Retired British swimmer Mark Foster has been named one of three celebrity team captains at this year’s London Triathlon, along with TV presenter Jenni Falconer and cyclist Rob Hayles.
One of Britain’s most successful swimmers with six World Championship titles to his name, Foster will be leading a three-person relay team at this year’s London Triathlon, with the other two places to be taken by a competition winner and someone racing for Mark’s chosen charity, SportsAid.
“Ever since 2008 I’ve jokingly said to a lot people that I’m going to do a triathlon and never have, so this is an opportunity to be part of a triathlon team – you don’t want to let your other team members down,” he told 220.
“I kept saying, ‘Yeah I can do it easy’, and of course I never have. Triathlon tends to be longer distance, and as you probably know my races used to take around 21 seconds, so for long distance I used to go, “OK yeah I can do that’, but I never did.”
Having never swum in a wetsuit before, never mind long distance or in the Docklands, Foster says he has “no idea” what time to expect for the 750m swim, but expects to reach shore in around 12 minutes. “I know the top swimmers would do it in about 8mins but I’m not a distance swimmer. So I’ll start at 12 minutes and knock time off as I go.”
‘A sprint triathlon is a long way’
Continuing the trend for top British athletes (and celebrity chefs) to dip their toe in the multisport world, Foster says he’s keen to do more triathlons in future. “To be honest with you out of the other disciplines my favourite is cycling. I love cycling, because no matter what build you are the bike is a leveller, it takes the weight off you and I’ve never been a big runner.
“The thing is, when you spend your life going up and down a swimming pool it’s nice to do other stuff. In my head I kind of take the swim for granted because I used to swim, but it is longer distance so I want to put a little training into it. I could do it tomorrow if I swam very slowly, but then to do it quicker like anybody I need to train to do that. But yeah, at some point in the future I will be doing a full triathlon, at some point.”
The Olympian does have a different slant on the distances involved though: “If you think of a sprint triathlon, that to me is a long way. A sprint to me would be 100m swim, 1km cycle and a 400m run, that would be a sprint! I don’t think in my wildest dreams I would ever get to Ironman, as much as I would like the thought of it, I don’t think my body would agree.”
Staying relaxed in the swim
Foster’s swim advice for 220 readers includes lots of time in the pool – “the more you practice, the better you’ll get” – and staying relaxed with your hands, which in turn will mean relaxed arms and shoulders.
He also suggests keeping hands slightly open to increase surface area and make them more like a paddle, pulling not just with the hand but with the forearm as well so it becomes like a scoop, to catch more water.
“It’s all about not fighting the water, but feeling it. You move yourself through the water, if you fight it then you’ll get tense in your shoulders and you’ll tire yourself out quicker. Swimming’s about being relaxed.”
Mark’s top swimmers in triathlon
When asked for his opinion on the best swimmers in triathlon, Foster describes the Brownlee brothers as “very, very impressive”. He adds: “The thing I’ve noticed with triathlon is that it’s not necessarily the best swimmers who win, it tends to be the best runners. I think the most important part of a triathlon is the run, then the bike, then the swim.
“If I put any triathlete in an Olympic swimming event they wouldn’t come anywhere, but then triathletes are good at three disciplines, they don’t just focus on one. I’m impressed by all of them, trust me, I’ve never done a triathlon, so I’m impressed by anybody who has.”
This year’s London Triathlon will take place in the Docklands area of London on 2-3 August; places are still available. For more information head to www.thelondontriathlon.co.uk.