Ordinary Women Being Extraordinary
When Michaela Stringer, 44, from Eastbourne divorced in 2010, she decided it was time to try out Triathlon. Three years later she’d qualified as an age group triathlete.
‘Becoming an age group triathlete has been a life long journey. I’ve swum since I was four-years-old, and running competitively since I was nine. My dad was a runner and one of the pioneer triathletes in the 1980s. Both my parents were team managers for the Brighton and Hove Athletics Club and as a child, we spent our weekends travelling to races around Sussex competing in cross-country and track and field events. I was also an active member of the Brighton Dolphin Swimming Club. When I was 14 years old I took my first step into the world of triathlon. I took part in the Epsom and Ewell triathlon – it was early days for the sport and I remember going into a cubicle to get dry and completely changed after the swim, before carrying on to the rest of the race!
‘I continued with sport whilst at University, doing Martial Arts, but the usual combination of beer and boys kept me away from my athletic roots. By the 1990s, I’d got into aerobics and step classes and continued to keep fit but no more than a couple of times a week. I went on to marry and have my daughter, Kitty, now 14. Then in 2006 my marriage broke down.
‘I felt a little directionless, and my self-confidence had taken a battering. I was in a dark place – depressed, isolated and overweight but I knew that running would help. When I tied up my running shoes and stepped outside for a run, I felt back in control of my body and myself. Running is my first love, so my first step to where I am today, was joining my local running club, Run Wednesdays, run by Eastbourne’s well-known personal trainer and running coach Danny Garbett. I credit Danny with re-igniting my love for running and re-introducing me to the running family. I felt I belonged somewhere again.
‘Swimming soon followed and as I got fitter, the idea of competing again started to take hold. I started with an Aquathlon – a swim followed by a run – the two things I loved to do. By 2011, triathlon followed, but I had no idea what to do when it came to cycling. I hadn’t been on a bike since my sixth form college days.
The Journey To Age Group Qualification
‘A cyclist friend came with me to help me get the right bike and I started training. I had my sights set on entering my first triathlon. Shortly after however, I injured my Achilles. Rather than give up, I focused on improving my swim and bike and although my running was still slow, I entered and completed the Bexhill Triathlon. Although I wasn’t particularly quick, I absolutely loved the occasion and I was hooked. Soon after I met David, who’s now my husband. He was really encouraging and found that the 2012 British Aquathlon Age Group Championships were being held in Birmingham. He was really knowledgeable about the sport, the training and what I needed to qualify. I entered the race and to my delight, I finished in third place and took home a bronze medal. This sparked the dream of working towards qualifying for the European Sprint Triathlon Championships taking place in Alanya, Turkey in 2013. I entered the qualifying race and won my age group. The dream had become a reality.
‘I was lucky to have support from some great local athletes at the Bodyworks Triathlon Club and now that I had earned my GB strip, I started to secure some great local sponsors and was lucky enough to be selected as an ambassador for the wetsuit company Huub. I raced for my life at the championships and came home with a bronze medal. Also later in 2013, by placing third at the British Sprint Championships in Nottingham, I was also lucky enough to earn a place at the ITU World Championships held in Hyde Park, London the following summer. I finished in 12th place, racing the best of the best. What an amazing experience that was.
‘Through sheer grit and determination and a refusal to give up when times get hard, it had taken just three years to qualify as an age grouper and as a competitive athlete for Team GB. I’ve travelled to great places such as Turkey, Austria and Italy. I’m proud to have represented Great Britain on a National and International Level in Aquathlon and Sprint Triathlon. As I am always looking for the next challenge, in 2014 I switched distance to 70.3 and qualified to represent GBR in the 2015 ETU Middle Distance European Championships in Italy. I completed the qualifying rounds to do so again in Denmark 2017, but unfortunately injury meant I had to pull out a couple of weeks before the event. This was a massive disappointment as I had worked so hard and was quite possibly in the best shape I had ever been in. However, injury brings with it other opportunities. I could still swim and ride and get to the gym. So by focussing on what I could do, I began to see vast improvements in my bike strength, which was my weakest discipline. I also deferred entry to the Denmark 70.3, so although I won’t be representing my country, I will be settling some unfinished business there in June 2018. If I do well enough, then it could qualify me for the ETU 70.3 champs in 2019, if that is what I choose to do. Injury is your body’s way of telling you to stop, recover and re-assess. It’s so important to listen to that message and re-evaluate your goals. Focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t.
‘Triathlon has added so much to my life. With three sports to master, it’s a true leveler for athletes. I’m really passionate about promoting sport for all and have recently qualified as a Level 3 Nutritional Advisor and Personal Trainer. I do understand how difficult it is to manage training with family life, as when I started I was a single mum with a seven-year old. For me it’s really important to have a routine and to attend regular sessions with like-minded people. I’m also the co-founder of local triathlon club Tri Tempo with local run shop entrepreneur Wes Mechen. I really value the support I get from training with friends at those sessions. I have met some truly amazing and inspiring people at all levels of the sport on my journey.
Age Grouper Training
‘At peak training I’ll do between 10 and 14 hours a week, but off-peak, during the winter, I’ll probably do between eight and 10 hours per week. My weekly schedule at peak is usually made up of three swims (two coached and one with a team-mate), two to three cycles – a combination of long group rides and shorter interval based turbo sessions and three runs which are a long, a speed and a tempo or brick session (i.e. a bike followed by a run). I also go to the gym twice a week. It’s a lot so I also make sure I include rest, usually one clear day a week, and then every three weeks I’ll ease off training.
‘To make sure I’m on track with the gym, I also try to see a personal trainer periodically to help me measure my progress and plan strength and conditioning work. This has made a big difference to my performance on the bike and I hope will help to keep further injury at bay.
‘I keep motivated by continually re-setting goals. It’s so important to know what you want to achieve and why you want to achieve it. And although I have a long-term goal, I also take small steps. And of course, it’s great to keep trying new things. Next year I’m making my debut in the world of OTILLO swim/run on the Gower peninsula. It’s tough, but exciting and a whole new event for me. I always love a challenge.’