Despite studying full-time for a degree in Veterinary Medicine and having just two years’ worth of experience in triathlon, last year Brighton-based athlete Emma Dixon claimed first place in the 20-24 Female AG Sprint category at the World Triathlon Championships in Rotterdam. We spoke to Emma about triathlon and cycling ahead of a special talk she will be giving at a women’s evening being held at our Evans Cycles Brighton store on November 8th (for more information about this event, please see below).
Tell us about your triathlon history – how did you start?
ED: I started triathlon in 2016. I come from a running background but I was injured in the spring of 2016. I’m studying at the Royal Veterinary College and there is a group of clinicians in the Queen Mother Hospital for Animals who go for regular rides, so I just tagged along with the peloton one day in my running attire and trainers. I loved it and realised I could really get into cycling. I’d done a bit of swimming in the past as well, so I thought I might as well put it all together, and it’s really just gone from there. I completed my first sprint triathlon in Chichester on Sunday 3rd July 2016 and the next day I turned up at my first Brighton Tri Club swim session with my race tattoos still stubbornly attached!
Despite only being in the sport for a couple of years, you’ve already had one huge achievement. Tell us about that.
ED: I won my age category (20-24 Female AG Sprint) at the World Championships in Rotterdam last year, which was an amazing experience. This year I had plans to do all sorts of races, like a half Ironman. I also wanted to do some elite racing just to see if I could bridge that gap to the top competitors. But I’m in my final year at vet school and my sporting goals haven’t really worked out this season. I’ve realised I can’t burn the candle at both ends, so I’m concentrating on my finals until next summer. I’m still doing enough training to keep me happy and to keep things ticking over, knowing that next year I can go back to it.
So how are you managing your training under these circumstances without losing enthusiasm?
ED: I’ve had to make sure that I just enjoy my sport and not put pressure on myself. Right now, I’m very happy doing cross-country leagues, fun bike rides and park runs. My goal right now might have to be things like getting a record or a PB at a local Park Run rather than winning a world championship; I have to find little goals to keep me going!
Do training and studying complement each other in any way? Is there anything about each that helps the other?
ED: Definitely. I need the distraction of sport. When I was injured this summer I found it really difficult because I didn’t have my training to turn to. I ended up getting into yoga, trying to occupy myself and have a bit of a break in other ways.
Cycling was the last of the three triathlon disciplines that you became really familiar with, so what did you learn initially and how did you approach it?
ED: I guess to start I just enjoyed going out on group rides with loads of people and I enjoyed the sociable side of things. I really loved that. My triathlon club at home — the Brighton Tri Club — was really good at putting on sessions and one man who really helped me with that was Rick Young and Marianne Clark at Brighton Tri Club. Rick put on great velodrome sessions and if I had any bike concerns training or maintenance concerns, I turned to him. Marianne helped me formulate a training plan. I also remember Marianne helping me with bike handling skills- we practised doing sharp turns over and over again as the bike course in Rotterdam was quite technical. Actually, I had lots of support from many more experienced people in the club, and I think I was very lucky in that regard.
How quickly did you pick up bike skills and handling?
ED: I’ve always grown up cycling and being outdoors, not competitive cycling but just riding with my family. My brother is only a year older, so when he started cycling at the age of five, a week later I decided I wanted to do the same, aged four. I like an adrenaline rush and I find riding at speed exciting!
What bikes do you own?
ED: I’ve had my Specialized Allez for a long time. It used to be my commuter bike for riding into college. It was second-hand and it’s very elderly, and it doesn’t change gear very well, but it’s the bike I still use for training rides. I rode it on my training ride this morning in fact. I can’t afford multiple bikes, but I did get a very nice Specialized Venge for racing and that lives in my bedroom at home. I take very good care of that. I did compete on my Allez for a while, though, and I could still do fairly well on it. It goes to show that you don’t have to have top equipment to get into cycling.
What advice would you have for new cyclists?
ED: Nothing beats a bike ride with nice company along country roads, with a good coffee and cake stop. I love that so much. My advice is to just enjoy it and you’ll soon get hooked. I think people who haven’t given it a go are missing out on so much – on just my ride this morning I saw a deer and a black squirrel!
To be a triathlete you have to be competitive, though, so what advice would you have for anybody who fancied having a go at a triathlon?
ED: I think people get in a muddle with all the transition stuff. It can be hard to work out where you should be and what you need to lay out for transition. Just try and keep it simple — you don’t need load of gear. And you can still do really well without expensive kit. Don’t be intimidated by other people’s carbon TT bikes!
With winter almost here, how do you keep up your enthusiasm for training even when the weather’s poor?
ED: I have to admit rain can put me off cycling, but in terms of cold weather, you just need to layer up. My fingers and my toes get very cold, so I have been known to wrap my feet in woolly socks, plastic bags, tinfoil, and overshoes. Even if you do get cold, it makes the coffee stop all the more enjoyable. So I don’t struggle for motivation but sometimes, with shorter days and earlier nights, it’s just not possible to get out.
Once your degree is over, where do you want to go with your triathlon career?
ED: I would really love to take it further. I’m not thinking about it too much right now because I need to focus on my studies, but deep down I want to give myself a chance whilst maintaining my passion for it.