Charlie Webster & Chrissie Wellington: 'She turned up in a full arm cast and ran with me'

The triathlete and the TV presenter met at a triathalon event in Hyde Park three years ago

Adam Jacques
Saturday 13 February 2016 23:09 GMT
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Wellington, right, says of Webster: 'Everyone can see how bubbly and happy she is in front of the camera, but away from it she has a steely determination and grit'
Wellington, right, says of Webster: 'Everyone can see how bubbly and happy she is in front of the camera, but away from it she has a steely determination and grit' (Emli Bendixen)

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Chrissie Wellington OBE, 38

A British triathlete and four-time Ironman world champion, Wellington (right in picture) is also a patron of charities including Girls Education Nepal and UK youth empowerment organisation Envision. She lives in Bristol with her husband and their baby daughter

Charlie looked like something out of the Village People when we first met. It was at a triathalon event in Hyde Park, about three years ago, and I remember thinking that her fluorescent, multi-patterned attire was best suited to the 1970s; she's got strange taste in leggings in particular!

We'd first been introduced by my cousin Tim, who owns a sports-marketing company. Charlie's a keen runner, and we chatted on the phone about how she was planning a 250-mile challenge over seven days for Women's Aid [visiting 40 football clubs along the way]. I'm passionate about women's empowerment, and loved that she was pushing herself in this way, so I was keen to get involved.

In the interim, we started seeing one another at various triathlon events. We hit it off straight away, as we've so much in common – not just with the running, but because we've had the same sort of [difficult] experiences, and we have the same zest for life and sense of humour.

I didn't want to step on the toes of her coach Marco while she was preparing for the Women's Aid challenge, but I did give her psychological advice about coping with pain, discomfort and adversity – how to push through when things get tough.

I ran the last leg with her. I'd fractured my arm – I had pins in – and wasn't supposed to be running; luckily, it was at such a sedate pace there wasn't too much damage done. Running into the final stadium with her, and seeing her overcoming obvious pain with a smile on her face, was amazing. And for me it felt just as heartwarming as my own achievements.

Everyone can see how bubbly and happy she is in front of the camera, but away from it she has a steely determination and grit; I feel so inspired by her. Talking about being sexually abused [Webster was assaulted by her running coach at the age of 15] demonstrates an amazing strength of character, as it shows that she is willing to put others above herself. I did the same with my eating disorder, which was something I don't like to talk about, but needed to if I wanted to help others; we've both also seen how much sharing stories, rather than bottling them up, helps the healing process.

Now we always support each other at events. When I heard she was doing the Ironman UK triathlon, I talked to her about how to prepare. She's a great runner, which has translated pretty well into cycling, but she was not a good swimmer – I love her willingness to take on new challenges! She's got a long way to go to break my record, but any time is good for a first crack at an Ironman.

Charlie Webster, 33

The world's first female live boxing anchor, Webster has also presented sporting events including the Olympics, superbikes and the World's Strongest Man for ESPN and Sky Sports. A keen marathon runner and triathlete, she recently competed in her first Ironman competition. She lives in London

Chrissie is the biggest fidget of anyone I've ever met. I never sit still and people I've taken running tell me I never shut up. And then you meet Chrissie and she's even worse – it's like she's got 10 more batteries than I do.

The first time I met her, I ran with her round Hyde Park with a few other people on a 5k run. We set off together and chatted away. She's so lean and statuesque, and her natural pace is so quick I started thinking, "I'm fit, but crap, this is quite a fast pace," but for her it seemed like it was just a jog. I'm very stubborn, so I thought, "I've got to keep up and keep talking to her and look like it's fine." It was only 5k around the park, but I was glad when it finished.

While she's retired now, and moving on to the next stage of her life, she's competed at an incredible level and what she's achieved is amazing; she's an inspiration.

When I told her I was going to run 250 miles for Women's Aid, she said she was happy to offer advice. All I cared about initially was to get the message out about ending violence towards women and children. She got me to think a bit more about myself; I used to feel that I had to do everything at 100 per cent, but she said, "You need to learn how to rest, it's just as important as training." It's been the most important lesson in my life.

She was due to run with me, but when I heard she'd broken her arm, I thought, "Oh my god, she's not going to be able to come." But on the last day she turned up, in a full arm cast, and ran with me. It was one of the best moments of my life, chanting football songs as we ran towards the finishing line in West Ham's stadium. It sealed our bond.

Not long after, we were chatting and she said, "You've got to do an Ironman," and I said, "I've already entered one." She was so pleased until I told her which one – the UK Ironman in Bolton. She was like, "Are you stupid? That is a nightmare first course," as it's so hilly. I laughed it off – it's typical me!

I think we both admire how the other has talked publicly about their difficult personal experiences, as we both believe in breaking stigmas and showing other people that they are not on their own .

If we did some [athletic project] together it would be amazing. But it's also a recipe for disaster: we'd both push ourselves physically and mentally and neither of us would know when enough is enough. Some relationships need a yin and a yang; we're both yangs.

Charlie Webster hosts her weekly boxing round-up show, 'Charlie's Web', on Fridays at 7pm on BoxNation. 'Chrissie Wellington: A Life Without Limits' is published by Constable, priced £8.99​

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