Chrissie Wellington is an icon in the world of endurance sport, having won the Ironman World Championships (swimming 2.4miles, cycling 112 miles and running a marathon) four times and setting world records at the distance. She retired from professional triathlon in 2012 and, in 2015, she and her husband (and fellow Ironman) Tom Lowe welcomed their daughted, Esme Grace, into the world. Women’s Running’s Claire Chamberlain caught up with Chrissie to talk about her #ReasonToRun this year’s Virgin Money London Marathon…
You normally run a marathon at the end of a 2.4-mile swim and 112-mile cycle! What are your hopes for London?
My hope is ultimately to enjoy it. I retired in 2012 and have given birth to my daughter since then. I was seeking a challenge around which to structure the running I was doing, but I didn’t want to go back into triathlon. The London Marathon felt like it was coming full circle, because it was where I started my foray into endurance sport.
Your first London Marathon was in 2002, is that correct?
Yes. I finished it in 3:08. I just really enjoyed it and it made me realise I wanted to take running more seriously. Out of that came my passion for triathlon and out of that came a passion for Ironman.
How has becoming a mother [to Esme Grace, born in 2015] altered your perspective?
My aims are modest because they have to be. I have a different life now, so I need to see success in the context of that life, rather than being overly ambitious and focusing my entire life around achieving a time. I’ve been a professional athlete, I’ve focused my entire life on that goal. Now I want it to be a part of my life. I want to get sub-3 hours in London, hopefully a few minutes under that. But more than that, I want to be a role model for our daughter and I want to come back to where my love for endurance sport really started.
Training for a marathon is challenging when you have a young family. How has life and your training changed?
Oh, it’s changed fundamentally and immeasurably, but in so many wonderful ways. And things are a juggling act. It’s obviously made me a lot less selfish. She’s our priority and everything has to be decided and undertaken with her in mind. I’d never do anything that would compromise my ability to be the mother I want to be. But she’s fantastic. She’s stubborn, like her mum! But she’s great. I love being a mum. It’s obviously not all roses. There are challenges; juggling is part of the challenge and, for me, coping with the external pressure to do a time that I know, realistically, I don’t want to go for and I’m probably not capable of at the moment, is hard. But part of the self-development process for me is being humble enough and modest enough to say I’m not the athlete I was, I can still run and I can still run well, but I want to frame it in the context of the life that I have now and I don’t want anything to compromise that.
What are your tips for other time-poor mums who are training for an endurance event?
Get bang for buck. You haven’t got to go out and run for an hour. If you can get 20 minutes in, get 20 minutes in and be happy with that. Be happy to be the best you can be on that day. I think you’ve got to be flexible, you’ve got to be adaptable, you’ve got to be willing to change your schedule if you have to and not beat yourself up over it, but do what you can, when you can. I’d always advise mums – in fact everyone, really – to prioritise the strength and conditioning aspect. Really focus on having a strong core, because that will carry you through, especially in the latter stages of a marathon or any race. Try to emphasise that as much as you do the rest of your training. It can be done in your day-to-day life, you haven’t got to set aside huge swathes of time for that. Also, a running buggy! I don’t run with my daughter, because my husband and I juggle it so that I don’t have to, but I know that for many mums, a running buggy is a saving grace. I think ultimately, you’ve got to enjoy it and you’ve got to take your family along for the ride. Running should never be something that causes stress. If it does, it’s not worth doing, so set your goals based on your life, but look at other mums and know that if they can do it, you can… just with a bit of hard work and imagination and an understanding partner!
How important do you think running is for mums who need a bit of headspace?
Oh, it can be vital. I’ve seen so many women who have used running as an empowering channel to get some of their life back after having kids, because it’s your time. Even if it’s just 20 minutes, it’s your time away from being a mum, your time to be you again, and I think that psychological benefit is as important as any physical one.
Chrissie will be taking part in the Virgin Money London Marathon on 23 April 2017. For more details, visit and share your #ReasonToRun @LondonMarathon.