How did you first get into duathlon?
I’ve always been a runner, running cross-country at school with the odd race here and there growing up, but never with any serious training. I bought my first proper road bike when I was 18. My cousin worked in a bike shop in Zurich (Switzerland) and I was out there visiting him; I bought his old bike 3rd hand for about 200 euros and cycled it back to England over four days with a big walking bag on my back and wearing football shorts!
At the University of Birmingham I joined the triathlon club as it was a sport that interested and I enjoyed the training under a great coach (Louise Barron). My results from University multisport events were varying, but nothing to write home about. When I moved to London, I no longer had the luxury of playing lots of different sports as working full time meant time was scarce, so cycling and running were a good release that could be done as part of my commute (with the added bonus of avoiding the tube!).
I entered Althorp Duathlon with little expectation – the basis of my training consisted of running and cycling every day to and from work with a backpack! However, at the race I managed to run away from the field and win by over 5mins (to my surprise). This qualified me for the European Championships where I travelled to Spain and managed to take the win by running away from the field in the first 10km. This was my first taste of international competition and AG racing in GB kit and opened my eyes to the opportunities that were available at British, European and World Championship AG level.
On the run up to both the ITU and the ETU, what were your working hours/commitments at the time, and how did you fit your training into your working day?
During the build up to the European Championships I was working about 50 hours a week in London, studying for professional exams and commuting every weekend to Plymouth to visit my fiancé (now wife) while planning a wedding, so time for training was limited!
The majority of my training was completed as part of my commute. The shortest route to the office was a 5mile run along the roads and this is what I did most mornings and evenings; a slower run into work as the body is waking up and then a faster run home where I would often push the pace and put in some hard efforts. A couple of times a week I would extend the commute anything up to 10miles or so to build my base running strength.
The cycling was where I struggled to get the good base hours in the legs. Most of my bike sessions consisted of hard hour-long morning turbo sessions usually followed by the five mile run to work. On the bike by 5.30am, I chose to train on the turbo over riding on the roads purely because it was the best way to get a good quality session instead of having to stop constantly at traffic lights.
The hardest thing then became nutrition and making sure I was fueling myself enough while at work, recovering from a morning session but also able to have enough energy to run properly in the evening as well. My training is not particularly scientific and probably could have benefitted from professional coaching, but at the time I managed to juggle all my commitments!
To fit in my training and social life I would sit down on the Sunday night, and look at the sessions I wanted to achieve that week and then plan how I could best make that work with the other things I had going on. Obviously this doesn’t always work out and it’s tough when you find yourself constantly missing social events. However, this method made me focus on how each session builds towards the final goal and this makes it tough to miss a session. On the flip side it’s so important not to punish yourself too much when you do miss a session – life does go on and we’re not pros at the end of the day!
What are the main lifestyle changes you’ve had to make in order to keep training?
The most obvious sacrifice that everyone competing will all share is the time it takes to train every day of the week. 1-2hours a day on average doesn’t sound like much, but the prep time either side of that, showering and then recovery takes a big chunk out of your social life. Being away on weekends meant I had very little time to see friends around training, something that can wear on you after a while.
As mentioned before I aim to fit as much of my training into my commute where possible, but this can backfire when everyone is going for a drink after work and I’d planned to do a run home. This meant it was a common sight for me to walk into a London pub in my shirt and suit trousers, have a soda and lime with friends and then emerge in running kit ready for my training session en route home.
The most important thing is to have friends and family that have bought into what you’re training for and recognise that two sessions a day is normal and not excessive. You can't do it on your own and everyone around me is incredibly supportive of my training and competing. In particular, my parents have always encouraged me to be active and push myself, and Bluebird Care Mid & West Cornwall have supported my journey to each championship with athlete sponsorship. My wife Claire has also been incredibly supportive and I literally could not do it without her.
Looking ahead, what are your future competition plans?
Next season I want to try and race Duathlon at the elite level so will be targeting the British Championships again. This obviously requires slightly different training on the bike as the elite races are draft legal, so I need to do more group bike sessions which can be tricky as these are less flexible.
I am also targeting middle distance triathlon next season, starting with the Lanzarote 70.3 at the end of September. Triathlon is something that has always captured my imagination and I do enjoy open water swimming and involving that third discipline. After coming 11th British Middle Distance Triathlon Champs 2016 (4th in AG) I hope I can take big chunks off all three disciplines when I come round to competing in Lanzarote this September.
What are your top tips to athletes trying to fit training and competing around a full-time job?
For those feeling overwhelmed it is important to remember that any training is better than no training. If you only have the time or energy to run, bike and swim once a week then that will be enough to improve your fitness and performance. I identify how many hours I think I have available each week, then work out which sessions are most important to complete each week building up to my race. I then focus on how to fit in sessions with work and social commitments - be this running to work, or cycling over to visit friends instead of driving. Always make sure that you’re not doing ‘junk miles’ as it’s an easy trap to fall into. A good coach who understands the time commitments you have outside of sport can help you to prioritise the right training sessions.
When looking to take it to the next level, the key is identifying where you can make the biggest improvements relative to the time spent training. At the moment, I know that my bike splits have been below par in my last few races and so I have prioritised getting some long cycles in after work to build bike strength. This poses its own problem because you can be getting home at 9pm after a 3 hour bike session, you need to refuel, digest and get an early night before a 6am swim the next day. But as with every aspect of the time-poor triathlete, planning ahead is the key getting sessions done and getting the right food in.