It’s All ‘Bout the Base, ‘Bout the Base [3]

Case Study: Chrissie Wellington

Chrissie Wellington is a former professional triathlete and four-time Ironman Triathlon World Champion.  Most notably, Chrissie was undefeated in all thirteen of her races over the Ironman distance, in 2009 she lowered the prior course record for the Hawaiian Ironman which stood since 1992 when Paula Newby Fraser won in a time of 8:54.02, and has the greatest number of sub-9 hour times for the ironman distance by any woman.  In 2011, at Challenge Roth, Chrissie won the event setting an iron distance record of 8:18.13, running a 2:44 marathon split, finishing in the top 10 (amongst all athletes) and only 37mins behind Andreas Raelerts WR time of 7:41.37.


Physiological & Psychological Priming (i.e. Base):

  • Played sports as a kid: netball, gymnastics, hockey, swimming, cross country running, and participated in field events of high jump and long jump; was mad about sports, but being accident prone as a child, was not considered any sort of athletic prodigy.CWellington book
  • As a teenager trained with a club as a competitive swimmer, and in university continued swimming as a member of the school team. Described her training as being socially focused as opposed to performance, was voted captain of her university team for that reason.
  • While working in the UK, ran for fun, for the love of running, for time, not distance, and spent some time with the Serpentine Running Club. Ran the London marathon.
  • While working in Salyan, Nepal, biked daily before work for a couple hours. On weekends, took bike trips with friends, with one trip taking a couple of weeks and covered 1,100mi through the mountainous regions of Nepal including a visit to the base camp of Mt Everest.


Competing at Ironman & Ironman WC Triathlons (i.e. Peak):

  • In 2007, at Ironman South Korea riding a road bike with dropdown handlebars and training wheels (i.e. no aero equipment) in 99 degrees F (37C) and 95% humidity weather rode to a 5:17 bike split, and won the event in a time of 9:54.
  • In 2007, 6 weeks after her Ironman South Korea win, Chrissie won the Ironman World Championships [WC] in Hawaii as a rookie.
  • In 2008, Chrissie sustained a flat on the bike portion of Ironman WC race, retained composure, fixed her flat, rode regaining the lead on the bike.  She then ran a 2:57.44 marathon setting a new course record, eclipsing Canadian Lori Bowden’s time of 2:59.16 (which was the first sub 3hr marathon in the Hawaii Ironman).

  • In 2009, Chrissie rode the Hawaiian Ironman bike course in 4:52.06 (sans aero helmet), second only to Paula Newby Frasers time of 4:48.3 in 1993.  To date, only Daniela Ryf has beaten Chrissie’s time by riding 4:50.46 (October 2015).
  • In 2009, Chrissie finished in 8:54.02 beating Paula Newby Frasers 1992 course record time of 8:55.28.
  • In 2011, after sitting out 2010 when Mirinda Carfrae ran a marathon time of 2:53.32, Chrissie returned winning by riding another sub 5hr bike split, and running a new course record of 2:52.41 for the marathon.
  • In 2011, Chrissie won despite two weeks prior having been in an accident while on her bike which resulted in a partial tear of her pectoralis muscle. Chrissie won despite a deficit of 21:45 from the leaders coming off the bike.

2011 Ironman Hawaii 01


Chrissie competed in her first triathlon in 2004, won her age group 2 years later at ITU Worlds in 2006, and as a rookie won the Hawaiian Ironman World Championships 4 years later in 2007.

If the explanation to her accomplishments was left to current mainstream commercial websites, then it would be associated with anything dangling a corporate logo and a price tag… her carbon fiber bike, aero rims, her racing flats, the sports nutrition she consumed prior to, during, and after the race, her HIIT workouts, her recovery aides, and so on.

This is what amateur (age group and masters) athletes are conditioned to think… that success is up for sale.

As a result, when amateur athletes don’t succeed despite acquiring all accoutrements, they blame themselves, they become frustrated, unmotivated, end up leaving the sport (or turn to another sport hoping for greener pastures).  Rarely is the coaching called into question, rarely is the training program considered to be the issue, rarely are the assumptions of what, how, and why they trained and raced reviewed.  Rarely are the questions asked… can peak performance really be bottled and sold, can potential be bought instead of discovered?

Unfortunately, this is what the pursuit of peak potential, the desire for consistent peak performance has been reduced to… the drinking of magic tonics and elixirs, the wearing of enchanted outfits which give speed or speed recovery, the repetition of routines which unlock mystical power, and every other fairy-tale and fantasy.

What happened to actual training?  Physical.  Mental.  Emotional.  Over years and years?

What happened to dedication, commitment, perseverance, overcoming, faith… hard work?

Success is not up for sale: there are no short cuts to peak performance, to your potential.

Chrissie’s physiology was primed over three decades: “sporty” non-competitive in the first decade, social club swimmer and casual runner in the second decade, cyclist and competitive runner in the third decade. Chrissie amassed a training log which undoubtedly reads in the thousands upon thousands of kilometers across several sports.  Add in training at altitude, at elevations as high as Mt Everest’s base camp and you have an athlete with a base of training who will pose a challenge to every competitor in every competition they enter.

To suggest that Chrissie’s success resulted from the minimal weight of her bike, the aero-ness of her rims, the sugar to salt ratio of her sports drink, or anything else external is to diminish in everyway, everything that Chrissie did during those decades of training out of the spotlight. It is demeaning, it is disrespectful, and its downright ignorant. Name the champion and you will find years and years of training underlying their accomplishments and achievements.

You cannot launch a rocket from a canoe.

Too many athletes, too many parents of athletes, and far too many coaches are trying to launch athletes from a floating log, let alone a canoe.  If you do not have the aerobic base, the physiological and psychological priming, the fundamentals of movement (i.e. the ABCs), sport specific technique, and the self awareness skills, then please stop banging your head or running full throttle into the wall trying to force what will not happen.Failed Launch gifIf launch after launch fails to yield a take-off, then there is a lesson to be learnt: the rocket isn’t ready to reach escape velocity (yet). Stop beating and berating the rocket for lacking anything. Without a base, a rocket cannot be supported, aimed, launched, nor sustained in orbit. Irrespective of how much the rocket may want to be launched, no matter how shiny and new, regardless of its enthusiasm, desire, and ambition, without a wide solid launching pad rockets do not take-off.

If you seek your potential, find a coach who knows not only what an aerobic base is, but knows how to assess athletes to identify the extent of their current base, and how to develop a solid one along with all attributes fundamental to peak performance.

Build a base, then proceed to peaking.  The process doesn’t work turned upside down. It doesn’t matter how hard you try, how bad you want it, how many times you take a run at it, there are no short cuts.