© INCUS Performance
Former 2019 IRONMAN Age Group world champion, Ruth Astle, has been on fire since she turned pro in 2020, scoring two big wins at IRONMAN Mallorca and IRONMAN South Africa in 2021. However, her best result yet came just a couple of weeks ago, when she came fifth in the world in the pro field at the IRONMAN World Championships, held this year in St. George, Utah.
In this Q&A, Ruth, who is a professional triathlete with INCUS Performance, discusses the brutal St. George course (which includes 7,377ft of climbing on the bike alone), how she manages to train whilst working part-time, and what’s involved in her upcoming pacing duties for fellow Brit Kat Matthew’s Sub8* attempt on the 5-6th June.
*Kat Matthews will attempt to become the first woman to complete a full iron-distance triathlon in under 8 hours.
Congrats on your fifth place! Now that you’ve had time to reflect on everything, how do you feel about your performance? Did everything go according to plan?
Thank you! Having reflected on the day, I am still pretty over the moon with how it all went. Of course, there are things I can look back on that I want to improve, but in terms of the day itself, it went pretty much to plan, and I was able to put together a solid performance on the day, which was one of my main goals.
You’re known for your cycling talent, and this was a seriously tough course. How do you find the bike leg?
The bike leg was definitely tough! It was just relentless in terms of the constant rolling hills, wind, heat – everything! It was tough at times for me because I felt like I was doing a solo TT for pretty much the whole race – I was with a group of 4 to start with, but I’m not that confident sitting in a group and wanted to be able to just push my power, so I spent a fair amount of time on the front of that group until I broke away around halfway through. I was hoping to be able to push more power in the second half of the bike, but was also conscious of not pushing too much with a brutal marathon to follow! I don’t think I have nailed my IM bike pacing yet, and I still have a long way to go to get anywhere near Kat [Matthews] and Daniela [Ryf]!
What was going through your mind during the race?
So many things went through my mind during the race. . . it is a long time to be spending inside your head! In the swim, I was concentrating on staying with the group I was with whilst trying not to think about the fact I was getting ‘ice cream head’ at the far end. Onto the bike, I was thinking about nutrition, staying aero, getting to various key points on the course and putting power down.
Onto the run, and there were many negative thought moments – thinking I can’t do this, I’d quite like to just go and sit down and not continue suffering etc. The first half of the marathon was easier in some ways because I was making up a bit of time on Skye, but by the second half, it was really hot, and those hills just felt bigger!
What aspect did you find the most challenging?
I definitely found the marathon really tough – I had driven the course a couple of days before and really didn’t think it looked that bad, but those hills are just enough of a gradient to really take it out of you. Also, when you’re spending so much time by yourself, you really have to draw on lots of things to keep pushing on – I was drawing on the support from the crowd (which was AMAZING!), the belief of people who support me, and seeing how well Kat was doing.
What was your fuelling strategy?
My general fuelling is rice pudding for breakfast and a Never Second gel 15 mins before the swim. Then on the bike, I have a 500ml bottle with concentrated carb drink in it – 5 sachets of Never Second C90 mixed into it, which I sip throughout the race, and then top up my front bottle with water from the aid stations. Onto the run, and we were lucky to have pro aid stations regularly on this course, so I had a mix of carb drink and gels throughout the run.
You’ve raced at Kona, where you were the 2019 AG World Champion. How did this course compare?
The St George course is a lot harder than Kona in terms of physical comparison – partly the temperature difference (relatively very cold swim to then really hot on the bike and run) and partly the hills – relentless on both the bike and the run. The run is definitely a lot harder – those hills are just continuous up and down. However, the crowd support made up for it a bit. Where Kona is a bit harder is mentally, because you spend so much of the course just out on the motorway with no crowd support, so that is a slightly different challenge.
How did you prepare for this specific location, race and course?
I did a 4-week altitude block in Flagstaff for this race, where I incorporated quite a lot of specific hill workouts to prepare for the course. I also spent the 2 weeks before doing heat prep because I knew it could be quite hot.
What did a typical week of training look like in the run-up before you tapered?
A typical week of training would be swimming in the morning, Monday to Friday – a mix of aerobic swims and hard threshold swims. Then I would have one shorter, hard intervals bike session, a couple of long rides, and a longer interval session with maybe an easy gravel ride/spin in there as well. Run-wise, I would have one shorter hard interval session, a couple of 1-hour steady runs, and a longer run that might also have intervals in it.
Although you’re a pro athlete, you still work part-time. How do you fit it all in?!
I am only working 14 hours a week, which I can be pretty flexible with when I do those hours, other than a few key meetings that I need to attend. So actually, it is really easy to fit in. I generally swim in the morning, come back and do a couple of hours of work, train in the afternoon, couple of hours of work, and then potentially a bit in the evening, depending on what else I have. It doesn’t feel hard to fit in compared to when I worked 50-60 hours a week and trained 15-18 hours a week around that.
You’re a pacer for Kat Matthews’ sub-8hr IRONMAN challenge. How did this come about, and what will it involve?
So I was originally meant to be one of Lucy [Charles-Barkley]’s pacers when she was doing the challenge as part of the bike pacing team. When it was announced that Lucy was, unfortunately, unable to take part in the challenge anymore, and Kat would be replacing her, quite a few from the original bike pacing team were still keen to be involved.
As Kat is one of my great friends, I was really keen to still be involved and help with the challenge. I will mainly be the wheel for Kat to follow, so we will have teams rotating in front, and I will be keeping the ride as smooth as possible for Kat whilst the teams rotate. I will also potentially do a bit of ‘pacing’ on the run – but that is more just to provide entertainment than actual pacing.
What are your favourite kit items, and who are you sponsored by right now?
So many favourite kit items! The top one has to be my Argon18 E119 Tri disk bike – it was a new sponsored bike this year, and I love it. I also love my Stomp the Pedal tri-suit – I have had so many compliments from people as I am racing, and I like to stand out a bit. I have some other amazing sponsors – Never Second on the nutrition front, who make great carb drink, plus gels, and protein recovery. Hunt wheels to add some extra speed to my bike. Huub wetsuits and goggles, CBD triathlete for enhanced recovery with their lotion and drops. I am also an ambassador for INCUS, whose Nova device I have been using a lot to help improve my swim and run.