One of the highlights of the triathlon year, the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final, takes place in Australia’s Gold Coast from 12-16 September.
The event will include the 2018 Age-Group World Championships over both the Sprint and Standard Distance, and as always a large British Age-Group team will be travelling down under.
Among those racing in both events is Claire Danson, who in her fourth season of competition in the British team has secured her first international medals at the European Championships already this year. Could there be more to follow on the Gold Coast?
Claire will be racing in the 25-29 division in Australia and, despite a long season and early season surgery, is looking forward to racing again… and already planning ahead for 2019.
Claire Danson, British Age-Group Triathlete
Looking at your ITU results, this is your fourth season of racing in GB Age-Group colours. When did triathlon first start for you?
It pretty much started in that first season of Age-Group racing. I competed in the Dambuster triathlon the season before. It was an aim of mine to complete a triathlon after suffering from a stress fracture in my back for a year before it. But, it wasn't until after that race - which qualified me for the Europeans the next year - that I decided to actually take up triathlon properly.
How soon after starting did racing in the team become a target?
Racing in the team was never really a target to be honest. It was more a brilliant accident, as I didn't really know what it was at first. Qualifying when I didn't really understand the system or really know much about triathlon meant a quick learning curve to understand Age-Group racing and the championships.
You are part of a rather talented sporting family – have you been involved in lots of different sports yourself growing up?
All through school I did every sport that was offered to me and I was always on the lookout for extra opportunities to try new adventures. All throughout primary and secondary school I was always lucky enough to be in the sports teams and made it into the Hampshire hockey team.
What’s the ‘day job’ for you, and how does that fit with your training and racing goals?
I am a fully trained teacher and have my own tutoring business, Claire Danson Tutoring. I tutor Maths and Science to all ages from 7-18. I am lucky as I absolutely love it and it works perfectly with my training, as I am able to work in the evenings and weekends whilst getting my training done during the day.
2018 and you’ve won your first two international AG medals – both Bronze – in Tartu (Standard) and Glasgow (Sprint). How did you enjoy those events?
Tartu was a very special race for me being my first Age-Group medal. I was able to share the experience with the other GB girls in my Age-Group who were so supportive with a number of them making the effort to come and cheer me on getting my medal; showing the awesomeness of the GB Age-Group team. I also managed a fifth place position overall, which I was pleased with. The course was fantastic, with a brilliant atmosphere and as always an amazing Great British team out there to enjoy the experience with.
Glasgow was a whole other ball game. It was fantastic having a race in a home nation and again the support and camaraderie of the team was excellent as always. I particularly enjoyed the bike course. It was fast making it a lot of fun! I went into the race unsure of what to expect having been really poorly the week before and spending three days in hospital. Somehow I managed to get the bronze medal, but it wasn't quite the performance I would have hoped for.
I believe it has not been all plain sailing for you however, with several surgeries needed ahead of the 2018 season. What’s the background on those… and are you ok now?
I have struggled with hip impingement syndrome for a few years and had been managing it up until the 2017 season with physio. This wasn't really enough to be able to run properly however, so I decided to have the surgery on both hips to sort them out. This involved an arthroscopy for both in which they removed some of the bone, reshaped the ball of the hip and sewed up the torn cartilage.
The first op was at the end of September and the second the beginning of November. Unfortunately I had to have a third in January after a complication, leading the surgeon to tell me it was unlikely I would make the first qualifying races in May. That gave me a good target to focus on.
I was determined to make it, as there were three races in two weekends - one was a double-header - all of which would qualify me for a different event. With a bit of determination and a huge amount of help and support from all the people around me, I did make it and managed to qualify for all the races, one of which was Glasgow.
My hips are so much better now and I am able to do some proper run training, which I haven't been able to do for years.
Despite those setbacks, you managed to produce those podium results – do you work with a coach, and if so, how key has that been in getting you fit after those problems?
Yes I am coached by Richard Stannard and have an excellent physio, John Allen as well; both of were key in getting me back to fitness quickly.
John rehabbed me excellently and always knew when I was ready to increase training and when I should wait. He puts up with a lot from me as I am a bit of a nag with wanting to train, but he did enable me to come back to training a lot sooner than most people are able. I was able to swim just a few days after the operation with the stitches covered in multiple waterproof dressings and bike just a few weeks after that.
Richard has been brilliant in getting my swim up to scratch as it is my weakest discipline, and the time away from running and biking enabled swimming to be a really big focus.
You are scheduled to race both the Sprint and Standard Distance events in Gold Coast; do you have a preference in terms of distance?
I love both but I would probably say that Standard Distance is my preference. The bike is a big strength for me so the non-drafting racing suits me better.
Having raced in Tartu and Glasgow, recovered from surgery and raced qualifiers and the like, I’m guessing it’s been a very busy year. Will you be taking a break after Australia?
Yes, I can hardly believe how much has happened and it’s less than a year since my first surgery! I will have a short break of probably a week or two before starting training again depending on how I feel after the races in Australia.
Any triathlon plans for 2019… or perhaps even beyond?
I have qualified for all the Age-Group races and intend to go to the European and World Championships next year. I also plan on stepping up to 70.3 distance racing next year, with endurance racing being where I think my strength will ultimately lie.
Sum up the experience of being part of the GB Age-Group team and why you keep coming back?
Summing up will be difficult to do succinctly, but I'll try. I absolutely love it. Being part of the biggest team at these championships is something special. Being a bit of an old hand, I always know a lot of the team and it's fun to catch up with them as well as welcoming new athletes into the team and offering them support in their first championships. It's just the friendliest atmosphere to race in and takes me all over the world. I love it!
For more information on the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final Gold Coast visit the event website here.