Joanna Carritt was terrified when she turned professional: "I really didn't know what to expect. I just wanted to get stuck in and do plenty of races to see how much I could handle and where I'd fit in the rankings."
And get stuck in she did: she was seventh in Ironman Lanzarote in May, eighth in Ironman France in June and then came that third place in Ironman UK, where she finished in 10:16:22, earning a slot at the World Championships in Hawaii. "I'd had a very full race schedule and was wondering if I'd get away with it," she says of the IMUK. "My legs just did what they were supposed to do and I was surprised at the result. It just goes to show that you should never anticipate the outcome, just get on with it and give it your best."
Carritt took up triathlon in 2003, at the age of 27, when friends challenged her to complete the London Triathlon Sprint distance. She came fifth, beating the guys who had put her up to it; she was hooked. From 2004 to 2007 she raced at Olympic distance, with a string of fine results, including two World Age Group Championships representing GB. In 2007 she stepped up to Ironman events, where the success continued - she regularly finished in the top 10 women and was first in her age group at the European Ironman Championships and Ironman Wisconsin.
By 2008 she was taking triathlon seriously enough to reduce her working hours and arrange a three-month sabbatical to focus on the sport. She was a structural engineer in London and had planned her finances to allow time off to prepare for the following season of racing, with an eye on an age-group win in Kona. But she was made redundant, which forced her hand. She decided to embrace the triathlon lifestyle full time, a change she found difficult. "I found the transition from someone who does triathlon as a (very serious) hobby to someone who does little else quite unsettling," she says.
"I missed having something else to think about and ended up overtraining. By March 2009 I was in such a deep hole that I raced poorly for the rest of the year and didn't enjoy it much."
After spending some time at Epic Camp in New Zealand, Carritt was taken on by coach Scott Molina (epiccamp.com). He introduced her to a new way of training and the improvements that followed cemented her decision to turn pro. "I figured that, with the right input, I would surely be capable of that step-up in my performance. The process of going pro just happened quite naturally once it was set in motion.
It took a lot of hard work, though - and not just the training. Seeking funding and sponsorship is a full-time job in itself."
Since turning pro, Carritt no longer tries to do as much training as possible but instead concentrates on quality sessions, and recovery and relaxation afterwards. "Having reduced my stress levels since not working I feel I'm a lot healthier so I'm able to absorb the hard physical work as well as spend time doing things I enjoy," she says.
As well as being her first year as a professional triathlete, 2010 is Carritt's first year as a member of Team TBC- SportsAid. This has given her invaluable support from the likes of Sailfish, Saucony, PowerBar and For Goodness Shakes as sponsors, plus many additional suppliers and partners. Connections with other team members, including Olympic triathlete Marc Jenkins, and the opportunity to share experiences, are a bonus.
While in London, Carritt and her partner, Steven Lord, were members of one of the city's top triathlon clubs, Tri London; Carritt was race captain for three years. Advising and encouraging fellow members led to more formal coaching arrangements and the couple have now set up their own coaching business, EverydayTraining (www.everydaytraining.org.uk). They have around 20 athletes on their books, providing bespoke training plans for athletes of any ability. "Our big message is that being your best takes hard work and a long time so a genuine love of the process is fundamental," Carritt says. They are hosting their first training camp in Lanzarote in April next year.
The couple now spend summers in Taunton, Devon, and winters in New Zealand, enjoying the laid-back way of life and productive training environment. Carritt already has races pencilled for 2011: "The taste of the podium at Ironman UK is quite compelling," she admits. But her real aim is to get to the point where racing supports her and she's in a position to pay back those who have supported and invested in her.
Her immediate concern is the Ironman World Championships. "I had no expectation of qualifying so just getting to the start line feels like a real bonus and I intend to enjoy it," she says. "I hope to have a good race, stay in control throughout and back up a decent run at IMUK with a good marathon out there.
I was 40th woman last year, when I was racing as an age grouper, and I'm definitely hoping to improve on that now I'm a pro."