Chrissie Wellington: ‘every race I've entered, something's hurting’

Croak

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Authors: Rio Sports

All my world championships were special for different reasons [Wellington won the World Ironman title four times]. But it was in the first one that I surpassed all my expectations. It was such a surprise to everyone – including me. It changed my life for ever.

At school I was extremely focused. I always wanted to achieve the highest grades and to beat as many people in my class as possible. My parents are non-pushy. I don’t know where my competitive spirit comes from.

I was a very active child, but I never pursued anything too seriously. If someone had told me then that I’d end up becoming a professional athlete I would have laughed in their face.

The human body and mind are incredibly powerful. I’ve never entered a race where something hasn’t been hurting, but on the day it’s always fine. So if injury or accident spoils my preparation, I don’t let my head drop.

I once borrowed a wetsuit from a friend. It was so big it filled with water and I began to sink

I was troubled by disordered eating as a teenager. When I went to university I got a handle on it and the obsession left me. But then, while doing an MA, it reared its ugly head again. I wanted to lose weight, but started really limiting what I ate. It came from my huge desire for control.

I am a terrible snorer. It was even worse when I was pregnant. It drove my husband mad. I don’t think it’s a bad habit… I’m not disturbed by it at all.

I once borrowed a wetsuit from a friend. It was so big it filled with water and I began to sink. I had to be rescued by a kayaker. That was the first race my parents ever came to. They didn’t come to another until after I’d already won the world championships.

I never put lids back on jars properly. Whether it’s the Marmite or the toothpaste, I never seem to be able to get them on.

At 29, I was juggling 22 hours a week of training with my full-time job as a policy advisor. I was smashing myself. I knew no bounds with regard to how hard I should go. Giving up my career to become a professional athlete was a huge decision. I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into.

Some people like to cook, some people like to be cooked for. I am definitely in the latter camp.

I relax by painting. I used to do landscapes and watercolours. Then when my friends started having babies I used to enjoy copying out silly things, like Winnie the Pooh, as presents for them.

I get depressed by all sorts of things. On the serious side it’s bigotry, apathy and inequality. On the other side, it’s a lack of sunshine and irresponsible dog owners who don’t clean up after their pets.

When we talk of our bodies, we always talk about the external form. I’m not worried about getting older. I don’t care about looking 30 when I’m 50. But I want to stay holistically healthy.

To the Finish Line by Chrissie Wellington is published by Constable at £18.99. To order a copy for £16.14, go to bookshop.theguardian.com