiddie pool and attaching swim cords to the side of house, and general triathlon silliness. Laugh track not needed.
“We’re like, ‘Mum, it’s going to be worth it!,’” jokes Fenella Langridge about the kiddie pool and plastic sheeting. Mom was fine with it, and it must have worked: After wins at the 70.3 distance, Langridge has been climbing the ranks, with a second place at Challenge Roth earlier this year off the heels of a slightly disappointing eighth place at the 2021 Ironman World Championships at St. George back in May.
Of course this isn’t a TV show, even though she did want to be an actress when she was a kid. This is Langridge’s actual life—complete with Instagram lip-syncing and meme videos.
“What people see is definitely what people get with her,” says Billy Harriss, her partner and coach. Which is to say: Langridge is having as much fun as she looks like she’s having.
Frustrated at field hockey
At first, back at the University of Cardiff, fun included studying sports science and lots of field hockey with post-game drinks. “But I didn’t feel like there was room for me to grow,” Langridge says. She’d played multiple sports growing up and was putting in the work to get better, but there are just so many other factors when it comes to team sports and this was probably as good as she was going to get at field hockey. “That was my ceiling,” she says.
Fortunately for her, there was a tri team starting to form at the school and one of the sports she’d done as a kid was swimming (though youth swim practices often consisted of more time chatting in the locker room than swimming). She thought: Hey, I know how to swim and run and ride a bike. Plus, triathlon sounded both more under her control—your outcome is often a reflection of the work you, individually, put in—and it sounded more fun. “It’s always entertaining, there’s always something different,” she says of multisport.
So, her last year at university, she gave it a try.
In the U.K., triathlon is all about the Olympics. It’s hard to understand for U.S. readers, but the focus is first-and-foremost on draft-legal racing. Naturally, then, that was where Langridge started: working up through local races and regional ones, trying her hand at the British Tri races, and hoping to make the Commonwealth Games for Wales. It was OK, but it wasn’t great.
“Her physiology just isn’t made to race like that,” says Harriss, who met her during college, when she had started with tri. They both thought her real success would come at the longer distance. She just needed to make a choice.
There she was, post-university, training 20 hours per week, logging big yards in the pool to make the draft-legal packs, and working any job she could find: at a bike shop, as a personal trainer, an assistant at a law firm and at nonprofit organizations, waitressing at cafes.
“I was getting to the level where we had to make that decision,” she says. That’s how they ended moving home and in with mom, above the pub.
The good time team
“It helped a lot with that financial pressure,” Langridge says—as any pro triathlete could understand. It also meant the two of them could pick up and travel for training camps or races without having to worry about the home front. It was a big change.
But there was another big change in late 2017. It was time to move to mid-distance and, ultimately, long-distance. She took her pro license with British Tri at the very end of that year; it was also time to change from the coaches she had in Cardiff.
Harriss, who had worked as a strength and conditioning coach in pro rugby, had moved into performance coaching and gotten a Masters in sports science. He’d been building up his own coaching business after racing Ironman himself, and so it just made sense for him to take over Langridge’s coaching, too. He could see how she was doing, how she felt on a given day, what she was struggling with, or how her attitude was. He could give feedback and make adjustments on the fly. After all, they’re always together.
“It’s obviously very rewarding, but difficult at the same time,” he says. So they have a rule: If a session goes badly or he thinks she should have done something differently, they have to talk about it before going back into the house. It doesn’t always work, he concedes, but it mostly works. “We don’t have any big arguments.”
“Honestly, [I] don’t think I could do it without him,” she says, joking that she’s not sure she even remembers how to book travel or deal with logistics anymore.
Something about it has worked. All those years of putting in the hours of training and then standing on her feet had added up. That first year racing professionally in 2018 she had five podiums and one win in six 70.3 races, and took 16th at the 70.3 world championship.
“She just kept getting better and better and better,” Harriss says.
The diesel engine
2018 was supposed to be followed up by more growth at mid-distance in 2019 and then a move into Ironman-distance in 2020. Instead, 2019 was bookended by two bad crashes (one in her first race and one in her last), which led to missing the 70.3 world champs in Nice; and then 2020 happened. They tried to take the opportunities where they could—flying to Davos for the first pro race in COVID times, for instance, but then it got canceled for weather.
All of that may have delayed her long-distance debut a bit, but it also made it appear that she came out of nowhere when she finally did “arrive”—with few races to show the progression during 2020 and early 2021. But at her first full-distance, in 100-plus degrees F in Coeur d’Alene in July 2021, she took second.
— GleasonIronman (@GleasonIronman) June 27, 2021
She followed that with a third at Challenge Roth in 2021, a slightly disappointing eigth at the rescheduled world champs in St. George back in May of this year, and then a second place in Roth this summer—which Harriss calls her best race yet (though she says still had room for improvement).
She ran a 3:00:36 marathon and “that 30 seconds shouldn’t be there,” she jokes. But, still, a 8:31 iron-distance result and a runner-up title to Anne Haug suggested that their big plan was working out—that she had always had the potential to simply train hard (and love it) and go forever.
“I’m a bit of a diesel; I just keep going,” she says.
Don’t take it too seriously
Of course, the plan then turns to the Big Island. After contracting COVID post-Roth, Langridge struggled at the Canadian Open and DNF’d in the heat at the U.S. Open, but she says they got the full ringer of tests done after Dallas (where she was doing a training camp nearby in Texas) and her heart and lungs are good to go.
The bigger question may be just how seriously is she going to take the most serious race in the sport, especially if not taking it too seriously is part of her strength?
“She’s never serious,” Harriss says. “If someone says ‘let’s go do something’ the night before the race, she’d forget she was racing and go do something.” She’s always goofy and silly, and they never want that to change. But at some point, he said, she’s probably going to have to take the race, itself, a little more seriously. Everyone can be your friend after the finish line.
They’ve been working on that mental aspect more this year, particularly on how to make decisions mid-race about whether to stay with a group or attack or hold your own pace. That’s why she’s only been doing championship-level races this year, with the top girls, instead of mid-level events that she knows she could win.
Langridge says she’s actually a bit shy before you get to know her (“Probably just singing in my head rather than out loud,” she says), but part of her whole reason for doing triathlon is enjoying it. If it wasn’t working, Harriss says, they’d change things. But she’s having fun, they’re having fun, seeing how good she can be. “If that means winning, then happy day,” she says.
“Obviously world titles would be amazing, but if my best race gives me third, then it gives me third.” And third in the world would probably be plenty of fun, too.
RELATED: Commentary: Are You Having Fun?