Olympic dreams and more realistic ambitions – blog

Age-grouper Phil Renna reluctantly lets go of his Rio ambitions, but still hopes to qualify for the ITU World Champs in Chicago

Phil Renna and Daley Thompson at the 220 Triathlon Show

Welcome back to triathlon season! If it has been as cold and hard a winter for you as it has for me, I’m sure you can’t wait for spring to start so that racing can get underway.


For me the off season has been revelatory as well as challenging – I realised around mid-January that I was going to have to let go of my (perhaps over-ambitious) aim of representing Great Britain at the Olympic Games in 2016.

Those of you who chanced upon this blog in its early days might remember that it was optimistically titled ‘Swim, Bike, Run to Rio‘. Though that title might now seem redundant, I stand by the mindset that it represents: discovering how good I can become.

And so, I’m looking forward to the 2015 season with more enthusiasm than ever, not least because of the superb calendar of races I have lined up. The highlights will undoubtedly be the age group European championships in Geneva and (hopefully) the World championships in Chicago, for which I hope to secure a spot at the Human Race ITU Sprint Distance World Championship Qualifiers at Eton Dorney on 23rd May.

Competing at last year’s Worlds in GB kit was easily the greatest sporting achievement of my life, one which I hope to relive and would urge every aspirational triathlete to strive for. Representing your country is a profoundly moving experience, as well as an indisputable and instantly recognisable mark of success that transcends the sporting world – no matter which incarnation of yourself you find yourself in (employee, student, parent…) knowing that you have earned a tri-suit with your name and the letters “GBR” on it fills you with a kind of confidence that very few people can draw on.

Winning a spot on the GB team is no picnic – the qualifying races attract a standard of competition that is comparable to the championships themselves, so preparation is key. Here are the things I’m focusing on:

Know the course. Qualification is all about where you finish on the day, not how good you could have been if you had executed your race as well as you wanted. Therefore, use the course to your advantage. Eton Dorney will be decided on the fast, flat bike leg – all but the biggest leads out of the swim will be neutralised by the end of the 20Km time trial and even the strongest runners who wait until T2 to launch their campaigns will find themselves up against too big a deficit if their cycling isn’t up to scratch.

Marginal Gains. A successful regimen is made up of three equally weighted pillars: Training, Rest and Nutrition. Too often the latter two are ignored in favour of the first – which is nonsensical, considering the significant improvements that can be made without even breaking a sweat! Chrissie Wellington calls them marginal gains, and she is an athlete we should all listen to more carefully.

Speed. It may sound obvious, but if you want to pit yourself against the best in the world you need to be fast. Over the Sprint and Olympic distances you need to be considerably faster than you think, and going that fast will hurt quite a bit, so the sooner you give up on longer base training and start focusing on racing, the better. To give some specific examples: my base swim intervals are between 50-200m and always at target race pace or faster (currently 1:20/100m), my average bike rides are rarely longer than 50Km and include two or three five to ten-minute intervals at maximum effort, and almost all of my running consists of 6-10Km track sessions where the base interval is between 400 and 1200 metres at target race pace or faster (currently 3:30/Km).


The Olympic vision might have faded, but the dream has not – I’m more excited than ever about pitting myself against the best athletes the world has to offer, and I look forward to seeing you out on the courses!