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From new mum to competing with the world’s best

Natasha Pertwee, 43, a GP with a special interest in sport and exercise medicine competed for GB at the World Triathlon Championships in Mexico.

Natasha competed wearing a Benenden-sponsored kit in late 2016. She explains her love of sport.

What drew you to become a triathlete?

I have always enjoyed sport and played hockey and tennis at university. After having my first child I took up running. Within a few years with the local running club I’d done two full marathons and many half marathons, and wanted an alternative. Triathlon seemed like a fantastic challenge – I’d never used a road bike and hadn’t been a swimmer or had swimming lessons. I signed up to the Bexhill-on-Sea Triathlon to raise money for my local primary school and never looked back.

How was your first triathlon?

It was in July 2011 at Hever Castle, Kent, on a cold Wednesday evening after work. It was a warm-up for Bexhill the following month – and I completed the 750m swim, 20km bike ride and 5km run in 1:39 (I completed the same distance in 1:13 in Mexico). I loved it immediately. I remember swimming in the cold, muddy lake thinking: “I’m doing a triathlon, this is great.” I am always nervous at the start, I hate the cold water and the run is always painful – yet the feeling of competing against yourself and others is great.

Is it a sociable sport?

Triathletes are lovely people and will always help you and give advice. No one has ever been unsportsmanlike. At the end, everyone is smiling, congratulating one another and talking about their next race. You forget the pain instantly and proudly wear your medal.

What are the health benefits?

Many studies confirm the benefits of exercise for both mental health and general health. People who exercise more than three times per week have less depression, cancer, heart disease or diabetes, and tend to keep their body weight stable, with better self-image as well. The social benefits are huge too, and add to the mental health benefits. Our club had six people travel to Mexico to compete and the age range was 40-76. Age really is no barrier. Personally, exercise is a huge stress reliever in a very stressful job. It gives me time to think and plan, and makes me feel good about myself. I exercise a lot with my two boys (now aged 13 and 10) and this is wonderful family time together.

What has been your greatest success?

Competing for GB in Mexico, which was also my proudest achievement. I came 9th out of 59 women in the world and had the race of my life, taking seven minutes off my personal best for the sprint distance. It was amazing to be competing against the best athletes in the world and to have the elite athletes (including the Brownlee brothers) wandering around too.

What would you say to others thinking of triathlons?

Go for it. Anyone can do a triathlon*. There are so many all over the country; they start very small, with tiny swims, and many are indoor swims too. Anyone can work up to it and I promise that they will feel a sense of achievement and make friends. I’d advise joining a club where there are people who can offer help and advice – or start by going to park runs. There are always bikes around to borrow – so no excuses.

What is your next goal?

To continue to compete in triathlon. My family and I are in the process of moving to Australia where I will join the local club and work on my fitness, especially my swimming. I will then compete for a GB place again for 2018, when the world championships are being held in Australia. I am also planning on trying track racing at the velodrome in Perth.

Why are you moving to Australia?

My husband and I are both GPs and have worked locally all our lives. Unfortunately, the NHS is not the place it used to be and the workload and pressures make life a misery. There is no improvement in sight and things are likely to get worse, so we decided to move to Australia where the system is very different and the work-life balance is much better.

Why is getting women into sport so important for you?

I am very passionate about this. Although things are much better now, we still have underrepresentation of women in sport. After I did a half Ironman race [a long-distance triathlon] competition, I became an Ironman ambassador and pledged to help encourage women into sport, any sport. I do this with enthusiasm and have managed to get many into sport in the last couple of years. I started a small running club for women who had not run before and we had about 16 members in the end. I have encouraged receptionists at work to get involved and a few of them have even done triathlons now. I will continue with this in Australia. I haven’t found a woman yet that hated running after doing it for a few months.  

Do you have a fitness story to share? We’re looking for stories to inspire others to take up or return to sport, whatever their age. Email stayinghealthy@benenden.co.uk if you would like to feature or know someone else inspiring.

*Although moderate physical activity is safe for most people, health experts suggest that you consult your doctor before starting an exercise program, especially if you have a history of heart disease, asthma, lung disease or diabetes.