Dispatch: The Fast-Flying Jodie Swallow

Catching up with recent Ironman 70.3 Boulder champ Jodie Swallow.

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Jodie Swallow, who celebrates her 33rd birthday next week, has been a competitive swimmer and runner for two decades and a triathlete since she was recruited to the British Triathlon Team as a student at Loughborough University. Her illustrious career began on the ITU circuit, highlighted by a 2004 Athens Olympic bid, then progressed to long course, where thus far she’s earned two world titles: Ironman 70.3 world champion (2010) and ITU Long Distance Triathlon world champion (2009). In 2013 Swallow claimed her first full iron-distance victory, topping the podium at Ironman Sweden while simultaneously scoring a spot in the elusive sub-nine club in a time of 8:54:01. Last Sunday, in preparation for Ironman Frankfurt, Swallow impressed yet again, winning a nearly race-long duel against fellow ITU Long Distance world champion (2011) Rachel Joyce at the hotly contested Ironman 70.3 Boulder. As a relative newcomer to Boulder (Swallow arrived just six weeks ago for a summer of high-altitude training), the “new girl” in town seemed an obvious choice to interview for this week’s Dispatch.

Triathlete.com: First off, congratulations on a riveting race and win in Boulder! For some reason, despite being a two-time world champion and Olympian, you are at times left to fly under the radar in terms of pre-race coverage. So in an attempt to rectify this, what would you like to tell us about yourself and your preparedness for your next race, Ironman Frankfurt in three weeks’ time?
Jodie Swallow: Ironman Frankfurt is the major focus the first half of the year. Boulder 70.3 was a process race and whilst the year builds toward September, October and now December (Challenge Bahrain) I would like to see the training pay off in Frankfurt. I haven’t trained this hard—ever! So I hope to see that work in the bank and the legs respond sooner rather than later, although anytime is good!

Triathlete.com: Is there anything about Jodie Swallow that you’ve never revealed to the media—until right now?
JS: Not really. There is lots, but it is intricate and private—I will write about it someday. It is very broad to say, “I was in an abusive relationship,” or, “I had an eating disorder.” Those statements are just the bones of the animal, but for the moment they are enough.

Triathlete.com: Since you are British I have to ask—are you a hugger?
JS: I ask myself this question: Would I be able to spend two hours in a car alone with this person? If not, I probably won’t hug you—unless, of course, you are ultra handsome.

Triathlete.com: There are some obvious benefits to being part of a triathlon power couple [Swallow’s significant other is fellow pro James Cunnama]—the true understanding of what one another goes through in training and racing, the ability to travel the world together following a common dream, etc. But what are a few positives of sharing the pro triathlete life with your sweetheart that might not be so obvious to outsiders? And what are some of the challenges?
JS: James and I are so lucky. We are pretty different. I’m an extrovert; he’s an introvert. He is very self-assured and me, not so much. I think James makes me reassess the end goals on a daily basis and makes me focus on the whole picture, not just one particular session or bad day. In turn, I let him see what intensity looks like because I think about racing 24/7 and I am very passionate about training each and every day. If someone insults James, it is water off a duck’s back. But I’m an Arya Stark [referencing the fiery “Game of Thrones” character]. I remember (I have a list!), and that can be distracting to the end goal. He brings me back to myself so I can put that into my racing. The challenges would be the competitiveness of both of us. As racers we both take on roles—I am the grafter and he, the racehorse. I lead races from the beginning, whereas James is a late surger. I sometimes resent the fact that I think he has it easier—and him, me. We both think each other has more talent than ourselves, which I guess is a compliment to bicker over. The other challenge is that I gain energy by getting away from triathlon talk and people. I rest actively and busily. James loves the talk and can triathlon chat for hours and when he rests, he sleeps or lies down. That just makes me feel lazy.

Triathlete.com: You have written and spoken openly about some of the struggles in your past (the aforementioned eating disorder and abusive relationship). You certainly seem to be in a very positive place now—healthy, happy and in a supportive relationship. So I’m curious: How does racing differ for you in good times and in bad? You’ve had successes throughout your career, and thus throughout the ups and downs in your personal life. So how does your emotional state affect your ferocity as a competitor? 
JS: It is a myth that I race angry. I have had my best races happy and healthy. I use anger and memories and “Arya’s list” in training, yes—because I have time to mull and generate thought. I have had a few years of bad times, so there is a reserve of comments I can pull on, as anyone that has been through an abusive relationship would know! But in head-to-head racing there is no time to think of some comment, punch or bad reporter. All I am thinking of is doing myself justice and my mind is on autopilot, only aware of the race happenings. My mind is so calm and collected in a good race it is eerie.

Triathlete.com: I was checking out your website and you seem to have a thing for quotes—there are some great ones on your site! What is one quote that best fits this moment in time in your life, and why?
JS: “Never let anyone beat you because they have outworked you.” I use this all the time. For so long I have had a problem with the quote, “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” That quote constricts what talent actually is, or what my “talent” has always been—the ability to work hard each and every session for prolonged periods of time. There is nothing wrong with talent, but being labeled “talented” often comes with the connotation that it is somehow easier for me. That irks me.

You can “follow the Swallow” on Twitter @jodieswallow.

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