Interview: Sports presenter Charlie Webster on her upcoming Ironman

Image: @charliewebster Instagram

At just 32, Charlie Webster has already made history by being the first female presenter of Eurosport’s boxing coverage. After running two London Marathons for Women’s Aid and the Bobby Moore fund, she’s now set to take on her first ever Ironman triathlon in Bolton.

This is your first Ironman – how are you finding the preparation? It’s a big transition from races and shorter tris.

I’m a bit of a running purist. I completely just ran before. A few people said to me “you should do a triathlon” and I was really embarrassed because I couldn’t swim – I could play around in the pool but I couldn’t swim a length. I started to swim more about two years ago because I was having problems with injury. Someone entered me into the London Triathlon that same year, about six weeks after I’d learned how to swim.

I love endurance events, and I know I’ve only done one sprint but [the Ironman] was just in the back of my mind all the time. It’s been a huge step up – it hasn’t just been about training, it’s been about learning the disciplines as well. I only got my first bike last year!

How’s it been fitting the training in around work?

It’s been really tough. I’m quite a disciplined person but it’s just been hard to motivate myself sometimes to get up early and go to the pool. Going for a run isn’t as hard for me because I like running, but going to the pool I find a real chore. I find it really hard to motivate myself to swim because I don’t feel natural at it.

Going out on the bike for so many hours, I’ve needed a lot more sleep. I’ve also had to organise myself better – there are times where I’ve turned up and I didn’t have a jacket for the bike and I’ve been cold so I’ve had to really prepare myself. I’m a bit of a last minuter, a rusher, and I’ve had to change that a little bit and actually get my stuff ready. But at the same time, I’ve become more efficient in the rest of my life. I love having something to aim for because it does give you that focus.

Do you have a set plan for saving time in the transitions?

I’m really competitive and I love to race, but I have to remember it’s an Ironman and I have to take an extra minute and be comfortable on the bike because it’s so long. I’ve only ever done two triathlons – I’ve done a sprint one and a Half Ironman four weeks ago - so I’ve only done transitions in two different races, but I’ve learned so much in doing them. Things like when I came in from the swim I was freezing cold, so just to have a towel with me this time. And making sure I put the helmet on first because I’m always scared that I’m going to get disqualified.

I do want to do it as fast as I can, but you need to be comfortable. I get such bad chafing as well, so I need to figure out what to do about that. I think I’m going to put extra shorts on for the cycle. And then I always need the toilet. That’s actually been my biggest concern! Chrissie Wellington says that she weed on the bike, so I’m debating… I mean, if you need the toilet a couple of times and you’re riding a bike, how are you going to pull over in a race?

What’s your fuelling strategy like?

That’s one of my few downfalls. I’ve had to learn to be really regimented with myself because I get a bit bogged down and I forget that I have to eat. Sometimes if I get nervous I feel sick and I don’t want to. When I’m riding, I find taking the energy bars in quite hard… I don’t have a sweet tooth and they’re all very sweet. When I did the Half Ironman, I crossed the line and I was so desperate for water. I’ve never been so thirsty in my life. There were some oranges on the side and – it’s very embarrassing, I hope nobody took a picture of it – all I could see was them and I just ran over and shoved the orange pieces in my mouth to suck on because I was so dehydrated.

That’s something that I massively learned – I think I had a bottle and a half of isotonic water on the whole Half Ironman, because I just forgot. But they say if you start to feel thirsty then you’re dehydrated. I have a strategy in my head now where when I’m on the bike I try and drink every 10 minutes, eat at 40 minutes in and then try and eat a little bit every 20 minutes after that. But it’s finding stuff that you like – I’m thinking of taking some sandwiches so it’s not bars. I love salty things, so I’m thinking like pretzels and then bananas when they have them out.

I know it’s hugely important because I’ve trained really hard and the difference between me doing well will be my nutrition, completely. I know I’ve got the training in my legs, it’s just whether I fuel right.

What are you doing to prepare over these last few days?

I ran yesterday but I did half a session, I swam the day before and now I’m on a complete taper. I’m going up [to Bolton] tonight and tomorrow I’m going to have a little look around the bike course because apparently it’s really hilly. I’m a bit annoyed with myself because I haven’t gone up before.

I’m on a taper but that’s hard because I’m quite nervous, so I need to expel my nervous energy at the same time. The night before last I kept having nightmares that I was on the bike and I couldn’t pedal - I was pushing so hard and the bike wouldn’t move. I’m starting to have those anxiety/stress dreams about it! I think the worst bit is this bit. You know, when you go on a rollercoaster and you’re fine when you’re on it but it’s the waiting and anticipation? I think that’s now in the build up to it, but once I get started that kicks in and that’s the thing that races for you, I suppose.

Have you got any celebrations planned for when you finish?

Well, apparently there’s pizza at the end! I haven’t drunk in ages, so I’d love a bottle of red wine or something. I’ve been really strict. I’ve got 15-20 people coming, like all my family who live up north, which will be great, and some friends from London. Just to have them when I cross the line will be amazing. I hope that my friends have arranged for us to have a bottle of Champagne or something – maybe I should hint to them!

It’s become such a part of my life, I think it’s going to be weird finishing.

Do you have any more events lined up?

I might do the New York marathon, but I also want to give myself a bit of time because I have a habit of not recovering properly and then injuring myself.

Charlie is a support of GO Run for Fun, the world's biggest running charity for children. Read more about them here.