LESSONS FROM A PRO - Helle Frederiksen

I don’t hide the fact that I like to talk to people (!) and I have a habit of striking up conversations with complete strangers, especially when I’m in a foreign country! But I feel very privileged to be able to have in-depth conversations with complete strangers, who also happen to be some of the world’s best triathletes, for the Oxygen Addict Triathlon Podcast. And I feel very lucky when they are relaxed enough with me to open up, so the interview just flows and - most importantly - they do most of the talking. When that happens, I usually come away from the interview buzzing, with words of wisdom ringing around in my head and I often think about how I can relate the wise words to my own life, away from an elite sporting context. After 11 years as a professional triathlete and 10 Ironman 70.3 wins, Denmark’s Helle Frederiksen shared more than just one valuable little nugget of information with me, so I thought you might enjoy reading her Lessons from a Pro.

PHOTO: Honza Zak

PHOTO: Honza Zak

Helle on Retirement

“I’ve always wanted to plan when I wanted to step away and not be forced to step away.  I always promised to stop when I was at the top when I still had a few good races up my sleeve.

“I was starting to have this thought late last year, that 2019 would be my last season.

“The plan was to do Ironman Copenhagen as my last professional race on home soil, but a month before Copenhagen I got a stress fracture in my shin and that decided that I wasn’t going to be racing there.

“I asked myself ‘Should I get over this little bump on the road and find another Ironman to finish off [my career] at a race?’ But I thought ‘Will it change how great your career has been?’ And I thought ‘not really.’ And that’s why I thought ‘enough is enough.’

“You aren’t always going to have that fairy-tail ending in life.”

PHOTO: Jesper_Grønnemark

PHOTO: Jesper_Grønnemark

 Helle on overcoming injuries

“2015 was the worst period of my career, injury wise. I came off the back of 2014 feeling that I had figured out the recipe to win, because I was winning everything.”

“It took me 18 months to get back racing and even then, that Helle Frederiksen wasn’t as strong as the athlete she had been before and it took another year to get back to that previous level.”

“I thought “Am I ever going to come back?”, “Do I really want to keep pushing?” But I felt like I had so much more in me, that I was far from done, that I still had so much to achieve.

“I got injured when I was feeling on top of the world and I needed to get back to that person again, that feeling of winning and being able to achieve those big achievements.

“I couldn’t just stop, thinking ‘Oh well.’ I needed to give my very best to try to get back and not just accept a defeat like that, so that’s why I kept pushing.

“I spoke a lot with the other athletes who reassured me and I have also given the same advice to other athletes and they inspired me and I know I can inspire others to keep believing and keep digging.

“It takes hard work and you have to do all of your homework, your core work and the little things. Nothing is given to you, you have to work for it.

“It really is the truth and when you get out of the period that feels like the end of the world, it takes a lot of bad luck for you to NOT get up on your feet again. So it makes you really strong.”

(Not so) Magic Ingredient number 1: Consistency

“It takes many, many years to make a champion. You need the consistent work.

“It takes time and you have to put layer, on layer, on layer and I really believe that doing all of the small things is what pays off. 

(Not so) Magic Ingredient Number 2: Patience

“It almost took me ten years to become (ITU Long Distance) World Champion last year. And even in 2014 I had already been a professional for around six years.

“It doesn’t take much each day, and no one workout is better than another, but you have to it really is all about patience to achieve those goals.

Finding your WHY when you retire

“I’ve been used to working towards a purpose , a big goal and usually a physical goal and it’s almost always been like that.

“Now to find that WHY and that big, big goal that is challenging and that motivates me will probably be the hardest thing.

PHOTO: Isaak Papadopoulos

PHOTO: Isaak Papadopoulos

“I think that very soon I need to find what is the next goal, because that’s how I operate.

“I need to have something that is difficult to achieve and that requires the best of me but I’m sure it will come down the line and that’s why I haven’t made a plan, because I think it’s healthy to celebrate it all, relax and then get the body down to normal speed.

Learning from your failures

“What defines us as champions is how you get out of your defeats and how you get on your feet again.

“There are many highs in a career, but there are often more lows and I think the greatest champions have been through a lot of lows.

“There is no one who went straight to the top and it takes a long long time to get there.

“But that makes some of the finish lines even better, because you re-live all of the hard stuff you’ve been through, all of the doubts and the frustrations and the tears.

“And when you succeed again, you’re suddenly yourself again and you’re in that flow. It’s absolutely amazing and it’s worth every single minute of when you’ve been lying under the couch and crying when you are injured.”


You can listen to the full interview with Helle Frederiksen here in which Helle talks about her career and her retirement plans, including writing a book and doing more coaching. She also shares some great advice for S&C, as well as tips for running like a gazelle and swimming like a fish!

Helen MurrayComment