In September Jane Leslie won the 2014 World Triathlon Grand Final in the women’s 65-69 year-old category. She has also won gold in the European Championships, as well as setting a British record for 1,500m freestyle swimming. She kindly took some time off her busy training schedule to talk to Sport Watch:
What advice would you give to women over 40 who want to get active?
I think my first piece of advice would be to forget about being embarrassed, about putting on sports clothes, because I was, and everybody is. And you actually look much better than you think you do. And nowadays, everybody’s doing it, so there’s nothing to worry about there. I think have a structure in your head about what you want to do. Think, right what am I going to do? What do I feel I want to do? It might be a dance class, it might be running, whatever it is decide what you want to do, and then find a friend to do it with. Then say, right, next Tuesday at 7 o’clock we’re going, and you’ll make a pact. It takes time to get used to it – Rome wasn’t built in a day. It took me a very long time to get this fit. Just work at it, keep enjoying it, and don’t lose that enjoyment.
How useful is it to have a training partner?
I have a training partner for triathlon. He’s not a great swimmer, and I’m not a great bike mechanic so we help each other, it’s a great working relationship. It’s a bit like Torvill and Dean! I train with men all the time, and I forget I’m a woman really, when I’m out there I’m just an athlete. When it comes to training, I go to specialist clubs – cycling, running and swimming, and I always train with people who are better than me, and they are often men. They tend to have a certain aggression. Especially on my bike – if I go cycling with men, we will go down hills at 40mph. If I go with women I probably won’t go so fast. I think if you really want to be good, you’re better to train with men.
What was it like to win this year’s Triathlon Grand Final?
On race day I was in a different zone altogether. I’m quite an extroverted person but on race day I go very quiet, and I feel like I’m drawing everything I’ve got into myself. When I was in my starting pen I started looking at the other women, and there were a lot of Americans there and they are very good. Then suddenly I thought, ‘Don’t mess with me’, and they started bellyaching about the cold water and the hills and I thought ‘I can do cold water and hills’ and I knew, then, I was going to get them.
Because I’m a big swimmer, and I’ve done a lot of training in the sea, I wanted to go for it in the beginning. So we lined up on the beach, each with our number, and when the horn went, we were off. And that was it. It was such a relief. I made a really good start, I could see that I was getting on really well, the only problem was that I caught up with one or two of the other heats, and I had to plough through those. Anyway I did that, and I knew I’d done quite a good swim.
Then I ran out and grabbed my bike, I had the 25 mile ride to do. So I mounted my bike and I just rode it. There were a couple of steep hills, and I’m not the best at hills, I’m much better on flats. But I got going. I went pretty fast down some of the hills. I get this head on and I think, ‘What am I doing? This is wonderful!’. The bike ride went very well, but I was dreading the run because that’s my weakest bit. So I started running… and then of course towards the end of the 10k you do hit that zone where you think you can’t go on, that you’re going to be sick. And it does hurt, a lot. But I thought back to a training session in Wales where I had to keep cycling up these 10% hills for miles and miles, and I thought ‘Come on, you’ve done this’. And that’s where grit comes in. So I just kept going.
We had a medal ceremony the night after and that was something else. It was a moment. And what’s so lovely is that at my age you can still have a moment, a big, big moment! To get there I’ve worked very hard. I’ve wanted it. But I still don’t think I’m finished, so I’m going to go for the World Iron Man championships.
Is there any pressure in representing women?
Not at all, I’ve never got too preoccupied with being a woman, just wanting to get on with it. I’m surprised how many women have revered what I’ve done, they feel I’ve done it for women, and in a way I have actually. I’ve found myself saying “Especially don’t mess with British ladies, we’re a tough old lot!”. Some men can get a bit funny, and its usually men of my sort of age. Young men are great, young women are brilliant, older women are usually very admiring… Men at my age, who know I’d beat them if we went out training together, they don’t like it. They are the most difficult group to deal with, so I just don’t talk about it with them.
Who are your sporting role models?
I suppose my first swimming coach, Eric Henderson, was a sporting role model because he is the most superb swimmer, a commonwealth games medalist, but he’s tiny, absolutely tiny. And against all those odds he still won. Also to watch him swim, his technique is so perfect, I find that quite inspiring. Also Alistair Brownlee, the Olympic champion for triathlon, I admire him because he’s just so good, his technique is lovely. I think it’s like an art form. If it’s beautifully done it’s just lovely.
How would you motivate someone to go for a run?
90% of it is stepping out of the door. So if you just get your shoes on, walk outside the door, jog to the lamppost and back, you’ve actually succeeded. Always think in terms of having succeeded. And if you can just step outside the door, you’ll probably go on and do a good run, so I think it’s always important to be positive. I don’t think anyone likes getting up at 5 o’clock in the morning, when you’re feeling tired, but no pain, no gain. You’ve got to want it. If you start going out and doing it then I think you start getting into a routine. It’s all about getting out through that door for the first time.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I think there’s a social need to up the fitness of older people, there’s almost a preset mindset where people assume being old means not being able to do things. Somewhere we’ve got to break into that so that we don’t have this great elderly population that we’ve got to take care of. My mum was quite slim and active, and this was so valuable, because when she was ill she kept her dignity, I didn’t have to do things that I would find difficult. These are all off-shoots of keeping one’s fitness at an older age. It’s almost selfish not to look after yourself, because eventually someone’s going to have to care for you when you get old. It’s the same with my children – I’ll do my very best so that if I’m ill they haven’t got to do more than they’ve got to do. Motivating people, and increasing enthusiasm for sport is key. I’ve motivated people just by taking an interest in what they do. So I think enthusiasm, interest and encouragement are all really important.