As the anchor on BBC Breakfast, Louise Minchin (alumna of St Mary’s Ascot) is one of the country’s best-known news presenters. She is also a passionate triathlete who rediscovered a love of competitive sport and ended up representing Britain as part of Team GB
From breakfast sofa to Team GB triathlete. How did that come about?!
In an Olympic-inspired contest (2012) the BBC Breakfast team were challenged to a cycling competition around a velodrome. I’d never thought of cycling as a sport I could do – me in lycra?! – but despite finding everything terrifyingly steep and difficult, I loved it. A friend suggested I try a triathlon, and it went from there.
Were you a sporty child?
Yes, I was in all teams except hockey. I was a competitive swimmer till I was 15 when I stopped almost overnight. I really cringe when I admit this but it was 100% about body image. I looked in the mirror and thought my shoulders were looking big. I wish I’d known sport would have helped get me through my O Levels.
Did you like school?
My children would probably be horrified to hear this, but I loved school work and exams. I enjoyed Spanish, English, history and although I’m no good at maths I did economics for A Level. I’ve always been interested in why things happen. Even aged 10 my bedtime listening was The World Tonight.
You are lyrical about being,”Fitter, stronger, happier…”. What’s the best way to make that first step?
Get on those trackie bottoms you’ve had for 25 million years! The great thing about running is that you can do it anywhere and the Couch to 5k App is non-intimidating and brilliant. Join a running club, or sign up to parkrunUK – it’s genius, free and amazing. If you think triathlons might be for you there are clubs all over the country, and they’ll take swimmers who can only swim a length of breaststroke and get them to 1,500 metres.
How did you motivate yourself during the early days?
By making it impossible to get out of training! I’d get my husband to drop me at the pool and pick me up two hours later. Or drop me three miles from home so I’d have to run back. Some people find it works to train with someone so they won’t let them down.
How do you motivate your two daughters?
Sport England research revealed that if mothers exercise daughters will too. I’ve taken it to an extreme but I hope that my girls will be able to see how exercise makes me feel.
When training do you follow a strict diet?
Not as such, but I’m conscious about what I need to eat to fuel the training. I hydrate well and eat protein after exercising so I don’t lose muscle – something like a peanut butter sandwich. I’m conscious about avoiding sugar, but I do like chocolate.
Does sport help your daily life?
In challenging times it’s a brilliant way of distracting your brain. I don’t listen to music when I run because I’ll work through a problem instead. Or just have a rest from Twitter, emails etc – it’s like a mini break from technology.
Do you have a motto for life?
Not really, but I break things down. “Just keep running towards that tree. Just count to ten.” I did the same thing with big exams at school: do this essay and then think about the next one. Work for 15 minutes and then have a break. At times during Patagonman it was so hard I was literally counting in twos, and I’ve had endless bike crashes, terrifying swims and self-doubt along the way.
Your most recent challenge?
I finished my first Iron Man, Patagonia’s Patagonman, over the Christmas holidays. It involved a 3.8 km swim down a fjord after jumping off a ferry, a 108km bike ride into the foothills of the Andes and an off-road marathon up a couple of mountains. I wanted to do it for the challenge, and because when I left university 25 years ago I worked as a translator in a tiny Patagonian town. Coming up to my 50 birthday I happened to see a tweet mentioning Patagonman taking place in the town where I’d spent such happy months. It felt like fate.
I guess I am always looking for the next high (it kind of goes with the day job!), but it’s not necessarily going to be a race. My 17-year-old daughter wants to take up walking in the Welsh hills and that’s really inspired me. One of the best things we ever did as a family was relocate from London to Chester. The countryside around is stunning, and I doubt I’d have had such a successful fitness story if I hadn’t had it to explore.
Read Louise’s inspiring fitness journey in Dare to Tri: My Journey from the BBC Breakfast Sofa to GB Team Triathlete. Chapters include details of being talked out of a portaloo by her daughter when her nerves go the better of her before a race, and the, “utterly absurd and totally brilliant” moment she realised she had a chance of competing for her country.
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