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Fri 9th Dec 2016
© Bollwein
Mary Beth Ellis interview
Posted by: John Levison
Posted on: Tuesday 10th April 2012

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Having set the fastest debut ironman-distance time ever at Ironman Austria 2011, Mary Beth Ellis went on to win her first three Ironman races last year.

With Chrissie Wellington absent for (at least) the 2012 season, Ellis has the track record and potential to be one of the athletes looking at that top podium step in Kona over the next few seasons.

Having kicked off 2012 with a win at Ironman 70.3 Singapore in March, I interviewed the teamTBB ( member to find out more.

Congratulations on taking the win at 70.3 Singapore, a great way to kick off 2012 – how did the race go for you, and how do you rate your fitness currently?

I am in early season mode. I took off a lot of time after Kona last year before my wedding in December. So I came back rested and motivated but a bit out of shape. But the camp in Australia with teamTBB has been great. I have gotten to chase Xena around on the bike and track trying to inch closer as my fitness returns.

You had an amazing 2011 with three Ironman wins (Austria, Regensburg and Canada) in your first three attempts at the distance. Was racing Ironman on the schedule at the beginning of 2011, and had you planned to do four Ironman races (including Kona)?

Ironman was on the long-term plan, but there was no plan to do Kona last year and certainly not to race four Ironmans. If you had asked me I would have thought one or two Ironmans maximum in 2011, but then trying to chase the Kona points last-minute I had to do four if I wanted to race at the World Champs. As it was, my points in Canada were the only way I made it to Kona. Last year, on the women's side, there were also some top competitors who didn't get to go like Meredith Kessler and I think that is a shame.

MBE wins Ironman Austria ©Bollwein

Ironman Austria – your Ironman debut, and you set the fastest debut time ever (8:43:35) and are currently the fourth fastest iron lady ever (blame team mate Caroline Steffen for pushing you down a spot in Melbourne!). What were your expectations in advance of the race – you've had plenty of success at 70.3 distance (including two World Championship silver medals) – were you confident you could replicate that sort of level over double the distance?

I had no expectations as far as time. I think generally I was hoping for around nine hours, but I hadn't really given it much thought. The goal was to win, and time was secondary. I thought I would be better at long distance events versus ITU races as my marathon times were more competitive than my 10K times, but I was still nervous about the total distance of the swim, bike, and run.

Having done so well that first time in Austria, what did you learn about both yourself and the distance? Did you surprise yourself?

I didn't learn much in Austria to be honest. It was a good day where things went to plan, and I didn't struggle until the last 12K of the run. I learned more in Regensburg and Kona where I faced obstacles and had to fight through the race the whole day just to get to the finish.

MBE - Alpe d'Huez 2011At the Alpe d'Huez Triathlon I spoke to Brett, and he said that (contrary to common belief), he spent months trying to hold you back, reducing your training because you were so driven and put in so many hours. Would you agree with that, and how has your training changed since you joined TeamTBB?

The training hasn't changed much, but the mix and how Brett puts all the pieces together has changed. Yes, I always want to do more and go harder, but Brett knows when to push me and when to hold me back. And I trust Brett and that has allowed me to take some of the pressure off myself.

What has joining teamTBB done for your career – do you think you could have achieved what you did in 2011 if you hadn't made that move?

I don't think I would have achieved the results in 2011 without Brett and teamTBB. I had a difficult year in 2010 with injuries, poor performances, and over-training. I was contemplating whether to quit the sport at that time, and my confidence was at an all time low.

Talking of TeamTBB, alongside your training/racing, you also act as webmaster/PR for the team. Does that fit in well with the swim/bike/run, and are you the type of person that needs to do 'other' things than just train & race?

I didn't know that I needed a distraction from the swim/bike/run, but now that I have one it has been great. Before I left my job in 2007, I worked full-time, and I think it is nice to have something else besides just training to fill my day. In addition, I anticipate that someday I will want to go back into the real world and keeping my writing, PR, and marketing skills sharp can't hurt.

MBE - teamTBBI believe that you're a relatively late starter in triathlon terms – do you have sporting background in any of the three sports? What were you doing career wise prior to becoming a triathlon professional?

Yes, I did my first triathlon at 28 in summer of 2005. But, I did have a background in swimming and running while in college. After college, I worked full-time and ran marathons/half-marathons at an elite level. But I was so burnt out on swimming that I didn't swim for six years after college.

You won your first three Ironman races, and then finished 15th of Kona last year. While not the result you wanted, how valuable was the learning you did about the race for future years?

The learning was painful but valuable. I made a lot of mistakes leading into the race. Then, I compounded things by the way I reacted to the situation on race day. Instead of moving on after my terrible swim, I stewed on it and had a terrible bike. Then, I was throwing up for the first 90k and got two flat tyres. I couldn't let these go either and fretted my way to the run. Once on the run, I could only focus on my faults, failures, and bad luck. Not a great way to start a marathon run.

Is Kona a big objective for the next few seasons, and what do you think you'll need to do to be competitive there?

Yes. I don't think I need to change anything just come into the race mentally and physically fresh, healthy, and ready to rumble.

What's on the schedule for 2012, and what are your key goals for the year? Is Alpe d'Huez on the schedule again?

The focus of the season is Kona, but on the path there I will race several 70.3s and a few Ironmans. I want to win every time I toe that line but that isn't always in the cards. I would love to do Alp d'Huez again this year. The race and trip out to/from the event were a highlight of my year.

Longer term, what do you hope to achieve – do you plan on racing for many years to come?

I hope to race for many more years, but I would also like a family. So my husband and I will have to figure out when it is time. But with Nikki Butterfield, Becky Lavelle, and Bella Bayliss, not to mention all the other mothers racing, I may not have to retire after having kids.

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