Inside Triathlon’s Profile Of Chrissie Wellington

  • By Holly Bennett
  • Published Jan 18, 2012
  • Updated Oct 31, 2014 at 4:37 PM UTC

Wellington said she feels “innately guilty” if she spends money on expensive dresses, adding that she’s always done her shopping at charity shops.

“We went past a shop on Pearl Street in Boulder one day and there was this stunning dress in the window,” Wellington said. “I said to [boyfriend] Tom, ‘Oh, that dress is gorgeous!’ So we went in and looked at the price tag and it was $200. $200!”
She practically ran out of the shop.

While Wellington may not be fashion-focused, like most women, she grapples with body image issues.

“I’ve never been particularly confident in my appearance,” said the woman whose chiseled physique graced ESPN Magazine’s 2010 “The Body” issue and whose glamour shots for this article elicited a resounding, jaw-to-the-floor “Wow!” from the Inside Triathlon staff.

She hardly lacked confidence when she met Lowe, though. The couple originally caught one another’s eye in 2009 at Club La Santa in Lanzarote, where both had traveled to train. A bit of Facebook banter followed after they returned to the U.K., and finally the two met face-to-face at a triathlon industry trade show.

“I kissed Tom. I made the first move!” said Wellington, giggling.

A week later, she was leaving for her first summer season training in Boulder and invited Lowe to her going-away party.

“I didn’t know anyone—I barely even knew Chrissie!” Lowe exclaimed. “There were 40 or 50 people at the bar. I turned up, said hello and then barely spoke to her for the next four hours.”

Wellington says her ideal guy is someone who can fend for himself at a party, and Lowe passed her test.

“It happened that the next day was Valentine’s Day, so we went out for a meal,” Wellington said. “And then the next day my parents were coming down to send me off. I said to Tom, ‘Feel free to say no, but I’m going out to dinner with my mum and dad and brother. Do you want to come?’ And he did. It was all rather condensed.”

The leap from “me” to “we” was not made lightly, however.

“I don’t think I ever felt something was missing, because my life was so full and rich,” Wellington said. “Also, I’m picky. I wasn’t looking for a one-night shag. I wasn’t looking for a casual relationship, and I just didn’t meet anyone that I wanted to be with. And that was fine with me because mediocrity is something I never aspire to in anything. Why settle for Mr. Mediocre if you don’t have to?”

But then along came Lowe, whose even-keeled calm is a perfect balance to Wellington’s inner whirling dervish.

“To cede control and learn to compromise was initially quite scary,” said Wellington. “But with Tom it just works. He makes me a better person. I’m calmer. I’m more considerate. I don’t get as stressed about little things like I used to.”

Something Sutton said a few years back also helped Wellington gain a better grasp on the concept of calm.

“It was just before I raced Alpe d’Huez in 2007. I’d gotten a new bike and I wanted to take the computer off my old one, so I grabbed a knife from the kitchen and started hacking at the zip ties. I just go at things like a bull in a china shop and don’t really think. I’m a very impatient person,” Wellington said.

The knife slipped, slicing the webbing between her thumb and forefinger, resulting in four stitches.

“Brett said, ‘You think these things happen to you by accident. They don’t. They happen because you don’t take control of yourself. You’re not deliberate in your actions.’ Since then, I’ve really tried. I’m not perfect, but I’m better,” Wellington said.
For the record, Wellington went on to win that race, despite the stitched hand, a crash over a road barrier and a punctured tire. The victory jump-started her belief that she might be OK at this long-distance thing.

Three months later, the novice was preparing to race the Ironman World Championship for the first time. But her introduction to triathlon’s holy grail was a far cry from a world-class athletic experience.

“I was sharing a little two-room condo [in Kona] with two other pros, 5 miles out of town up a 20 percent grade. I slept in a room with a Spanish guy I’d never met. I was going to Safeway, carrying my shopping in my rucksack, biking up this climb. It was really suboptimal preparation,” Wellington said, laughing. “My pedal broke two days before the race but I was tight as a duck’s ass with money, so I didn’t want to buy a new pair. I got someone to put it together with industrial glue. At the expo I bought my TYR tankini. It was $70! I borrowed my teammate Rebecca Preston’s shorts. Yeah, I really didn’t look the part. It was surreal. I didn’t know any better.”

Wellington surprised everyone watching the race with her win, though no one more than herself.

“Going in, I wanted top 10,” she confided. “But when I won, I felt that I didn’t deserve it. I thought, ‘What have I done?’ Like, how on earth? This has happened by mistake, the girls have had a bad day, I’m not that strong. Like someone would come along and say, ‘Actually, sorry. April Fools’!’ As I was approaching Ali’i Drive on the run I thought, ‘Why is everyone booing me?’ I heard the cheers, but I also heard booing. I seriously thought they didn’t want me to win.”

In fact, the sound Wellington heard was of conch shells being blown in celebration.

“It’s funny,” said Wellington, “I also remember thinking my hair looked awful. I’ve always hated having my hair pulled starkly back.”

Toward the end of our chat, after talking about her countless accomplishments and countable failures, I asked Wellington if she considers herself a confident person now.

“No, not supremely,” she said, her voice trailing off into the late evening hour. “No more and no less than anybody else. I guess I’m becoming more so. But confidence is acceptable to me, arrogance is not, and I think it can be a fine line. If I were ever to be called arrogant that would be deeply concerning to me. A feeling of superiority would be my own undoing. It would breed complacency. I’m continuously surprised by what I achieve. I think that in itself is indicative of the fact that I’m not overly confident. I’m fully aware—almost too aware—of my own weaknesses.

“I do think being with Tom has made me more confident and more comfortable,” she continued.  “And what I’ve achieved gives me confidence, but just because I’ve won Ironman races and got world records and stuff—I don’t know, it’s quite hard to articulate actually. I want to be happy with me as a person. Whether I do 8:18 or eventually break eight hours or go 10 hours in an Ironman, for that matter, that’s not going to make me any less or any more of a person. I need to be confident not based solely on what I achieve on the pitch, because it’s not going to change the soul of who I am.”

While “If” at times remains a question for Wellington—if she will attain her own personal best, in every direction her passions drive her—to those who know her well the only question is what comes next.

“I want to set Christine my own challenge,” Matthew Wellington declared. “I want her to become the chess champion of the world. And I reckon in six months she’ll do it.”

– A Conversation With Chrissie: The Decision To Take Time Away

– Chrissie Wellington To Take Break From Ironman

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