Daphne Belt: how a World Champion continues to thrive in triathlon at 84 years old
Daphne Belt is a household name in the triathlon world, as the age group champion in the European Sprint Triathlon, World Triathlon and the European Ironman 70.3. That’s an incredibly impressive triathlon ‘CV’ for anyone – even more so because Daphne is 83 years old!
That’s right, Daphne took up triathlon at 50 years old, and has never looked back since. In 2019, the year that she celebrated her 80th birthday, we interviewed Daphne about her extensive experience in triathlon world and fond memories of Windsor – her favourite triathlon in the UK. You can read the article here.
This year, however, we wanted to get Daphne’s views on being able to sustain the body and compete in triathlons long-term; after all, Daphne has been participating in triathlons for over 30 years! Unsurprisingly, the legendary veteran had some great insights and wisdom to share with us – including her training schedule, nutrition and even how an embroidering hobby helps to keep her focused! Read the full conversation below.
Introduce yourself – how long have you been doing triathlons and how did you first get into the sport?
My name is Daphne Belt and I am 83 years old; however, in triathlon terms I am 84 years old as I will celebrate my birthday in August. Next year, I am moving up to the 85-89 Age Group which is scary but also exciting!
I have been doing triathlon since I was 50. I missed the ‘panic’ about my 40th but didn’t like 50 at all – it felt like my age was finally catching up with me. My first event was a Swim-Run in Kinston-upon-Thames. I had entered the shorter distance, however, the evening before the event I got a phone call saying that that there were not enough entries in the short race but that I was welcome to do the full distance with no extra charge. The event manager talked me into it! My husband had taught me to do front crawl a couple of months before (I was only ever a breaststroke & backstroke swimmer before that). I was the only woman in the older age group. I didn’t feel at all confident and in fact, I felt that I would be totally out of place in an event where there were loads of experienced young men and women. In fact, during the event, those fast young athletes passed me as I ran and actually shouted encouragement and chivvied me on. To my utter astonishment I got a prize at the award ceremony later.
How many events have you planned to do in 2023 and which one are you most looking forward to?
At this time, I am training for the European Sprint Championships in Madrid next month. This is the week before Royal Windsor (my favourite UK race) which I participate in annually. I prequalified for Madrid Championships since I won my age-group in the European Championships in Munich, on my 83rd birthday last August.
What does a typical training week look like for you?
I do three pool swims, three bike rides (or turbo training if it is raining) and three runs: two 5kms and one 1km – nothing fast and includes a bit of walking! I prefer to run off road – we live just south of Arundel and the Estate of the Duke of Norfolk are widespread and perfect for running, walking and mountain biking. I also do several QiGong sessions indoors with Nick Loffree. QiGong Qigong is a traditional Chinese practice that combines movement, meditation, and breath control to balance the body’s vital energy.
You are still running triathlons at age 84! What is your secret?
Keeping my head on straight! I am quite good at time management since I have other things that I like to do. I lead a small poetry group with a once per month meet in our home. I also embroider fiendishly so I make sure that I look at one or other of these obsessions with a daily time allowance! As I have the Madrid Championships coming up, I am also learning Spanish on Duolingo (in addition to other languages such as German). I love the competitive element of playing against my friends and building up a practice streak on Duolingo. All of these hobbies keep me motivated and energized, which in turns helps my triathlon training.
How has your training changed over the years, as you have gotten older?
I used to do a 100 mile bike ride every Sunday when I started. That has been seriously cut back now. I don’t go out in the bad weather deliberately any more too, to protect my immune system. In short, I have cut all of my training down a bit but I am confident that it is all ‘tucked away’ in the back after so many years.
Has strengthening and conditioning become more important?
I have broken too many bones to do serious strength training. However, working with my husband, over the last 46 years in the antique furniture export and import I can assure you that I am strong! QiGong also keeps me supple, agile and quite peaceful. I’d recommend it to everyone.
What about nutrition – do you eat healthily?
My husband is a brilliant cook and takes care of meal plans and food shopping – all I have to do is eat! We eat very carefully from Monday to Friday. Dinner is either lightly cooked fish or chicken, with either we have a huge, very elegantly mixed salad or green vegetables. On the weekends we have anything we want, since life is too short, but we are still careful. No pig-outs! At events, our fuel is jelly babies for all distances – you can’t beat them!
How can women aged 40+ get into sport – triathlon specifically – without any experience, and why should they do it?
I’d really recommend joining a triathlon club to get advice and coaching. Over the years I have conducted many small groups of beginner women. These groups are a good ‘safe space’ for women and you can learn a lot by asking gender-specific questions and getting advice from one another. Also, pick a nice course for your first event; Dorney Lake is a must as a first event for everybody – perfectly organized and safe with a traffic free bike ride.
How can younger women ensure that they can participate in their sport well into their older age?
Keep going and find what gets you motivated, but always rest properly if injuries occur. Also, have time off and try to embrace other passions and hobbies throughout your life! It was only when I became injured that my love for poetry re-surfaced, and I became a movie and theatre buff.
Thank you Daphne – we are in awe of you and look forward to seeing your husband and yourself at our events for many more years to come!