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Dublin: 9 °C Thursday 17 October, 2019

‘I was unemployed and triathlon was the only thing I had’

We chat to Irish-based Czech athlete Tamara Maxantova about competing in the World Championships next month.

 Triathlete Tamara Maxantova spent three months unemployed at the start of the year after moving to Ireland.
Triathlete Tamara Maxantova spent three months unemployed at the start of the year after moving to Ireland.

HOLDING DOWN TWO part-time jobs is difficult as it is, but for someone aspiring to be a top-class athlete, it seems almost impossible.

Yet for Tamara Maxantova, an Irish-based Czech Republic-born triathlete, the situation is certainly preferable to where she found herself at the beginning of this year.

“I was unemployed for three months,” she explains. “And triathlon was the only thing I had really. It helped me a lot mentally. I could go out and train while looking for a job.”

Now however, she works as a baker and a nanny, while she is also looking forward to competing in the Triathlon World Championships on 11 October in Kona Hawaii, with the 34-year-old having only taken up the sport eight years ago while living in Boston USA.

“I used to work for a man who took the Ironman Triathlon very seriously. I used to take care of his children. He qualified for the World Championships and I went to Hawaii with them to support him there. I saw the race and it inspired me to attempt to do an Ironman later on, and to eventually come to Kona and race there one day.”

Yet the road to get to the pinnacle of the sport was a long one for Maxantova — it wasn’t until 2011 that she competed in her first Ironman, while she says her subsequent move to Ireland has benefited her training despite the aforementioned difficulties in finding a job.

“I had some friends over here — they supported me until I could find a job. I also moved to make more money, to travel more, to meet new people, to compete in triathlon — I had always known I was going to continue with the sport.

“I think Ireland has good facilities. Back in Boston, it was okay too, but I couldn’t train in the winter outside, I couldn’t cycle outside, which I can do here. And in Czech Republic, the winter also gets very cold — there are freezing temperatures, whereas here, I can cycle in the winter, which is a huge advantage, especially for the Ironman training, because I can run miles at the beginning of the season, and later on, I can focus on speed more.”

Such training is also part of an intensive schedule encompassing a 42-hour working week for the Bray-based athlete, which she needs to base everything else around.

“It’s almost like I’m a full-time athlete training, except I have two part-time jobs,” she says.

“Per week, it would be four sessions of running, four sessions of swimming, three-to-four biking sessions and if I can, I fit the strength and conditioning sessions in as well. Most of the longer sessions are at the weekends, because I’m free over the weekend, and then the rest of it is usually during the day — an early morning swim at six o’clock and an evening session, which can go from six to nine, so I’m pretty much busy all day long.

“Working is a disadvantage because I can’t recover my body as much as a full-time athlete does. Full-time athletes rest after sessions, they go to have a nap and then they do another session.

“In the future, I hope I can get some support somewhere and maybe work less hours – get it down to 30 hours or just work one job, and train better and recover better, and have less pressure that way.”


(Maxantova has to base her training around a 42-hour working week)

In addition to her tough schedule, she also abides by the type of strict diet that all top athletes must adhere to.

“The nutrition is very important. The fuel you give your body, you perform on it as well. It shows in your performance and training. It’s very important to get all the minerals and vitamins. I eat good food — a lot of vegetables, fruit, oily fish. And I have very regular eating habits — every two-to-three hours, I’ll be snacking on nuts or something else.

“I always have porridge with some fruit and nuts. I’m a coffee lover. If I’m hungry between lunch, I’ll have some more nuts or fruit. Then I’ll have lunch, which would include pittas and vegetable soup. And then a snack between lunch and dinner, and for dinner I would have tea, sweet potatoes, a piece of salmon and again, a lot of vegetables, and a pre-sleep snack like yoghurt and bananas, or yoghurt and berries.

“Before a race I don’t drink coffee in the morning. I save it for the later stages in my race — it gives me a better kick and it might dehydrate me [early] in the race, especially in a long-distance event like Ironman. It wouldn’t be an issue for sprint athletes, but for the longer distances, I would save the caffeine for later on.”

Yet all this dedication has ultimately paid off, as Maxantova qualified for the upcoming World Championships, completing Ironman Austria in an impressive nine hours and 50 minutes.

“I’ve done the Ironman in Austria, which I worked two full years to get to and then qualify for Kona. It was two years of hard training. Last year, in preparation, I was doing half Ironmans to get stronger and make sure I could clearly focus on Austria in 2014. It was my first race of the season this season — I qualified and I was just delighted. Everything clicked on the day, but it was hard day-by-day training to get there. I had to sacrifice a lot in my life.”

And with that in mind, what is she aspiring towards next month?

“It’s quite a difficult question because I’ve never raced Hawaii and I don’t know what to expect. A lot of people say it’s a hard race. The cycle can be very windy. It’s obviously very hot because it’s in the middle of a black lava field. I just want to get a taste of it and I also want to be competitive, but I would say maybe [a time of] 10.30. It’s hard to say really. But I’m training hard and I’m going to be absolutely competitive.”

Moreover, with triathlon currently one of the fastest-growing sports in Ireland, Maxantova is not short of support. Her involvement with PledgeSports – a type of crowdfunding scheme for Irish-based athletes — saw Maxantova exceed her funding target, thereby facilitating the all-important trip to Hawaii.

“It’s motivation through the tough times. I love what I do — I love triathlon, I love racing and I’m very competitive. I train with a group of people who highly motivate me. Often, our decisions are made together. And just having people to motivate me makes the difference.”

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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