Non Stanford has been involved in and surrounded by sport for her entire life. She was destined for big things on the track and was 3x Welsh Schools 1500m champion, before being mentored by Dame Kelly Holmes. But injuries took their toll and Non made a successful transition into triathlon. She moved to Leeds and in 2012, she was crowned U23 World Champion. Just a year later, she became ITU World Champion.
But Non has had her fair share of ups and downs since. 2014 was wiped out by injury, in 2016, she finished 4th behind GB teammate Vicky Holland at the Rio Olympics. At the end of 2018 Non left the Leeds set up to join Joel Filliol’s squad. She won WTS Hamburg in 2019, before having knee surgery at the end of the year which put her hopes of a second Olympics in doubt.
*Non open up about the disappointed after the Rio Olympics and ‘not dealing with it’ at the time
*How she considered jacking it all in
*The key thing she has learnt from Joel Filliol “You don’t need to push really hard in training to race well”
*The downside of pressure and being a perfectionist
*Her love for Geraint Thomas (as well as fiancee Aaron Royle, obvs), Taylor Swift doc and her Grandma’s welsh cakes
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INTERVIEW TIME LINE* (not the whole episode)
01:00 Non talks about her rehab after knee surgery. “I was smiling the whole time when I got on the Alter G. It’s not quite like walking on the moon, but it’s not far off, but sometimes when you are in the depths of injury and rehab, you think ‘will I ever get back to running?’ but this gives a glimmer of hope that normality will resume. I’ve been on a bike from about week 3 or 4 of rehab, but I am really restricted on the intensity I am able to do and until week 16 I am not allowed to go over 100 watts. I think I would struggle to get off my drive at 100 watts. I’m doing a lot on the indoor trainer and I have an altitude generator so even thought I am riding easy, I am getting some cardio vascular benefits.
3.30 What are you like as a patient? This time around I’ve been pretty good and the lead physio but there are days when I think ‘this is not what I do my job for, or the highlight of my day is going for a walk outside, but you just have to push through it and in the grand scheme of things, it’s not so bad.
4.30 post Olympics, so 2017,2018, I had quite a few issues with my Achilles and I found it really tough. I got myself into a real rut of being negative and not coping very well with the injury and the restrictions that would put on me and the poor performances as a result of not being able to train properly. It became a vicious circle and I do believe that being positive and happy really does aid your recovery from n injury and I’ve tried to carry that learning and lesson into this injury. I seem to be in a much better place and I can’t say I’m happy 100% of the time and loving life, but it all will come to an end at some point and I am seeing it as a character building few months.
6.20 Why is she doing her rehab in Leeds rather than being on camp with Joel? I see my physio every day and the S+C coach three times a week and the doctor and it’s so much easier for me to be here and they need to be able to see what I am doing. On camp, I wouldn’t have had that support around me and it would have been tough seeing everyone around me training every day. Also I can come back to my own home and see my friends outside of triathlon.
08.15 We talk about the period after the Olympics. “it was really tough and I never really dealt with it which was the big problem.” I put on a brave face and I was very conscious of not detracting from celebrating Vicky (Holland’s) medal and really enjoying that experience with her because she deserved that and I didn’t want to be the person who impacted her enjoyment of that achievement, so I buried a lot of my emotions around it. I never really came to terms with my own disappoint in my race and that manifested itself over the next two years of just really falling out of love with the sport and generally struggling with being a happy person on a day-to-day basis.
09.30 What helped you express it rather than internalise it? I can’t put my finger on one thing. But in the end I got to a point where I was like ‘this can not go on, you’re in a bad place and if being involved in triathlon is that detrimental to your happiness, then you need to walk away.’ But I wasn’t ready to walk away and I felt I had unfinished business and that was then going to Joel’s squad. And it’s not a negative reflection at all on Leeds as I have some fantastic memories, but I just personally needed a change. And going to Joel has changed me as a person. I know that if I had walked away at the end of 2018, I would have looked back and had so many regrets and one of the things I have always said to myself is ‘never have any regrets’ so I am really glad I continued as on the whole last year was a positive year and it reminded me how much I enjoy our sport.
12.30 – Talks about Leeds as her triathlon home
13.30 Her thoughts on the Tokyo Olympics two years ago and now
‘Two years ago, I probably might have said ‘no way, I will have retired by then, I’m not sure I am ready to do that again’ but the other part of me kind of wanted redemption for myself, to make up for my own disappointments in Rio. So I was really torn and that’s a reflection of how I probably was at the time, in triathlon, not just around the Olympics. Now, having had surgery and the obviously implications of that and the long rehab period, it’s kind of in the back of my mind, but I am just focussing on getting back to being healthy, getting back to being on a start line and I don’t want to rush anything. At the moment my headset is I would love to make it to the Commonwealth Games in 2022 in Birmingham and then see where I am at.
1645 She has spoken to Helen Jenkins and her husband Marc? “I always leave a conversation with them feeling more positive and happier about things.”
18.00 We speak about her recent engagement to Aaron Royle and planning the wedding. “I’m trying to be really organised now.” It’s probably going to be in Leeds (rather than south Wales) due to the practicalities.
20.00 She says it didn’t take much convincing for Aaron to come over to the UK.
‘I was really lucky that British triathlon and the Leeds Triathlon Centre with Malcolm Brown were really supportive of that.” We have both since joined Joel, but Aaron is still able to come back to the Leeds centre and train here. Malcolm Brown was really good at the time to realise that athletes are going to perform if they are happy.
22.00 What’s it like to train with Joel Filliol?
“Its really cool and it’s a lot more relaxed than people probably think. Especially the guys are really impressive, they are really supportive of each other. I think what you get with a group with Joel is that people have made a conscious decision to leave their federations and I guess they are paying for a service and a commitment to yourself to improve. Everyone is motivated, but it’s just not intense and it’s just been a fantastic experience. It’s really impressive how Joel manages to manage everyone and make sure the environment is a good environment to be in.
I think I made Leeds intense myself. I think I was putting too much pressure on myself to always live up to that. You know I had been training there for 7 years and I think I just needed a change and a fresh start and I think I was struggling to find a new way of training to suit my needs.
25.00 What have you learned the most from Joel?
You don’t need to push really hard in training to race well. I think its this theory of saving your bullets. We very rarely finish sessions where you are absolutely exhausted and you have nothing left, whereas in Leeds I used to empty the tank a lot and there would be sessions whereby I would be destroyed at the end of it, but with Joel you never really get there because he believes in saving that until you are racing.
26.00 Did Non feel the pressure of being U23 World Champion and World Champion at Leeds?
27.00 Has Non always felt expectations growing up as a talented runner?
From a young age, I have always put a lot of pressure on myself. I’m a bit of a perfectionist and even at school I always wanted to have the best grades. I have always set myself really high expectations in life and that is sometimes exhausting to have to live up to that and one of the major things I have learned over the last year is that you don’t have to put yourself under those pressure and nobody is perfect and do you know what? Nobody else actually cares what you are doing because they are too caught up in what they are doing to notice what you are doing. And if you are having a bad session, nobody else in the pool will really notice. Once you realise that and realise people aren’t judging you all of the time, then it’s quite a huge weight off your shoulders. It’s very easy to say these things, but to put them into practice and believe them yourself is really hard. I’m sure I would have been able to say these things quite a few years ago, but to be able to say them and adhere to them, that’s a whole different matter and to have the confidence to not worry about what others are thinking is hard.
29.00 – How do you rest, relax and recuperate? (Question from Patreon Matt Wackett)
When I am training hard, I do try to nap every day. I think sleep is one of the best recovery tools but I think trying to get 8 hours. Sleep is one of the biggest things I try to focus on to keep recovery at a maximum. At the moment, I am flying through Netflix because I am on the turbo so much.
30.45 What is the best and worst piece of advice you have ever been given? Dame Kelly Holmes was the person who said to me ‘never have any regrets.’ And she also said to me, ‘don’t train hard, train smart’. Its about finding that balance and more is never more when it comes to training.
The worst? Probably that more is more because that is the worst thing you can probably say to an endurance athlete.
31.50 – What is her bucket list race?
32.20 – Would she ever be tempted to do Ironman Wales one day, like Geraint Thomas? I am the biggest ever Geraint Thomas fan and if I ever met him, I would be so star struck and if I were to ever meet him, I would probably embarrass myself. I would do Ironman Wales just for fun, if that’s possible, just to be a part of it because it’s a really cool event and I would love to be part of that triathlon movement in Wales. Aaron (Royle) always says I have to try 70.3, but I’m not sure, I just think I’d get bored on the bike.
34.00 What 3 things would she take out of Wales?
Family, School friends and welsh cakes, made by her 85 year old Grandma! “I hope when I get to that level of status in my life that, I can also make good welsh cakes.”
And then we talk about triathletes getting their hair cut… or not!