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Triathlete Michellie Jones shares tips for athletes preparing for their first race

Pam LeBlanc
pleblanc@statesman.com

During the peak of her career, Australian Michellie Jones won every major triathlon on the planet, including the Kona Ironman Triathlon World Championship in 2006. Still, she's got a soft spot in her heart for the sprint-distance Danskin Triathlon, a beginner-friendly event that encourages regular women to get out and swim, bike and run.

In this Q&A, the 42-year-old tells us a little about her background and shares tips for the Danskin, which comes to town June 3. She'll also answer questions from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 2 during packet pickup. Then she'll race and welcome athletes at the finish line on June 3.

Austin American-Statesman: Do you remember your first triathlon?

Michellie Jones: I was 18 and it was a sprint distance triathlon in Sydney. I did some running in high school and my running coach suggested that I do a triathlon. I think I was second overall and won my age group.

What's your advice for women thinking about doing their first sprint triathlon?

It is a challenge. Most people have trouble running 3 miles, let alone swimming and biking before that. What I tell people is never limit what you think you can do.

How should beginners prepare for their first race?

When you're first starting out, do at least 20 to 60 minutes of exercise a day. Definitely go ride and run the distance, swim in the open water and be comfortable about being in open water. You have to start somewhere, and whatever your fitness level is, add 10 percent on each week. And don't try to go out and do the whole thing the first day.

Do you get nervous before races?

I get nervous before every single race, it doesn't matter if it's a 5K or an Ironman. It's good to get nervous. It's because you care and want to do your best and achieve your goal, and for everyone it's the same goal — to get across the finish line.

What's the worst mistake you've made in a race?

I have so many. The biggest is leaving your equipment behind. I've forgotten to pack my bike shoes and bike wheels. I always tell people to pack your bag the night before, then recheck it before you get in the car. It's a good idea to write a list, and only take into transition exactly what you really need.

What are some other beginner tips?

I always remind people to remind themselves why they're there. When you're out there, it doesn't matter if you've done 400 triathlons or if this is your first one. At some point your mind says, ‘Why am I doing this? I could have slept in.' Whether it's a fitness goal, a weight loss goal or it's on your bucket list, know what it is because that'll get you to the finish line. And smile when you cross the finish line and get your photo taken. That's the best part of that triathlon. You're done. You achieved what you wanted to do. Everyone should enjoy that moment.

When you're racing, do you go all out in all three sports or do you save something during the swim for the bike, and something off the bike for the run?

Definitely pace yourself. I train myself to go as hard as I can in the swim, but you have to know that you still have to bike and run. You can't get out of water and have nothing left. That pacing is what you learn to do in training.

What are your most memorable wins?

An Olympic silver medal, the Ironman and XTerra (mountain bike triathlon world championship) — it's hard to go past those in terms of wins.

You're probably best known as an Ironman champion. Is that race's 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile run your favorite distance?

Everyone thinks of me as an Ironman, but I don't think of myself that way. My passion lays with the shorter distance.

What's one of your best race memories?

We had finished the swim and an athlete sat down and started eating cake. She said, "I finished the swim. This what I promised myself." That's why I love Danskin. It's so empowering. Women who thought they would never do a triathlon do it.

Do you have a massage regimen?

When I was in full training I'd get worked on three times a week. It was a big part of being able to recover and go back and train hard. And it's not one of these massages you get and sigh. The massages I get are pretty intense — I'm sweaty and going crazy because it hurts so much. But it definitely helps.

Would you rather race now, with the abundance of resources available, or when you had to learn things on your own?

Things happen for a reason, and I was meant to race when I raced and I'm proud of what I achieved ... The way I race now is so different in terms of clothing and equipment. There's a lot more research and development now, but I love the fact that I got to pave the way.

Is it harder to be a professional triathlete now than 10 years ago?

I think it's easier to be a pro now because there's way more races and a lot more prize money around.

Will you ever return to pro racing?

I fractured my hip in a car accident last year and that put me out. I love racing and can't wait to race age group next year. For me, getting invited to Danskin, that's what I love. It brings me back to who I am and what I love doing. I've achieved so much in my career, the last few years I've wanted to go back to the races I enjoyed most and loved doing.

Contact Pam LeBlanc at 445-3994

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