To celebrate International Women’s Day 2021 and women athletes, Bott and Co have had a virtual sit down with Julie Harrison, member of the Bott Cycle Team, wife, mum, gran and two-time triathlete with 46 Ironman finishes since 1996.
What made you join the Bott Cycle Team?
My husband Darryl was approached by another team member who had heard about my accomplishments. I was flattered and thought it would be good for me as an athlete to be part of a very successful team; it was perfect motivation for me.
How did you get into cycling?
I didn’t know a lot about the sport when I met my husband, but cycling is his passion, which has rubbed off onto me.
What made you choose the Ironman competitions?
I was in South Africa in 1995, having just taken part in the comrades ultra-marathon, a 56-mile run which is run annually between Durban and Pietermaritzburg. I saw a magazine with a picture on the front cover of Greg Welch winning the Hawaii Ironman. I read the article and learned this was the Ironman world championships and you had to qualify to take part. Something about it really appealed to me, so I thought I would give it a go. The ultimate aim was to do Hawaii, however 18 Ironmans later I finally qualified, although I did not realise how hard it was going to be.
What do your family and friends think about your world ranking?
They think I am stark raving bonkers but they are secretly proud of me too.
How does it feel to be an ‘iron gran’ and how do you fit it in with your work and family life?
I adore having my family and being a grandma is very special, I love it. It’s all about time management. I get up at a ridiculous hour to train before work at 7am, and then I run during my lunch hour which helps me keep on top of the training.
All of the long training is done at the weekend, but I always try to get finished fairly early in the afternoon so that I have time for family. My husband is the one who has been my support since I started this crazy pastime, I am lucky in that he is interested in what I do, so he never complains if I spend lots of time training.
How does it feel to be so successful in the female 50-54 category worldwide and number one in the UK?
It feels fab to be honest. I am not the quickest athlete out there but I am consistent in that I am able to finish races on a regular basis, so yes it’s a good feeling when all the hard training sessions pay off.
What motivates you to keep going when you participate in sports events?
I just enjoy doing what I do, there is nothing like running down the finishing chute of an Ironman race, I often get very emotional. It’s not something everyone is able or wants to do, so to me that makes Ironman very special. The giving up bit usually comes at mile 18 in the marathon when every part of me hurts and I have eight more miles to run, I have never given in to it, then once I have finished all those thoughts are forgotten.
How often do you train and how to you train yourself both mentally and physically for each event?
I train most days of the week and often eight weeks out from an Ironman I will put in 15 to 20 hours a week to focus on things like swimming, cycling, or running. The mental aspect is important in the long events as this is what gets you to the finish; most people have the physical ability to complete an Ironman just not the will.
I employ lots of different tactics in my head to get me though, like splitting the bike into two or even four sections, as opposed to thinking of it as a 112-mile bike ride. Or sometimes I will think about anything other than the race to get me through bad patches. I am naturally a stubborn person and will try to finish everything I start.
How did you find competing overseas? Where has been your favourite place (other than Britain) to compete?
Well I have been back to Lanzarote many times to do the Ironman so I suppose I like that one a bit. The world championships in Hawaii are very special, you get to compete with the best in the world on the same course and the same time, there are not many sports where you can do this. Competing abroad is a good way of seeing a country as you see places you wouldn’t ordinarily get to as a tourist, also the mix of people that turn up is also very interesting, everyone has a story.
Have you seen more women getting into cycling and competing at events over the years?
Yes, I have seen a massive increase in women cycling since I first started, particularly amongst the older age groups. When I first got into triathlon there would only be 5 to 10 women in the whole field and very few over the age of 50. It’s so different now thank goodness.
Woman to woman – any cycling advice? Especially for those hesitant about getting into cycling?
I would recommend that any women who are nervous about taking up cycling to join a group or cycling club and get in touch with likeminded people who can provide support. The roads can be daunting places, but most drivers are respectful of cyclists. Just don’t ride with music, that’s a big no for me.
Also, find a bike that fits and that you feel comfortable riding, it doesn’t have to cost the earth because you can always upgrade if you find you like it.
And finally, enter an event when they’re back on. There are hundreds of sportive rides around the country to choose from and unlike time trialling or road racing, you don’t have to be a member of any club or a governing body to enter, just pay your entry fee and do the ride.
What sort of music do you listen to when training?
My favourite artist is George Michael, so I have a lot of his stuff on my iPod. I like anything with a beat, Michael Jackson, Maroon Five and Paloma Faith are some of my picks too, it’s a mixed bag really.
What are the challenges facing the Bott cycle team over the next season, post-Covid?
I suppose to maintain and build on all our previous successes. Despite the pandemic, the sport of cycling is growing so the competition is getting fiercer, we have some good, motivated athletes, me included, who are hungry for glory so it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. We just need to keep up the training for when race day finally comes around again.