Kelly Stokes

About You: 

I’m from Hampshire via Bath and Scotland and after doing a degree in Exercise Science almost 20 years ago, I now work as an air traffic controller (I applied purely because I was scared of flying!). 

I‘ve been involved in triathlon since 2012 but away from tri I love all food (except pasta and liver), wine, travel and all forms of games! If anyone EVER wants to play Pictionary give me a call!

I don’t have a particularly sporty family, all the females in my family have bad hips and all the males have bad knees – genetics aren’t on my side! 

I’m married to Adam Leitch (also Portsmouth triathlete) and we have household records we like to try and pinch from each other – unsurprisingly he holds most of the running ones!

  1. Tell us a bit about your sporting background?  
  2. I was quite a fat kid and did sport partly because I liked being outside and partly to escape bullies at school.

  3. I was Hampshire schools shot putt champion but aside from that I didn’t do anything particularly well! 

  4. For the challenge I did the London Marathon aged 18 in about 5 and half hours and swore I’d never run again. 

  5. I started football in my late teens and was lucky to play in some great teams, but I always felt I was the worst player so made up for it by trying to be the fittest.  

  6. I loved football, but my knees didn’t and after 8 knee operations spanning a decade I was recovering in hospital and saw a TV program on Ironman Wales in 2011. 

  7. I didn’t know what this ridiculous challenge was (I didn’t realise it was a real sport), but as my knee exercises first allowed straight line swim, bike and run it seemed an ‘obvious’ goal ahead of 9 months rehabilitation back to playing football. 

  8. Knowing nothing about how to train, I prepared mostly on a mountain bike in trainers, completed two open water swims (where I thought I was drowning) and just ran ‘a bit further’ each week. Somehow I completed my first triathlon, Challenge (now IM) Copenhagen in 2012 aged 30. 

  9. My time was 11:48 and I couldn’t walk properly for about 3 months. 

  10. Despite that, I loved it, and having thought I’d never find anything to replace football, I was suddenly hooked. 

  11. Please can you tell us about what it was like to compete at Kona? 
  12. Oh my goodness, where to start. In some respects it incredible. It’s where it all began and is the pinnacle of the sport. I’m privileged to have raced there twice and I love seeing all the top Pro’s whizz by in a huge pace line during the race. The best of the best are there and being part of that day feels pretty special. 

  13. The flip side is there are a huge number of Age Groupers there who, in my opinion, are taking themselves far too seriously. I love the friendly family vibe in triathlon and sadly this seems to be missing in Kona. 

  14. The race itself is brutal. The swim is stunning and the bike conditions can change so quickly with the winds but it’s the heat that I will be forever haunted by. I’ve raced in temperatures in the high 30’s many times including the humidity of Malaysia but the heat in Kona is something else. Also compared to other races there is very little noise as much of the course is closed off to spectators. It makes for a very sombre and eerie atmosphere at times on the marathon. 

  15. What are your target races for the next couple of seasons? 
  16. Genuinely I don’t have anything booked at the time of writing. I need some time off training to try and fix some broken parts of me but I love racing so I’m not sure how long I can resist pressing ‘enter’ for!

  17. Describe your favourite workout? 
  18. Anything on a bike ☺

  19. I was introduced to Crit racing this year and although not a workout as such, it was such a fun way to work hard on a bike for an hour. 

  20. What’s the worst triathlon advice someone ever gave you?                             
  21. It was from me! I told myself that you had to be some amazing athlete who knew exactly what they were doing before you could even consider joining a club. 

  22. It took me almost 2 years to pluck up the courage to join Portsmouth Tri. I would run along the seafront and see everyone in wetsuits and think they looked so professional and I was too scared to join in.

  23. What has been your greatest race experience until today? 

  24. It’s a close call between two.

  25. You can’t beat you first Iron distance finish which for me was Challenge Copenhagen. Until I was going down that finish shoot I don’t think I ever truly believed it was something I could really do.

  26. The other was Ironman Maryland. I completely overachieved that day and had close to my perfect race, setting a huge P.B. I finished 2nd overall in 10:07. I just wish I could remember finishing!

  27. Any pre-race rituals? 
  28. Ha ha! They change depending on whether the last race was good or bad!

  29. What’s your favourite discipline in triathlon and your favourite race distance? 
  30. I used to be terrible at the bike but now it’s my firm favourite and also my strongest discipline. 

  31. I love racing so although I love long distance because of the challenge it offers, I actually like local shorter races as well as you can do them more often (when my shifts allow) and get to chat to lots of people! 

  32. What advice would you offer to members wanting to improve at triathlon? 
  33. Smile! Never stop learning. Do things that scare you and don’t be afraid to fail. Also, you don’t need fancy kit; my first 5 Ironman’s were on a cycle to work road bike and even now I only have an entry level tri bike. Finally, remember there is a world outside of triathlon – keep balance and perspective. 

  34. Any favourite post-race /training indulgence? 
  35. I have to confess I don’t hold back on anything during the season including chocolate and wine – I have a mandatory glass the night before a race! But I normally spend the weeks after a big race catching up with friends and family and trying to give back to those who have supported me….normally while enjoying scones and clotted cream!