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PROfile: Helle Frederiksen

  • By Adam Elder
  • Published Jan 28, 2014
  • Updated Mar 16, 2014 at 6:24 PM UTC

The 33-year-old Danish ITU veteran and 2012 Olympian surprised everyone last year when she won Ironman 70.3 San Juan in her first ever attempt at the distance. A former international-level swimmer, Frederiksen was also a part-time model while she earned her master’s degree in nutrition. She now has her sights firmly set on the 70.3 distance, and is one to watch at this year’s 70.3 World Championship in Mont-Tremblant.

I was really missing the competitive side of living. When I stopped swimming I was getting my university degree and just basically started to live the normal life of a young person. I traveled the world and all that stuff.  And then suddenly I was just missing something in my life. I did a few running races just to compete, and when I did them I realized I missed racing and missed competing. Then I got a challenge to do a triathlon where I was living. That was five years after I stopped swimming. I won that race and so I thought, I might as well see what triathlon is about!

When I started, nobody in Denmark knew what triathlon was. It’s grown a lot. In 2009 we had Challenge come to Denmark, and from then on it’s exploded, but still if you’re not doing Ironman it’s like, ‘When are you gonna do an Ironman? Why are you doing that short stuff?’ Last year the Challenge [race] became an Ironman event. Our crown prince participated in it, and that made it even bigger. [He finished in 10:45:32]. He must have had some time to train you’d think, eh? Or else he’s very talented!

I was kind of losing motivation for ITU. I’d done 55 ITU races, and I’d never in my life been on a time trial bike or done a longer distance [race] in my life. I thought that I’d like to explore my possibilities, so I signed up for Ironman San Juan 70.3 last April. I knew I’d been training well and I’d been healthy for a long time, but I still didn’t know that I could do what I did. It was a very, very happy victory.

Any second you lose in ITU might change your race. So I’ve kind of taken the same approach, and from the gun I just go, as I would have done in an ITU race. In world championships you’ll probably have 40 girls coming out of the water within a minute. It’s so intense that you just need to be there if you want to be a part of the race.

[To beat reigning 70.3 world champion Melissa Hauschildt] You have to be a strong biker but also a very strong runner, and I think there are a few of us out there that, on a good day, can outrun her. The 70.3 scene is changing a little bit, and there are some fast runners coming into the half distance that are used to having footraces.

When I did modeling it was alongside getting my degree in university and it was kind of a way of making money and still studying. I looked different at that point — I was more female like, with some curves, and some bum and some boobs. At that point I was at a weight that looked nice, and I still think it looks nice, but where I am today, if you have bums and boobs, you’re not gonna become the champion. But I think it’s not about the way you look, it’s about what you’re doing in life, and the body is just kind of a tool to become what you want to become.

I’m very much not a fanatic about anything. I don’t do anything about gluten, or lactose, or dairy or whatever. If you eat a chocolate or drink a Coke, just don’t have the full bar, you know what I mean? I think that if you deprive yourself of something that you want to do or have, in the long term it’s not going to be good for you.

My best advice is to really be aware of what you eat around your training, especially if it’s a hard session. That’s how you get the most out of your training. Because if you don’t watch the way you eat around it, the training is basically a waste of time.

The setup on the Uplace-BMC team is extremely professional. They basically take care of everything for you, you just need to concentrate on training and racing. I’ve got super equipment and a good team behind me, so I’m really blessed and happy to be a part of this setup. And it’s kind of the future for triathlon, and I believe they’re a little step ahead of many by setting up this international team. It’s really a big plus for my career as a triathlete.

Clermont [Florida] is where I spend a lot of my time now. It’s just a quiet place where there are not many distractions. Train, eat and repeat. I’m training with Alicia Kaye every day, and we’re really good friends, and we get the best out of each other in training and racing.

The bakeries in Denmark are amazing. We have a very strong tradition in homemade bread. And, I’m sorry, but over here you just do not find those things. I really love bread. People who don’t eat bread or stuff like that…that’s definitely not me.

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