Belinda Granger is an iconic name in the sport of Triathlon, particularly in the Ironman racing distance. Despite the Aussies quite rightly claiming Belinda, better known as BG, their own, the Aussie is much loved by the triathlon community world wide. Some obvious talents, aside from her athletic prowess, include herÂ ability to hold a conversation under water, back up race after race and rarely look tired and represent her sport and sponsors with integrity and pride. For those that had the honour of competing against BG, she will be sorely missed on the race course, particularly around Australia and Asia.
Despite this great loss for the sport of triathlon, BG doesn’t intend on going far, announcing that triathlon will be a huge part of her life beyond retirement. We caught up with the Aussie from Noosa, Australia, as she traveled alongside husband, Justin, to her final professional race on Australian soil, Challenge Shepparton. We took the opportunity to reminisce over a professional career that has spanned almost 14 years, has seen her travel the world, and brought her together with her now husband, Justin Granger.
TZ: Firstly Belinda, thank you for taking the time for a chat ahead of your final race on Australian soil as a professional athlete, Challenge Shepparton.
BG: Editor’s note: Let’s just say BG was more than happy to chat, we’ve edited this out as the interview would be way to long!!
TZ: Earlier this year you spoke of the fact that you had always planned to retire at 40, yet when the big 40 rolled around, you didn’t feel you were suddenly ready. Now you have announced perhaps the biggest milestone in any athletes career, retirement. What brought about this change of heartÂ in recent years?
BG: When you’ve been a pro athlete for so long, it becomes a way of life. To make the move from being professional, to being back in workforce, it’s a big shock to the system. Call it poor timing (considering Jackie Fairweather’s passing last monday), but it’s very easy to fall into a state of depression. No one thinks about it (retirement and the resulting feelings), they simply think I’ll retire and move on with life. So have I been dragging retirement out? Yeah! And for good reason! I want to make sure I’m ready, and that I retire on my terms, and my terms alone!Â Training and racing is like a drug, you can’t just go cold turkey, so I’ve been weaning myself off it slowly.
Now, will I change my mind and go back to racing, like we’ve seen some other athletes recently, for example Crowie (Australian Craig Alexander), well the answer is no. I’ve made sure I do this slowly, at my own pace, because as athletes we tend to be all or nothing. It’s never one piece of chocolate, it’s the whole block or none at all. It’s never one glass of wine, it’s always another glass, orÂ none at all. I admit I’m not perfect, I’m exactly the same. I’ve learnt to control that, I have to. Everything in moderation, that’s key. So I’ve approached retirement exactly the same.
In saying this I am contracted to race a few events in Asia in 2015, for Alaska Milk and Sunrise Events. Challenge Shepparton will be my final professional race in Australia, then I head over to Thailand for Challenge Phuket. As a result of my contract I’ll be racing three more events in Asia next year, but at the end of 2015 I am definitely finished racing. I know in my heart that I want to move on, to move into a different role in the sport, it’s time. I’ve always promised myself that when I’m no longer willing to give my absolute best in each and every race I enter, then it’s time to hang up myÂ shoes. You owe it to yourself and the people you race, to give it 100%. I just don’t have the absolute animal hunger anymore.
Belinda Granger in numbers:
Years spent racing: Almost 24 years
Years spent racing professionally: 13
Number of coaches over entire career (age group and professional):
Three. Brett Mace was my very first coach, and for a long long time as an age grouper. Justin (BG’s husband) took over when I started racing professionally, and coached me for many many years. Then we decided to try something different, and Brett Sutton (Sutto) coached me for 3 years. I learnt a lot under Sutto, more so about the mental side of racing than the physical. After three years with Sutto I decided to take the reins and pretty much coached myself, with Justin as an advisor, and we have done so ever since. I’m proud to say that most of my victories came under Justin’s guidance; we make a good team!
Number of bike crashes, and how many involved cars?
I’ve had five crashes total. One wasÂ in a criterium race, one in a road race, and I’ve been hit by a car twice. The final one (which was actually the fourth crash) was the most silly. I was riding up a driveway, at about 3km/hr. I had a loose headset, and let’s just leave it at the fact I chipped my tooth, put both sets of teeth through my lip, which resulted in both internal and external stitches!
Number of broken bones: I’ve never, ever broken a bone. As Sutto used to say, I’m “built like a German tank”.
Belinda Granger fast facts:
TZ: Who was your very first sponsor?
BG: Funny you ask, it wasÂ Saucony! I’ve actually just resigned withÂ Saucony as my shoe sponsor, so I’ve gone full circle, and it’s great! Jaggad was my first clothing sponsor back in the day, and I’ve also just resigned with them under the new ownership.
TZ: Can you name one particular highlight of your career?
BG: If I peel it back to the absolute bare minimum, I never, ever thought I’d be a professional athlete. Even when I was a good age grouper, winning my age group at the world championships, I still never thought I’d be a professional athlete. Justin played an integral role in changing this belief, and I must say that the absolute highlight of my career was the moment I truly believed I’d be a professional athlete. When I truly believed I could make a living from the sport, that’s definitely the highlight.
In terms of results, my first Ironman win, which came in Korea, gave me the confidence to think “I can do this again”. Of course winning Challenge Roth in 2005, a race I had aspired to do in so many years, was also a major highlight amongst my results.
Certainly my most defining point athletically, which was in Ironman Canada, was beating Lisa Bentley on her home turf. My coach (Brett Sutton) told me two weeks before the race that I would be racing, and I told him “no bloody way!” I had already been beaten by Lisa at IM Australia so many times. I mean I’d had eight or nine go’s at winning that race, and I just couldn’t get it! So when I asked Brett why he wanted to race Lisa on her home soil in Canada, he simply told me “the pressure is all on her. It’s her country, and her race, and you’ve got nothing to prove”. I thrived off it. I came off the bike with an enormous lead, and this time instead of running me down, she crumbled. She simply tried to catch me too quickly, and I just ran my normal run. Nothing special, I mean it was good, but I didn’t do anything different. Where as Lisa was forced to try and run my race. She went out too hard. That’s when I learnt about the importance of the mental side of Ironman racing.
TZ: Three things you love to do outside of the sport?
BG: My absolute favourite thing to do is taking my two puppies for a walk, with Justin, and we go to our little cove, our local coffee shop, and have a coffee. Swim squad doesn’t start until 9am, so we get up nice and early and do this every Monday morning to start the week.
I also love nice dinner’s with good friends. Great food and a nice bottle of red.
We also love stand up paddle boarding, when we’re not swimming, biking and running; so when we’re on a little break, it’s always duringÂ time off. I’m sure we’ll be taking our paddle boards down to the river a lot more once I’m retired, and teaching our two puppies!
TZ: Who would you name as the three most influential people in your Triathlon career, and why?
BG: Justin, Sutto (Brett Sutton), and the third would be two people, Rock Fry and Heather Fuhr. Justin and Sutto for obvious reasons, having coached me and taught me about racing, the sport, and how to get the best out of myself. Rock and Heather, well you see they taught me how to truly be a professional athlete. I lived with them way back in the day. I got to see Heather training in the lead up to the Ironman World Championships. In between sessions she wouldn’t go and have coffee, or walk around shopping. No, instead she would sleep, get a massage, see the chiropractor, the physiotherapist, eat, or attend to emails for sponsors. It wasn’t about the training, it was what she did in between. I was fortunate to be able to live and breathe her life,Â and I learn’t so much. It changed me as an athlete.
TZ: What’s the best piece of adviceÂ you’ve been givenÂ by a coach?
BG: Oh for sure it came from Justin! However I didn’t take his advice (laughs), typical of me, very rarely do we take that advice and actually do it! It was my very first IM, way back in 1999, in Forster (IM Australia). Justin told me: “Belinda, it’s your first Ironman, it’s a long day, you must be patient”. Well to cut a long story very short, it ended with aÂ DNF. I was not patient, and I did not keep calm. The best lessons really are learnt the hard way, and this was one of them. However I did learn, because my next DNF was 10 years later, it was in Kona, and is the biggest regret of my career.
The best piece of advice from Sutto, for me personally, was usually what he said off the training grounds, rather than what he said during training. Sutto’s biggest influence on me usually had more to do with the mental aspect of racing rather than the physical.
TZ: What’s the most difficult obstacle or challenge faced during your career, and how did you overcome it?
BG: Definitely when I hadÂ Endofibrosis of the iliac artery. It’s really been the only obstacle in my career. Initially no one could diagnose it, but I knew something was wrong. I had every test under the sun, and was in limbo for a goodÂ 6-8 months. I was so frustrated! Although finally it was diagnosed, and once we had a diagnosis getting it fixed was nothing. I had surgery and it’s been fine since.
TZ: If there was one thing you could go back and change, what would it be?
BG: My two DNF’s (did not finish), especially at the World Championships. They are my only two regrets. I would much rather record a slow time as opposed to a DNF. I can’t change them but I do wish I could.
BG: You’ve joined up with Chris McCormack under the MaccaX coaching banner, can you tell us a little about this partnership?
BG: Yes, Justin and I have joined MaccaX but it’s mostly Justin doing the coaching. We have contributed some training plans which I’ve used in my racing career. We’ll be helping run some camps, for example we’re doing one in Phuket next week. They’re bloody good fun! It’s a really laid back team, they’re not super crazy or obsessive. I’d describe them as lifestyle athletes, and that doesn’t mean they’re slow! They just know how to have a good time. So yes I’m involved, but Justin will get involved a lot more on the coaching frontÂ than me.
TZ: You’ve always said that you’ll forever be involved in triathlon in some way. Now that you’ve announced the big “R” word (retirement), how exactly do you see yourself involved in the sport moving forward?
BG: Well I’m on a life long contract with both Ceepo and Jaggad, so I’ll be in an ambassador role for both of these companies in the future. I’ll also be doing some work for another company involved in the sport, which I will talk more about later when it’s all finalised. It’s an exciting time, and I’m happy to have a focus and plan for moving forward; that’s the only way I was willing to do it.
TZ: You’ve attracted and maintained some amazing sponsorships over your career, do you have any advice for young or future pro’s in this area?
I’ve been lucky in my career in that I’ve been able to go out and actively seek the products I’ve wanted to represent.Â When you believe in the product, it’s not hard to do (represent them). I guess the fact that I’ve always understood sponsorship is a two way street, well that’s helped. Knowing that it’s more than turning up to a race and grabbing a podium. You need to stand out from the crowd a bit more these days especially, as there are more pro’s on the circuit, thus more competition for sponsorship dollars. Don’t just think getting on the podium or wearing a logo on your race kit is enough, because it isn’t.
TZ: Will we see BG racing an Ultra Triathlon or similar in the future?
BG: No! The only thing I would like to do, or would do, is an off road 50km event. Not the 100km though, nothing that crazy! That is something I would be keen on and there are plenty of those events near me in Noosa.
TZ: Anything non-triathlon related on the bucket list? Ever wanted to own a cafe or similar?
BG: I can’t really see myself walking away from triathlon completely, that’s where I want to be. My future is in triathlon, but just in a different role. It’s becoming a more mainstream sport and I love seeing that. I look forward to seeing it evolve. My sister and I have always talked about opening a family business, so who knows, perhaps one day, but nothing planned just now. I’ve got plenty of triathlon related work to keep me busy for a while.