Haphazard approach works for GB triathlete Chiara Magarotto
SOMETIMES the secret to success in a serious sport is not to take things too seriously.
The haphazard approach to triathlon training is certainly working for Chiara Magarotto.
Just two years after her first race, the Torrington athlete has earned age-group selection for Great Britain at the 2013 European Championships.
The former point-to-point jockey may be a self-confessed "cart horse among the thoroughbreds" but do not be fooled by her self-deprecating sense of humour.
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Chiara has overcome some significant hurdles, including the premature birth of her daughter, Scarlett, to achieve what she has.
Taking care of two children – her son, Ben, is autistic – and looking after training is difficult enough before you even consider the rest of the family.
With five dogs, five sheep, five cats, four retired racehorses and one chicken, there is never a dull moment in the Magarotto household.
No wonder she is grateful for the support of Nick, her partner of 17 years.
It would be fair to say Chiara's training technique is more slapdash than scientific.
"I'm so haphazard, so badly organised and I drink too much," she said.
"Training plans don't factor in ill kids, stupid dogs, work and mucking out horses at six o'clock in the morning.
"I don't bother with a watch.I don't bother with all that heart-rate monitoring. The speedo has been broken on my bike for two years. I haven't got a clue how fast I ride it.
"My aim if I go out on the bike is not to get killed.
"If I go running with the dogs my aim is for them not to kill something.
"And if I go swimming, it's just to get through an hour. I hate swimming, it's so boring just doing lengths of a pool.
"It's hard going in the winter when you're stuck in a pool full of chlorine and old people getting in your way."
One major problem could still get in Chiara's way before she makes her Great Britain debut in Alanya, Turkey, next June.
"I don't know how they are going to get me on the plane yet," she said. "I'm absolutely petrified of flying. Actually, flying doesn't worry me, it's being on an aeroplane that petrifies me. The last time I flew I nearly got escorted down the steps."
Qualifying events for the World Championships in London also take place in June, leaving many triathletes with tough choices over which races to prioritise.
That is a decision Chiara, 34, never dreamed she would need to make a couple of years ago.
In her first triathlon, in 2010, she finished first female in the Tiverton short course novice race.
Weight sessions with Louise Banfield at Function Fitness in Torrington have improved her strength.
Trevor Perkins, at North Devon Tri, has helped with swimming sessions and Bike It in Barnstaple have answered countless "stupid questions" about cycling.
This year, the improvements have been significant with third place overall at the Tiverton long course and second at Taunton.
After being encouraged by North Devon Tri club-mate Peggy Crome to try for age-group qualification, she won her category at Burnham-on-Sea.
Then, at Worthing in August, despite having to calm her nerves with a sneaky pre-race cigarette, Chiara produced her best result yet.
"I just rolled up in my battered Land Rover and there was about £20 million of bikes there," she said. "Everyone else is so tiny and fit and I'm feeling like a cart horse because I'm 6ft 1in.
"I did keel over after crawling out of the finishing chute. I actually cried because it was the first time I had to run my guts out."
The all-out effort saw her finish fourth in the 30 to 34 category, enough to qualify for Turkey next year when she will be in the 35 to 39 group.
At school, Chiara was a keen runner but later, as a jockey, she left the donkey work to horses – something she now regrets.
"In the old days, the poor old horse did all the work," she said. "I now know I wouldn't take too kindly to someone sat on my back, annoying me with a stick while I ran my guts out."
Returning to running was her first step back into sport and provided an outlet from the worries over her children's health.
Scarlett, now 7, was born at 29 weeks, weighing only 2lb 6oz.
"She was in hospital for five months when she was born and my son was 3 and diagnosed with autism," said Chiara.
"I was probably a whisper away from a nervous breakdown and one day I just pulled on my trainers and ran."
Occasional mishaps like falling off her bike at traffic lights or missing training after being bitten by a fox are all put in perspective. Races are to be savoured.
"Having seen what my daughter went through and having an autistic 10-year-old son, you can't take everything so seriously," said Chiara.
"Never go into it with any expectations and a lot of the time you end up pleasantly surprised. You have to enjoy it.
"I always say thank you to the marshals.
"I always try to smile and wave at the photographer. You want to look your best because no one looks good in Lycra."
Maybe. But when the Lycra tri suit says GBR on the front, alongside the name Magarotto, there is plenty to be proud of.