Luke Bell: Australian Triathlete.

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Interview by Ben Campbell.

 Leading up to the 2012 Ironman Asia-Pacific Championships in Melbourne, SKN journalist, Ben Campbell, sat down with Luke Bell, one of the world’s top triathletes and the championship’s fifth seed.

Luke, you’re about to obliterate your body by running 42km, cycling 180km and swimming 4km. You must enjoy what you do.

Yeah, you have to. I think it’s the best job in the world. It’s certainly not an office job. Being a triathlete comes with a lot of flexibility. You get to train whenever you want and you get to choose where you compete. If the weather gets too bad here, I can go overseas. I’ve got friends in Hawaii, so sometimes I’ll just go there for a couple of months.

 

You were born in Warrnambool, grew up in Portland and then moved to Melbourne. How did this happen?

 I stayed in Portland until the end of year 12 and then relocated to Melbourne for university. I had a choice of coming here or going to Adelaide, but Adelaide just reminded me too much of a bigger version of Portland.

 While you were growing up, you played tennis, AFL and basketball. How on earth did you stumble into becoming a triathlete?

 Yeah, I always preferred team sports growing up, but I fell over playing basketball when I was a teenager and injured my knee badly. The injury meant that I lost a lot of strength and lateral movement and I had to take a break from contact sport. Naturally, I fell into triathlons because it was one of the only things left that I could do.

 You were studying Applied Science with an eye to becoming a schoolteacher. At what point did you start considering competing in triathlons as a career?

Basically, I wanted to be a teacher for the lifestyle – the summer holidays and the short working hours. Whilst I studied, I competed in assorted local triathlons, just to keep fit and stay active. It probably wasn’t until I finished my studies, and had some time on my hands, that I decided to roll the dice and attempt to make a living from competing in triathlons.

Triathlons are one thing, but then you decided to jump into Ironman events. What was the appeal there and how did it start?

I remember watching Ironman on television. The Hawaii Championships, in particular. It just looked like such a gruelling event, with thousands of athletes pushing themselves to the limit. It was then that I realised I wanted to do it, just to tick a box. I competed in Ironman Australia in NSW in 2002, finished sixth and qualified for Hawaii. I trained hard, competed, and surprised myself by finishing 16th overall in my first year at the World Championships. I remember thinking to myself: I could be onto something here. So I came home and decided to start taking things a little more serious.

 You’ve competed in triathlons all over the world. What’s so special about competing here in Melbourne?

You’re right. I’ve seen some amazing cities in the world, but nothing beats coming home to Melbourne. It’s just such a great city. I enjoy the lifestyle here and the culture. I love that you can experience the culture of Lygon Street, Victoria Street, The Dandenongs and St Kilda, all in one day. Additionally, so many of my friends and family are here. Their support over the journey has been incredible.

 You’ve been seeded fifth in the 2012 Ironman Asia-Pacific Championships Melbourne. In theory, that means you’re a pretty good chance of winning.

I think I’m a chance. Most of the blokes that I’m competing against are athletes that I’ve already beaten at other events around the world at one point or another. That gives me great confidence leading into the event.

 This Melbourne event is particularly unique. You’ll be riding on the Eastlink, swimming in Frankston and running along Port Philip Bay. What are you expecting from the course?

It’s going to be interesting. On paper it should be a very fast race, but you get some bad conditions and anything can happen. I’m looking forward to the run, being one-directional from Mordialloc to St Kilda. I noticed the other day that when you hop off the bike in Frankston, you look directly across the bay and see the city. It’s daunting being able to see how far you have to run.

How long does it take your body to recover after an event?

It’s not unusual to not be able to sleep for a week. The body is in too much pain. I once got stuck on the toilet the night after an event and had to get mum to help me. I just didn’t have the strength in my legs to stand up. That sure was embarrassing.

 That sounds awful. Apart from getting stuck on the toilet, what’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced throughout your career?

The biggest challenge was when competing in triathlons changed from being fun to being a job. After I won my first few tournaments, pressure was mounting and everything became a lot more serious. When I was 26, I came close to throwing it away and wanted a normal life. The enjoyment had left and I woke up in the morning dreading about going to work. I didn’t want to run, swim or ride anymore.

How did you overcome that?

I went back to basics. I stopped thinking about results. Instead of just entering the big scheduled events, I starting entering tournaments purely because they were in parts of the world that I hadn’t been to before. I integrated fun back into my routine.

You’ve been married for six years. Is it hard for you to divide your time between training, competing and your family?

Yeah, it’s challenging having a seven-day a week job. Sometimes Lucy will want to go away on a holiday, but I was on 55 aeroplane flights last year, so whenever I’m not working, all I want to do is sit on the couch and relax. It’s hard to get that ‘away time’.

We’re starting to see more and more endurance events like Tough Mudder, for example, coming to Australia. What are your thoughts on this style of cross training?

I’m a massive ambassador for cross training. It bewilders me that other triathletes can’t see the benefit of any other sports outside of swimming, running and cycling. I’ve always thought that if you’re doing the one thing every day, you’re going to get bored with it. You need to change your routine. Cross-training events like Tough Mudder provide that avenue.

You strike me as a particularly well-educated bloke. How does your degree in applied science benefit you as an athlete?

I guess it gave me an understanding of the body and taught me the benefits of an active lifestyle. But it also taught me about organisation, routine and all of those important things. I like to think that I’m more comfortable dealing with sponsors and the media since I studied. It made me a better-rounded person.

Cyclists and motor vehicle owners in Melbourne don’t seem to get along. Which side of the fence are you on?

I’m on both sides, at the minute. I’m lucky because I’ve never had a collision with a car in Australia. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I got tooted or yelled at by a driver, but I can see why they get upset. On Saturdays, for example, cyclists like me just take over the road. It would certainly be frustrating.

Thanks for being unbiased. Do you think the proposal of registration for bikes is a legitimate option?

 I don’t mind the idea. Bike riders are road users, so paying registration isn’t such a big deal. But in saying that, it would be a hard process to go through. It’s been trialled in some countries, but there are just too many factors that would need to be resolved. Where would we mount registration plates? What do we do with demerit points? Not everybody who rides a bike, drives a car. Finding the answer to this one is going to be extremely hard.

Looking beyond the Melbourne Championships, what other challenges do you have on the horizon?

I want to run the Comrades Marathon (89km) in South Africa. Eventually, I’d like to do the Great Wall of China Marathon, too. Basically, I just want to push my body more and more, to see if I can handle it as an athlete and as a person.

Do you have any diet or fitness advice for ordinary people?

 It’s a pretty simple equation. It just comes down to energy in, energy out. You’ve got to exercise more than you consume. Some people just can’t get their head around that. Balanced portions are important too, as is avoiding snacking throughout the day. Don’t be a boredom eater. And you’ve got to find something physical that you can do that’s enjoyable. I often see people running around and they look like they’re doing it in excruciating pain. People just need to slow down, relax and have some fun with their training. If it’s not enjoyable, you’ll dread doing it and you won’t do it again.

The 2012 Ironman Asia-Pacific Championships Melbourne will be held on Sunday, March 25. For more information, visit www.ironmanmelbourne.com.

Ben Campbell is a freelance journalist and regular St Kilda News contributor. View and comment on his work online at www.bencampbell.com.au.

1 Comment

  1. Wajih

    13/03/2012 at 11:17 AM

    Middle Park – Mart (Adam Elliot’s partner’s cafe9)Balaclava – Las Chicas (right next to the train ttasion)Ripponlea – there’s a yummy Indian restaurant there… and I think Attica is a schmancy restaurant!Collingwood – Rice Queen for dinner!Richmond – there’s a NY style cafe9 that maybe has Tomato in its title that I always wanted to try…That’s all I can think of Claire Of course there’s been so many places I’ve been to I just can’t remember!!! xo

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