2012 European Sprint Duathlon champion Helen Russell’s introduction to the competitive world of Triathlons and Duathlons didn’t quite go according to plan in 2006 thanks to all the things that possibly could go wrong going wrong en route during the race. However, unperturbed, it was the start of something that has now seen Helen become a World and European Duathlon champion as well as reaching bronze medal position in the 2010 World Aquathon. On top of that she also blogs for the Metro, writes for Sportsister.com, races for TriUK AND hasn’t given up the day job as a Trade Union Official. We’re exhausted just reading that list…
Why and how did you get into Triathlons and Duathlons?
I started running in my mid-twenties as I realised that a sedentary lifestyle and office job wasn’t good for my health or expanding waistline. I joined my local running club and bought a bike as I kept failing my driving test and needed to get around! I really enjoyed being active and thought that entering a triathlon would scare me into getting fit. My first triathlon in 2006 was a disaster as my goggles kept leaking and the chain came off my bike. Despite that I had caught the triathlon bug and there was no turning back. I started duathlons as winter training for the triathlons but I have actually had more success in this discipline.
What’s the training schedule like?
I’m an age group triathlete, which is basically an amateur. This means that I have to fit my training around a full-time job. I have a coach that sets my training programme, which means I don’t have to think about it too much! To fit in enough training in each of the three disciplines I try to train six days a week, twice a day. As well as doing swimming, biking and running I do pilates, weights and transition practice where I practice jumping on and off the bike! It’s really hard to get it all in so I have to be good at time management.
What’s been your greatest sporting achievement so far?
My most rewarding result was finishing first overall female last year at the European Sprint Duathlon Championships in Holland. Crossing the line first was such an unforgettable experience and made the hours of training worth while. I am also really proud of finishing first in my age group at the 2011 World Sprint Duathlon Championships. I never imagined I would become a World Champion! My aim is now to get on the podium at some international triathlon championships.
How have you found it being a woman in sport?
The main issue in many sports is the lack of participation of women. For me, as a triathlete, it is most noticeable in cycling. I am often the only women competitor at cycling time-trial events which is disappointing. Training and competing with men does make me strong but it would be good to train with more women. I can imagine that the lack of women at training session could put off some novice women from getting involved.
One of the most blatant examples of sexism in my sport is the lack of parity in prizes. Last year at one competition I raced in there were two prizes for the women but seven prizes for the male competitors! I couldn’t believe that the third placed woman didn’t even get a prize! This was in a competition where there were lots of female competitors. How can this possibly motivate women to compete?
Why do you think media coverage of women’s sport is important?
I think that there needs to be more coverage of women’s sport in the media. The coverage given to women during the Olympics was brilliant and has inspired women and girls to get active, showing the importance of role models. However the sports coverage on the television and newspapers has already reverted back to being predominantly male focused.
I write a blog for the Metro newspaper website and try to use this to get some coverage of women’s sport. It really frustrates me when I read some sports magazines and there is very little, if any coverage of women’s sport. One sports magazine that is given away in a lot of gyms (Sport) rarely profiles women’s sport but does always have a double page glamour photo of a women. I have raised this with them but have not got any response. Women and girls need to be inspired by images of strong, successful athletes not glamour models!
Of course another reason that media coverage is important is that funding and sponsorship of events or teams is dependent on media coverage. This is a vicious circle as without funding the events won’t take place and without the events there won’t be media coverage!