At the age of 18, Hollie Avil represented Great Britain at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Four years on, she’s trying to make the team again. We caught up with her in Sydney recently.
How is your training going?
I’ve been training on the Gold Coast with my coach Michelle Dillon and her squad of triathletes since the start of January. We’ve all come to Sydney for the first race in the ITU World triathlon Series. Unfortunately I couldn’t race because I’m recovering from a couple of stress fractures. The squad will fly from here to San Diego so I’ve been supporting my friends.
Do you find it hard to watch when you’re not fit to race?
It is hard but in a weird way it’s nice to watch because it gives me more fire in my belly to get back out there and race. I haven’t lost my motivation, but seeing friends race does inspire me and hopefully that makes the healing process quicker. The stress fractures were diagnosed nine weeks ago so I’m finally getting back into running. I’ve been walking a lot and swimming, aqua jogging and cycling, but I haven’t been able to do any high-intensity running sessions yet. Some people use a cross trainer when they’re injured but my coach Michelle Dillon doesn’t really encourage that because it doesn’t simulate the same action as running, whereas aqua jogging does.
How are you approaching 2012?
I’m disappointed to have been injured but the season’s long so it’s not over yet. For me, 2012 is about getting back some self-belief. I’ve had a couple of up-and-down years and I’ve lost a lot of belief in myself. I’ve changed coaches a couple of times, so I really want to focus on getting my confidence back. When I got the stress fractures that was another knock back so I need to get back into a routine. It’s hard to do that, because it’s Olympic year and this time four years ago I was trying to qualify for the Beijing Games, but I’m in a very different position this year. I’ve missed the first races of the season so I’m coming to terms with the idea that I might not be able to qualify for the London games. It breaks my heart to say that because it’s been the focus of the last four years but I have to start thinking with my long-term head on. I’m only 22. I could race for at least another decade so the goal is to think long term, get back into racing, stay injury free and get my self-confidence back.
How are other athletes dealing with the pressure of Olympic year?
There’s a lot more pressure on British athletes this year. I know some swimmers who didn’t make the squad, which is so tough if you’ve given everything for the last four years. Sport can be a very dark world but I do think it’s an exciting time in British Triathlon. There’s a lot of pressure to make the last two female spots in the team, but there’s also a lot of excitement around Alistair and Jonny [Brownlee] and Helen [Jenkins] because they’re doing so well. I really do think they could win medals.
How do you deal with the ups and downs of racing?
I’ve worked with Joce Brooks from British Triathlon since I was 16, which is fantastic because she knows me inside out now. I tell her everything and she’s been with me through the highs and lows. Even though I’ve been in Australia for the last few months, we try to talk on Skype. I’ve also found talking to my coach Michelle very useful. She’s been through a lot in her career and has been a fantastic mentor. I haven’t had a female coach before but Michelle really understands me and that has helped a lot.
How much do you train?
I train six days a week. Friday is always a rest day. In those six days I put in around 30 hours. Every swim I do is at least 5K. I do two hard bike-to-run sessions every week. On Saturday we do a criterium race, which lasts for an hour, then we jump off and run 8K quite hard. I do one long track session a week, and three long rides a week up to four hours. The Team Dillon squad trains and travels together, which is great for performance and moral.
Is it hard to eat well when you’re travelling to races?
It can be tricky. In a city like Sydney it’s easy to eat basic healthy food, but in some countries it’s harder. I have a very sensitive stomach since I got ill at the Beijing Olympics [Hollie had to pull out of the race as a result]. My stomach has never been the same. When I get stressed or run down, it can upset my tummy so I have to be fussy and be careful with my diet. I raced in Morocco last October and took a suitcase of food with me. I took plain bagels, tins of tuna and lived off Lucozade bars. I had to be sure to eliminate any food risks and in the end I raced really well.
How do you approach your diet?
Like a lot of athletes, I’ve experimented with my diet over the years and have come to realize that the most important thing is balance. I try to include carbs, protein and some vegetables or fruit at every meal. For breakfast I’ll have porridge with milk, nuts, and some fruit on the side. For lunch I might have a jacket potato, tuna and salad, and for dinner something similar like brown rice, chicken and steamed vegetables. It’s quite basic but it works for me.
Do you have any food guilty pleasures?
Definitely…I snack a lot, often with Lucozade bars, and I’m always drinking Lucozade Light – it’s not full of calories but it keeps you really well hydrated, which is useful when training in the Aussie heat. I’m a real coffee shop girl, and if I’m having coffee I often have a slice of cake. When you’re doing four-hour bike rides, it’s ok to have a treat now and then.
What do you eat before racing?
I’ve worked with British Triathlon nutritionist Kevin Currell on my pre-race diet. Too much fibre in my diet can make me feel sluggish when I race so I try to cut some out a couple of days before a big race. I have white rice instead of brown, that kind of thing.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
Consistency is key, with training, diet, injury-prevention, and patience is a virtue. I often need to remind myself of that one.
How do you relax?
When I’m not training, I like to switch off from triathlon. I have quite a few friends outside the sport so I spend a lot of time on Skype catching up with my friends back home or emailing them. I often go to the cinema and I like reading autobiographies. I watch a lot of American dramas – anything that switches my brain off from training.
Has triathlon changed since you entered the sport?
More and more women are coming into triathlon, and everyone seems to have heard of the sport now. I watched the age group event in Sydney at the weekend and was so impressed at the level of involvement. Even some of my mum’s friends are getting into triathlon. Everyone wants to try one because a triathlon is something to be proud and there are so many race options, sprints, relays and so on that it’s really accessible now.
What are your long-term plans?
I’d love to go into coaching and help other triathletes as much as Michelle has helped me. I’m part way through a business and management degree so maybe I’ll go into business one day. My long-term triathlon ambition is to go to another Olympics and win a medal.
Hollie Avil is fuelled by Lucozade Sport - helping her go faster, stronger, for longer. Find out more at Lucozade.com