Diana interviews Serpentine life member, coach, triathlete, all-round inspiration and true Serpie Legend, Beate Vogt.
If you have been in the club for any length of time it’s likely you’ve seen Beate Vogt. Whether at the handicap, club socials, or one of her coaching sessions, Beate has made herself a true club fixture. In 2008 she became a Serpentine Life Member, an honour bestowed in recognition of significant personal contributions to the club. In Beate’s case, she was selected to receive a life membership because of her inspiring and enthusiastic coaching of Serpentine endurance runners and triathletes.
On a clear, crisp, winter afternoon, I interviewed Beate to find out a bit more about her work with the club, her long and varied career in running and triathlons, and her love of sports. When we met up, she was radiating energy, having just come from a challenging yoga class. I initially thought this energy was just a post-workout high, but I soon realised it was an integral part of who she is. Beate is a dynamo, always eager to try new things, explore new places, and meet new people.
Although she has been in the club for over 20 years, her journey to the Serpies was not a direct one. She hails from Germany, but lived in France and the United States, before settling down in London. She started running for fitness while in Paris, but upped her running game when she moved across the Atlantic and participated in her first races, including the New York City Marathon in 1988. In the late 1980s she also took part in her first triathlon – the Joe DiMaggio triathlon in upstate New York. As an early triathlon, there was no fancy kit, no high-tech watches, and no clip pedals, but she described it as a fantastic experience and was hooked.
Beate ended up in London in 1995 and soon after arriving she became a Serpie for the reason many of us do – to make friends. Though it’s hard to imagine now, at that time the club consisted of just 120 people and the clubhouse was in a small building near the bowling greens on the south side of Hyde Park. The Serpies soon became an indispensable part of her life and in return she made herself indispensable to the club by starting the female novice triathlon squad and leading the popular Thursday night track sessions with Nicola Barberis Negra at Battersea Park.
It was for her coaching that Beate received her Serpentine life membership, so I asked her how she got into the field. Some athletes come to coaching late in their career, but Beate seems to have it in her blood. When she was just a teenager she discovered her love of the discipline while helping coach her volleyball team. After joining Serpentine she was finally able to take her coaching to the next level by completing courses and becoming certified. She explained that the club gave her the opportunity and encouragement she needed to develop her coaching skills in a fun, low-pressure, environment.
In 2004 she began to coach the Battersea Park training sessions. Though she was initially nervous to lead the large groups of Serpies that flocked to the park, she soon became comfortable and the sessions became an important part of the club training calendar. Although the Battersea sessions are no longer held, Beate can still be found coaching many of the triathlon-focused sessions that take place throughout the week. She holds coaching qualifications at British Triathlon Level 3, UK Athletics Level 2 for endurance, and Amateur Swimming Association Level 2.
For Beate, one of the most important parts of coaching is creating an atmosphere where the athletes can gain the confidence they need to compete at their best level and part of this is striving to ensure that no one feels left behind.
She provided an example using her triathlon swim squad which was composed of swimmers of varying abilities: “I would say, one of you can always be first… but if you all work together then we can have fifteen winners. It really sinks in. They helped each other so much and amazing friendships were created.”
It’s not surprising that coaching has given Beate some of her proudest moments. Many of the women on her triathlon squads started as novices and went on to compete successfully in long distance cycle races and Ironman events: “That’s really my proudest moment in terms of coaching. They did it all, I just put the framework in place.”
It’s impossible to interview a coach without trying to gather a little information that will benefit me in my next race, so I asked Beate how she takes control of negative thoughts that emerge during tough races. She laughed and said: “I coach, so I tell other people what they should do and not what I do. What I try to do is recognise it’s a negative thought. It’s just a thought. It has nothing to do with the reality.”
Then she turned to maths. That’s right, Beate uses statistics to pull herself out of the dreaded negative spiral that engulfs us all at one time or another during a race.
“To go from ‘I’m rubbish’ to ‘I’m actually ok’, I use statistics. What’s the percentage of women of my age who are out running right now. Maybe three percent? I’m in the top three percent in the world. This gets me from ‘why am I here?’ to ‘I’m actually ok’. That’s my mind game. For everyone it is different, but for me it’s statistics.”
When I asked Beate what her proudest racing moments were, she replied without hesitation – finishing her two full Ironman events. For those who are not familiar, the Ironman is composed of 3.8 kilometres of swimming, 180 kilometres of cycling, and a full marathon. As she recalled her 2013 Ironman, Beate said: “I enjoyed the journey, I enjoyed the race, I enjoyed the whole experience. I would have never thought that I was capable. My sister was crying afterwards and said, ‘Please don’t do this again. It’s too much for me.’”
As the afternoon light took on the orange hue of evening, we began discussing Beate’s future race plans. She spoke with real excitement about the upcoming Ötillö swim-run around the Isles of Scilly. The race is composed of a series of alternating runs and swims, which surprisingly involve swimming in your running shoes and running in your wet suit (and wet running shoes, I might add). “Have you ever swum in your running shoes?” I asked. “No! Never!” she laughed. I have to admit to being somewhat horrified at the thought of running a race in squelchy, soaking shoes, but Beate’s enthusiasm made me forget my squeamishness and think maybe I should do a race like this…
As we chatted, the thing that struck me most about Beate is the fun and curiosity with which she approaches her sporting life. She has participated in a variety of sports – volleyball, road running, cross country, triathlons, track and field, swimming, and more recently rowing. Furthermore, she is always looking for events that present her favorite sports with a new twist, like the swim-run.
Of course she excels at many of the events she tackles, but she seems less focused on success and more concerned with challenging and enjoying herself. As I travelled home on the bus I was inspired by Beate’s outlook and I opened up the Serpie race planner to see what’s on offer to spice up my 2018 race calendar. Who knows? Maybe I’d find my new favorite event and maybe I’ll even discover that I don’t mind running in wet trainers.
Would you like to try something new in 2018 and start participating in triathlons? If so, Beate recommends checking out the Monday endurance or Thursday swim technique sessions. In the Spring keep an eye out for bike beginner training and triathlon theory sessions.
Diana Valk has been a card carrying Serpie since she moved to London from the U.S in 2012. When she is not running she is thinking about archaeology, forensic anthropology, or the next book on her reading list.