An Olympic year is huge for professional athletes. It’s the culmination of a lifetime of hard work, determination and strategy to get you where you need to be, and that’s just to get to selection! So what happens when a global pandemic brings those dreams – and the world – to a grinding halt? We caught up with triathlete Charlotte McShane to chat about comeback from injury, training in lockdown, and family time in regional Victoria.

In the 10+yrs we’ve known you, your athlete lifestyle has also meant you’re always on the move. Since Australia went into lockdown, you’ve been living with family in regional Victoria. How’s that going?

If I’m honest, I’m really enjoyed the past 4 months. I’m forever grateful of the opportunities I have to travel the world with my sport, however after 10 years it does become quite draining. I’ve lived out of a suitcase and haven’t had a stable address for that time and as fun as it can be, it is hard - especially as I’ve gotten older.

Over the past 5 years I’ve only been able to spend a couple of months per year with my fiancé Brendan since he retired from triathlon competition in 2015. I’ve spent even less time with my family over the past decade. Having the opportunity to head ‘home’ to East Gippsland and spend time with my family including my young nieces and nephews (and dogs!) has been really refreshing. I can honestly say has helped me commit to another 4+ years of competing and travelling...once this is all over!

So much of Gippsland was devastated by the bushfires earlier this year. You've known for many years how amazing the region is for cycling and outdoor recreation; when some restrictions start to ease, any recommendations for riding holidays when people are able to return?

I couldn’t have been in a better sport to continue my training during this time. With no competition in sight, my training has been more relaxed and endurance based and East Gippsland has great access to location ideal for that style of training. One of my favourite rides in the world is riding the East Gippsland Rail Trail from Bairnsdale to Orbost which is 90kms of mostly flat, easy riding on a mixture of gravel and sealed path through many towns in the region, including some severely affected by the recent bushfires. I usually use my Liv Brava CX for this but often take my Liv Pique and stop off Colquhoun Mountain Bike park and hit some of the mountain bike trails on the way to break it up.

I’ve really enjoyed having the opportunity to spend some time on my mountain bike again and practice my off road skills. We have 3 large mountain bike parks within East Gippsland with my ‘local’ only a 15 minute ride away from my parents house in Mount Taylor. There is also Colquhoun Mountain Bike Park in Lakes Entrance, Nowa Nowa Mountain Bike Park and they are currently building a new one in Omeo. All of the parks cater to a mix of levels - from beginner trails to downhill tracks.

With all the varied cycling I’ve been doing I’m also lucky to have access to the local bike shop, Riviera Cycles in Bairnsdale, to keep my different machines well serviced.

Before the Olympics were postponed, there was talk of athletes going into quarantine hubs at the AIS. Since then, most are doing everything remotely and the race calendar is difficult to lock in. How has your training changed during this time?

When it started, I think many of us were perhaps in denial of how much and how long COVID-19 was going to be an issue. Until the Olympics official postponement we had to continue training as if we’d be there racing in July (despite it starting to look less and less likely!). As disappointing as it is, I think most athletes were happy to have a confirmation that they were postponed and could then focus on building up a good base and most importantly, staying healthy during this time.

Triathlon Australia suggested we each go back to our respective homes and regroup when we had a bit more clarity on the situation and when things were slightly more ’normal’. For me, I made the most of the opportunity to building up a solid aerobic base after having missed that training stimulus last year due to injury. Whilst I miss my training partners and the social aspect, it's been good to focus on myself without any pressure to hit certain paces or power numbers and do what is right for me long term.

Triathlon requires a variety of training. Riding and running seem straightforward enough in lockdown, but how have you adjusted your swim and gym training?

Surprisingly, spending my first winter of 10 years in Victoria hasn’t been as torturous as I had feared. I’m enjoying the novelty of dressing up in a lot of layers to head out riding and running and thankfully the sun has been out most days. I can’t say the same for how I felt when the pools were closed and swimming open water was a daily occurrence. Sitting between 12-14 degrees with air temperature sometimes cooler, I had to dress head to toe in neoprene and was still freezing! Wetsuit gloves and booties do help but also create a lot of drag so it was important to be mindful not to overdo it in the water.

After my back injury in 2018-2019, I’ve had a lot of focus on gym work so as soon as the lockdown was announced, I jumped online to beat the rush and invested in some equipment so I could keep it up whilst at home. I did some zoom calls with my Strength & Conditioning coach to update my program and would often have Brendan film to check I was doing the exercises right.

My sister owns a gym franchise (The HIIT Factory) which changed to an online streaming platform so it was really great to join in on a variety of different body weight classes to mix it up and work out virtually alongside others. One of them was yoga which I’ve really enjoyed and something I’ve wanted to start doing for my physical and mental wellbeing for a while but have never had the time or ability to physically go into a studio and do it. Whilst I’m still not very good at it, I’ve really loved the practice and will definitely continue with it long term.

I’ve also had to really up my communication with my coach. Normally I am in a squad environment so I see him everyday. I now have to be even more diligent with ensuring I upload training files and comments with how I’m feeling quickly so if needed, he can adjust training based on my feedback.

And of course like many others in the cycling community, I jumped on the Zwift bandwagon! As someone who is slightly technologically challenged, the Liv article by Liv Racing athlete Serena Bishop Gordon made it super easy to set up and I enjoyed taking part on the Tuesday night AHDRL group ride. I haven’t challenged myself to a race just yet - but we’ll see what happens over the next few weeks!

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Last time we caught up before Christmas, you were so excited to be racing at full strength after a frustrating and lengthy injury. Has that shaped your perspective of what’s turned out to be a very unpredictable year?

I spent much of 2018 and 2019 with very interrupted training and racing due to a ruptured disc in my back (L5/S1) which was causing nerve pain and loss of strength and feeling in my left leg. It took almost a year to diagnose it and even then there was a lot of back and forth which was incredibly draining. The difficulty with nerve and disc issues is that there is no guarantee or estimated time frame to when it will (if ever) be better, so you have to be incredibly patient and find a way to do what you can with the hope that it will all work out in the end.

After we ran out of options, I took a lengthy period of time off towards the end of last year to allow the nerve to completely settle and start from scratch. Early this year I could start to see the light at the end of the tunnel when I was finally cycling pain free again, for the first time in a couple of years. However my body wasn’t quite ready to handle the load of going hard again immediately. This of course meant it would have been very difficult to get straight back into racing on the World Series and I had a fear that I’d end up back at square one.

If I’d been told I’d have to wait 5 more years to attempt to make the Australian team after missing out on the 2016 Olympics, it would have perhaps been too much. And whilst I am incredibly sad for the world to be going through such an awful pandemic, I am very grateful to have an extra 12 months to build my fitness up slowly with a focus on the long term. For the past 4 months I have had absolutely no issues or pain with my back and leg and I truly believe I will finish this year stronger, healthier, faster and more motivated than I ever have been.  I’m only now realising how many positives have come out of the struggle with my injury.

I’ve learnt to enjoy my sport and training again and appreciate racing on the world stage. When you’re in the thick of it, you forget how far you’ve come and it simply becomes a job. I always wanted more and never stopped to appreciate where I was. Now I can’t wait to be lining up with the best athletes in the world.

We noticed you’ve brought most of your bikes along for your stay, what riding do you enjoy besides triathlon and road bikes?

Because I’m normally travelling around the world throughout the year, I usually only have the option of my race bike - my EnviLiv Advanced Pro Disc. It’s been so great to be in a stable environment to pump the tyres up on both my Liv Brava SLR and Liv Pique Advanced. Its been a number of years since I’ve been able to spend a significant amount of time on them so whilst my skills were incredibly rusty in the beginning, each ride on the trails has been more and more fun.

I spent a lot of time riding in the different mountain bike parks here whilst I was still at school, so its been fun to revisit them and also try out many of the new and more manicured loops. I love challenging myself to riding sections I know are going to be difficult however I’m also very aware of my limits. If I’m not in the right frame of mind or a bit tired, I’ll skip a particular section and try again another day.

I’m also always very open to advice and tips and will often seek out help for and tips on areas I find hard.

We have many different fire trails in East Gippsland in particular so being on the Brava means I can set out for a long ride without too much route planning and just go where I feel. I try to ride on at least one new road on each long ride and changing bikes around throughout the week also makes training a little more exciting and less monotonous.

Do you have any advice for fellow triathletes and enthusiasts who also are trying to maintain training, motivation and connection?

Whilst you might be training on your own, remember to stay connected. I’ve really enjoyed taking part in the virtual exercise classes and also checking in with my team mates to see how they’re going with their training program. Its been nice to share if I’ve found a particular session difficult or if it went really great like I perhaps would have in a normal environment.

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I also set out particular times to start each training session and try to stick to them as best I can otherwise I find it too easy to procrastinate and put them off (especially the tough ones!) To help get me out on the bike when its cold, I make sure I layer up I’m at least starting my ride warm and take off excess layers throughout the ride if I need to. Thankfully Liv have me covered with everything I need. I normally go for the Liv short sleeve base layer, Liv mid-thermal arm and knee warmers, Race Day mid-thermal Long sleeve, Liv Delphin shoe Cover and Liv Hearty Long Finger Gloves to keep me toasty!

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