Q&A: The journey to GB Age Group duathlete with Kathy Stringer

Kathy Stringer, known on Instagram as Strngr_run, is a duathlon age-group National Champion, has competed at the ITU World Championships and avid filmmaker. In our latest Q&A, we chat with Kathy about her duathlon journey, competing at the World Championships, what motivates her and her top tips for anyone thinking about giving a duathlon a go. Read the interview below!

The interview

Hey Kathy! Please introduce yourself.

I’m a chocolate-loving, adventure-seeking, film-making duathlete from Cheshire. 

Starting at the beginning, when did your love for fitness begin?

I don’t think I could put my finger on one single moment because I’ve loved sport for as long as I can remember. I’m lucky that both of my parents were sporty so I was inspired to be active from a young age. At school I signed up for every sport going; tennis, hockey, netball, rounders, tag rugby, gymnastics, athletics… you name it, I was there! One thing I do remember was my first ever competitive race for my athletics club when I was 10 years old. It was a winter cross country event and looking back, must have only been a mile or two long, but I won and still remember running up to my dad at the end and feeling so proud of myself….I think that’s when my competitive spirit came in..!

I continued to train with that club (shout out to Vale Royal AC!) and compete for them throughout my teens. I trained 4-5 times a week and raced almost fortnightly during the busy seasons. I then went to University and eventually moved to Bristol where I’m now a member of Bristol and West AC. 

From there, tell us about the journey to becoming a GB duathlete?

A few years ago I was gifted a road bike for my birthday and just started off by commuting to work on it. I was so nervous to begin with as I had a nasty fall when I was little which resulted in seven stitches in my chin – I never properly got back on a bike after that until this time…The thought of being clipped in and having drop handlebars was terrifying! But after accumulating many hours on the bike from commuting, my confidence and love for cycling grew and I realised that I was improving quite quickly. A friend suggested that I try a duathlon – I already had 10+ years of experience in running races, so all that needed to be added was the bike element – and I thought, ‘yeah, why not?!’.

I signed up to the Oulton Park Duathlon in Cheshire and despite not really knowing what to expect, finished top of my age group and came away with a medal and free entry to my next event. The feeling of standing on top of a podium again gave me a huge buzz so I used the prize to my advantage and signed up for the next one. From that point onwards I started to take the cycling element more seriously and began to do longer, tougher rides on my weekends. I also invested in a turbo so that I could do more intervals and speed sessions which greatly improved my performance.

After a couple of years of competing at local duathlons, I eventually came across the British Triathlon website and saw that there was the ITU World Championships where I could represent Team GB in my age group. I went along to one of the qualifiers, (again, with low expectations) but came away with second place and more importantly, a place on the GB team. It was a very happy moment! 

What’s it like competing at the ITU World Championships? 

I’m going to try and answer this without too many of the ‘dream come true’ cliches… The whole event is such a great experience. As it was my first ever event for GB, I took part in everything I could from the team briefing to the athlete’s parade, and didn’t take my kit off for any of it! You have to rack your bike the day before and the medal ceremony is the day after the race, so you actually spend a good few days around the race venue. It felt surreal to walk around with a Union Jack on my clothing and have people walking by in their country’s kit…I imagine it’s *almost* what the Olympic village must feel like! 

On the race day itself, I’d say my favourite aspect were the crowds. There was a group of American’s who seemed to love my name and every time I passed them on the loop, they’d cheer and woop like I was a national hero. There was a great buzz and atmosphere the entire day and whenever people shouted ‘Go on Great Britain’ – I had to keep reminding myself that they were shouting for me! 

On the day of the medal ceremony, I must have pinched myself every 5 minutes. I didn’t expect to come away with a medal so even to be there that day was a big deal. When I walked onto the stage and held the Union Jack up behind me, it was a moment I’d imagined in my head many a time but never thought would actually become a reality. I still think back to that day when I’m going through tough times – it reminds me to dream big.

I created a short video of my trip to Pontevedra which you can watch on my IGTV.

Focusing on the training required to be an elite athlete, how do you prepare for multi-discipline races?

I always had the view that having two disciplines would be much harder than one, but I’ve actually found that having two keeps my motivation high and reduces injuries. After the first world champs, I invested in a coach and he creates a training plan for me that balances the two very well. There have been times where I’ve had a running injury so have just stuck to cycling for a few weeks and other times where I’ve been away with no access to a bike, so have just run – In that sense, having different elements to fall back on has been really helpful. 

What’s your number one top training tip?

Make sure you don’t ignore the strength and yoga/pilates sessions! It’s so easy to forget about these, or make excuses to get out of them, but they’re so important for preventing injury and keeping your body in good shape. I always notice the difference in how my body feels if I’ve done less yoga one week – never underestimate the benefits. 

To give our readers an idea of your routine, what does an average week of training look like for you?

A typical training week for me looks a little like this….

  • Monday – Rest Day (So important to always include rest days within your routine)
  • Tuesday – Track session / Hill sprints + Yoga
  • Wednesday – Interval session or virtual race on GoZwift (Bike session)
  • Thursday – Intervals / Fartlek training + Yoga
  • Friday – Strength work + an easy spin / run 
  • Saturday – 3-4hr bike ride  (This is my favourite session!) 
  • Sunday – Long run (Normally 13km+) + Yoga

How do you fit training and competitions in around normal life?

With difficulty! I find that I can do two out of three well, but never all three (work/training/social life). I think the biggest thing that’s helped me is making my diary my best friend and staying organised. All of my main races will be booked months in advance so that my coach can build my training plan around them. From there I can begin to plan my social life which keeps diary clashes to a minimum. 

Another piece of advice for trying to balance your training/work / social life is to try to overlap them as much as possible. I like to invite friends on bike rides and yoga classes so that I get to train AND see my friends at the same time. It makes training more fun and you don’t feel like you’re missing out as much! Equally, if I’m away with work I still try to squeeze in my training around the day, whether it’s getting up a little earlier to go for a run or doing a quick 20min Youtube workout before bed. There are lots of little things that you can do like this, that just help to keep the momentum going.

How has lockdown impacted your training, both physically and mentally?

Lockdown has had a positive impact on my training, both physically and mentally. With the nature of my work (self-shooting producer), I’m away filming quite a lot with early starts and late nights, so although I can be flexible with my training, there’s no consistency with my sessions, diet or sleep – I just have to do the best I can for all three when out on location. I was furloughed for most of the lockdown and since returning to work, have been on significantly fewer shoots. This has meant that I’ve been able to stay in one place, form a good routine and as a result, my sleep, training and diet have all improved. 

What role do you think mindset plays in helping you achieve success?

I think mindset is a huge part of success and this is a topic that I’m fascinated by. I’ve read ‘Endure’ by Alex Hutchinson which delves into the limits and potential of the human mind and it gives a real insight into how it’s just as important to train our brains as much as it is our bodies – I’d highly recommend!

I’ve also recently interviewed a sports psychologist for an endurance film that I produced, and one of the most interesting points that he raised was how important confidence is when it comes to events. Two people could have the same abilities and talent but if one has more confidence than the other, they’ll be the one to come out on top and achieve success..this is now something I think about when I attend races…it’s so important to believe in yourself and your ability! (This point actually stems into all aspects of life too – in the workplace, relationships etc)

If you’d like to watch the film, which is all about mental resilience and endurance running, it’s called ‘Lighthouse in the Dark’ and is now out on the National Running Show YouTube channel.

Who and what motivates you when the going gets tough?

I remind myself of this moment: After school one night when I was about 14, I was supposed to be heading out for a run. It was a dark, cold night and the snow was coming down horizontally. I remember saying to my dad that I didn’t want to go out for a run – it was too cold and miserable. He turned to me and said ‘on nights like tonight only a small percentage of your competitors will choose to train, if any…so if you do go out, who will have the advantage?’

Needless to say, I went out, got it done, and felt great afterwards. It’s easy for everyone to train on the lovely, sunny days with no rain or wind – but the majority will opt out when it’s miserable. If you can tell yourself to be a part of that small number that go out, no matter what (as long as it’s safe!), then both physically and mentally, you’ll have an advantage over your rivals. 

What would you say to anyone reading this who is thinking about signing up for their first duathlon?

Don’t feel like you need to invest in lots of kit for the first one. Some people have a tendency to go out and spend money on an expensive TT bike or aero helmet, but it can all be a waste if you don’t end up enjoying it! For my first duathlon I just bought the essentials; clip-on aero bars for my bike, a discounted tri suit and some elastic laces – I don’t think I spent more than £60.

I’d also say to sign up for a closed-road event. When it’s your first duathlon, the rules and regulations surrounding the transition zone/drafting etc can be a bit daunting and the last thing you want is to then be worrying about having to cycle on open roads with traffic. Find events that are on closed circuits (Oulton Park, Castle Combe, Bedford Autodrome, Croft) and build up your experience and confidence first, before tackling it with cars too!

What’s next for you?

The ITU World Championships are in September this year so all of my training is currently geared towards them. After that, I’d like to give an ultra marathon a go although I’ve never even run a marathon before so maybe I should learn to walk before I run! 

Thanks for sharing your journey, Kathy! You can follow Kathy on Instagram here. And you can find our other ‘Vivi Stories’ here.