She's an 8th place finisher at the 2008 Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. In 2007 she set a new course record Ironman Wisconsin. It's 2009 and Gina is already adding more championship titles to her racing resume with her most recent victory coming from Ironman New Zealand. Congratulations! Ladies and gentlemen; Gina Ferguson:
KK: Gina, please tell our readers a little bit about yourself. Where did you grow up? What was your athletic background as a youth? What is your academic background?
GF: I grew up in Christchurch, New Zealand. My parents had immigrated to Christchurch from South Africa a few years before I was born. I have an older sister and a younger brother. As a young kid I was a very good swimmer and I also participated in Gymnastics and Netball. I never trained as a runner but once a year I would participate in our school's cross country and always won. I worked hard in school and achieved all A's and later went on to study at university in Psychology and Performance violin achieving Bachelors of Arts and Music and then a diploma in teaching. I was a high school Math Teacher before launching myself into the world of triathlon.
KK: In 2007 you set a new course record at Ironman Wisconsin. That is a nice accomplishment, especially given how hilly the bike course is. Did you go into this race expecting to break the course record? How did this all come together?
GF: I did not even plan to race Ironman Wisconsin. 2007 was my first year in the sport and I had trained hard to race Ironman UK. I felt very good in that race and was winning when I got a puncture. I could not fix my puncture and tried everything for around an hour. I had a can of spray in sealant which didn't work, I then changed my tire but the co2 did not work as I had the wrong length valve in. It was very cold and I was told I needed to wait on the side of the road for 8 hours which I knew I couldn't do as I was so cold. So I tried to walk 20km back to the start but I got hypothermia and after 7km was taken away by an ambulance. I was absolutely devastated so I looked for any other race I could do. So it was either Ironman Korea or Wisconsin and I was too scared to travel to Korea by myself, so the choice was made. I did not know what the course record was when I raced and just went as hard as I could. I ended up breaking the course record by over 10 minutes and winning by nearly 30 minutes, it was very exciting.
KK: How different is it for you to train for an Xterra vs. a standard triathlon?
GF: I don't train for Xterra. I have done the Xterra race in New Zealand 3 times as a fun thing to do in my off season. I like to ride a mountain bike for fun but am no good in a race situation as I have absolutely no downhill skills whatsoever. I did win the xterra race twice as a result of my swim and bike skills but I will not race again as there is too much to risk now. Each time I did the race I had quite bad accidents but was not badly injured but now I just don't want to risk my whole ironman season for the sake of having a bit of fun.
KK: I see that you race a lot of long course events. You did eight in long course event since 2008? Is racing the long courses your preference? How does your body handle all the distance throughout the season?
GF: I raced 5 iron distance races in 2008 and in 2008 achieved 2 victories and was the only women in the world to go under the 9 hour mark on 2 occasions. Racing long course is definitely my preference as I have already 5 iron distance victories in only 2 years in the sport but I am not so good at the half distance. My body recovers very quickly and
I enjoy to race often as I learn from each race where as I do not learn that much in training. When you race, your weaknesses are shown and then you can work on them. Also I need to race often so I can win prize money. I have won the last 3 iron distance races I have done in the last 3 months and 2 of those were in new course records so I think my body is handling it just fine.
KK: In 2008 you made your rookie debut at the Ironman Championship in Kona, Hawaii. Congratulations on finishing 8th. Please describe what is like to be racing in Kona? How emotional is it from beginning to end?
GF: I loved racing in Kona, as soon as I arrived there I felt very comfortable and happy and this is important for me to race well. My aim was to achieve a top 10 finish so I was very happy to do this. I do not find it that emotional until the end of the race, it is the same as racing any other race. My day was quite good, I came out with the lead swimmers but I did not feel my usual self on the bike and struggled in the wind. I came off the bike in about 15th position and ran my way to 7th but then I got terrible cramps in the last 10km and I lost one position. I learnt a great deal from the race and can't wait to come back this year for another crack.
KK: One of the most important things in life is "balance." How do you balance family, friends, training, career, racing, etc?
GF: I agree to perform well you need to be a balanced person and not just focused on one goal. I have a very happy life. I have a fiancée who I have been with for nearly 10 years and we have 2 dogs and a cat that I love. When I am home in Christchurch which is about 7 months of the year I work as a violinist for the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra which I love doing. So all in all I think I have a very balanced life, I train very hard but I also have a lot of time for work, friends and family.
KK: Here at Finishline-Multisport.com, our goal is to help our sport keep growing. If you would, what are some tips that you would give to someone starting off in triathlon?
GF: Believe in yourself. If you are looking at going pro then it will be very tough at first. I spent my first year living in a tent while traveling around Europe and I still camp a lot to get by. To start with you need to be willing to rough it as there is not a lot of money to be made. As you progress you will form relationships, I no longer have to pay entry fees and most races I go to will provide accommodation and some give money towards expenses. There will be many highs and lows but if you truly believe you can get to the top then push through the lows and never give up on yourself. If you are looking at beginning triathlon as an age group athlete then just go out there and enjoy yourself. Enjoy the training, the people you will meet, and the races you will be part of. Write some goals then get a coach that can write you a program and stick to it and you will achieve your goals.
KK: As a pro you get to race all over the globe; where is your favorite place to race and why?
GF: I have enjoyed racing in so many places. I really enjoy racing at home as I get a lot of support from the spectators. Outside of New Zealand I really enjoyed racing the Challenge Roth as the support from the race organizers was fantastic and the race was so much fun to be a part of. There are so many places I still want to race over the next few years.
KK: Where do you spend most of your time training?
GF: I train for most of the year at home in New Zealand. I live in a small town called Oxford which is 50km from Christchurch. It is great training in New Zealand as we have great facilities and also very good roads for cycling and tracks for running. When I go to Europe I train usually wherever I will be racing except last year I trained for 4 weeks in the Pyrenees in France. It was the best cycling I have ever had, so many mountains to climb. I loved it so much. I also spent 6 weeks last year training in Queensland, Australia before I went to Hawaii as it was too cold to train at home.
KK: Is there anything you could change to help in the advancement or growth of the sport? If so what would it be? What could be done to make it better?
GF: I think that the prize money for professional athletes needs to increase. It has not changed in around 20 years but our expenses have gone up so much. I race 5 ironman events a year so I can make enough money to keep going in the sport. My body can handle this but not everyone can do this and I don't know how other's survive racing only 2 or 3 ironman events a year. Ironman as a sport has grown considerably over the last decade and more and more publicity is going to ironman and I think that the prize money should increase for the advancement of our sport.
KK: Have you ever had to overcome any major setbacks or injuries in your sporting career? If so how did you overcome them?
GF: I have been very lucky and have never had an injury.
KK: When people think of Gina Ferguson, what do you want them to know most about you?
GF: That I am a consistent performer.
KK: What are some of your goals for 2009 and beyond?
GF: I have won 2 iron distance events already in 2009 and would like to win more!
I race next 2 half distance events in Europe (Ironman Austria 70.3 and Challenge France) and then I race Ironman France and Challenge Roth. After my trip to Europe my next focus will be Hawaii world champs where my goal is to finish in the top 5. After Hawaii I aim to race either Ironman Florida or Arizona.