HELEN JENKINS | INTERVIEW
Carl Marsh grabbed a few moments with Bridgend’s double world champion triathlete and 2008, ‘12 and ‘16 Olympic Team GB member, as she prepared for her next online race.
Last year should have been 2008 and 2011 triathlon world champion Helen Jenkins’ chance to return to the fray in earnest, after time away for spine surgery and to start a family, but COVID-19 put a stop to any competing for her sport. Yet thanks to modern technology she has kicked off 2021 by competing in a virtual race event arranged by Zwift – an online cycling/running app, similar to Peloton. Jenkins’ first race, of four, saw her finish eighth amongst a world-class field of pros.
You must have had a nightmare of a year without competing, so what tempted you with this virtual racing on Zwift?
They ran a few races last year, but I wasn’t fit, or I wasn’t ready. When it came up this time, I was in a lot better position than I was last year, and thought I would give it a go. It’s great to race with some of the best women in the world and get to see where you are. I think everyone’s at different fitness levels, and I’m not exactly where I want to be yet, but this is the perfect opportunity to get myself fit.
It’s a bit of fun – well, it’s not fun [laughs], it’s painful! It’s fun to be competitive again – to get that nervousness building up to the day, and to be preparing for something. It’s been a year ago yesterday since my last race, in the Ironman 70.3 in Dubai – and with that race, I hadn’t raced since 2016, so I really picked the wrong year last year to make a comeback…
You recently started a family, and you’ve not long had spine surgery too. Sounds like getting back into all this has been a baptism of fire for yourself.
It has been. I had spinal fusion surgery, in 2018 – the rods and screws protruded quite a long way from my back, and when you’re trying to bend down on the bike in a time trials transition, it was causing quite a lot of irritation. So I had those taken out last year, around September or October, which then led to it getting infected.
Bloody hell! That’s all you need. How long did that set you back?
So for about six to eight weeks, I was unable to do hardly any training. I’d see other athletes via their Instagram – and I know it’s not a reality – training away whilst I was trying to recover with a three- and a one-year-old! [laughs] I do get frustrated that I’m not at the level I was when competing at the Olympics – but I can’t expect myself to be, in the situation we’re in. It’s just a big balancing act at the moment.
Having two young kids must make you want them to see you compete in years to come, and maybe inspire them.
I’ve loved doing triathlons throughout my whole life, and now that I have two kids, I’d love for them to come and watch me race. Hopefully, if things start again this year, I’ll be able to do that. One of my main motivations when training was that we all could all go as a family and experience a race together – and to go away on a training camp, take them along for the ride and show them what I’ve loved doing for my whole life.
The fourth and final race in the Z Pro Tri series is on Wed 24 Feb (7pm UK time) and can be watched for free here: www.youtube.com/zwift
words CARL MARSH