Interview With An Olympian: Gillian Sanders

By Gillian Sanders. Posted: June 29, 2018

This week we interview Gillian Sanders, 2012 and 2016 Olympian and 2014 Commonwealth Silver medallist. Gill left her job as a lawyer in 2011 to become an elite triathlete and won her Commonwealth Silver medal in 2014, aged 32. Gill is coached by James Beckinsale, Iffley Road ambassador.

Getting With Faster With AgeGill at a training session in Richmond Park, London

You've recently returned from the Commonwealth Games - how did that go for you and what did you learn?

The Games didn't go as well as what I'd hoped. I went there to win a medal but came back empty handed and disappointed, finishing midway through the field. I broke my rib in a bike crash racing in Abu Dhabi 5 weeks before the games so you can say I learnt an awful deal about myself in these 5 weeks prior. I had to muster up the most mental and physical strength and go through a lot of pain to get myself race ready. It was a huge test and I managed to be on that start line pain free on race day. That in itself was a small victory for me. I managed to also learn, given what I'd been through, to really enjoy and appreciate the whole process of being at a major Games and being able to share it with my family and coach. It was almost taken away from me and I think I just appreciated it that bit more just being there and having the privilege of representing my country.

We're always really impressed ay how competitive and enthusiastic you remain with age - what's your secret?

I've always had a very healthy appetite and been pretty robust when it comes to injuries. I think this is down to a combination of genetics as well as eating very well. I think I'm a good listener to my body. I generally know when something is not right. You need to learn to be in tune with your body before a little something becomes a big something. As far as enthusiasm and competitiveness go, I simply just love training and racing. I race quite a lot as that's what keeps my juices flowing, I like to have a challenge to look forward to.

"You need to learn to be in tune with your body before a little something becomes a big something."

Getting Faster With Age

To what extent do you think your success in sport is mental as well as physical?

It's hugely mental especially when you have 60 girls on the start line line up with you who are all in very similar physical shape. The mental aspect becomes very important. That having been said they do go hand-in-hand as you draw a lot of confidence when you are in great physical shape in training and you can take that mentality into racing.

Once a race is underway do you have any particular tactics when many competitors are significantly younger than yourself?

I do have the benefit of having a lot of experience on my side. This definitely helps with nerves before a race because I've done so many races at that level now. Apart from that my tactics wouldn't be too different from any of the other girls. Most are just as experienced as me and our racing is very aggressive so you have to be alert to any moves that girls are making at any point.

How does cross training benefit runners, whatever their age and ability?

I think cross training is hugely beneficial to runners. It's quite interesting that I seem to run better off less run mileage with the swimming and cycling training added in. When you cross train you are giving your body a bit of a break from the constant impact of running but by including other activities you can maintain/increase your cardiovascular fitness and give the body new stimuli.

What are your running goals for the next few years and beyond?

I love running and see myself running for as long as body will allow me. I haven't set any specific goals but I would probably include a lot of cross country in there as well as possibly a marathon. I've never done one and it would be fun to see how fast I could go.

Getting Faster With Age

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