Since she burst onto the elite scene a decade a go, Paula Findlay’s journey to the top of the sport has been anything but easy. Last weekend, though, she confirmed her status as one of the best multisport athletes in the world, topping a stacked field that included Olympic and Ironman champions and proving her win at Challenge Daytona last year was no fluke with an even bigger win at the same venue at the PTO 2020 Championship.
We caught up with Findlay the morning after her impressive win.
Triathlon Magazine Canada: You said you were surprised to take the race yesterday, but you were the defending champion and, in many people’s eyes, one of the favourites for the win.
Paula Findlay: We haven’t raced all year so I didn’t know what to expect from myself – the first race is usually pretty rusty … I didn’t know what to expect. I knew I was fit from training, but who knows how fit everyone else is, so that’s why I was taking the pressure off myself and going into it with no expectations, but in the back of my mind hoping for a podium.
You didn’t want to think about taking the win?
I haven’t in the last few years because I didn’t feel it was in my reach, but this year, because of the way I’ve been training, (I thought) maybe it’s possible. It did cross my mind, especially when people started picking me as one of the favourites.
It’s been quite a journey for you over the last decade. After your wins at 70.3 La Quinta and here in Daytona last year we wrote in the magazine that we were seeing a new, improved version of Paula Findlay. Do you feel that’s an apt description?
It doesn’t feel like that long to me. I still raced, I still won races in between 2010 and now, so it wasn’t like I wasn’t doing anything, but on this big a scale, it was quite a long time. I don’t think I’m a different athlete necessarily, I’m still the same person. I’ve just grown up a little bit, learned a lot through the sport and life in general. It’s not a different me, but an improved me – especially mentally. I’ve learned a lot to deal with setbacks.
This year’s really highlighted taking pressure and stress off myself. That ultimately leads to more consistent training and being healthy and racing well. For the last 10 years I’ve tried to live up to the expectation I put on myself from my results in 2010. Maybe I was unrealistic and I rushed it – I was constantly operating at this stress level that was really high.
This was an eyeopener – my training volume is reduced this year. I didn’t swim for six months, we’ve only been swimming three times a week and I had a great swim yesterday, so you don’t necessarily need to run yourself into the ground and go overboard every single day. It’s all about being consistent and not missing weeks on end because you’re injured. In the past I would go hard, go hard, go hard and then have a month off of running. A little bit all the time is way better than a lot and then nothing. That’s what I’ve learned this year, and hopefully I can take that mentality into next year, although hopefully there will be more races on my calendar.
At the finish line you made a special shout out to “Lulu.” Can you tell us a little bit about her?
One of my best friends, her daughter was diagnosed with cancer this year and she’s going through chemo. She was watching the race and she’s been so brave this year – it’s pretty amazing what she’s gone through, so when I was suffering in the race I just thought about her, that’s way harder. I wanted to say hi to her after the race – she was watching, so she appreciated it.
What was going through your head when you entered the finishing chute and you realized you were going to win?
Definitely wasn’t thinking of the prize purse. I was kind of in shock, I guess. Thinking about everyone who was watching … I knew my parents were watching and all my friends and family, so that was cool, and relief that I held off Anne. It was so hard to tell in the race how big a gap I had and if I was going to be able to hold it to the end. I knew at the point when I started the run that it was possible, but it’s a long way to go – 18 km, being chased down.
In my mind, going into this race, if I was going to have a shot at the podium, it was going to be in a battle with 10 girls going head to head, kind of like the men’s race was. So I never imagined I would be running solo, in front, three-minutes ahead – that was crazy. Not the race I was expecting in any way.
You can read more about Paula Findlay and the PTO 2020 Championship in the January issue of Triathlon Magazine Canada.