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Triathlon England Duathlon Championships the next target for Anna Birrell and her love for the sport

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What started out as daily exercise has grown to become a passion that has already seen Anna Birrell win British and national titles. This weekend the 23-year-old heads to the Triathlon England Standard Distance Duathlon Championships where she’s the defending champion in the female 20-24 age group.

Swim, bike, run became a way for Birrell to keep fit and take a break from her biomedicine studies at the University of Liverpool and, even when she took part in a local GO TRI event in 2018 and then Darley Moor May Duathlon a year later, she never expected where her enjoyment of swim, bike, run has taken her since.

“As a kid I swam competitively up until I was about 13,” Birrell said. “Then I didn’t really do anything else I just started focusing on school, my GCSEs and my A-Levels. I would go out for the odd run or ride at the weekend with my dad or my mum but I wasn’t sporty in my teen years at all.

“It was at Uni that I fell back in love with sport just purely for daily exercise. I found going to the gym or going out for a little run after lectures or at the weekend was the best way to switch off and get that mental release. I started exercising daily throughout Uni and I got better, got fitter and a bit faster and stronger and that led me all the way up to the first Covid lockdown and then suddenly I had more time to train so I carried on.

“I found myself training more and more but I didn’t even consider triathlon until my Dad said ‘you are doing all the sports individually why not put it together’, so I decided to see what triathlon was about.”

Not knowing what to expect, Birrell took on her first triathlon in September 2020, winning her age group and finishing third overall at Shropshire Triathlon. It was a performance and an experience that sparked her passion even more.

“It was a total surprise because for your first event you have no idea where you’re going to finish and with it being under the Covid guidance there were no mass starts, so when I crossed the line I had no idea where I was or how I had done,” Birrell reflected.

“It was only when during the prize giving they called my name up that I realised where I had finished, I couldn’t believe it. It was there that I thought I haven’t had any structure, any input, I’ve just done this on my own quietly for the last couple of years so maybe if I put a little bit more thought into it and do a bit more research and find proper sessions to do and join a club maybe I could improve even more.”

Since then, Birrell has been a regular at events across the UK, regularly making the overall and age group podium. She’s already become a double British duathlon champion, successfully defending the British age group title she won last November at Oulton Park earlier this month.

Those successes followed gold at last year’s national duathlon championships and bronze medals in both standard and middle distance triathlon at last year’s British Championships. Not only that, but first place in her age group at IRONMAN 70.3 Staffordshire last year also secured her place at the 2022 IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships in St. George, Utah.

“To keep motivated in training you do need goals and you do need things to focus on and the racing provides that,” Birrell said. “I really like the process of training and the racing validates the work, that’s when you really have to push yourself, you’re pushed by others, and you can see where your limit is.

“I’ve crammed a lot into the last 18 months and I’ve been really happy, particularly with how last season went, I think every single race I was on the age group podium. Hopefully that trend will continue, my training has improved a lot over the winter and hopefully it should be another good season.”

Next-up for Birrell is this weekend’s Triathlon England Duathlon Championships, being hosted at Yorkshire Duathlon, and, with the event again being held around Croft Circuit and the surrounding roads, it’s a chance for Birrell to see her progression.

“Obviously the target is to try and defend my national title, but the important thing for me this weekend is, I did the exact same race, same course this time last year and I was ninth overall, so I am quite keen to see where I finish in the overall rankings and see in the last 12 months how I have progressed,” Birrell explained.

“It’s a nice way to see your progression when you go back to the same race and for me, I’m using the early season duathlons as really hard training days and also as a way of getting that race experience.

“It is very different doing it on your own in training to then going to a race and being surrounded by males and females some of them who will be much quicker than you and you can’t go with them, so you need to learn race dynamics and learn how to pace yourself and race your own race. Duathlons are great for that because they’re really hard work.”

From what started out as a way of keeping fit and enabling breaks from her studies has now developed into something a lot more for Birrell, who works as a scientific advisor for breast cancer at Pfizer.

“I never expected it to become such a big part of my life,” Birrell admitted. “I was so focused on the academic side and getting good GCSEs and A-Levels. I was going through that process of climbing the ladder academically, getting my first job, progressing in that, changing roles, that was my life, doing the education piece and the academic side.

“I studied biomedicine and focused very heavily on cancer medicine which in itself is such a huge topic and there’s so much depth in the research coming out. That was my focus and I never ever thought that I’d turn my life around and focus so heavily on triathlon and training.

“I absolutely love my job and I put a lot of effort into my work but there is something about triathlon that really makes me tick and I absolutely love the training and the racing and the people I get to share it with.”

Click below to view the full list of Triathlon England Championships in 2022.

2022 Triathlon England Championships

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