Taking a world champion title at elite level triathlon is an incredible, career-defining achievement. But winning the title of World Champion across three triathlon disciplines? Now that’s extraordinary. Enter Flora Duffy, freshly crowned two-time ITU World Champion, ITU Cross triathlon World Champion, XTERRA World Champion, and last year the first woman to achieve the trio of world titles in one racing year.
Here, the almost-30-year-old Bermudan, who splits her time between Boulder, Colorado and Stellenboch, South Africa, talks about training, 2018 goals and the challenge of fitting XTERRA triathlon training into an already jam-packed ITU schedule.
Flora winning the World Triathlon Series in Rotterdam this weekend
Growing up in Bermuda, you got into triathlon at a young age – how did this come about?
I did my first triathlon when I was 7 years-old. I was a member of a swim club, loved to run, knew how to ride – so it was only natural to do a triathlon. Now [in 2017], there are quite a few kids’ and adult triathlons on throughout the summer. Bermuda’s climate is suited for outdoor sports so triathlon is quite popular.
You now compete professionally across ITU, Cross and XTERRA triathlon, which is pretty unusual. Do you think this versatility has helped improve your overall performance?
Yeah, it is quite the mix. The biggest gain I get from racing XTERRA and ITU is from a mental perspective. Mixing in some mountain bike rides a few times a week keeps training fresh and fun. My favourite ride of the week is my 2-hour mountain bike ride on a Sunday evening. I mostly race ITU now, which is quite intense and demands a lot from me, so escaping on to the trails on my mountain bike is like hitting the refresh button.
How did your racing in XTERRA come about?
A combination of things lead to me getting into XTERRA. In 2013, I was taking a break from racing on the ITU scene and wanted to do something different. I had done a bit of mountain bike racing in college, so thought I would give XTERRA a go. My first real XTERRA was in Beaver Creek. It was so hard – nearly killed me and I said I would never do another again! Of course, after a few days I forgot about the pain and just remembered the fun parts, and later that year went to the XTERRA World Championships where I finished third.
You’ve since been crowned XTERRA World Champion 3 times. What do you love about XTERRA?
I love XTERRA for many reasons and those have changed throughout the past few years. At the moment, I enjoy XTERRA because it is so different from ITU. XTERRA has a fun, more relaxed and ‘adventure’ feel to it. It’s so fun to get on the trails and face the elements that are out there.
Every year, I look forward to Maui (the XTERRA World Championships) because I never know what to expect. For example, last year there was so much rain leading into the race that the bike course was a mud bath. The craziest and hardest conditions I have raced in – so challenging mentally, physically and emotionally to get through the race. But so rewarding at the finish line.
Did the crossover to mountain biking and technical trails take some adjustment or were you already an accomplished MTB rider?
I took to mountain biking fairly quickly. I grew up riding road bikes so transferring to a mountain bike came quite naturally. It did help that I started dating Dan Hugo (former pro XTERRA athlete) just as I got into XTERRA, so in order to keep him in sight on the trails I had to learn quickly! I still have a lot to learn and enjoy the process of learning new skills and riding more technical trail. Riding trail is just more demanding in general – especially technical trail.
Have you had any noteworthy spills when racing XTERRA on the mountain bike?
Yes, in 2014 I crashed really hard while on the bike and ripped my suit – right on my butt. However, I didn’t know I had ripped my suit and carried on racing – I had a race to win! I crossed the line, to win my first world title, a dream come true, only for me to realize I had a hole in my suit on my butt! It was slightly embarrassing.
Is it difficult is it to fit in XTERRA alongside a busy ITU schedule?
Yes, it is getting more and more difficult. This season I will only do two XTERRA. I did XTERRA South Africa earlier this year (Flora won this) and will do the World Championships later in Maui later this year. My focus for the next few years is the World Triathlon Series and performing the best I can at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, so as a result XTERRA has to take a back seat, but I will always make sure to be in Maui. It is just such a fun experience.
Do you have a preference for road bike or mountain bike? I imagine you have some pretty awesome MTB trails in Colorado and South Africa…
While in South Africa I prefer my mountain bike because the trails there are awesome! I am based in Stellenbosch which has a great mountain bike community. In Boulder, the trails are actually not very good so I stick mostly to my road bike.
What kind of running do you tend to do?
My training January through mid-September is specific to ITU racing. That is my focus. I run roughly 70kms a week which consists of two quality run sessions, a hills sprint session, long run, and two aerobic runs. I never run on Fridays and try to stick to smooth gravel – nothing technical for most of my running. One of the quality run sessions takes place on the track.
What’s a typical week of training look like for you?
To answer that simply, I train about 25 hours a week. Swim: 6 times a week, Ride: 5 times a week, run: 6 times a week and do 3 gym sessions. I’m not into counting exact mileage for all three but roughly it works out to: 25km of swimming, 250km of riding and 70km of running.
How about strength training?
I do strength work three times a week with Erin Carson and Rally Sport Athletic Club in Boulder. She’s great and many triathletes work with her. Erin takes the lead in designing my strength program but it’s based on time of year and what races I have coming up.
What kind of swimming do you do?
I grew up swimming and my stroke is pretty good so I don’t really focus on specific technique session. My swimming mostly consists of threshold sessions, speed change, and a sprint specific session once a week.
How does your training change in the off-season?
The first few months of my off season the training is unstructured and more about getting the base miles in. As the season approaches sessions get more specific.
Do you have any pre-race rituals?
I always eat the same thing – rice, banana and avocado before a race – and wear my hair the same.
And how do you fuel your triathlons – do you use energy gels, for example?
During [races] I use Osmo Nutrition in both water bottles. If it’s hot – for example in Maui – then I will drink a bottle of Osmo Preload before the race. I always take in one to two tubes of Shot Bloks.
What do you usually do to recover after a big race?
I always have my Osmo recovery drink as quickly as I can after the race. Generally, Dan will hand it to me not long after I cross the line. I often try to do a cool down spin as well and eat a good meal as soon after the race as possible. During the season I have two massages a week.
What’s on the horizon for you for the rest of 2017 and early 2018?
For the next few years my focus is on the World Triathlon Series. 2018 is an exciting year because Bermuda is to host a World Triathlon Series event in April. That will be an important race for me.
What are your favourite items of kit for racing and training?
My top two favorites at the moment are: My custom Bermuda / World Champion-themed Scott Foil bike, which I’ve been racing all year. The other item, which I recently received, is my custom Pearl Izumi mountain bike shoes for XTERRA – a triathlon-specific mountain bike shoe. They are pink and really pretty!
You can follow Flora’s training and racing via her social media accounts: www.twitter.com/floraduffy www.instagram.com/floraduffy and www.facebook.com/flora.duffy.triathlon, or by visiting her website, www.fduffy.com.