Emily McNaughtan

Updated: Feb 12, 2020

From working in a law firm to full time triathlon. Emily, like many of us, once thought “I don’t want to wonder ‘what if’” [I’d have been a great athlete] and unlike many of us, went on and resigned from a secure job she had studied hard for to find out.

Risky move -some would say, but the fitness base of a former competitive hockey player and the discipline of a lawyer applied to her training routine, leave a lot less room to self-doubt.

2020 is an important year for Emily with Ironman 70.3 World Championships and Challenge Wanaka as some of the key events in her racing calendar. Joining the journey of the underdog to professional racing is an absolute privilege for us.

Emily on joining NS;

'I really like everything Negative Split stands for: affordable, high-quality and athlete driven. A brand that makes wheels much more affordable but still high-quality feels like they are batting with your interests in mind rather than solely making a profit.

Negative Split started at about the same time as I did, and describes itself as an “underdog”, which is what I feel I am at the moment – so a perfect fit really!'

NS: Can’t think of a better way to put it. We keep challenging status quo, and building a company that puts athletes/customers in the centre. Having you in the team is a massive addition for us!

// Past and present

NS: First -and obvious, question. Why Triathlon, and what got you into it?

EM: Two of my friends were signing up for Taupo 70.3 in December 2018 and I thought I might as well sign up too. It was a future-me problem having to actually do it. Turns out I was quite good at it and really liked it! So just kept on signing up for more events and here I am.

NS: Classic! What can you do when your friends join a half ironman? sure, why not! And so, you’ve paid the entry fees, now it’s official, you’re doing it. You signed for a sprint triathlon first, how did that go?

EM: I was pretty nervous about it. I had a background in running (from hockey), but absolutely no background in swimming or cycling. I’d only ridden a road bike for the first time a few weeks earlier.

It was a 500m swim and I honestly didn’t know if I’d be able to swim the whole way. I’d never swum that far non-stop, let alone in the ocean and with a crowd of people. I was even MORE worried about the bike. I had recently crashed my bike by riding into a curb (I didn’t realise road bikes don’t go over them) and ripped up my palm and knees. Plus, I had never clipped into pedals before aside from a couple of practise runs the night before. I was convinced I wouldn’t be able to clip out and I’d fall off my bike again. I even brought cycling gloves to put on in T1 to protect my palms just in case.

On the morning I forgot my GPS watch and my water bottle so wasn’t off to a great start. With everything set up, it was too late to pull out and so I had to do the race. It didn’t go too badly, I swam the whole way and managed to clip out of my bike shoes and I actually did an alright time, all things considered.

I want to compete against the best and it was an awesome opportunity this early in my triathlon career to line up against some of NZ’s best pros (Tauranga Half).

NS: I actually can relate to that story. In my case I was the only one with no wetsuit swimming in a canal in the Netherlands, but that’s a story for some other blog post.

From that day to lining up with the likes of Hannah Wells or Rebecca Clarke about a month ago hasn’t been too long, how was your first race as a PRO?

EM: I loved it!

I had heaps of family and friends come to support me, with a loop course on the run and bike so I felt like I got cheered on the whole way. I want to compete against the best and it was an awesome opportunity this early in my triathlon career to line up against some of NZ’s best pro’s. I knew that I was back to age group racing for the rest of the year, so it was nice to have no pressure on the result (obviously I still wanted to do well!).

My highlight was coming out of the water in 3rd place, and having the 3rd fastest run split. The race highlighted some areas of improvement but also showed I was on the right track to make the jump into professional racing in 2021.

NS: You mention areas of improvement and your jump into professional racing, what does an average week look like for you?

EM: I’ve been focussing a lot on my swimming as it was my clear weakness to start with. I’ve been doing 15-20km per week to play catch up. I’m doing around 15-20 hours per week of training (moving time). About 200km on the bike and 50km of running.

If I’m not training, I’ve been working on my social media, website and doing some casual work. I’ve been moving around heaps recently between Queenstown, Wellington and Auckland, so my standard week changes all the time!

I felt (and still feel) that I have heaps of room for improvement and wanted to give sport a good go.

// The future

NS: You took a decision that only very few people are willing to take; quitting a secure job to fully dedicate to finding your absolute best. What made you take that decision and what was the hard part about doing so?

EM: It wasn’t a typical time to resign. I had only done 2 half-ironman distance races and came 4th in my age group in both. Which is good, but not ‘resign from your job’ good. But I felt (and still feel) that I have heaps of room for improvement and wanted to give sport a good go.

I played hockey in the National Hockey League for Southland/Otago for two years and premier club hockey for 10 years but I was never quite good enough to take it to the next level. My main skill was fitness so I feel that triathlon is the perfect sport for that skill.

I had heaps of support from my friends, family and work colleagues. And while it probably was an early decision to quit, I still have my two degrees (Law and Commerce) to fall back on. For now, I’m loving putting heaps of effort into triathlon.

NS: Looking into the future, let’s say in 2 years, where will Emily be, what will she be doing?

EM: I’m really not sure! Flexibility has been key for me to get where I am today – not too worried about where I am as long as I can keep training. But I’ll hopefully be podiuming in the professional field!

I’d rather try it, than wonder ‘what if’.

NS: To younger generations of Triathletes that look at you as someone to imitate when the time is right, what would you tell them?

EM: Sport is AMAZING for your health and wellbeing and offers an awesome opportunity to meet new people. If you’re thinking about triathlon but worried about one of the disciplines (like me not knowing if I could swim 500m or clip into bike shoes) then you should definitely give it a go.

Everyone is really supportive and it’s such a fun sport to be part of. In terms of trying to reach the next level (what I’m trying to do now) – professional sport has a time limit on it, unlike other career paths. So if you think you want to give it a go, then you should do it! I’d rather try it, than wonder ‘what if’.

// Triathlon

NS: Every single triathlete we’ve interviewed say the mental part is the hard part, what’s your take? Physical or mental strength? Why.

EM: Hmmm I actually don’t know!

I’ve always had quite good mental strength and I’m good at pushing myself. But you can take it too far – make yourself blow up in a race or over-train. But then again, I guess that’s mental strength too – knowing how to pace yourself or when to give your body a rest (which is sometimes harder than training!).

I think it’s a balancing act and I wouldn’t say one is harder than the other!

Self-evaluation, consistency and positioning and aerodynamics (top 3 tips for a fast bike segment).

NS: What are your top 3 tips for a fast bike segment?

EM: Number one is to self-evaluate. If you know you are good at hills and not so good on the flat (me lol) then you should train specific to what you need to improve. This obviously depends on your race as well! When I raced in Nice it was 1600m of elevation so hills and technical descending skills were number 1 priority. But Taupo is a flatter course so sustained power is more important.

Second is consistency. I got a lot better from consistently riding and making sure I was putting in the right amount of effort – is it meant to be a hard bike, an easy bike, some efforts?

Third has to be positioning and aerodynamics – so important in non-drafting races and saves loads of time if you get it right.

NS: We need to ask this one -PTO, Super League Triathlon, what’s your opinion on these new and sophisticated events that aim at rising Triathlon’s profile?

EM: It’s great! Triathlon has been growing in popularity recently and both organisations are considering how triathlon can be a better spectator sport. I understand PTO is planning to incorporate more data such as power, heart rate, and speed data into race coverage and Super League is creating different racing formats which are more engaging for viewers.

I’ve always thought it was strange that middle-distance racing is owned by a private company. It seems really counter-intuitive that athletes aren’t involved in the governing body. So it’s pretty exciting that the PTO is changing this (plus huge prize money for the winners of the Collins Cup).

Discipline keeps me going. Inspirational days only come along every now and again!

// You

NS: Your inspiration to wake up and give it all every day.

EM: Discipline keeps me going. Loads of mornings I wake up and the last thing I want to do is make my body do exercise, but it’s a process and you have to follow it to get results. Inspirational days only come along every now and again!

NS: The RACE you dream winning.

EM: Short term, it would be the Ironman 70.3 World Champs in Taupo this year (age group). It would be amazing to execute a great race in New Zealand. I have a few things I need to work on to get to that stage but I’m ready to put in the hours for it!

Long term, I want to win a world championship race as a professional. I didn’t say Ironman 70.3, because if the Collins Cup keeps going, it could be that race I dream of winning not Ironman 70.3!

Emily rides deep-V section 60mm front and 88mm rear full carbon wheels, coupled with Continental GP 5000 25mm tyres for racing, and 60/60mm for training.

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