LAVA caught up with the current ITU World Triathlon Series champion in Fuerteventura, Spain, where she was gearing up for her first race of the 2014 season at the ITU WTS Auckland. Stanford talked to us about adjusting to life as a world champion, her Olympic dreams and whether or not we might see her on an Ironman starting line anytime soon.
LAVA: You had a really successful 2013 racing season, culminating in your ITU World Triathlon Series Championship title. How have things changed for you since then?
Non Stanford: I’ve obviously been a lot busier and had many more commitments and all of that. It’s been pretty great though because there has been so many memorable experiences that I’ve been able to be a part of. I’m really fortunate that in Leeds [West Yorkshire, England] where I train, I have a really great team around me who really manage all of that for me. All I really have to focus on is my training and they kind of take care of everything else, more or less. I have people who sort everything out and do the worrying with media and sponsors and they make my life as easy as possible so that I can keep pretty much the same routine as I had last year. I’m really lucky like that.
There is this heightened sense of responsibility though for sure. I want to be a good ambassador for the sport and a good role model, and I’m quite aware of trying hard to inspire children coming up in the sport, as well as adults who are interested in triathlon. I want to be a positive role model for the sport. Other than that, in Leeds, we’ve got a lot of successful athletes who I train with every day. The Brownlee brothers, for example, who are aware of what it’s like to get that attention so they can help me navigate it while at the same time not treating me any different than before. It keeps my feet on the ground and business as usual.
LAVA: So as far as timing your next few years of racing, how do you balance preparing for the Olympics in Rio in 2016 with defending your ITU World Triathlon Series title this year? Do you just take it a year at a time or do you have to plan out further than that?
Non Stanford: I sort of take it a year at a time. This year we have the Commonwealth Games as well, which is actually my main focus of the season. I’d love to defend my WTS title as well, but the Commonwealth Games are really my focus. I think we take each year as it comes, but there is always a long-term plan in place. My coach is very aware of my next few years of racing and he’s always very careful to make sure I don’t peak too soon or burn out before the really important Olympic qualification races start to take place. You see that quite a lot in ITU racing because it is so non-stop. ITU racing and training is so intense. You have to be careful and manage it very well. And of course Rio is always at the back of my mind; I really want to be on that start line. It’s really a balancing act over the next few years of short and long-term racing goals.
LAVA: Coming here to the Playitas Resort on Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands, you are surrounded by so many other world-class triathletes. It seems to be a Mecca for the sport. Do you come here often?
Non Stanford: Yeah I’ve been here quite a lot actually. The British Triathlon Federation (BTF) plans trips for the whole team out here early in the year so that we can all train together; usually we’ll make a couple trips in December. It’s great because while I love being in Leeds because we have such a great set up and everything is easy and convenient, it’s nice to get away and have a fresh environment and maybe see some of the other Brits who aren’t necessarily based in Leeds full time like I am. It’s always refreshing to train with new people. The weather in Leeds is obviously not great, so it’s nice to get some consistent miles done in the sun, which you get absolutely every day here. Overall, I think the BTF is lucky to be based in Europe because when the weather does get bad we can very easily get away to nicer climates like they have here.
LAVA: Is there a downside to training in such an intense environment like they have here? When you come to a place like this where there are so many other elite-level triathletes, especially those training for long distance racing who are putting in serious hours, is it ever difficult not to compare your training with theirs and maybe start to second guess yourself or do too much?
Non Stanford: I think it’s something you definitely have to be careful about. I think learning how to avoid that is part of maturing as an athlete. The first few training camps I did here I definitely got taken along with what I saw other people doing. I would start to think I had to do what others were just to keep up. I think it’s something you learn not to do. You learn to trust yourself more and you kind of start to intuitively know that your own plan is the one to adhere to, not anyone else’s. You also learn that radically changing something for two weeks while you’re away at a camp probably won’t do any good, and could actually cause problems for you in the long run.
That said, you can learn from what you see your fellow athletes doing. You just have to kind of infuse it into your training plan, not replace it entirely. There’s a difference there for sure, and it’s a very fine line. You can’t get sucked up by the hype that you experience at a place like Fuerteventura, especially because it seems like training is literally all everyone is doing all day long. You have to keep your wits about you. I’m quite more laid back now and confident in my training than I was even a few years ago, which is part of my maturity within the sport.
LAVA: Your first race of the 2014 season is coming up at the ITU WCS Auckland. You’ve always done well on that course, but it is notoriously difficult. What are your feelings about your first race of 2014?
Non Stanford: Well, luckily the only other time I did that course was when I won the ITU Under 23 World Championship, so I had a positive experience there. I like that it’s a tough course and a very technical bike. I think the swim is going to be quite fast because both Helen Jenkins and Lucy Hall will be there, and that’s only counting the fast swimmers of the British team. So with a fast swim, that means there will be a very committed front bike so that will be quite hard. I’m really going to focus on trying to make that front pack because that will be key. If we have a committed front group, we can get a good lead on anyone who might not make the pack and that could pay dividends on the run. I’m really looking forward to the race; it’s the first race of the season so you never know how it’s going to go. You’ve done the training and usually you feel like it’s all going well but there’s always that worry that it isn’t going to translate to the starting line. It will be exciting to get back out there and see how everyone else went during the winter. I think it’s always after the winter in these early races that some new names start to pop up and they do well and you can see who has broken through.
LAVA: You’re here in Fuerteventura with other members of the Orca team, most notably Sebastian Kienle of Germany and American Andrew Starykowicz, who are both non-drafting, long course athletes. Last night you were telling them that you don’t have any interest in moving up to Ironman racing, but they seemed to doubt you a little bit. So that being said, where do you see yourself in five years?
Non Stanford: I guess you should never say never when it comes to racing. But at the minute, long distance just seems like such a long way and such a long time on the bike without talking to someone! I can’t really think that far ahead I guess. Right now I’m just loving what I do, and I’m loving all the experiences that I’m getting as a result of it. I can’t quite see past Rio. Maybe things will change as I grow up and I’m sure a lot will happen between now and then. I think I’ll have to make that call after Rio. I’ve been involved in sport for as long as I can remember, and I can’t really imagine my life without it, so I’ll admit that much. We’ll have to see, but you can’t do it forever can you? I’m lucky that I have a degree and some experiences under my belt that I can pursue if I do leave the sport. But who knows, maybe I will end up going long. At the minute I’d say no. I might try a 70.3 race, but anything beyond that just seems quite scary. Those two boys seem to have a fun time with the training, I listen to their banter quite a lot. They seem to have a lot of fun despite the very long hours. And they aren’t the only ones who don’t believe me when I say I’m not interested in long distance racing.