Lucy Charles
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Can Lucy Charles-Barclay win Kona 2019?

Can Lucy Charles-Barclay stop Ryf winning her fifth Ironman world championship in a row, and top the podium herself? Tim Heming assess her chances...

There’s a Gunpowder plot taking place that threatens to blow Ironman world champion Daniel Ryf’s shot at five successive victories in Hawaii sky high. 

Lucy Charles-Barclay, 25 from Hertfordshire, and a former open-water swimmer, has been lowering her 5km time on the gravel tracks of Gunpowder Park’s parkrun course over the past six years and it now stands at an impressive 16:29mins.

“It’s always a good test to see if I’ve got a bit of speed for the back end of a marathon,” she says. “Maybe we’ll sneak in another one before Kona and go for sub-16mins.”

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Charles-Barclay is the best female swimmer in the sport, Ryf’s mission is to catch her on the bike. In the past two
years in Hawaii, the Swiss has accomplished that task on the Queen Ka’ahumanu highway returning to T2, but
if the two arrive in transition together, as happened in the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in South Africa last year, then the higher calibre marathon will win out – and Charles-Barclay is getting faster. 

Her two iron-distance races in 2019 have included sub-3hr marathons in Ironman South Africa and Challenge Roth. “I wouldn’t change anything so far,” Lucy says. “Touch wood, I’ve been more robust each year and my body has been able to cope with more volume on each discipline.”

Husband, coach, training partner and fellow Ironman triathlete, Reece adds: “Throughout the off-season we focused on Lucy’s running and that’s been evident in results. Rarely is she caught on the bike by anyone but Daniela [Ryf]. We now want Lucy to have the tools to run with her.”

BLUEPRINT FOR SUCCESS

As for training, the blueprint that has led Lucy to become Britain’s premier Ironman triathlete stays in place. “We have a backbone plan I’ll adapt based on how Lucy is responding to each session,” Reece says. “We have boxes that need to be ticked every week, but the order of those key sessions changes based on how we’re feeling. 

“We virtually train every session together, but on the track I’ll give Lucy a 5-10sec lead and chase her down. On the turbo our sessions will be completely different, and with swimming we get what we’re given. Training has to be flexible because the whole plan changes if we get beasted in the morning’s swim squad.”

It’s also the fifth year in a row they’ll be in Kona. “Whenever we arrive, probably because of the Hawaiian theme, we feel relaxed,” Reece adds. “It’s almost a home away from home now. We get that nervous energy in town in race week, but I think that’s good in small doses. As soon as we head to the beaches along the coast it’s easy to switch off.”

Four-time Ironman champion Chrissie Wellington still believes it’s Ryf’s race to lose. “Just as I think Charles-Barclay is getting closer, Ryf seems to pull out an amazing performance,” she says, noting her victory in the Alpe d’Huez long-course event in July, where, albeit with a 15min headstart over the men, she crossed the line first overall. “I don’t think it’s a two-horse race though, so to focus on those two at the expense of others could mean we’re in for a surprise.” 

Wellington is referring to such talent as Germany’s Anne Haug and Australia’s Sarah Crowley, but while it might seem unfair to bill this as Ryf vs Charles, it’s how the past two years have played out, and with both unbeaten and avoiding each other so far in 2019, anticipation is building.

The bulk of Charles-Barclay’s preparation will again be done in Lanzarote before heading out to Hawaii a fortnight before the race. “I don’t think Daniela’s laid down performances like last year, which seemed unreal,” she says. “She’s been racing well, but there’s been nothing I feel I couldn’t contend with. I’m really looking forward to seeing how we match up. I’m still the underdog and have that advantage. I cannot wait.” 

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