Since leaving her career as a journalist in the UK and becoming a professional triathlete Emma-Kate Lidbury's life has transformed. Now based in California, the six-time Ironman 70.3 champion shares thoughts on mindfulness, performance, focus and following your dream.
What does wellness mean to you? "A lot of people focus only on physical wellness, which is obviously important, but for what I do, you also need mental wellness and emotional strength and well-being. I think you only reach a point of mind and body wellness when you're in sync with all those elements of your life. Which isn't easy to do, but it's something I've worked on in the past couple of years, because I know it makes a difference in my physical performance when I'm present in what I'm doing, and feeling strong and focused—both mentally and emotionally."
How did you work on those things? "A lot of yoga and meditation, [especially since] moving to California; I've found it easy to get into that lifestyle of 'sound body, sound mind.' The two go hand in hand. If I lived in the UK, I don't know if I'd be saying that right now. I really started doing a lot of yoga six months ago; hot yoga, and also mindfulness and meditation. I find it helps me with whatever I'm doing, whether I'm on the bike training hard, or even sometimes I get very bogged down by feeling fatigued. I can come back to my breath and my body, and be present. It helps in so many ways, beyond the obvious."
Did you start yoga and mediation specifically to improve your performance as an athlete, or for other reasons? "I started them predominantly for me as a person, for my own well-being rather than as an athlete. But then I found a myriad of benefits that spilled over into my life as an athlete, but that wasn't the primary goal."
What benefits did you discover? "From a yoga point of view, it's been great for flexibility and mobility. And that's an obvious side of it. But from the mindfulness, meditation and breathing point of view, that's really helped center me and keep me present in what I'm doing, and that's really important. It's something I view as probably something not a lot of my competitors do. It gives me strength and vitality, too. The races I do are four or four-and-a-half hours long and stressful, both physically and mentally. So to have something that centers you like that is quite massive."
What's your fitness regime like? "It varies, but [sometimes] I have swim practice early, at 5:30am, then breakfast, rest and then either going to another workout, around lunchtime or after lunch, and then depending on the day I might have a massage or some kind of body work, then rest, sleep, repeat! You do need to rest a lot to get the benefits of the training. A lot of people forget it's not the physical training that gets you fitter, but the rest and the adaptation. Your body restores, comes back stronger."
What else brings you joy? "I was a journalist in my former life. I still love to write, and to keep in touch with the news and current affairs. If I can find the time to sit down with a cup of coffee in my favorite coffee shop, that's one of my favorite things. Living in LA, I'm also very into the movies, I've always been into movies but being so close to Hollywood…and I'm always reading something, contemporary fiction of some kind. I also love to bake—although a lot of things I love to bake my coach would rather I not eat; cookies and cakes and things like that."
Speaking of which, what's your diet like? "It's a very simple, healthy diet, really. Nothing too weird or wacky; I'm largely gluten-free and largely dairy-free, especially when training a lot, we tend to need to eat a fair amount. I tend to have two breakfasts when getting up early. In the evening, it's lean meat, fish, chicken, salad, veggies, quinoa, sweet potatoes…nothing crazy! It's no different to a standard healthy diet, really. Just eating the right things at the right times so your body recovers and is well-fueled."
You referred to your 'former life' as a journalist. What's the biggest thing you've learned from your transition into a career as a professional athlete? "When I lived and worked in the UK and I was a journalist, it was all about chasing stories, my perspective on life was very different to what it is now. Now, I feel life is often challenging, but I really do feel like I'm very privileged to do what I get to do. It's not always easy, but I really feel like I have a goal and a dream. I feel very grateful, honored and lucky to be doing something I love and call it my job. I want to be world champion one day, and to be working towards a goal like that is pretty special, it's not something everybody gets to do."
Absolutely. Any advice for readers who are considering a transition to follow their dreams? "In short, it would be, do it! I think it can seem daunting or terrifying to make a change to chase after something you know in your heart and gut you want to do. But I think it's your passion, it's your dream, it's your goal, you owe it to yourself to go and find out if you can do it. Which is worse: Not doing it and having to live a life half-lived, or doing it and failing? And even if you fail, knowing at least you tried."