Lidbury_600x400We catch up with half-iron distance specialist, Emma-Kate Lidbury to see what makes this athlete tick. The recent Ironman 70.3 Texas winner shares with us her beginnings, where she morphed her journalistic wizardry into a life of swimming, biking and running – but still shows flare with the written word. 


WITSUP: Let’s start off with the hard-hitting questions. Is Kate your middle name, or part of your first name?

EMMAKATE LIDBURY: It’s part of my first name. Weird, I know, but I am the first born of indecisive and stubborn parents who could neither decide nor agree on which would be my first name and which would be my middle name. They need not have worried, though, as by the time I was 10 I had a swim coach who would only call me “EK” and it stuck.


W: And your friends call you Eccles or EK?

EKL: Well, depending on who I’m hanging out with I can be Eccles (Matt Dixon/purplepatch nickname), EK or Eek (family and friends in the UK tend to call me this). And then it gets worse from there – Freaky Eeky, Eek the Geek… the list goes on…


W: Ok, let’s take a look at your introduction to the sport. You were actually a whizz with the pen (and still are), and as part of an assignment you competed in your first triathlon at the inaugural Blenheim Triathlon in 2005. What was the actual assignment, and had you had any experience with triathlon prior?

EKL: The actual assignment began about six months prior to the race when the newspaper I worked on agreed to become a media partner for the Blenheim Triathlon. They (Blenheim and the paper) agreed weekly coverage in the weeks and months leading into the race in a bid to involve the local population and I was tasked with this. The editor knew I came from a swimming background, but it had been at least seven years since I’d swum competitively and I was not in good shape! On race day, my assignment was simple: survive and then write about it.


W: So what was it about that event that made you dive right into the triathlon world?

EKL: In the weeks leading up to the race I felt duty bound to do some training. I figured it could be a bit embarrassing if the journalist writing about the race couldn’t actually complete it. I probably did about six hours of training a week (which seems hilarious now!) but while doing that I remembered just how much I loved the discipline and structure of training. I’d swum at national level as a kid and thrived on competition and commitment to a goal. The training for that first triathlon reawakened all of that within me. I promised myself that if I enjoyed the race I would continue with the training. Equally, I vowed if I hated every minute I would walk away. Needless to say, from the minute I crossed the finish line I could not stop smiling and did not stop talking about triathlon for days, maybe weeks. My friends forced me to enter another race if only to shut me up and wear me out. Life has never been the same since.



Photo: Nils Nilsen

EKL: Yes, aged 10 I began swimming for a club that had a great coaching structure and development squad which fed into a main squad that has produced two Olympians. I probably swam about 50K a week, maybe more. The 5am alarm before school became a regular part of my routine. I cursed it then but I realise now that swimming through my formative years has helped me build a great aerobic engine. I specialised in sprint freestyle, preferring 50m free and 100m free. It’s funny to think that back then 400m and 800m free seemed like a long way!


W: So what was your first professional race experience like?

EKL: It was Ironman 70.3 Antwerp in August 2008 and I only raced pro because I saw another age grouper with whom I had a great rivalry on the pro start list! I finished sixth and realised that with some proper training I definitely had the potential to compete with the girls on the podium. Unfortunately, discovering what “proper training” involves would take me a few seasons to work out…


W: And, what happened with your nemesis? Did you beat her that day?

EKL: No! She had an absolutely stellar race and finished second, showing many of the pro women how it’s done. She was a superb biking talent, but sadly quit the sport not long after that race. 


W: You seemed to have a big breakthrough year in 2011 with three Ironman 70.3 wins, and some other impressive podiums and finishes. Do you remember what it was that came together this year?

EKL: Consistency! And figuring out what makes me tick. Prior to that, I had been trying to live the “pro life” – training in the trendy places, doing what worked for other people, never listening to my own body, getting injured and generally just having heaps of motivation but little actual direction. Instead, in autumn/winter 2010 I went nowhere. I stayed at home in the UK. I got stuck into my own routine. I trained hard with a friend and mentor, a guy named Mark Stenning who is a talented Ironman himself, and together we just got me in a groove. After long periods of being plagued with injuries I actually stayed injury free for months on end. I learned that I am someone who thrives on routine and, for me, with routine comes consistency. It meant that I came through into the 2011 season with bags of confidence, vigour and fitness. I was ready to up my game – and I did!


Texas EcclesW: What’s been your career highlight to date?

EKL: That’s a tough one as I feel I’ve had a few now, but in terms of wins that have meant the most, I think my first one at 70.3 Mallorca in 2011 will always be special. Winning 70.3 UK in 2011 was also pretty sweet: I outran a much stronger runner in a great head-to-head battle to take the title. And winning Texas 70.3 just recently was probably a career-best performance. There are plenty more where that came from though…


W: You train with Matt Dixon at Purple Patch and have clearly made some solid friendships with your teammates. When did you sign up with Matt, and what was it about him and his team that drew you towards them?

EKL: Matt and I officially started working together in December 2011, but prior to that we had been chatting for a large part of the 2011 season and he’d been helping me with some of my training. I had heard a lot about him and where I’d been training with Rachel (Joyce, a former purplepatch pro) I’d obviously had a great insight into his approach and the way he works.

When we first started chatting about potentially teaming up, I was hugely impressed with his knowledge and attention to detail. He was unlike any other coach I had ever spoken with and I knew we could work well together. He seemed to be able to bring all the parts of the jigsaw together for me. And above all else, he’s a great guy who’s fun to hang out with (but don’t tell him I told you that).


W: Realistically, how much time can you actually spend at home training in the UK? A lot of the weather conditions aren’t conducive to training there, right?

EKL: You can’t stay on the cold, dark island for too long! I managed to get through two winters of training full-time and that was almost too much. Human beings function optimally in sunshine and when you spend as much time training outdoors as we do, it makes life very hard for a pro triathlete in Britain. It’s no surprise to see so many of us overseas.


ek_vegas (7)W: So currently where are you spending most of your time?

EKL: In January I fled snowy Britain and have been in Santa Monica, southern California, ever since. I applied for (and now have) a five-year visa so I can remain in the US as an “internationally recognized alien”. EK, phone home…

I am absolutely loving life here. There are a lot of purplepatch athletes here and I do all of my swim training with Gerry Rodrigues and his Tower 26 swim programme. The riding and running here are great too and I am spoilt for choice when it comes to training partners. I love it and I really feel like I’m beginning to get the best from myself. That wasn’t happening in the UK.


W: Is Vegas the big goal this year?

EKL: Sure is! Vegas, baby! I have achieved two top-10 finishes at the Worlds (in 2010 and 2011) and want to ensure I arrive in Vegas this year as a contender.


W: With the announcement that the Ironman 70.3 World Championships are going to move each year, where would you like to see the race go in terms of course difficulty, where you’d like to visit (we hear Australia is great) and what you think would be good for the sport?

EKL: Firstly, I think this is a great move for the sport. I think having a course similar to Vegas (testing/undulating bike and run) is important to prevent drafting, but aside from that I am totally open as to where it goes. Australia would be awesome (just as long as we all get Tim Tams) and some of the European 70.3 venues would also make great World Championship courses – Switzerland or Germany would be a lot of fun. More than anything, I think it’s only fair it gets mixed up like this. I’m excited to see how it all unfolds.


W:  What’s one of the biggest lessons you’ve learnt in your time as a triathlete?

EKL: There’s never a portaloo where you really want one.


W: Who do you look up to in the sport and why?

EKL: There is no one single person who I look up to, but I am continually inspired by what all of the British women on the long distance circuit continue to do. The likes of Chrissie, Rachel, Cat, Leanda and Julie are all Great British girls who have led the way in triathlon with style and substance.


W: Speaking of the British women – they are just on fire these days. So just what are they putting in the water over there? (and apparently theres’s a few British boys that go ok too).

EKL: Who knows, but let’s hope they keep doing it! I think it’s that old adage – success breeds success. You see people achieving truly inspirational things and you simply want a bit for yourself. It makes you work harder and become hungrier. Brits are also steely, stoic folk whose typical mindset is ideal for a sport like triathlon. We are do or die.


110081826-39W: If there were to be a movie made of your life up until now, what would it be called, and who would play you?

EKL: Well, let’s put Keira Knightley in the leading role as I’d only want a sassy Brit chick with some gumption playing me! She stars in one of my favourite movies, Love Actually. My version would probably be Lycra Actually.


W: Now, same question… But in 10 years time?

EKL: I’m Still Standing. And maybe I’ll need Meryl Streep by then!


W: If you weren’t into triathlon, where do you think you’d be right now?

EKL: I guess I would probably still be working on newspapers, drinking too much coffee/beer and stressing about whether I was going to get the front page lead for tomorrow’s edition. The editor who sent me on that first triathlon assignment back in 2005 still gets in touch with me every now and then (usually after I’ve just tweeted a photo from a sunny location) and says: “What if I’d never sent you on that job…” For me, it doesn’t bear thinking about! I feel honoured and privileged to lead the life I do right now and couldn’t bear it any other way. I’m hugely grateful to my main sponsors in the UK, Morris Owen Accountants and telecoms firm Virtua, for their continued support.


W: Thanks so much for your time Freaky Eeky! Can we assure our readers that you’ll be a common fixture on the site from here on in?

EKL: Sure thing, chick. Just keep me in Tim Tams and Vegemite and I’m yours forever.


W: Seriously? You like Vegemite?

EKL: Of course! But as a Brit my allegiance first and foremost is to Marmite, but I am almost as fond of Vegemite. Marmite and/or Vegemite is central to my pre-race diet – I kid you not! I have been known to combine it with foods in the weirdest of ways… The most recent was baked sweet potato, cottage cheese with pineapple and Marmite. Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it! 


You can find out more about Emma-Kate via her website at and follow her on twitter

Photos by Nils Nilsen and Finisherpix

About The Author

Stef Hanson. Chief.

Chief and founder of WITSUP

Serious about what I do, but don’t take myself too seriously

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One Response

  1. Laura Siddall

    Great article guys! EK is another British triathlete inspiring many!!


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