Heather Neill

Updated: Nov 23, 2020

Putting in the hard yards. Rain or shine.

10 months into the COVID pandemic, Heather keeps her training load -and motivation, intact. During these -yeah I'm going to say it again; |unprecedented times|, she's relocated cities, started her career as a Veterinarian and became a Zwift addict -what else were we suppose to do?

Heather is a top triathlete in stealth mode with a simple goal: to enjoy the sport. As simple at it sounds, it might well be the best recipe to maintain a robust training routine, one that -perhaps unintentionally, keeps making her just a bit faster than yesterday.

We are fortunate to have her riding our wheels and bringing our story to life, a story that is as much ours as it is hers.

We jumped on a Google Meet video call (you gotta love video call tech) on Monday just as she finished work, and spoke a little about triathlon. Let us introduce you to one of our own.

// About your triathlon journey

NS: Let's start with an almost mandatory question; COVID19, how has it affected you, your training and your goals?

HN: Not much. With closed swimming pools, lockdowns and cancelled events, I've done quite a few open water swims up until July and lots of Zwift training/racing -it's addicting and fun collecting all those points and tracking your progress in real time! Particularly interesting is being able to see my power output, I don't use power meters and that was quite new to me.

The biggest change for me personally in the past months has been relocating to a new city and starting my new job. I've started training with people (I used to train alone mostly) -which has been awesome, and was able to train more than usual for a few months when transitioning to the new job.

I race by feel, and focus on staying hydrated. Old fashion, face to face time, me and the bike.

NS: That's an interesting one -training alone versus training with friends. What's the difference?

HN: It's great, it helps with your motivation and training discipline. It also helps to push harder -you know, when you have that friend that is faster and you're thinking 'nah can't let this happen', and you find that extra boost to get a little closer and/or keep up.

I've also recently done some team racing (cycling) which has been a very interesting new experience to me, specially from a tactical point of view.

NS: Agreed, nothing better than surrounding yourself with people that inspire you to get out there and make it happen. You've mentioned you don't carry a power meter on your bike, what's your tactic at finding the right pace in the cycling leg without one?

HN: I race by feel, and focus on staying hydrated. Old fashion, face to face time, me and the bike. Picking targets, passing them, keeping on pushing.

For my first Triathlon I had two options as for which bike to use, my 'commuter' mountain bike I had owned since I was 12, or my dad's road bike from when he was 12

NS: Love it! There is a blurry line between racing to the plan and racing to your absolute potential, a power meter might be holding you off from being your fastest, and no strict pacing could mean depleted legs for the run. You have to risk it to see where the line stands.

Let's just backtrack for a moment and talk about your first encounter with Triathlon. Why this sport?

HN: I had been running just for general fitness since midway through my first year at University and in the fourth year I was living a bit further away from campus so I thought a bike might be a worthwhile investment for commuting.

Then, I was coming back from Christchurch for Christmas and saw a women's only, 'have a go' triathlon advertised. It was a very short distance but I thought it would give me a purpose for my running for the summer. I was very nervous but actually enjoyed it more than I thought I would. Uni started again, I joined the Manawatu Tri club, bought a road bike of my own and from then on I was hooked!

NS: Your first ever Tri race.

HN: First, I had to decide on which bike to use. I had two options, my 'commuter' mountain bike I had owned since I was 12, or my dad's road bike from when he was 12... I decided on my dad's road bike -what an experience.

I turned up at least an hour before anyone else, it was pouring with rain and I didn't have anyone supporting me. I somehow still had a good time though!

Fun fact: I remember coming out of the swim and standing in transition for a good minute at least, watching everyone put their shoes on for biking and wondering whether I was allowed to go out on my bike yet or if I should wait for someone else!

I remember feeling such a sense of self achievement when I finished.

Below it's me once I made sure everyone had safely completed their swim and was ready for the bike segment :)

It is okay to be scared or nervous to race or to try something new, but don't let that stop you, just go out there, race your own race and make sure you enjoy yourself.

// About racing and a look ahead

NS: Tinman 2020 was your first race in some time, how did it go?

HN: My goal was to just do it and enjoy it. Had a good swim and loved the cycling, I love the bike segment in the Mount, very flat and fast. Then onto the run I passed a few female athletes but really had no clue in which place I was standing.

My sister came from Auckland to support me and watch the race. When I finished I asked if she had any idea how I placed, and she said she hadn't seen any other females apart from the Elites -I thought she might have missed them, however it turned out she was right, I was the first non-Elite athlete, 6th overall, 1st in my Age Group!

It was unexpected and an awesome feeling, I was so happy.

It was also the opening of the Triathlon racing season in NZ, and pretty much everyone was there, it was great to (re)connect with so many.

NS: Indeed, what a race! We were stoked to see you coming in 6th. Proof of the hard work you've been putting in. So hey, what's the plan from here?

HN: I think I still have some gains I can capture without necessarily having to get a coach just yet. I'd be able to unlock additional gains if I start transitioning from 'hard' training to 'smart' training, better tailored to what I'm after, better addressing my main areas of improvement -for example, my swimming.