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Dispatch: From Britain To Boulder And Vegas-Bound – Meet Emma-Kate Lidbury

With a focus on high altitude training this summer she’s fitter and faster than ever.

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The women’s field for Sunday’s Ironman 70.3 World Championship is stacked higher than the daily pancake special at IHOP. But amidst a number of full-Ironman newsmakers, getting in their final fast race efforts before heading to Kona, is an up-and-coming Ironman 70.3 specialist who stands poised to podium. Britain’s Emma-Kate Lidbury, better known as “EK”, has earned four 70.3 titles already, and with a focus on high altitude training this summer she’s fitter and faster than ever. We recently sat down with Lidbury, who has spent the past six weeks training in triathlon’s Rocky Mountain mecca to learn how she’s enjoying life in Boulder, how she’s feeling as the World Championship weekend approaches and a few interesting tidbits about her career.

Triathlete.com On this trip to America, you gradually made your way up, up and up…first at sea level for a training camp in California with Purple Patch and your coach Matt Dixon, then briefly to Boulder [at 5430ft], then straight up to Keystone [at 9,280ft] for a week of work with fellow Brit Rachel Joyce. Have you caught your breath yet, and what does it really feel like to swim, bike and run that high? Are you feeling the benefits, now that you’ve dropped back down to Boulder?

EKL: I’ve caught my breath now, but it has taken a little time. Keystone was hard. It was hard to swim, bike and run, but then I knew it would be. And the training we were doing was all super low intensity. It was kind of designed to shock the body into working at higher altitude so that we could come back down to Boulder and then do swim, bike and run quality work in the lead up to Vegas. And so far, anecdotally I would say it’s worked. The last few weeks training here in Boulder, since getting back from Keystone, have been really good. The proof will be in the pudding though when I roll the dice in Vegas!

Triathlete.com: I remember when you first arrived here, you mentioned that you couldn’t get over the natural beauty of Colorado. Have you stopped “Ooh-ing” and “Ahh-ing” over the sights yet, or is your jaw pretty much still dragging on the ground?

EKL: Yes, for sure it is! I can be out riding here – especially at the moment, when so many sessions are about intervals and hitting watts and really thinking about Vegas – I can be totally engrossed in a session and then look up and I almost pinch myself. I think: Wow! Look where I’m riding! This has to be one of the most beautiful places I’ve trained in the world. There’s barely a time when I’m not blown away by the scenery and the setting. I’ve really fallen in love with the place. It’s going to be hard to leave.

Triathlete.com: Let’s rate some of the training here. First, how tough would you rank Dave Scott’s swim sessions, on a scale from 1-10 (10 being the hardest)?

EKL: Pretty hard – like 8 or 9. But I’ve loved those sessions. And I’m sure Dave won’t mind me saying, but I’ve been quite surprised! I didn’t expect to enjoy them. But in actual fact I’ve loved them. Dave is just such a funny guy, so you’re working hard but you’re having a good time. You’re working hard with a smile on your face. And though most of the time I’ve felt like I’m swimming terribly – which I think and hope is an altitude thing – I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve taken a lot from the sessions.

Triathlete.com: Onto the bike, how intense does the competition feel while training here? The roads are covered with triathletes. Are people gunning for glory in their weekly sessions, or do they save it for the racecourse?

EKL: I’m pretty good at making sure that I just do what I’ve got to do. It’s very rare for me to get distracted by what somebody else might be doing. And I’ve made a point in the last 10 days or so of pretty much doing all my bike sessions solo. Or if I’m starting out with somebody then I start out with them and do a warm up, but after that it’s my session. Although you do get quite a lot of roadies that come past you and you think: I’m gonna take you down! But then you tell yourself: C’mon, it’s not a race now!

Triathlete.com: In terms of running, how do the trails compare to what you have at home? And how many snakes have you seen?

EKL: Luckily I’ve only seen a couple of snakes – and they’ve been dead, I’m afraid. I did get a picture of one that looked like it was asleep rather than dead. I sent it back to my nephew at home. He loves the sleeping snake! But I haven’t yet seen any live ones.

I’ve been doing a lot of running around Wonderland Lake, and that’s just amazing! At home I train in Oxford, which is also a very pretty part of the world and we do have some great running there. It’s different here, but it’s just as beautiful if not more.

Triathlete.com: Boulder’s a bit of an eclectic place. What are some of the strangest things you’ve seen or experienced here?

EKL: I instantly thought of an intervals run session I was doing in Central Park downtown a few days ago. I was doing five-minute intervals at race pace and then one-minute intervals above race pace, so they were pretty hard. And along the stretch of the river that I was running, there were these guys meditating. It pretty much worked out that every time I finished an interval I ended up right where they were meditating. There’s me, my heart rate through the roof, a sweaty clammy mess, and there are these guys, totally Zen. You couldn’t get more yin and yang! Where else are you going to see that? And I wasn’t even registering on their radar. I love that about Boulder – everybody’s just doing his or her thing and not caring what anybody else is doing. Everybody just meshes and it works.

And I love the whole dining out and culinary scene – the whole gluten-free, dairy-free thing. You can get anything. We were eating pizza out the other night, and seven out of the eight of us ordered gluten-free pizzas. The waiter came back to check the order because he wanted to be sure that the eighth person had indeed intended to eat a full gluten containing pizza. I just thought: Only in Boulder! That would never happen back home. If you ate pizza out and asked for a gluten-free base they’d be like, “Pardon? You want what? You want your pepperoni how?” So yeah, it’s just a cool, different place where everything seems to work.

Triathlete.com: You’re renting a room in a house where many (if not most) athlete visitors to Boulder have stayed at one time or another, and at any given time there are a collection of housemates from around the world. Do you have any habits that your housemates find unusual?

EKL: There are mostly runners at the house now. I guess what’s different to home is that they’re totally used to triathletes, so nothing that I do or say seems to faze them. Whereas if you were in a shared house at home and you were the only triathlete, going out riding or running at six in the morning would be odd. But I do think they’re constantly amazed at the turnaround of my sessions. I’ll come in from the bike, go out running, then an hour or two later I’m out swimming. It’s cool to be staying in a house where Chris Legh, Luke Bell, so many of those guys have stayed. Adam, the guy who owns the house, will say, “Oh yeah, I remember when such-and-such stayed here…” So it’s kind of cool and it’s been a really good place to instantly feel at home.

Triathlete.com: You’ve been here for six weeks. It’s time to name your number one favorite Boulder coffee shop!

EKL: I think it would be Spruce in North Boulder. I’ve been getting really bad at either finishing or starting my rides there. This morning I planned to go there on the way back from my ride and I actually stopped there 10 minutes into my ride. It’s bad! The thing is, whenever I go, there’s always at least one or two people I know there. So you kind of rock up and your five-minute coffee becomes a little longer. But I do make sure I don’t stop there when I’m running off the bike!

Triathlete.com: You are touted as 70.3 specialist – you’ve yet to do a full Ironman. Do you even want to?  

EKL: I do at some stage, but every season I say, “Oh, next year!” It’s becoming a bit of a mañana mañana. I guess while I still feel I have a lot to achieve at 70.3 I can’t see myself biting off the Ironman. But one day, yeah.

Triathlete.com: In your finish photo at the 2011 Ironman 70.3 UK, you look like you’re screaming with almost animalistic happiness at the victory. Was that your most satisfying athletic moment to date, winning on your home turf?

EKL: It could well be! I surprised myself with that reaction. That photo sums up a lot. It did mean a great deal to me, I guess because during the race I was caught on the run by a girl who was on paper a much stronger runner than I was. So a lot of people at that stage of the race thought: Oh she’s caught her, EK is done. She actually ran away from me, but I reeled her back in and outran her. So I guess that gratification, plus winning at home felt pretty special. That could be one of the sweetest victories so far.

Triathlete.com: Last year at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Las Vegas you finished 8th. How do you feel about the competition this year, and what do you think it will take for you to get the win?

EKL: This year the field looks absolutely stacked. It’s incredibly competitive. Last year, having raced in Clearwater the year before, I thought Vegas was far more a World Championship worthy venue, and that was reflected through the competition. I think this year that will be even more the case. For me personally, I know that I’m biking and running the best I ever have, and I always like to start off with a strong swim, so I’ll be looking to repeat that. I think if I can do that – put together my best race – then I fully expect to be in the mix.

Triathlete.com: You talk a lot about chocolate in your blog. So let me ask you this: Would you be willing to give up chocolate for life in exchange for a world title?

EKL: Oh wow! Yes. Yeah, I could do that. But I am a chocoholic. Ritter bars are my favorite. They’re German. When Rachel and I were training in the Canary Islands in the winter, we got a little bit obsessed with them. You don’t see them very often here. I haven’t had any since I’ve been here, but I have been exploring Boulder’s chocolate scene – don’t worry!

Triathlete.com: As a fellow journalist [EK has a post-grad degree in journalism and writes for numerous triathlon magazines and websites], I’m sure you’ve interviewed plenty of people. Is there anything I’ve missed that you think I should ask you about – anything you’d like to share with the U.S. audience?

EKL: My main sponsor is a U.K. based company called Wiggle [www.wiggle.co.uk]. So I always wear the Wiggle kit on my rides and it seems to have tickled the American population. I get so many comments when I’m out riding: “Hey, Wiggle it!”

Triathlete.com: What is Wiggle?

EKL: They started out as a backroom bike shop just selling inner tubes and bits and pieces, and now they’re a massive online retailer shipping to 70 countries worldwide. At the end of 2011 Wiggle was sold for £180million [about $285m]. They are massive at home, in Europe and Australia but in the States they are still expanding. I think actually when they started out, before they were specifically a bike shop, they sold sex toys – and anything else that would sell online. So I think maybe that’s where the name came from! They’ve supported me since I was racing age group, and the relationship has just grown and grown and grown each season, to the point where I was able to give up work. They sponsor a lot of road riders and mountain bikers, and also another age group triathlete. They’ve always wanted to support people who are coming up in their sports. And it’s always been more about personality rather than just results. It’s been very similar actually, my career development to what they’ve done. We’ve grown together!

Watch for EK – in her Wiggle kit – to make her mark at Sunday’s world championship. You can learn more about this rising star and her adventures in America and across the globe at Eklidbury.com and on Twitter @eklidbury.

More “Dispatch” columns from Holly Bennett.