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Representing Switzerland: Phuket-based Imogen Simmonds leads the female triathlon pack

EXCLUSIVE: Born in Hong Kong, where she spent the first nine years of her life, 24-year-old Imogen Simmonds is a professional triathlete, who due to her upbringing in Switzerland chooses to race under the Swiss flag.

By Matt Pond

Sunday 28 January 2018, 01:00PM

Simmonds crosses the line to take her first pro title at the IRONMAN 70.3 Thailand 2017 held in Phuket last November. Photo: Naratip Golf Srisupab / SEALs Sports Images

Simmonds crosses the line to take her first pro title at the IRONMAN 70.3 Thailand 2017 held in Phuket last November. Photo: Naratip Golf Srisupab / SEALs Sports Images

She first came to Phuket on a family holiday for Christmas in 2014 where she was lucky enough to meet her current coach Jürgen Zäck.

Not long after that first meeting, Zäck formed the Z-Coaching training squad which is based at the Laguna resort complex. After obtaining her Master’s in Environmental Technology and Business in October 2015, Simmonds decided to come back to Phuket and train full-time with Z-Coaching rather than pursuing a desk-bound career.

She now trains in Phuket for a large portion of the year and she says that “coming back to Southeast Asia and basing myself in Phuket felt somewhat like coming back home”.

Simmonds has always been pretty sporty, in fact her first time visiting Thailand was when she was eight years old. “I went to Bangkok for an international swim meet representing the Hong Kong Mantas. I competed as a sports scholar in multiple team sports through secondary school and went on to be the vice-captain of the Imperial College London lacrosse team,” Simmonds explained in a recent interview with The Phuket News.

“I started doing triathlons three and a half years ago, and have been hooked since. I love being able to combine three sports, which also makes training so much more interesting and varied,” she added.

However, Simmonds took part in her first triathlon when she was 10 years old and says that it was “something I was thrown into to keep me entertained”.

Simmonds went on to explain that after a 10-year break, in May 2014 she decided to compete for her university in what she described as her “comeback triathlon”.

“A month later I did a second and qualified for the sprint triathlon World Championships as an age grouper. It’s safe to say that I haven’t really looked back since!”

In her most recent competition, the IRONMAN 70.3 Thailand 2017 held in Phuket last November, Simmonds picked up her first win as a pro-triathlete after turning pro at the beginning of the year.

On the day of her win, with all the various media interviews she had to endure, it was hard to count how many times she was asked how it felt to win the event, but now nearly two months down the line The Phuket News wanted to know how it felt to win her first race as a pro on home turf, so to speak.

“Just the other day I was looking through some video footage of me crossing the line, and I almost couldn’t believe it was me who was holding up the tape and finishing first.

“It’s truly surreal to have finished my first season on the professional circuit on such a high, and has spurred me into 2018 with a huge amount of motivation, but also a clearer idea of what I want to, and can, achieve in the next few years,” she said.

When asked whether she thought she had a chance to win ahead of the event, Simmonds was pretty modest in her reply.

“I had raced the majority of the girls before, and I knew that to win I was going to have to play my cards right and take a risk at some point, which I did on the bike and it paid off.

“The interesting part of racing as a pro is that there are many more race tactics involved and you are much more aware of where your competitors are. This makes the race a lot more interesting as well as a lot more pressured,” she said.

IRONMAN events are held throughout the year at various venues across the globe, and The Phuket News wanted to know how the IRONMAN course here in Phuket compared to others she had competed on.

“The course was pretty fantastic; a stunning sea-swim, a varied bike course followed by a pretty flat, although steamy hot, run.

“Training from Laguna, I knew the course pretty well so it suited me, but we were lucky with the weather that day as it was very overcast. The week before at the Laguna Phuket Triathlon it was steamy hot and although a shorter race, it was much more draining.”

But could there be any improvements made with the Phuket event when it is held again in November this year?

Simmonds said, “Sure, like everything in life, there are always small changes that can be done to improve a race. Already, there were some pretty big improvements from the inaugural IRONMAN 70.3 in 2016, such as the lights in the transition zone which made it possible to see your bike at 5:30am. It’s a learning curve for everyone involved.”

So what has Simmonds been doing since she took her first major victory?

“Well, training has well and truly begun after a well needed off-season post 70.3 Phuket. At the moment it’s a lot of logging base miles and putting in some solid weeks of training before getting more race-specific. Training spans 20-25 hours a week on average, which can get pretty intense especially as it starts to get hotter here in Phuket,” Simmonds explained.

And what will be her first event in 2018 and when will she start preparations for that event?

“My first event is likely going to be Liuzhou IRONAN 70.3 in China mid-April. I managed to keep some of my Chinese from when I was younger, so I really enjoy going back and being able to practice,” she said.

So what preparations will be needed to be ready for that event?

“Currently, it’s more volume work in preparation for the whole of 2018. Closer to the event, from March onwards, there will be more intensity and speed work thrown in, and I’ll most likely do a shorter race in the month leading up to it to ‘sharpen me up’ as it were.”

Now with a full season ahead of her, what does Simmonds hope to achieve in competitions in 2018?

“Honestly, what I achieved in 2017 surpassed all my expectations. In 2018, I want to continue to move from strength to strength, with the aim to qualify and race at the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships in South Africa in September.”

When asked if there were any person or persons she would like to give a special mention to, Simmons replied, “I’d like to mention Jürgen Zäck, for getting me in shape despite all the hiccups through last year, including a broken collarbone in March. Also to Jaray Jearanai, a top Thai triathlete local to Phuket who I train with on a day-to-day basis and who helps head up Z-Coaching.

“But also to all my sponsors for believing in me – White & Wong, Jiakina Customized and Revv Energy Thailand,” she said.

The Phuket News wishes Simmonds the best of luck for the 2018 season and looks forward to seeing her defend her IRONMAN 70.3 Thailand title in November.



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