Britain’s Lucy Charles returned from Hawaii, having broken the swim record, the previous bike record and the overall course record in the Ironman World Championship - yet still finished 10mins behind the winner. Having returned to her Hertfordshire base, she spoke with 220Triathlon columnist Tim Heming to discuss where she needs to improve, and her preparations for her upcoming triathlon-themed wedding.
Now you’re home and had the chance to reflect, what are your thoughts on Kona?
I’m over the moon with the result - everything has improved from last year. There’s no doubt it was a quick day and that definitely helped, but it’s good to see all the hard work both [coach and partner] Reece [Barclay] and I put in paid off.
You competed on the Big Island as an age-grouper, winning the 18-24 age group in 2015. How pivotal was that experience to your development?
It’s helped in tailoring my preparations for the conditions, but it’s very different racing as a professional. Last year [where Charles finished runner-up] there was a fair amount of expectation on me, and this year it was even more, so it’s more been the learning curve of dealing with that. I’ve been an athlete my whole life, even though I haven’t been in tri that long, and that’s helped too.
How hard did you have to go in the swim to break Jodi Jackson’s 19-year-old record of 48:43 by 29sec?
It was how I’d tackle any swim in an Ironman, but my swim was on great form. Conditions didn’t feel fast, there seemed to be quite a lot of swell - and others had to deal with jellyfish too! I definitely feel I could go quicker if we had a faster day, but I know I can chip away at the record as the years go by. When I was an open water swimmer, courses varied all the time, so we never compared times and distance. Even on the same course, it’s never going to be exactly the same because it’s so difficult to mark out and buoys will always move slightly.
What were your emotions when Daniela Ryf went passed on the bike?
It seemed pretty unbelievable. Annoyingly, my Garmin broke so I had no data feedback the whole ride. I expected Daniela to catch me at some stage, I’d just liked to have known what power I was hitting at the time. When she came passed I thought: ‘I’m going to blow my whole race if I try and go with her now’. I knew I had to be sensible and stick to my own plan.
If someone said beforehand that you’d finish in 8:36:34, you’d have surely thought it enough to win?
Yes, definitely. The times were crazy. For the whole top 10 to be under 9hrs shows conditions were good, but also that the standard of the women’s field has risen so quickly.
Having posted a 3:05:50 marathon, your run times also seem to be coming down?
The key thing this year was that I didn’t have any injuries. It’s confidence-boosting to know my body has adapted to the run mileage, but I still feel there’s a hell of a long way to go. I’m nowhere near the mileage I see some of the girls running. I don’t think I’ve ever hit more than 80km a week, some girls go way over 100km. It’s been a very natural progression and we haven’t really pushed it yet, but I really want to get under that 3hr barrier and we’re edging closer.
What do the next few months hold for you? Will you take some time off?
I’ve been enjoying some downtime so far. Reece and I are getting married in December so the wedding planning is forcing me to have a rest. We’re getting married in Hertfordshire in a renovated barn and it will be slightly triathlon themed. But only subtly. There won’t be any Wattbikes or swimming pools! Invites shaped like medals have just gone out and the tables will be named after different races we’ve done.
Reece coaches you and also competes professionally, so you’re both immersed in a triathlon world. Is there any escape?
We both love the sport which is probably why we’ve been successful, but it can become overwhelming with the amount of training we do. Our way of escaping is to have great friends who have no interest in the sport. We talk to them about other stuff and that brings us back to earth.
Where do you feel you still have room for improvement?
Definitely the swim! No, while I seriously believe we could still get a couple more minutes on the swim, it won’t be the key area of focus. Obviously the bike is the longest section, but I feel that’s where I’ve made my biggest improvements over the past year. I think the key will be the run and I’m finally strong enough to focus on that without breaking my body down. Over the winter, the focus will be to make myself more robust while building up the run mileage so it becomes a weapon next year.