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The best moments are unexpected

Imogen Simmonds

After the 26-year-old unexpectedly qualified for the world championship at her first long-distance race in Frankfurt, this year she competed for the first time at the Ironman Hawaii. We met her in Hawaii during race week, went for a run with her and got some insights into her everyday life, her race preparations and some amazing moments she experienced.

Ryzon Imogen Simmonds Ironman Hawaii Interview RunningWhat were your feelings when standing on the start line of Kona for the first time? Was Kona your big goal for this season?

I never thought Kona would be one of my key races for this year. Frankfurt was my first ever Ironman and my goal was just to finish. Quite unexpectedly I managed to qualify for Kona in that race. Of course that was an opportunity that I couldn’t turn down and that changed my season around a fair amount. Leading up to Kona I still felt like a rookie to Ironman, especially given the harsh and unknown conditions of Hawaii. So my goal for Kona this year was just to enjoy my time out there, to experience the race and to take away lessons. Because there is so much still to learn.    

What about your mental and physical preparation for the race – did you do anything different to get ready for Kona?    

From a physical preparation point of view I haven’t made any huge changes because what I did in Frankfurt seemed to work and also with only 3 months in between the two races any drastic changes would have caused more harm than good. I did take the heat and humidity into account and I have been training in Texas. But that’s about it. I’m right at the beginning of my career so I still have a lot to learn and a lot of endurance to build. But it seems like what I’ve been doing up until now has been working for me so for Kona I carried on building on that. I’ve done a lot of speed endurance sessions and I also did IM 70.3 Nice as a lead up race for Kona. Regarding mental preparation I meditate to help me feel calmer and more focused and on this crazy island staying a bit further away from the race venue to allow myself to really switch off.  

And what about the team behind you - how important is this support to you as an athlete?

Having training partners, having my coach, my sponsors and having my family who I trust and who I know I can rely on is very important to me and it’s key to my success as an athlete. I’m sure any successful athlete would say the same. That’s why you always hear athletes thanking their teams. Because you can’t achieve your goals without them, well I certainly wouldn’t be able to.  

Can you describe the types of moments in your day where you think to yourself ‘this is just an amazing moment’?  

I guess that’s pretty individual and subjective. But one that comes to mind straight away just happened this morning actually. I was doing an open water swimming session and as I was swimming I was looking at the fish beneath me. I was getting a bit too excited and definitely incorporated some deep water diving into the swim to have a closer look. I wasn’t swimming very fast but I would consider that a great moment. In general, I love being in the outdoors and breathing fresh air. That’s why I don’t do a lot of indoor training. In fact I do everything to avoid it. Whenever I can, I go riding in the mountains. It’s one of my favourite things to do and I love that feeling when you get to the top of a big hill. I also get a lot of satisfaction out of completing tough training sessions. You get such an endorphin rush after finishing a really hard set. Especially when you’ve been dreading the session. But then, when you complete it and when you hit your times it gives you such a sense of fulfilment. And otherwise, I also really enjoy drinking a nice cup of coffee. That’s always a great moment in my day. But generally I think that the best moments happen unexpectedly.

"I strongly believe that the most beautiful and unique moments happen unexpectedly"

Completely agree. You just can’t plan these moments.

Yeah. It’s often when you expect them least that they come up. Like for example during the Ironman 70.3 in Nice. I didn’t expect to be able to keep up with the top riders in the climbs. Coming back into Nice after being out in the mountains for like three hours was quite surreal. During most of the ride it was really quiet. There weren’t many spectators on the course because it’s hard to get to. And then suddenly, when we came back into the city, there was this huge buzz. Everyone was screaming and as we came into transition I could see people I knew either side of the fence. Suddenly I remembered: “Oh I’m in a race”. I’d almost forgotten about that.

What’s going through your mind when you’re racing? What sort of things do you think about?  

It depends. Sometimes it’s just super random things. But most of the time it’s just about honing in. During a technical bike descent for example all I think about is “do not fall off this bike”, whilst also trying to stay relaxed. So yeah, in racing it’s mostly just about being mentally focused.    

So there is the whole focus aspect on one side, which obviously plays a big role in terms of performance. But then you also mentioned that enjoying the race and the experience is important to you. How big of a role does fun or joy play to you?  

To me, having fun and enjoying what I’m doing is really important. I train with Jürgen’s training group out in Thailand. And part of the reason why I enjoy the sport so much is because it’s so much fun out there. Of course we train hard and it’s competitive. But everyone bounces off each other’s energy. It’s a social environment. I know that some athletes are very regimented. For example they eat the same meal every day for four months in preparation for Kona. Personally, I couldn’t do that. Everyone is different. But I’m quite a relaxed person. So I think something like that would end up working against me and it would probably negatively affect my performance.     

What is it that makes you get out of bed in the morning to go out and train? Especially on days where you just don’t feel like training.

There are definitely days when everything hurts and when getting out of bed is a struggle. That’s why I personally find it so useful to have training partners. I don’t think about my training schedule. Instead I just treat it like a job. It’s my job to be ready for my morning training session at a certain time so that’s what I do. I don’t even question it. It’s a bit more difficult when I’m training on my own. After a while it can get hard to stay disciplined when you don’t have training partners to hold you accountable. But luckily I’ve pretty much always managed to find the motivation to get out there and do it.

So do you think training has just become such a routine for you that you do it no matter what? 

Maybe…and sometimes I just have to trick myself into getting out there and completing my session by promising to reward myself for it afterward.  

Are you superstitious?    

Not massively. There are a few things I believe in and karma is one of them. But generally I don’t really believe in bad luck or stuff like that. So there is nothing like ‘I always get out of my bed with my right leg first’.

Thank you so much for your time!