Mhairi Spence has a current world ranking of 10 and in 2006 won the individual Bronze medal at the European Championships. Originally from Inverness she now lives and trains in Bath, and aside from aiming for Gold in London 2012 she also wants to be the next Sue Barker.
Why did you choose to train at the Sports Village at Bath University?
When I started Modern Pentathlon I was 16 and the centre here in Bath was just being set-up. When I finished school, the UK coach Istvan Nemeth asked me f I would be interested in coming to Bath to study and train as part of their group at the National Training Centre.
It has worked out really well as I can study and train effectively. I am currently finishing my degree in Coach Education and Sports Development. I started on a HND and then moved onto the Degree course and the University has been very helpful and flexible. We have to have so much time off for competitions that it just would not work at an ordinary university.
One of the great things about Istvan our coach is that he believes so strongly that we must have an education too, which was another reason for coming here.
What do you like best about training here in Bath?
The environment here is great. There are so many people aiming at being a world champion across so many different sports. If you are struggling, it’s great to hear other people’s stories and get advice and support, and if it’s going well you feel like everyone really is behind you.
Its great to be able to train as part of the squad too, and there are new people coming in all the time. The facilities here through the English Institute of Sport are amazing, we have physios and nutrition, massage, psychology, strength and conditioning training – the lot.
One of the biggest things about training at this level is allowing recovery, you have to allow your body time. Here we get all the advice we need and a strict regime, that just makes the whole process so much easier. The sports psychology is amazing too. Success in sport is achieved through a mix of physical and mental strength, and your mental state must be healthy. We also get good common sense advice:
Istvan’s best remedy when we have had a bad day is ‘ Go home, have a good meal and a nice sleep and we will start again tommorrow’ – it works everytime!
Do you follow a specific diet?
We have a lot of help with nutrition, I am the unlucky one of the squad as I struggle a lot with my weight, we need to be as light as possible to run 3km so it is a bit of an issue. We have to get the balance right between being strong in the swim and powerful on the fencing piste but also light for the run.
I was not gifted with the physique of a middle distance runner, but the nutritional help has made a huge difference. My advice to anyone would be to eat the right things in the right proportions. I’ve tried so many diets, but really it comes down to a balanced diet, sensible amounts and being in control of what you are eating. My favourite treat is pizza – so I have to watch that.
During competitions, it’s pretty hard to eat. We need to keep our energy up but we are nervous, excited and buzzing around. Luckily for me nothing ever puts me off my food. We now have energy bars and gels that we take during the day. The gels particularly give us instant energy. We didn’t really like them when we started using them, but now its all just part of the regime.
What are your main goals?
I am planning to keep going until 2012, that has always been my goal. It would be amazing to get to Beijing too, but London is my focus. So even when I have finished my course, because we are funded through UK Sport, I can continue training here. I am considering doing another course but I will have to see what my grades are like first. If not I may get a part-time job, when I first arrived here in Bath, I didn’t have any funding so I worked three nights a week in McDonalds.
After I have finished competing, my dream is to become the next Sue Barker and present ‘A Question Of Sport‘ – if that fails, I would love to do commentating. But my other choice would be to join the police force. Obviously it all depends on how my sports career goes. I will always do sport, I started fencing and represented Scotland at the Commonwealth Championships and came away with a bronze medal, so I may continue with that.
What for you are the main benefits of a sporty lifestyle?
I think sport is such a great way of making you feel good about yourself. I really truly believe that when you do sport and achieve something – no matter what level, you really do feel empowered.
The social aspect is great too. You can make so many good friends, and women should not feel intimidated if they are not in great shape, because everyone is there to improve themselves.
I really admire people who are trying to improve themselves and fix something, it shows great strength and makes them a better person.
Who inspires you?
I am inspired by Kelly Holmes, she is a massive inspiration. Paula Radcliffe too, it makes such a difference to see British women getting medals, you think, if they can do it, maybe I can too.
If I get to the games, I would love to watch the fencing and the basketball. I would also love to watch the gymnastics, because I used to do that as a child. I would try to see as much as I can.
The World Championships in Hungary in two weeks time. I am really looking forward to it, the crowds will be amazing because it’s a national sport in Hungary. I love competing. I love meeting all the people from around the world all aiming for the same thing. I just love the whole atmosphere.
Danielle Sellwood, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine
All photos except shooting image are courtesy of Phil Searle at DigitalScape
Watch out for Mhairi, Georgina Harland, Heather Fell, and Katie Livingstone at the World Championships in Hungary 29th May- 3rd June.