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6 November, 2013

Non Stanford looks back on an amazing year that culminated in taking ITU World Title

The youngest of the eight athletes originally selected for ‘On Camp with Kelly’ to spend four weeks in South Africa in 2004, made a successful transition to triathlon in 2009 and looks back on her journey to the surreal moment when she crossed the line to win the World Championships in London.

Looking back there were many times when achieving the ultimate prize of a World title in London was something that I didn’t even dare think about. From a young age, I first saw myself as a swimmer until the age of 14, then athletics became my sport from 15 and I was lucky enough to be selected for ‘On Camp with Kelly’, at 19 I decided I wanted to give triathlon a go. That was a brave move, a massive decision, but probably the best decision I ever made.

I believe the foundations of my success lie in years of swimming, then the transition to middle distance and cross country running, triathlon was not in my sights, but I loved sport and trained hard, my hard work ethic came easily at a young age. I felt I was Non ‘the runner’, that is who I was, supported by the safety net of the athletics community.

The idea of triathlon just came to me one day, I had suffered a few injuries during my athletics career and the latest injury made me very frustrated. I was on the internet and came across the British Triathlon website, and started watching a video. That was the moment when I thought, ‘I can do this!’ That planted the seed, but my journey to becoming ITU World Champion was not straightforward and I didn’t have any knowledge of triathlon, the specific training and what it took to compete at the highest level.

The person that I credit as having the biggest part to play in my transition from athlete to triathlete was Steve Lumley at Birmingham University. Steve became my coach until I moved to Leeds just two years ago. Steve is now based in Malaysia but he was there in London when I won the ITU World title, which is still very strange to say.

Many people have asked me what made the difference this year and it is really quite simple. It is the first year I have been able to manage the volume of training required and get the quality of training done. For example a track session after a few days heavy training would be really tough, but now I can cope with the quality of work, intensity and volume. My normal training week is now 35 hours of training, so that equates to a full-time job and we train every day; I don’t have a rest day. But of course, I have to be sensible and have learned the importance of training smart and listening to your body. The progression to my level of training now has taken five years.

As you get older, you appreciate things more and what people have done for you. That is certainly the case with ‘On Camp with Kelly’ (OCWK) and the support I have had from Kelly personally.  The experiences I had with OCWK were invaluable to my development as an athlete. It was definitely a critical part of my career, and I believe a stepping stone to my later career as a professional athlete. I learned so much about travel and dealing with the different pressures of becoming an international athlete. Above all I realised how much hard work was required to make it to the top.

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I had a few experiences of the ‘not so glamorous side’ of elite sport, staying away from home, dealing with the media attention, all quite early on, when I was in South Africa with OCWK in November 2004. The amount of media attention was crazy but became normal after a few days! Fast forward nine years and I was fully prepared for the media attention in London, it all felt quite natural and didn’t faze me at all.

Earlier this season, my chance of success at the ITU World Championships didn’t look great, as I broke my arm at the end of July. I managed a clean fracture of my radial head, coming off the bike in Hamburg at the World Team Relay Championships. At the time my biggest concern was letting the team down; as Jonny Brownlee was next to go after me.

As I lay in hospital, the injury struck me; I needed a few days in Hamburg hospital before I was able to even travel to St Moritz. The next two weeks I focussed on doing what training I could, which was training on the turbo and single arm swimming. It wasn’t until I saw medical staff in St Moritz that my fracture was identified, in fact my elbow should have been in a cast but I could do more without one! I never thought that not completing the season was an option and the Stockholm event was only 4 weeks away.

One of my strengths is probably not worrying about what I can’t control and staying focussed on the positives. This ultimately meant I did everything I could to stay in the best shape physically and prepare for Stockholm and the end of the series in London. Going into London, there were three of us in contention and we were really close overall. I didn’t really let myself think about becoming World Champion and focussed on staying relaxed, I am proud of how I prepared and dealt with the pressure. Overall I think that was really important to my overall performance. Despite my 15 seconds penalty, it was so bizarre and surreal to actually win; I really was in a daze.

Becoming a World Champion is so hard to take in, you have dreams about standing on the podium, but when it happens I would say it is never the perfect moment you imagine. Perhaps partly because I was cold and wet, still in shock!

It was really special to see Kelly just before I got on the podium; she managed to get down to the front to see me. I was really overwhelmed by the support I had from family and friends, they were all waiting for me when I got back to the hotel. Now I’m back in full training, based up in Leeds. I had a lovely break in Tuscany after the World Championships, now I’m fresh and ready for a long winter’s training.

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