Michellie Jones owns just about every accolade a professional triathlete can earn: an Olympic medal, two ITU World Championships, an Ironman World Championship and an XTERRA World Championship. More recently, she earned the title of Age Group world champion and was also honored as an inductee into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame. I caught up with Jones to learn what she’s up to these days and how she’s received in the age group ranks. She also shares two of her favorite top-speed training sessions–one for the bike and one for the run.
Triathlete.com: Earlier this month you were inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame–a fitting honor for your two and a half decades of professional racing. But you’re hardly finished in the sport. In fact, it seems like you’re doing as much, if not more in triathlon then when you were racing in the pro ranks. What exactly are all your different roles these days?
MJ: Let’s see. I’m Sponsorship Commander for ISM Saddles worldwide and I own the distribution rights to ISM Australia. I’m Athlete Manager at Compex. I own and coach athletes through Giddy Up Multisports Camps and Coaching (MJmultisports.com) and I teach group trainer workouts at Ride Cyclery in Encinitas. I do motivational speaking and appearances. I race in the 45-49 age group and I compete in Hunt Seat and Western horse competitions.
Triathlete.com: Right, you have a ton of horse competition awards! And while that’s different than triathlon, it’s still competitive–plus between triathlon and riding combined it seems you race at least one event, if not two, nearly every weekend.
Triathlete.com: You obviously love to race. But as a former pro now racing as an age group athlete, I imagine there are mixed reactions–the women that are stoked to race alongside you in the same division, and the women that are bitter about it because you are pretty darn fast and you’re vying for age group awards. What’s that like for you? And what would you say to any naysayers?
MJ: It’s one of those things where I don’t have the time to do the training that I would need to be a pro. I’ve been there and done that, and I don’t want to do the training required to do that now. But I still love to race, and like everyone else I need goals. It is a little frustrating when people get a little bitter about it. Look, I’m just following the rules. Yes, I’ve had a stellar career, but that shouldn’t prevent me from racing now.
Triathlete.com: Do you somewhat feel that you’ve given so much to the sport and dedicated so much of your life to it, that you deserve the right to be on that start line, no matter the category?
MJ: You know, triathlon is a big part of who I am. I still want to do it, I just don’t want to do it on the level that people assume that I can continue to do. I have other priorities in my life, but I still want triathlon to be a significant part of my life. For me to do everything that I want to do in my life, I choose to train a lot less and have fun, and part of that is setting myself goals. And you know, I have to qualify like everyone else [for example, for the ITU Age Group World Championship], I get injured like everyone else and I have mechanicals like everyone else. Anything can happen on race day, and getting to race day I’m just like everyone else. I want to get there in the best shape that I can. The big difference, really, in racing pro and age group is that you get a lot more rest time as a pro. You get to recover. You’re getting paid to do what you love doing and it’s who you are–it’s part of everything that you do. Then when you move away from being a pro it’s not as big a part of what you do, but we shouldn’t stop anyone from continuing to race triathlon just because they once were a pro. I’m not the first person to do it and I won’t be the last, though I may be one of the higher profile athletes to do it. And when you think about it, I’ve got a lot more to lose than most people! Everyone has me up here on this pedestal and I’m like: Um…yeah. There are a lot of fast age groupers out there and in triathlon you never know what’s going to happen. I never go into a race thinking I’m going to win. I go into every race thinking I’m gong to do the best I can.
Triathlete.com: That’s so true–in a way you have a lot more on the line in terms of your reputation and the expectations people have for you.
MJ: There are always going to be people that feel it’s not fair or not right, but I’m going by the rules. The rules are that you wait out your pro membership card, and when that expires you can continue forward as an age group athlete if you choose. It’s the same thing as an age group athlete who’s good enough to race pro but decides not to race pro. There’s nothing compulsory saying you have to turn pro. It’s a choice that you make.
Triathlete.com: You conquered just about every triathlon distance and discipline in your career, but you seem to really love the sprint distance. In fact, in August you won the 45-49 age group sprint distance world title. Why is that your distance of choice these days?
MJ: One of the reasons I raced the sprint at ITU worlds was that I happened to be in Australia when there was an Australian sprint championship qualifying race. I wasn’t around for the selection races for the Olympic distance. And rather than try to get on the Olympic distance team by using the excuse that I live overseas and asking to be included, I wanted to qualify like everyone else, so that everyone would feel I had qualified fairly.
I do love the Olympic distance, but I just love the sprint because you go as hard as you can. You also do that in Olympic, but the intensity’s just a little higher in a sprint. And I sort of wanted to get some speed back after quite a few years of Ironman training. I wanted to go back to what I used to do and the type of training that I used to do. It’s a way to enjoy a part of the sport that is fun and challenging, but not something where I feel like: Oh my goodness, I need to do more training!
Triathlete.com: And it fits in well with everything else you’re doing.
MJ: Yeah, it’s manageable with everything else that I have in my life. One thing I really love doing is that when I travel somewhere, I always try to find a race. It doesn’t matter what–most of the time it’s going to be a run race, because I don’t always travel with my bike. But every city that I go to, I try to find a race that I can jump into and have fun and meet different people. Really, that’s why triathlon is so cool–because you do meet so many diverse people. You meet some awesome people! It’s a tribute to the sort of people that do this sport–they’re great people, they’re goal-oriented and they like to push themselves.
Triathlete.com: Now that you’re in the same boat as many age group athletes–trying your best to balance training with work and various other demands on your time–can you share a favorite bike or run speed session that maximizes fitness in a minimum amount of time?
MJ: One of my favorite trainer sessions is actually a sit/stand session. It’s 3 x 10 minutes with 5 minutes easy spinning as recovery. The 3 x 10 minutes is 1 minute standing in a hard gear, then 1 minute of high cadence TT spinning, and so on. Your cadence should be over 95 for the TT 1-minutes and then it drops down when you stand up and simulate a hill climb. I love it because you change your heart rate and you change the muscles that you’re engaging. It’s good for triathletes because we constantly like to do the same level of speed over and over again, and instead this challenges your cadence as well as the muscle groups that you’re engaging in the session. It gives you a little of everything.
One of my favorite run sessions is this: Do a 5-minute interval at 10k pace, then 3 x 3 minutes at 5k pace, then 6 x 1 minute hill sprints (where you sprint up concentrating on your form), and then a 5-minute 10k effort to finish up. The recovery on the hills is just jogging down, and the recovery for everything else is 1 ½ minutes.