Ashleigh Gentle - Contributor
The biggest race of my life
It promises to be one of the great races of the Commonwealth Games. The world number one versus the world number two in a triathlon right here on the Gold Coast on the first day of the Games. I can’t wait.
The world number one is Flora Duffy from Bermuda. She has been ITU World Triathlon Series world champion the last two years, while I finished second in the overall standings last year.
Flora’s amazing. She is a massive competitor, and obviously with her at the Commonwealth Games, it’s going to be a great race. Apart from the USA, the Commonwealth athletes in triathlon are the best in the world, so it’s going to be a really exciting, world class race.
I beat Flora in August last year in Montreal and that win was definitely a career highlight for me. Leading up to that race, Flora had pretty much had a perfect season and won five other world series races, including the previous four races in a row.
I’d been doing the world series circuit since the end of 2011, and at that stage I think I’d had about five second places but never won a race. My win in Montreal felt like a culmination of so many years of hard work.
The funny thing is, I felt pretty terrible in the lead-up to the race. I didn’t feel too bad when I first got there, but then I felt like I was getting a bit of a sore throat. I woke up the next morning and it was horrible. My throat was like razor blades and my glands were up. Just going up and down the lift in the hotel made me feel nauseous and a bit dizzy.
Being a professional athlete, you can’t take many medications because of banned substances, so I basically just rested before the race as much as I could. Eventually, I went to an ITU doctor and they said, ‘Looks like laryngitis, there’s not much we can do for you but look, take some Panadol’.
In a way, I think my sickness helped my race because I didn’t feel like I had any pressure. There were no expectations and I just decided the morning of the race to do what I could do. And it ended up being my best race!
It was a similar situation last year at the World Triathlon Series race on the Gold Coast. I wasn’t what you’d call sick but I definitely felt a bit off and not so good in that race too. I got really sick afterwards, yet that was the race where I placed second and qualified for the Commonwealth Games.
Again, I think I might have performed well because I didn’t put as much pressure on myself. I was like, ‘This might be a disaster show, let’s just go out there and have fun’. I guess that mindset works well for me.
A few people have suggested I should maybe stand out in the rain and catch a cold before races now!
gentle by name only
My surname is Gentle, but am I a gentle person? Well that depends who you ask! Sometimes my boyfriend Josh Amberger would say no. He sees the side of me that gets extremely tired and a bit grumpy.
Josh and I have known each other for a really long time. We met in triathlons as juniors and it’s probably around nine years now we’ve been together.
It was really fun being able to do triathlon with him before he went to long course. We don’t see each other as much anymore just because of the different roles that we have. We’re not even living together at the moment – I’m training in Wollongong and he’s in Brisbane training with his new coach – although we’re currently building a house in Brisbane.
I train in Spain for three or four months each year to be close to the World Cup circuit, and we spend some time together there, and again when I come home. It’s definitely not really your average relationship, but I think we make it work as best we can.
I relocated to Wollongong to be with my coach and to be close to the Institute of Sport in Canberra. It’s hard being away from family and friends, but my family are always super understanding of why I’m here and they do whatever they can to support, me. It’s tough at times, but I know it’s only temporary, and I can return to a normal life once I’m done with this.
When Josh and I are together, we go through a lot of food, that’s for sure. We’re always really tired and always need refuelling, so a lot of food has to go in to maintain the energy levels between us. Our fridge is always full of yoghurt, oats, berries, fruit, meat, eggs, and salad stuff.
There are some treats in there as well. I enjoy baking and there’s always room for some chocolates and treats in moderation. We love our dark chocolate. We like to think it’s a bit healthier than milk chocolate but, ummm… anyway, dark chocolate is something that I’ll let myself enjoy every day, otherwise I’d go a bit mad.
People have suggested I should stand out in the rain and catch a cold before races.
In general, triathlon is a sport that is not just physical. It’s definitely mental and psychological as well. It’s a sport where you have to be on top of a huge amount of factors to be a really well balanced and competitive athlete.
For me, it’s still a work in progress. Every day, day in, day out, I’m training. And when I race, it’s something I really live and enjoy. The race is when I lay out all the hard work I’ve done. During the race, I’m often thinking about the years of practise, and all the little processes that can allow me to go faster. And when it’s hurting, I try not to let my body tell myself that. You’ve got to make sure that you stay in a good head space.
I guess I’ve maybe had to learn to be a bit more assertive on the racecourse. Maybe I have been a bit too gentle in the past. But not anymore.
home ground advantage
There’s nothing like racing in front of a big home crowd. I’m from Brisbane but I moved to the Gold Coast when I was six, so I think the Gold Coast home crowd will definitely lift me. It’s a massive advantage.
But at the end of the day, you’ve got to turn up prepared because if you’re not prepared, the home crowd won’t miraculously get you home.
Once you’re there and you’ve done the hard work, it’s a comfortable feeling knowing that your nation is behind you and that they’re there cheering you on. Many athletes go their whole careers without having the opportunity to represent their country at home. I’m very lucky.
The Gold Coast race last year was actually very interesting because it was just after really bad storms in Queensland. I’d been in Wollongong where I’m now training for the race, and I got up there and there was so much runoff in the Broadwater, where the swim leg is held. It was very, very murky, and the race was borderline to be cancelled. I’m glad it went ahead so I could qualify for the Commonwealth Games.
Murky water is just one of the things you have to put up with in our sport. The problem is usually cold water. Last year there were a lot of races in Europe where the water was really cold, so I’m actually really looking forward to the Gold Coast being nice and pleasant – I hope.
Probably the least comfortable I’ve ever been in a swim leg was in a World Series race in Cape Town a few years ago. The water was freezing and going down to the pontoon, there were seals all over the place. That got me worried. I know that sharks often attack surfers because they think they’re seals, so I’m pretty glad that there were about 50 other women when I dived in!
Overall, I’m improving in the swim. A big goal of mine is to strengthen the swim and the bike legs. My strength is definitely the run leg. That’s what I grew up doing through school, and I feel that I actually improved my running when I started triathlon.
In the last race of the season last year in Rotterdam, I had a three-minute deficit after the bike leg and I could not make any inroads on the lead three who were hammering away in the terrible conditions.
I ended up running sixth in the race with the second quickest run leg, and securing my second on the world series circuit. I think you’ve got to go in with a never-say-die attitude and don’t think too much about the deficit, because you never know what’s going to happen.
I’m the only survivor of the 2014 Australian Commonwealth Games triathlon squad in Glasgow, and of the six athletes who went to Rio.
You can look at that a few different ways, but it means that things have gotten more competitive and people are really stepping up. So I might be the only one with major games experience going into the Gold Coast, but it’s also an exciting prospect for the young athletes who’ve been picked – Luke Willian, Matt Hauser, Jake Birtwistle, Gillian Backhouse and Charlotte McShane.
They all deserve to be there, and I think it’s a positive to see the excitement they’ll have representing Australia at their first major Games.
If I were to win at the Commonwealth Games, it would be the biggest achievement of my life. It’s something I think about every day and which motivates me to get up each morning and to get the most out of myself every day.
While it would obviously mean a lot to me personally, I’d love to be able to do it for everyone that’s been in my corner – my sponsors, my friends, my family, coaches, everyone. I think those people will really be driving me to make sure I get everything out of myself in this race.
Ashleigh Gentle - Contributor