These interviews are aimed at trying to tease out insight into what makes particular people outperform their peers and stand out as Ultimate Performers. It’s an opportunity to learn from their way of life and philosophy of excellence. This blog interviews top local Ironman triathlete Michelle Vella Wood.
Full name, for the record? Any nickname?
Michelle Vella Wood but they call me Mighty Mouse 😉
What’s your field of performance?
I compete in triathlons – both short course and long course and also do cycling, open water swimming and marathons. My strength lies in long events – 5hrs and beyond is usually my best.
What excites you about triathlon?
The challenge. Sports never came easy to me – then again you don’t respect what you don’t need to work hard for. I have to fight a lot of mental demons when I race – to believe in myself, to not fear technical sections, to enjoy the adrenaline rush – and when it all works out…it’s just great! The adrenalin of the finish line is beyond description.
Top performers are usually jugglers. What do you juggle on a day to day?
Mummyhood – I’m the mother of a 3 year old girl, my PhD studies, getting some housework done, maintaining contact with friends and family, training, various errands, some part-time temporary jobs when I get them, contacting sponsors – keeping in touch with them – media work, etcetera
Do you study time management material or does it come natural?
I didn’t study it but I did learn from my previous full-time job about prioritizing my tasks as urgent/important, urgent/not important, non-urgent/important and non-urgent/not important. I plan my day ahead as much as possible and try to reduce unnecessary travel time.
Do you recommend trying to perform in every aspect of life or do you have areas where good is enough? Why?
I’m not a perfectionist but I do like to do things well. It would however be ridiculous to try to be the perfect everything. So if my clothes are clean but they’re in an untidy pile – THAT is good enough. Similarly, you can’t race hard every time. Sometimes you have to take it as a tempo and sometimes you have to watch others trounce you. But when it’s an A race, or it’s a critical task – like my upcoming PhD transfer report…then it must be tackled full on.
I also always prioritize fun time with my daughter. It may not seem important maybe when one has a lot of chores to get done, but it is crucial. She deserves nothing less.
What’s your philosophy of life?
Make the most of your opportunities, but don’t forget to stop and smell the roses.
You’re the country’s most accomplished long distance triathlete, with a podium finish at Ironman as well as a string of local titles. What are the 5 things that you believe make you ‘above average’?
I’d say my best asset is my mental resilience. Things do go wrong in a long race and it’s important to keep going to and to ‘embrace the suck’ as Chris McCormack famously says. I’m also a very logical thinker and when racing I’m 10 steps ahead mentally. So, for example, when in the last 10k of the bike in IM Kalmar this year, I felt a bit dizzy and realized I was probably a bit low on salts, I made it a point to pace myself in the beginning of the run and to cram as much crisps and banana as I could tolerate. It was necessary to salvage my race and it worked.
Physically I’m very suited to long distance racing. I’m a small ectomorph, with predominantly slow twitch muscles. My lactate threshold is high and I can maintain sub-maximal effort for very long. Just don’t ask me to sprint! The other, supremely important thing that made me above average is my support system. My husband, my daughter, the rest of my family and friends have all made efforts to help me train consistently. I can usually find a baby-sitter at short notice as well as a helpful hand to get me a bottle of water out on the bike. They encourage me with friendly words daily. Finally I’d say I can and do learn new things every day. I read, I think, I experiment. And when something works…I stick with it.
What happens when you no longer feel the old goal is valid? Do you change it completely or keep at it ‘in principle’?
It’s incredibly hard to walk away from a goal that cannot be achieved without sacrificing too much. But it is rarely a choice to keep at it. I must always prioritize my family above all else. Hence much as I’d love to be pushing hard at a training camp and racing all over the world all year – it is not possible. However sometimes it is that same goal sacrifice that get you there. I’m happy with what I’ve achieved, training within the ‘confines of little Malta’.
How do you prioritise?
I prioritize by first asking if I’m doing something out of stupid ego, ‘principles’ or ‘keeping up with the Joneses (or the Brownlees in this case 😛 ). If that’s the only reason than a task is not a priority. Otherwise it works out as Katie – training – PhD – …..housework. In the off-season PhD and training priorities are exchanged.
Last question… What is your PURPOSE?
To be happy. To continue to do things that keep me liking myself and who I am. If triathlon at some point stops being part of that, then it will be time to walk away. It’s not the winning that helps me like myself – that is but a momentary bonus, it’s those moments when I’m strong mentally and knowing I’ve done the best I could.
Thank you Michelle! We wish you the best for the future. Nathan at UP!