That Diesel Donna Phelan

We talked with professional triathlete Donna Phelan. Lovingly known as Diesel Donna, she knows how to crank out the power, and is on-track for a stellar 2013.

Slowtwitch: Thanks for the opportunity – I understand you’re on a busy schedule of training, work, and rehab.

Donna Phelan: Thank you! The pleasure is all mine.

ST: How long have you been racing?

Donna: I started racing triathlon as a summer sport in 1997, raced age group until 2000, turned pro and raced on the World Cup circuit 2001-2003, raced my first Ironman in 2003, qualified for Kona, and then took a break from training/racing 2004-2006 due to an IT band injury and eventual surgery.

ST: When did you turn pro? What was the motivation?

Donna: I turned Pro in 2000. I placed 2nd in my age group at the World Championships in Australia that year, and it seemed like the next logical step to turn pro and race against the best athletes in the world.

ST: Please describe your athletic background.

Donna: I started competitive swimming when I was 8, went to Olympic Swim Trials for Canada when I was 16, and swam competitively until I finished university. I also ran cross country in high school and my first year of university.

ST: You’re known as “Diesel Donna” – where did the name come from?

Donna: Haha, yes, one of my coaches (Brett Sutton) gave me the name a few years ago, and it seems to have stuck. I think it’s because my speed varies little from short course to long course, and I seem to be able to go for long periods at the same speed. Hence the switch over from short course to long course racing!

ST: What are some of your top race results?

Donna: I placed second at Canadian Nationals in 2000, third at Wildflower in 2002, fourth at Ironman Japan in 2003, second at Ironman China 2008, fourth at Ironman China and IM Malaysia 2009, fourth at Ironman UK 2010, fourth at Ironman Louisville 2011.

ST: Even though you race, I understand you do some other work on the side. What all do you do?

Donna: I worked as a Physical Therapist in Canada, but since moving to the US, I’ve been coaching some age group triathletes and doing some personal training in my free time.

ST: I understand you had quite a hip injury and surgical procedure – please describe that for us.

Donna: I actually had two hip surgeries in the last three months. After having recurrent IT band and hip tendonitis injuries, I found out in April that I had a labral tear in my left hip which was causing instability in my hip joint (and leading to secondary injuries).

The tear was caused by a genetic bony impingement whereby I had too much bone on the ball and socket part of my hip joint. I underwent hip surgery in Vail in June to repair the labrum and shave the excess bone from my hip joint. Last week, I had the same procedure on my right hip. Both hips are doing great, and I couldn’t be happier.

ST: Do you have a coach? What is your training philosophy?

Donna: My coach is Pete Coulson (Champion Factory Coaching). My training philosophy is to trust in my coach, give 100% when I’m supposed to and back off when I’m supposed to.

ST: Please describe a typical in-season training week.


Monday – Swim

Tuesday – Bike Intervals, Run

Wednesday – Swim, Long Ride, Run off the bike

Thursday – Swim, Run Intervals

Friday – Swim, Recovery Bike

Saturday – Long Ride, Run off the bike

Sunday – Long Run, Recovery Swim

ST: How is sponsorship going for you?

Donna:I’m very thankful to have some great sponsors who have been very supportive of me over the last couple of years : First Endurance, TYR, Trek Bikes, Zipp/SRAM, FuelBelt, Cobb Saddles, and Saucony.

ST: What are your top three pieces of triathlon advice for the average age grouper?

Donna Find a good coach and good training partners, figure out a training program that fits with your schedule, and put the work into it if you want to do well.

ST: Anything else you’d like to add?

Donna: I’m a coffee, cereal, and Pringles addict.

You can learn more by following Donna's blog:

Or on Twitter @DonnaPhelan