Charlotte McShane, 25, is an Australian professional triathlete. She grew up in Scotland but moved to Australia when she was 16 years old. She won the Under 23 World Triathlon Championship in 2013 and more recently she finished first in London and Liverpool races. At the time of writing not only is she eighth in the World triathlon female ranking but also the first Australian in that list. She alongside with 11 other athletes and their coach and physiotherapist spends six months a year in Gasteiz, in the Southern Basque Country, where we get to talk to her.
How come did you move from Scotland to Australia?
We mainly moved for better weather, it rains quite a lot in Scotland. It was nice to have a change and move to the beach.
I’m sure it wasn’t easy to change schools at that age.
It was a challenge, I only had two years left in school so at that age is quite hard to leave your friends and leave what you know, but I made friends quite easily because Australia is so far away from other places, people are really interested when you come from a different country. It wasn’t too difficult. I still have a lot of friends in Scotland and a lot of family there so every year I try to go back to visit everyone. It still feels like home.
How did you get into all this competing thing?
When I was growing up my family were very interested in sports. My dad and sister weren’t professional but they were quite competitive, so I would go to racings they were taking part in. I was always around them when I was a child and that’s what got me into professional sport. There are a lot of opportunities for children to take part in triathlon nowadays and I think it’s important to grow up involved in sports.
I was quite competitive when I was younger and I always thought that it was something that I could do. To me it seemed very natural, and when I finished school in Australia I had the opportunity to move to a different state and train under my current coach, Jamie Turner – he is very supportive and always push me to do better things that I thought I was capable of.
You were born and raised in Scotland but you race under the Australian flag; do you ever feel you betrayed your nation?
I hadn’t started competing professionally when I lived in Scotland so when I moved to Australia and I was old enough to race professionally I was very supported by Australia and they helped me develop as an athlete so in that sense I’ve always felt Australian because the country has supported me so well. But I definitely feel proud to be Scottish as well.
Biggest achievement or the one that meant the most?
In 2013 I won the under 23 World Championship, that was a breakthrough race for me, I’d never really done anything big before then and that’s still what I feel is my biggest accomplishment…so far. I want to go to the Olympics one day and I’d love to win a medal.
You didn’t make it to the Olympic team this year. Maybe all these pieces of news about Rio de Janeiro make you feel better: «Mutilated body washes up on Olympics volleyball beach»; «Governor declares state of financial emergency»; «Australian Paralympian and team official robbed at gunpoint in Rio»; zika…?
The Olympics is why I do this sport and it’s what I dream of since I was a kid so I think certainly that the media just wants to create drama. It wouldn’t change my opinion of wanting to go. The Olympics is the pinnacle of this sport that I do and my sponsors know that’s where I wanted to go to and want to go to in the future. I’m fortunate that when they found out that I hadn’t make it to the team, they were all incredibly supportive and wanted to continue on the journey and look towards 2020.
If being among the Top10 isn’t enough, what do you need to be part of the Olympic Team?
There are three girls and three men that go for Australia to the Olympics. Australia is definitely one of the most competitive countries so that’s always going to be difficult. I knew that it was always going to be a tough task. I wasn’t able to show that I was good enough this time around but hopefully in the future I can get a few more rounds on the board, continue improving, and go to Tokyo.
How can you be friends with athletes that you compete against?
If others Australian athletes do well, it’s good for me because it’s good for the sport in Australia, interns, sponsors… so you do want other Australian athletes to do well. However, as an elite athlete, I think it’s important to know that when you are racing you are there for yourself and you are there to be the best in the world, whether or not that includes beating other Australians or beating anyone else. So that’s what I’m thinking about, I’m not thinking about being the best Australian.
I try to be the best in the World
About equallity in triathlon…
Certainly in triathlon there is a lot of equal rides for the males and females. We get paid the exact same prize money as what the males do, and not many other sports are actually like that so I think it’s very good with triathlon.
Now that you mention money, can money corrupt triathlon?
Triathlon doesn’t quite have the same amount of money as a lot of other sports, especially compared to football. Most athletes that are doing triathlon professionally aren’t doing it for the money. If money has changed triathlon throughout the years it has only be for the better. Our prize money has obviously increased a lot over the years, which it term makes more media, and more sponsors’ interest.
Do you do anything especial before the race?
I don’t really do anything special before the race. I try to keep it normal, sometimes because our races are in different countries things can go wrong when you’re traveling so I think it’s better to not to put pressure on yourself to do a certain thing before each race and take it as it comes and be relaxed.
What goes through your mind when you are racing?
Each race is around two hours. I try to just focus on what I’m doing – when I’m swimming I try to focus on my stroke; when I’m running I will focus on what my legs are doing, what my arms are doing. And just try to get to the finish line as fast as possible!
What’s your daily routine?
Every day is a little bit different. I wake up around seven thirty. Most mornings I go for a run around eight o’clock. I run eight to ten kilometres in the morning. And then I go back to the apartment, have breakfast, and then we swim at 10:30, I swim around four kilometres. In the afternoon I normally go for a cycle and ride around 60 kilometres. My coach sets up my training and I follow that so I don’t have to think about numbers or stats –I’m not obsessed with them, but I do know some athletes that are–.
I like running the most because you can do it anywhere and it’s so easy and to me running feels really natural. I don’t enjoy swimming as much, swimming is my weakness. I enjoy pushing myself and seeing how far I can go and I enjoy setting goals and trying to reach them. It feels addictive.
Winning the U-23 World Championship was probably your best moment, but what about your worst one?
I had a lot of those. I can’t remember a particular bad moment but I definitely had a lot of not-so-good moments.
Have you ever thought of quitting?
Sure, all the time. When you are tired and you’re tired from training and things aren’t going so well, and you’re a long way from home, a long way from your friends and family… I think every athlete goes through stages where they want to give up but you know that eventually something is going to go right and you’ll have a good race and it’s always worth it. I don’t even know what I would do with my life if I gave up competing.
After bad races or bad training sessions you always think, «maybe I could’ve done this» or «maybe I could’ve done that» but that is all part of the learning process and as long as you change those things in the future, there is no problem. If I could go back? I wouldn’t change anything. I’m happy with where I am at the moment and where I hope to go in the future. I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t enjoy it.
It seems that triathlon is the everything for you.
When you’re not racing you’re training, and when you are not training you are resting so you can then train again. So your whole life revolves around it. Although it’s important to once you’ve stopped your training session to then go and do something a little bit more normal. Maybe just going for a coffee or not talking about training. That’s important.
No time for friends?
I’ve got friends from school who unfortunately I don’t get to see very often. When I’m at home I try to make time to catch up with them. It is tough. I’m quite used to this now but definitely there are times that you feel very homesick. We are lucky nowadays that with the internet being so good it’s quite easy to call a pal or call your family at home so that’s what I normally do.
It seems that triathlon made you compromise on many things. Time for friends, food too maybe…?
I’ve done this since I finished school, I didn’t do anything in between, I haven’t given up on anything really. This is what I know and to me it seems quite normal.
I’ve been a vegetarian for a very long time and I believe it’s the right diet for me, it’s the right way of living for me, so if others are inspired than an athlete can be a vegetarian, I think that’s great.
Sometimes here in the Basque Country it can be a little bit difficult to be a vegetarian. I have been in Gasteiz for quite a few years now and once you know where to go here, it is fine, even if you often have to go to the same place because there is not much variety. I know that the Basque Country are quite proud of their meat but certainly over the years you can tell even in the supermarket there are more options. For vegetarians like me it’s starting to get a bit easier.
Have you got a favourite race?
I don’t have a favourite race, I have a lot of races that I really enjoy going to and going back to, but there’s not really one that I like the most. There’s a lot of cool places that I get to go to and most of the time there’re a lot of fun.
Where in the World do you like racing the most?
Honestly, I love racing in the Basque Country. We are fortunate that we get to do a lot of local races here, the races are always through the old towns of where we are, and it’s always beautiful courses with lots and lots of people watching. There are no other races in the World where there are so many supporters outcheering on the course. It’s amazing.
Why can’t you live in Australia all year round?
Our races are in Europe so it is much easier to travel from here to Stockholm, Hamburg… than travel from Australia.
My coach visited Gasteiz some eight years ago and looked at the facilities, training opportunities… and he thought it was the perfect place for us to be, and I have to agree. The running here in Gasteiz is amazing, there are so many different trails. The riding, too, is amazing – the drivers are always very considerate.
Not everything here is easy, though.
There is the language barrier obviously, sometimes language issues can be quite difficult but I’ve managed to get by okay so far. Even if most of the people can’t speak any English here, I have always found the people in Gasteiz very friendly and supportive and helpful, and I try to do my best to speak Spanish or a tiny little bit of Basque when I can, so it hasn’t been a problem.
And of course just being away from your friends and family. But I’ve been here quite a few years now and I have gotten used to the Basque way of life so it’s easy.
Gasteiz: Best, worst, and what to improve.
The most I like about Gasteiz is how good it is for my training, it has the perfect facilities: swimming, cycling, and running. The least I like about it? I don’t cope very well with the heat so I prefer when it’s a little bit cooler. Although sometimes it can get very, very cold, even if I’m not here in the Winter time. We first come early May and some days are quite cold. And we leave by September.
As for what to improve, honestly, there probably isn’t much you could do to improve our stay here. This is definitely one of the best environments I have found, it’s better than where I live in Australia for training. To me I always enjoy coming back here and being able to focus on my training.
Interviewed for Alea.eus