Trimes digs Joanna Brown, Triathlon U23 World Championship Bronze Medalist

When trimes started interviewing elite athletes, Joanna Brown was our very first interviewee. She was still a junior with some potential, but 3 years later, she won her second World Championship Bronze Medal (after the medal won as a junior in 2010) as a U23. She started her 2013 season with a 4th place at Sarasota PAN AM against a strong field. Trimes wanted to catch up with Joanna. 

You were the first to be interviewed on Trimes. You’ve gone a long way since. It’s kind of crazy! 
Hey! Thanks for the interview, I love being Trimed. Everyone needs to be Trimed once in a while. It also makes me feel important.

Joanna Brown
Joanna Brown

Things are going pretty well for you  with a bronze medal in U23 and a fourth place in Sarasota. But 2011 was a pretty rough year for you. Did it change your perspective about success?
2011 was by far one of the toughest years that I have ever had. I really started to question my love for the sport and being injured with something new every couple of weeks meant that I was training scared most of the time. I never thought of quitting but I had to find a more effective way to train and approach triathlon differently mentally. I couldn’t go hard 100% of the time. My mindset going into most of my races in 2011 was different because I didn’t have the confidence that comes from putting in the work and knowing that you have prepared for the event. My running volume was very low and as someone who finds great comfort in having good run fitness I struggled to stay positive. However, even with all of the injuries and setbacks I never ever doubted that I could win. I knew that if I persevered I would bounce back. Having tough years like 2011 makes you appreciate the success that comes to you and that you work towards each and every single day.

Joanna Brown
Joanna Brown

Did it change the way you train? Do you think that you did too much that year?
I had to change the way that I trained going into 2012 and I knew that consistency would be the key to getting back on track. It took me a little while to build up my running again but I tried hard to remain patient and not push the envelope too much so that I could find my boundaries again. There was more emphasis on building a really good base going into the 2012 season before starting to put in any hard sessions and I constantly had to keep an eye on any little niggles or pains that developed. Frequent treatment was also key and I do my best to see a massage or physiotherapist once a week for maintenance.

The transition form Junior to U23 can be challenging. Are you surprised to have been able to succeed in Auckland for the first year?
Transitioning from Junior to U23 is definitely a big step and involves more training, travel, and commitment. It requires a long term vision as not everyone has an easy time doubling the distance. However, I knew that the Olympic distance would be a better fit for me as I am more of a diesel engine and have great endurance. I was a bit worried about the run as I hadn’t put in any significant mileage in the year before but I was cycling very strong and gained assurance from that. Many people don’t realize that the bike is the longest portion of the Olympic triathlon and if you get off the bike tired you are not going to run fast. My performance at Auckland was a bit of a surprise but I knew that we were prepared for a great race. We had been very consistent all year and the tough bike suited me well. The race played out smoothly and I felt very in control and focused.

Canada has a tradition of being patient with U23 athletes and doesn’t force them to be on the world scene too soon. With your recent success, are you looking forward to being more present on the world scene? 
I have been very fortunate to not be rushed into racing World Cups and WTS races and I think that Canada in the past years has had more of a history of pushing our developing women into world class racing and expecting them to perform at each and every race. Craig and I sit down at the beginning of every season and plan out the races that we would like to go to and so far there has been no mention of « you must do x race » which is very comforting. I think I still have a far way to go to becoming a world class athlete at the top of the ITU rankings but I know what I need to do to get there and there is a plan in place. This year I am definitely looking at racing more WC and WTS races and I’m going to go into every single one looking to perform my best and trying not to concentrate on the names that I am racing against. Last year in some of my races I was still a little star struck and couldn’t believe that I was battling it out with some of the big names. I hope one day that young triathletes will be looking up to me and I can boss them around because my suit says « Brown » on it.

You are native from Ottawa and you’ve decided to move to Guelph.
I am originally from Carp and decided to make the move to Guelph in the fall of 2011 and I honestly can’t see myself being any where else right now. I visited Guelph in the summer of 2011 and instantly fell in love with the town, the campus (because I go to school sometimes), and the training groups (RTC and Speed River). I was a bit isolated in Ottawa and I had an awesome coach but I needed a change of scenery and was ready to move on and force myself to grow up. Living on my own isn’t always easy but it is part of life and something that I had to learn to do anyways. I also really liked the fact that there is a Bulk Barn three minutes away from my house which gives me unprecedented access to dark chocolate almonds.

Guelph has a great running scene. Are you training with the runners? What is their perception of triathlete?
I am extremely fortunate to train with the Speed River T&F club as well as be a member of the University of Guelph Varsity Cross Country team. Training with the runners is always so much fun and I can’t speak highly enough of DST (David Scott Thomas) and Chris Moulton. I really feel like a part of the team and in an individual sport it is so important to be able to identify with other people and feel like we are all working together towards a goal. DST and Chris know their stuff and understand their athletes and when I get to jump into workouts I am always challenged and interested in learning as much as I can. Putting the tri geeks and skinny runner types together is an interesting mix. There are often fist fights between the runners and the triathletes as we argue over who has the lighter racing flats and who is in the tougher sport. We get made fun of for our sunglasses, running hats, and bright apparel but I think they like us anyways. The runners know that we are better and when we are feeling nice we slow down to let them catch up sometimes.

You are working with the famous Craig Taylor. His group is having a lot of success currently. There are many types of personalities and egos. How does he keep the group united? 
Each and every single athlete brings something different to the group and we never have a boring day at the office. Craig is fundamental to our success and truly is a great leader. He has what I believe is an unprecedented approach to culture and is instrumental to keeping the group together. We genuinely love training and racing and share the same passion for the sport. We rejoice in the accomplishments of others and are excited to see each other succeed. Often times after a great race it is one of my teammates that reaches out to congratulate me first or after a bad race I know I have them to talk to when I get home. It is a bit of a cliche to say that we are one big family…but it is true…there are rarely any disagreements. We are all very competitive which can heat things up sometimes and thankfully we have Craig to fall back on whenever there are any issues. It is hard to describe but we are a strong and united front while simultaneously being independent and free in our own right.

You have recently been joined by Amélie Kretz. You seem to be inseparable in life but also in racing, no?
I can’t stand the girl and I don’t know why I put up with her every day! But really… Amelie is an absolute pleasure to have around and when she moved in with me at the beginning of the year I knew it would be a good fit. We communicate really well and aren’t afraid to fool around which keeps training light and enjoyable. She has truly become one of my best friends in a a really short period of time and I feel very comfortable with her. I think that we have a lot to learn from each other and can push each other in different areas so that we can both be the best that we can be. We understand each other and have similar goals and aspirations and I want us to both be in Rio together bringing home some medals for Canada. Am also has the most wonderful, kind, upbeat, and generous parents and I wouldn’t mind if they wanted to adopt me so that we can be sisters. Then we can take over the world like the Brownlees. Only a female version.

Joanna Brown (L) and Amélie Kretz
Joanna Brown (L) and Amélie Kretz

Have you been surprised by her debut on the Olympic distance? 
Last year when Am came to Guelph for a couple weeks in the summer and then a bit later for her Worlds prep I was extremely impressed by her strength and overall fitness. She is definitely a fierce competitor. To be perfectly honest I was a bit afraid to race her (and I’m still afraid!) because Sarasota was the first time that we lined up against each other since we were both Junior. It doesn’t surprise me that Am is performing strongly since she is more of an endurance athlete as well and I know she will continue to have a great season. I think she also was prepared extremely well for her to jump to U23 by her amazing coach Kyla Rollinson and Craig now continues to help her improve and adapt to the longer distance.

You are training together, Libby Burrell says training partners are worth the world to each other. Are you in agreement with that? 
I think that Libby is absolutely correct. Training partners are what motivate me to get going on the hard days and they pull me through hard workouts. When you feel like something is impossible but you see others doing it you are inspired to try and do the same. I wouldn’t give up any of my training partners, they mean the world and more to me. After already training in a situation where I had almost no training partners to now having 11 of the greatest and most motivated friends that I could ask for, I know how valuable they are to me and that I need to continue to surround myself with good people. The journey is long but it doesn’t have to be lonely and having training partners makes it enjoyable.

It’s ironic but not a lot of girls are able to train together, I guess, you are well aware of that?
All girls love training together! Hahahaha. Amelie and I have a great dynamic and I intend to keep it that way. Before last year I had only ever trained with boys and maybe one or two girls but they were never as fast as me so I saw them a bit differently in my mind. Then, in the fall of 2012 I was thrown into varsity cross country where I trained 5+ days a week with over 20 girls and NO boys! It was definitely a steep learning curve and I had to adapt a bit to the way that things worked in an all female group. In the past I have experienced training environments where there are other girls and where it didn’t fit at all and it makes for and uneasy and uncomfortable situation. I think Am and I are both pretty level headed when it comes to our approach to training together and it is not difficult to swim, bike, and run together every single day. She makes me push harder and sometimes she drives me crazy but I still love her all the same and we can come home at the end of a hard day and laugh about this ridiculous triathlon thing that we do.

For Sarasota, what’s your conclusion on the race. Any regrets? 
No regrets for Sarasota, it was a great season opener and it was necessary at some time to shake off the rust and get a race under my belt. It was a bit frustrating being in a bike pack with mostly runners where everyone was hesitant to kill their legs, and I had no idea how much the bike would affect my run so I held back a bit too. I am glad to see that I am moving forward in all aspects of the race and I’m ready to sharpen up and get ready for the season.

My thought was that without McLarty you could be on the podium since she really pushes to make the swimming harder and create a gap, right?
McLarty is a beast! She actually lined up beside me on the pontoon and Craig gave me the thumbs up and I did a little dance. When the gun went off and we dove in I put my head down, stared at her hip, and swam as hard as I could and when I looked back after about 30m I was in second place! It didn’t last long though…and I think McLarty was at the first buoy 300m away before I even got to 100m. The reality is that there are always going to be strong swimmers in every race and if I want to be reaching the podium I need to be swimming faster and with more confidence. I know it is an area that I need to work on and it will be a focus for the next few years.

I guess you are really proud you got the best running split, more than 1:20 on Findlay and others olympians. 
I was happy with my run and there is still much work to do but it is a good boost at the beginning of the season! I also don’t know how hard the other girls worked on the bike to stay away so it is hard to compare but I know that I have a good base and will only get faster this season.

The new reality of the WTS with super riders like Norden or Spirig require to be really strong on the bike and more complete athlete. Any weaknesses are now exposed. The sport seems to be really different at the junior and elite levels? Is it changing the way you train?
The way that we train is constantly changing as new theories develop and we wan to try out new things, but the reality is that there are athletes that are developing that are the full package and that don’t have any visible weaknesses. We focus on all three disciplines and put emphasis on the ones we need to improve while always realizing that the run is the last leg of the race and needs to be completed effectively. All athletes also do not respond the same to the exact same training so we have individualized programs that help us move forward. I am very grateful that I have a coach that takes care of all of those details and all I have to to is show up ready to train and put in my best effort.

What’s next for you?
Next up is San Diego WTS…first Olympic distance WTS ever!

Anything you want to add? Sponsors?
I am very excited to announce a partnership with eLoad this year and a continued relationship with the absolutely amazing bike shop Cyclelogik in Ottawa. Check it out!

Is it true that you are coming to the Trimes non-camp?
I hope so! Still have to run that one by Coach but I really want to get out there and see everyone and kick some butt. Right now we need all of the snow to melt.

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