Working full-time as a commercial property solicitor in London, Bristol born Emma Ruth Smith found herself staring out of the window wondering if she had what it takes to make it as a professional triathlete. Some good results on the Xterra circuit in the preceding years including becoming age group World Champion at Maui in 2008 gave her the confidence to go for it. On Christmas Eve 2009, with enough money saved up to last a year or so she made the biggest leap of faith. Emma took the plunge and left her job in the City for the life of a full time athlete.
Having grown up on a West Country farm riding horses before she could walk, Emma’s first introduction to multisport was through pony club tetrathlon – shooting, swimming, riding and running. Whilst at the University of Birmingham she found time to train for and complete the London Marathon and soon found herself an active member of BRAT triathlon club.
Leaning towards the adrenaline filled adventure of Xterra racing, Emma found a community of racers with the same attitude as her – race hard but, above all, have fun. She suffered a setback whilst racing in Whistler in 2006 when she crashed and fractured her sternum, but mountain biking remained her focus and from 2007 onwards she began to podium regularly at off-road events around the country. With good friends Chrissie Wellington and Julie Dibens as inspiration, her decision to go full-time has been a rewarding one.
Relaxing in Phuket, Thailand towards the end of her first season she is able to reflect on her life choice: “I’m the poorest but more importantly the happiest I have ever been in my life.”
When deciding where to base herself for the summer she received an offer to join up with friends on TeamTBB who were training in the mountains around Leysin, Switzerland. Living in a caravan with just her bikes for company, Emma learned quickly that the life of a professional athlete is not all glamour and awards parties. Undeterred she actually revelled in the experience.
“I had the most amazing time. It was the hardest I have ever trained in my life and I was pushed to the limit every day. I was having to learn to think like a pro and to understand how to get the best out of my body.”
Top five finishes at Xterra Saipan, Guam and France showed promise but Xterra Czech and Switzerland saw Emma step onto the podium and announce her arrival as a true contender. A top 10 finish at the Xterra World Championships in Maui was a dream result finishing ninth and over an hour quicker than her previous personal best on the course.
Her life was now about to take a further turn for the better. Undoubtedly, her Leysin adventure and the TeamTBB training philosophies had played a big factor in her 2010 successes and she moved her ties with the team a step closer together by signing up to be coached by the legendary Brett Sutton as a TeamTBB online athlete. With this came the invitation to travel to Krabi, Thailand and to spend some time training there under the watchful eye of Sutton himself.
“Training in Krabi was a whole new layer of intensity. Every single day I was learning a huge amount – how to train harder, how to train smarter and most importantly how to be a better person.”
The relentless humidity made the sessions tougher than ever, particularly Sutton’s infamous track sessions, but Emma found herself thriving on the increased workload. With the upcoming Laguna Phuket Triathlon and Asia-Pacific Ironman 70.3 Championship races just an island hop away from Krabi, Emma joined a small group of TeamTBB athletes making the journey.
It was in the first race at the Laguna Phucket Triathlon that the breakthrough performance of her career to date would happen. Lining up with legends of the sport Belinda Granger and Sam McGlone, Emma was in her element as the steep hills and drizzly rain made the descending treacherous on the bike. Her mountain bike skills came to the fore and saw her exiting transition onto the run in third place and hot on the heels of former World 70.3 Champion McGlone. With a newfound confidence in her running ability thanks to the Krabi track sessions, she was able to close the gap and run through to finish second to Belinda Granger and seal her best performance of the year.
“I had heard of Sam McGlone although I wasn’t really aware of her results beforehand, so to finish second was an unexpected and welcome surprise. It has been drilled into me that when you train hard the races take care of themselves and this was a good example of that.”
With a ninth place finish against a tough women’s field in the Asia-Pacific 70.3 Championships the following week Emma has ended her first season as a full time athlete on a high. With an Ironman in her sights for 2011 it will be interesting to see her progress – just don’t expect to bump into her any time soon commuting to work on a grey London morning.