Fenella Langridge wants to be the very best, and she's going to have a blast in the process
In the midst of a scintillating women’s race, a relative unknown made one of the biggest impressions at Ironman World Championships in Kona. Fenella Langridge, a breakout star within a gifted generation of British women triathletes, led a field of established, sponsored-up athletes on a Speed Concept she had bought herself earlier in the year.
And not only was she putting the competition on its heels, she was pumping her fist. Cameras at the biggest annual triathlon event in the world caught her hyping up the roadside crowd like a pro wrestler entering the ring.
“When I’m having fun, I think it brings the best out of me, and if you can hype up the crowds to get the energy going, it’s going to give you that extra three or four percent to spur you on,” Langridge says. “I’m just trying to make everyone have as much fun as I am.”
Langridge is ready to meet the moment. She has signed on as Trek’s newest triathlete coming off a season in which she took two Top 10 finishes at Ironman World Championships — eighth in St. George, and sixth in Kona — and won the Challenge Family Pro Athlete World Bonus as the top ranked women’s pro across the 2022 Challenge Family series.
Langridge brings infectious energy and a sense of fun to a grinding sport that lends itself to intense personalities. For Langridge, fun is her fuel, and she’s setting her bar high. She believes she can stand on that Kona podium, and even take the top step. Her goal for 2023 and beyond: Find the fastest racers and take them on.
“I love racing championship races to see where I am in relation to the best,” Langridge says. “Wherever the titles are, or the best racers will be, you will probably see me there.”
I'm just trying to make everyone have as much fun as I am.
Langridge sat down with the Race Shop to discuss buying her first Speed Concept, her move to Trek and how she manages to have more fun than anyone in a grueling sport. The following conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
You switched over to riding a Trek Speed Concept in 2022. What drew you to the bike?
Fenella Langridge: I always admired Trek bikes from afar. I love the way they look and seeing people on them, I was really envious of their bikes.
I was riding a different bike before and I just wasn’t comfortable with it. You know how hard it is to get bike sponsorship and anything like that. I was like, ‘I don’t want to go into next year having any regrets.’ And we just went, ‘What would be your dream bike?’ And I said a Trek. Then it was like, ‘OK, let’s just go and buy it.’
So we put our money together and went out and got the Trek that I rode all of this year. And honestly it was the best decision I think we ever made in terms of the quality, the comfort, just feeling really confident on it. I think if you’re confident on a bike, you’re gonna ride it so much better, and I think it showed in all the races this year. I love the bike.
I think we looked at the races more as a celebration of getting to the start line.
You mentioned being envious of the bike when you saw it at races. Is that really how it started? You said, ‘Hey, that bike looks cool, that’s the one for me?’
Langridge: Yeah [laughs] just seeing all of the fellow racers, like Skye [Moench] and Holly [Lawrence]. It just is a very sleek, pretty bike. And I know there’s more to it than that in terms of aerodynamics and performance and all those factors, but I just had to have one for myself.
You’ve been racing triathlon for a while, and you’ve steadily worked up to longer distances and more consistent performances. You had a big result in 2021 at Coeur d’Alene, taking second in your first ever full-distance Ironman, but 2022 felt like the total package of consistently strong results from beginning to end. Why, at 30, was this past year so good?
Langridge: I think we looked at the races more as a celebration of getting to the start line and not putting too much pressure on it. And I think that reflected in our training as well. We didn’t try to push the limits too far so that we ended up injured or ill. So I had probably the most consistent year of training and that showed at these big races. I could get to the start line knowing I was happy, healthy, and fit. I could really engage and embrace each race and just really have fun.
Because you train so hard behind closed doors, and no one can see you, it’s the races where you can be like, ‘It’s my time to shine.’ It’s the performance. You have to do it for all those people that have helped you during the year: Your coaches, your friends, your family. It’s the one time that they can actually see why you do this and that you’re not just crazy because you’re going into this dark room and sitting on a bike indoors for four or five hours. So it’s nice to get to the start line in that position where you can really celebrate the training and everything else that’s gone on behind the scenes.
I like what you said about celebrating every start line. There are a lot of intense personalities in the sport, in part because it’s an intensely difficult sport. What’s so enjoyable about triathlon to you that you’re excited to line up, and you’re doing things like pumping your first at the front of the field in Kona?
Langridge: I don’t know what comes over me. There are low times in training. But I think that moment in Kona was about, ‘Oh my god, I’m leading the world championships,’ or, ‘Oh my god, I’m leading these huge epic races,’ and being in total awe of my surroundings, the people I’m racing, the people you idolize in the sport, and toeing the line with them.
When I'm having fun, I think it brings the best out of me, and if you can hype up the crowds to get the energy going, it's going to give you that extra three or four percent to spur you on.
I also love to dance and I love to party, and maybe it’s just my expression of that coming out. When I’m having fun, I think it brings the best out of me, and if you can hype up the crowds to get the energy going, it’s going to give you that extra three or four percent to spur you on. If the crowds were quiet and you’re cycling past and they were just clapping, I don’t think that would really get you going. I’m just trying to make everyone have as much fun as I am.
So it’s motivation for yourself to help you get through eight-and-a-half or nine hours of racing, and past the hard miles?
Langridge: Yeah, 100 percent. You know where the pockets of crowds might be, so you’re like, ‘OK, I’m just gonna cycle up to them.’ And then there’s a little mental break, and then you get back in the zone. Obviously there’s this happy-go-lucky, just-a-bit-stupid side of me, but I do know what numbers I have to be hitting and what heart rate I’m gonna be doing and when I’m gonna be having my gels and my energy and all that kind of stuff, too.
It helps you remember why you’re doing it. It is my job, but it is just triathlon at the end of the day. There’s other things that are a lot worse in the world than coming in second or third in a race. Pumping my fist and getting the crowds going definitely is a break in the pain that you’re going through for those eight, nine or 10 hours [laughs].
Being at the front of Kona, was that a position you expected to be going in? And then how do you process that in the moment? Was any part of you nervous to be there?
Langridge: I’m not gonna lie, it wasn’t in the plan to be leading the race. But when I found myself there, I had the confidence within myself to be like, ‘Yeah, I should be here. I shouldn’t be afraid to be here. I’m here. Why shouldn’t I be?’
I’ve worked hard, and I have the ability to be here, so don’t be afraid and just keep going. When we made Plan A, B and C, they maybe didn’t include being there, but that’s racing, isn’t it? And I think that’s me. I’m definitely more of a racer than a trainer, and it brings out the best in me in every capacity, and you’ve got to be able to make those decisions when it really matters and I think I did in Kona.
There are moments in other races as well where you’ve just got to say, ‘OK, fuck it, I’m gonna go five minutes as hard as I can. I can see that person up ahead and that’s the front of the race and who cares if it’s Lucy Charles or Daniela Ryf.’ You can’t put anyone on a pedestal in any race, and especially the World Champs when anything can happen.
There’s no better place to try than the World Champs.
You can't put anyone on a pedestal in any race, and especially the World Champs when anything can happen. There's no better place to try than the World Champs.
This was a unique year in that you got to race World Championships twice, and finish Top 10 twice. You improved from St. George to Kona. What was the difference?
Langridge: St. George was a good race, but it was far from my best race. I made so many mistakes that cost me three or four places, and I don’t think I was as fit as I probably was in Kona. So I knew if I didn’t make those mistakes again, I should come in a higher position, even in the stronger field that we saw at Kona.
And knowing what it feels like. I know it is a World Champs, but it’s also just another race, and if you put too much emphasis, pressure or energy on it, it’s just going to wear you down. So I just thought of it as a race with my friends, or a race with the best people.
At the end of the season you won the Challenge Family Pro Athlete World Bonus, which was a nice award for a season of strong results in the Challenge Family races. It seemed to be a surprise to you that you were in position to win it. What was it like to receive that kind of acknowledgement?
Langridge: It was crazy. It wasn’t my goal for the beginning of the year to go after it, but I’m very happy that I managed to win the overall world challenge bonus.
I don’t normally race for money. I want to be the best in the world, and that often means you have to choose races where you’re going to be racing the best people and it often leaves you a little bit shorthanded, so it was a really nice way to end the year. And I think it just shows that when you’re racing and having fun that things sometimes fall into place without you even realizing.
You’re part of this really, really strong group of British women triathletes. What does it mean to be part of that crew, and why is the level so high among Brits right now?
Langridge: Honestly, I can’t tell you why, but I’m proud to be a part of it. It’s crazy when you think about such a small little island compared to everywhere else in the world that we’re producing some of the best triathletes. It’s bonkers.
It's the confidence that someone else believes in me. A partnership that can open up more avenues to learn new things and to develop even further.
I think success breeds success, doesn’t it? In dark moments you think of the other girls or guys out there in the UK doing exactly the same thing as you are, and it makes you push that little bit harder because you know they’re in exactly the same boat. And I don’t think we’re doing anything differently. I think we just maybe got a slight screw loose or something like that [laughs]. Different water, or different gravy as they say over there.
But it’s really great and there is a good relationship and mutual respect with each and every one of us. We’ll be cheering for each other wherever we are on good days or bad days, and we know what it’s like to be in an elite sport. I hope we keep spurring each other on and then we’ll get better together.
Looking ahead, what does this new partnership do for you, and how is partnering with Trek going to push you forward as a racer?
Langridge: It does wonders. It’s the confidence that someone else believes in me. A partnership that can open up more avenues to learn new things and to develop even further. There’s so much knowledge that you guys have that I’d love to tap into, and to understand the bike and how it works. It’s just having someone else in your corner that can be your cheerleader, that you can lean on when you need them.
Trek is huge. It’s a global brand. I’m so honored to be associated with it and with all the other amazing athletes that are also riding Trek bikes from all disciplines: mountain bikes, cross, road. It’s just incredible to think that I’m associated with that. Sometimes I still pinch myself and I don’t even feel like a professional athlete. And you sometimes don’t think you’re good enough. But having a brand support you like this, it really does make me feel worthy and excited and proud.
How do you want to improve as a racer, and how do you want to improve as an athlete?
Langridge: I’m still relatively young in terms of long distance, but I think this year especially has shown that I have the potential to win World Championships, or be standing up there in the top three if a lot of things align. I have the core roots and the racing ability. Over the next two to three years, I’ll definitely be aiming for that.
Mentally, it’s just having the confidence in myself, knowing that I have the backing from the people around me. Trusting the process is probably a key one and not trying to rush it. It’s not a quick fix, so just being patient with myself that things don’t happen overnight, because otherwise things can go tits up and that’s where injuries or illnesses start to occur. And once they creep in, it can be a long season.
Trek is huge. It's a global brand. I'm so honored to be associated with it and with all the other amazing athletes that are also riding Trek bikes from all disciplines.
Looking forward to next year, are you focused on making a big impression at World Championships again? Are there any other goals?
Langridge: The PTO races haven’t been fully announced yet, but I’d love to do more of them and do as well as I can, whatever they may be. But yeah, I think the main aim will be Kona at the end of the year.
And I love racing championship races to see where I am in relation to the best. But at the moment, the program is quite dynamic and things are changing quite quickly, so I say this now and then tomorrow we might hear something and then I’ll be like, ‘OK, no, all eggs in that basket.’
But wherever the titles are, or the best racers will be, you will probably see me there.
Want to get to know Fenella even better? Watch her YouTube video discussing her new partnership with Trek, also embedded below! Lead image taken by James Clarke (@justjamesmedia).