Interview with Flora Duffy
Joanna Zeiger interviewed Flora Duffy leading into the WTS South Africa race. Just last weekend at the WTS Gold Coast race, Flora placed 4th. Flora, who represents Bermuda, will be on the start line at the Olympic Games in Rio, her third Olympic appearance.
JZ: Congrats on your stellar race at the WTS Gold Coast. In that race, you made a breakaway with Helen Jenkins and Andrea Hewitt. Had you planned to make a breakaway prior to the race, or did it fortuitously happen on race day?
FD: It just happened. It was really cool. Andrea, Helen and I were doing a lot of the work in the early part of the bike, and through a combination of attacks and riding the corners really fast, managed to break off the front. They both rode so well. Super strong. It was great to be in a break away with two other motivated women. None of us looked at one another to take a pull. We were all committed.
JZ: Given the success of this race tactic, will you try something similar in Rio?
FD: The bike course is Rio is really demanding, and I think will influence the race. I don’t have the running speed to compete with the top girls, so I need to make the bike count. So without giving too much away, yes the bike course will be maximized in Rio!
JZ: You’ve been racing on the ITU circuit for a number of years. What types of changes have you seen and how have these changes helped or hindered your style of racing?
FD: I think the biggest change in the last two years has been the amount of girls who can swim in the front group and run really well too. Of course there is the Gwen factor as well. She raised the level of racing on the ITU circuit, not only with her ability to run very well, but in her professional, detail orientated approach to the sport. It has really made us raise our game, which is great because the level keeps on progressing.
JZ: Rio will be your third Olympic games. Tell us about how you got started in the sport and the trajectory of your early career.
FD: It is crazy to think it will be my third Olympics. I remember Beijing like it was yesterday. I did my first triathlon at the age of seven in Bermuda. Bermuda’s warm, sunny climate lends itself to triathlon, so I was lucky in that there were kid’s triathlons throughout the summer and even a kid’s triathlon club. I basically grew up doing swim, bike, run but did not focus on it until I was about 16 years old.
l left Bermuda and went to boarding school in England to focus and pursue my triathlon career. My first elite level race was at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. I was 18 years old and way out of my comfort zone because I was racing the likes of Emma Snowsill who at the time was my hero (actually still is). Somehow the race went really well and from there I started racing on the ITU World Cup circuit. My early days of racing on the circuit were full of a lot of ups and downs, but managed to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. After the Olympics I took two years out of the sport and enrolled at the University of Colorado, Boulder. I needed a break from the sport, and needed to be a normal twenty one year old. Somewhere in the haze of studying, partying and joining a sorority (don’t ask!), I decided to get back into triathlon, and fast forward a few years, and I am preparing for my third Olympics.
JZ: At the 2008 Olympics in Beijing you were a youngster and now, heading into Rio you’ve won two Xterra World Championship titles. How has your perspective changed since Beijing and how will that impact your podium chances in Rio?
FD: Yes, it has changed a lot. Going into Beijing I was 20 years old and really had no idea what I was doing. I had very little support around me, and was struggling big time with my health. It was a big learning experience and a monumental part of my triathlon career. That experience broke me, but now I have come back with a different perspective and maturity towards racing.
The biggest thing I have changed is that for me to race my best I need to be healthy and happy- having a great life rhythm with balance. I have a great training group in Boulder and am lucky to train with positive, motivated people every day. Another big influence has been my boyfriend Dan. He has really encouraged me to focus on my nutrition, keep my life simple and enjoy the process. I’m very fortunate to have him by my side in the build to Rio.
JZ: How do you balance off road racing with ITU racing?
FD: It actually works quite well- strangely enough. My training is mainly geared to ITU style racing, and when I am preparing for a big Xterra (world championships) I will add some more riding volume. It is not ideal prep for Xterra but seems to be working well at the moment. While I am in Stellenbosch I ride my mountain bike a lot. The trails here are incredible, which has allowed me to get my riding to a good enough level to race on the Xterra circuit. However, this year with the Olympics approaching I have been more ITU focused and riding my mountain bike less. I also have had a lot of help from Dan to learn the ropes of Xterra racing, and Neal Henderson (my coach used to race Xterra back in the day so they have both given me lots of tips and insights.
JZ: The run speed in the ITU has become incredibly fast. What have you done to improve your run without getting hurt?
FD: It has! Running has always been my weakness, so I have really had to work on it over the last few years. It has been an over night fix. It is hard to balance the volume, with speed work and not get injured. I have struggled without of injuries of the years. The two big changes I have made are using an alter g treadmill and doing focused running drills once a week.
JZ: At 28, you are still young enough to vie for another Olympics. Will you stick to the ITU in the hopes of racing in Tokyo, will you move up in distance, or do you have other plans altogether?
FD: I’m not sure what I will focus on after Rio. I know 2017 will be less ITU focus. Racing on the ITU circuit is really demanding, and if I want to do another Olympic cycle having a more relaxed 2017 is key. So we’ll see. I want to race more Xterra and really focus on improving my mountain biking. I ride pretty well now, but I would love to get to a level where I would feel comfortable riding in a mountain bike world cup, and who knows maybe even race on the mountain bike world cup circuit. It would be cool to go to the Olympics for two sports!
JZ: What does your schedule look like in the lead-up to Rio? Do you plan to race after Rio?
FD: My race schedule leading into Rio is ITU focused, and won’t race Xterra until after the Games. At the moment the plan is to do WTS Cape Town, WTS Leeds, Montreal World Cup leading into Rio.
Post Rio- it depends how I am doing in the WTS series. Ideally it is going well and I will do WTS Edmonton and the Grand Final in Cozumel. After Cozumel I will switch to full on Xterra mode and build for Xterra Worlds in Maui and ITU Cross world Championships in Australia. It is a full and long season, but I am excited for it.
JZ: What type of mental preparation do you do for your races?
FD: I like to do some visualization. I go over in my head the keep elements of the race and visualize doing them perfectly and executing exactly how I want.
I do this a lot before an Xterra. It is important to know every corner and technical section well. I mainly visualize the bike course from start to finish and focus any technical parts on the course.
JZ: What is the best advice you have received regarding your training/racing?
FD: My coach Neal always tells me that ‘you don’t have to feel good to go fast’. That really resonates with me because the week of a race without fail I go from feeling great in training to terrible! It must be nerves or taper or something. Anyway, I always come right race day, but Neal has to constantly remind me of those words. It helps and I think of it often.
JZ: What is your favorite bike workout?
I do so many great bike workouts. Neal, is a bit of a bike guru so we are always doing solid and specific workouts. My favorite is something simple- 6-8 X 3mins hard (at a certain wattage). Neal will always set the watts quite high, and I know if I can hit the watts I meant to then I am going well. I do this session a lot before Xterra Worlds on the backside of Lee Hill. It is super hard and I complain every time I have to do it, but I secretly love it
JZ: You’ve trained all over the world. Where is your favorite place to train and why?
FD: I’m pretty lucky to split my time between Boulder, Colorado and Stellenbosch South Africa. Plus, I’m from Bermuda so between the three I’m spoilt! The two favorite at the moment are Boulder and Stellenboch. Both are great towns, with the resources and structure in place to provide great training venues. Plus the life style offered by both is amazing!
JZ: What do you like to do when you are not training?
FD: It seems like I am always training and when I am not, I try to keep it simple and rest. But one thing I do really enjoy doing when not training is baking. I love searching the internet for cool recipes and trying to recreate them in my own kitchen.
JZ: Who are your sponsors? Coach?
FD: My coach is Neal Henderson (apex coaching) and he has a great squad based in Boulder, Colorado. He also coaches a lot of top professional cyclists.
Sponsors: Pearl Izumi, Scott, Oakley, ROKA, Stages power meters, Tokio Millennium, Shimano, Osmo nutrition.