Training with Chrissie Wellington: lessons learnt at Bristol Harbourside Triathlon

Competition winner Katy Campbell gets plenty of feedback from her coaches after her final warm-up race before Alpe d’Huez

Katy Campbell, right, and friend Nicola after completing Bristol's Olympic-distance triathlon

For this latest instalment in our ‘Train with Chrissie’ series, competition winner Katy Campbell recounts how she got on at Bristol Harbourside Triathlon.

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This was Katy’s final warm-up before her target race of Alpe d’Huez Long Course Triathlon at the end of July – and our coaches Chrissie Wellington and Matt Edwards share their feedback.

Katy says…

After a week of endless list-making, random dreams involving disastrous transitions, and perpetual nerves, it was something of a relief to wake up on the morning of Bristol Tri! After a simple pasta dinner I bagged myself a nice early night, meaning I was fast asleep by 10pm. 

Uncharacteristically and unexpectedly I slept well, thanks to our friend’s very comfy spare bed, and safe in the knowledge that my kit bag and bike had been packed, checked and double-checked the day before.

The 5.40am wake-up call therefore wasn’t as painful as it might have been! I felt prepared and knew my plan for the day pretty much inside out.

From the coaches

Control the controllables. Lists promote organisation and confidence. We are trying to get Katy into the habit of writing lists of equipment and tasks in the week before the event. The equipment list she sent us four days before flagged up some missing items. 

She could have been lost without her timing chip, which didn’t feature! Packing bags the day before is vital for peace of mind and ensuring you have everything in order, hence saving last-minute panics. We went over her race prep and plan beforehand, hence eliminating any stress and worry. 

As with Malta, we wanted Katy to make her own decisions so that we could observe her choices and the repercussions of these. It’s often more useful to learn by doing, rather than being told what is right or wrong.

At the end of the day this is Katy’s journey, and we want to empower her to find the best way of maximising her own enjoyment and potential.

Katy Campbell running at the Malta Half Marathon

Katy Campbell on her way to a PB at the Malta Half Marathon

Pre-race nerves

We would be worried if Katy were not nervous. The key is knowing how to manage and channel these nerves, using breathing exercises, relaxation techniques and visualisation.

Having friends around can help take your mind off things. I never expect to sleep well before a race, so the fact that Katy got a decent night’s kip is a bonus! Don’t stress if you can’t sleep though, just try to bag quality sleep in the week before.

Tips for a good night’s sleep

– Leave the bedroom for sleeping only

– Nice, soft lighting

– Have a nice warm bath before bed

– A bit of reading (maybe not 220!)

– Turn off your phone! Checking the internet right before you sleep is a sure way to stimulate your brain with new information, which can keep you awake

– Don’t train too hard right before bed

– Try to eat at least 90mins before going to bed

– Drink some warm milk

– Cut out caffeine (especially after midday)

– Don’t drink loads right before bed

– Limit alcohol

– Buy yourself some awesome sheets and duvet

Katy Campbell reading a book

Pre-race meal

Katy learnt from her Malta experience, when she went out to eat at a restaurant and couldn’t guarantee the menu or the quality of the food. This time she stick to what she knew. Simple and easy.

She also brought her own food with her from home. Much better than relying on shop-bought food or other people’s cupboards.

Katy says…

First stop on race day – breakfast of course! Ready Brek made with soya milk, plus peanut butter and banana. I’m not Ready Brek’s biggest fan, but Chrissie recommends it as an easily-digestible option.

I have to say, it’s almost palatable with the addition of the other items! I also set to work sipping my bottle of diluted sports drink; it’s good for me to get those electrolytes in nice and early.

From the coaches

Breakfast should be easy to make and digest. Katy has been practicing using Ready Brek before longer sessions.

Aim for around 500-600 calories with simple carbs, and add some fat and protein for palatability and energy. Eat 2 or 2.5 hours before race start. Sip on water or electrolyte drink but don’t over-hydrate.

Chrissie Wellington and Katy Campbell chatting

Katy says…

Tri-suit on, teeth cleaned, it was 6.20am and time to head to registration, which was only five minutes’ walk away.  My husband carried the bags of course, very important that I take it easy!

From the coaches

Katy left plenty of time to set up and get ready. This meant that she had wriggle room if anything went wrong, such as a last-minute puncture.

If the weather is very cold take clothes to keep warm, especially if there is a lot of time sitting around before the start.

Katy says…

Registered and numbered with permanent marker, we found my friend Nicola who was also racing and headed over to transition. I tried not to get psyched out by all the professional looking people with their extremely fancy bikes.

Funny how this still happens, even as the owner of a very nice bike!! Do other people think I look scary? It seems unlikely.

From the coaches

Katy still has a tendency to compare herself to others. This is quite normal particularly if someone is quite new to triathlon, but it often doesn’t help and can dent your own confidence and focus.

Focus on you, your race, and your prep. It is too late to be yearning for someone else’s bike, and the prettiest ones don’t always go the fastest!

Katy Campbell, right, and friend Nicola after completing Bristol

Our competition winner Katy Campbell continues her report on the Bristol Harbourside Triathlon, with feedback from her coaches Chrissie Wellington and Matt Edwards…

My start wave was the first to go, at 8am. All the early-starters seemed to be crammed into a tiny area of transition. Setting up took the whole 15mins I’d allowed for it, as I needed to decide what I really didn’t need as it wouldn’t all fit!

All too soon I needed to go and carry out Matt’s instructions for a warm-up. A nice jog and a few lunges took me away from any distractions and allowed me to focus.

From the coaches

It’s really important to warm up, especially given the early start. You’re here to race, so get your mind and body ready. It will help you feel strong, and you will go faster!

If you can’t do a swim warm-up the next best thing is a gentle jog and some very light stretching. This also helps focus the mind and distract you from everyone else’s bikes! 

Katy says…

One final loo stop and it was time to lube up and struggle into my wetsuit. Deep breaths and we headed over to the swim start in plenty of time for the briefing. My friend Nicola is very cool and calm which helped me greatly!  

We stood quietly and waited, listening to everyone else swapping their nervous anecdotes. At this point, I actually felt fine. A humorous race briefing lightened the mood further and it was time to get in the water. Lovely to spot my husband with our friend Zoe right there at the start too!

The water was chilly but nothing compared to the Devon sea at the moment, so I hopped straight in and found a place near the front but on the far side. I’m not a bad swimmer, but equally not very experienced so it was a compromise between placing and staying out of the mayhem. Nicola and I wished each other luck, and we were off. 

And suddenly, I started to feel panicky! Fortunately, I’ve been in that situation before so talked to myself sternly, forced myself to relax and stay calm. The first lap was a battle of my will versus my nerves, but by halfway I’d started to settle, mostly by focusing on counting breaths and sighting the big red buoys on every fifth.

I didn’t have my best swim, never really finding much flow or rhythm. Although saying that I was really pleased to dip under 30mins, so it can’t have been that bad!

From the coaches

The swim: Katy had a great swim, and her time and technique is indicative of the progress she has made. We are incredibly happy with her performance, and her ability to manage her nerves and the feelings of panic.

She should take confidence from this mental strength. The next step will be to ensure she has more open-water practice, to give her the chance to get used to the start and the group environment.

Chrissie Wellington and Katy Campbell at a lake

Katy says…

Out of the water and the first thing I heard was Chrissie bellowing her support! Closely followed by my Dad’s booming tones from the other side of the water.  

From the coaches

Having friends and family to support you is a great boost, and can really elevate your performance. If necessary bribe your friends with post-race beers to come cheer on the sidelines! It’s also important not to have to worry about your supporters, and to remember that they are able to look after themselves. 

Katy says…

This all made me laugh as I wobbled my way around to transition, fighting with my wetsuit whilst trying not to stub my toes on the uneven paving slabs.

My calves were starting to cramp but I struggled out of the neoprene without too much trouble, sat down to put my bike shoes on to avoid falling over, and was soon on my way. 

Katy Campbell on the bike at Bristol Harbourside Triathlon

From the coaches

We will incorporate more transition training into Katy’s programme to ensure she has fully honed the necessary skills.

While it is OK to sit down, it does mean you break your rhythm and we would much prefer Katy to perform her transition routine standing up. 

Katy says…

The bike course at Bristol is four laps of a closed main road, very slightly uphill on the way out and very slightly downhill on the way back. While this is a little bit on the dull side, it does mean you get to see your supporters multiple times, and spotting your friends is quite fun!

My family had made banners and are always ridiculously loud. Chrissie kept popping up all over the place too, giving me a huge boost each time, and keeping my mind on the job.  

I had my bottle of sports drink as instructed, with a gel after 30km. I can get a bit negative about my cycling, so I didn’t let myself look at my average speed until the third lap. I wasn’t entirely happy with what I saw, so perhaps this was a good tactic! 

I tried to channel it as motivation for the final lap, thought about Laura and actually shouted at myself a couple of times! Even though I didn’t have a brilliant bike time, I did feel much more comfortable on the bike than I have done previously, and much more able to commit. I still think there’s more to come though!

Katy Campbell on the bike at Bristol Harbourside Triathlon

From the coaches

We are really happy with Katy’s bike performance, and are urging her not to focus solely on pace or times – the outcomes – but more on effort level and technique – the process. Kona is a prime example, my times there were vastly different, which wasn’t necessarily due to fitness but all the other variables. 

We want her effort to be consistent throughout, and ensure it feels ‘comfortably hard’. The important thing is reading your body so you know how it feels on that day and what “tempo/race pace” is sustainable. Katy also has a tendency to compartmentalise triathlon into the three constituent disciplines. 

Lots of athletes do this – “Well, my swim was ok, I enjoyed the bike, and the less said about the run the better!” It is ONE SPORT, and we are looking at overall performance. Yes, you could have an amazing bike time but if you run like a donkey, or even DNF, then all that effort will be wasted. 

We encourage Katy to view her performance in its entirety. However, the fact that she is still determined to do better will be a good motivator going forward, as long as she also reflects positively on the progress she is making!

Katy Campbell, right, and friend Nicola after completing Bristol

Our competition winner Katy Campbell concludes her report on the Bristol Harbourside Triathlon, with feedback from her coaches Chrissie Wellington and Matt Edwards…

In my previous three triathlons, I have learnt the hard lesson that the run (for me!) is the most difficult, even as a fairly natural runner.

Actually, it was much better than previous races, largely thanks to all the bike-run sessions Matt has been insisting upon in recent weeks! I soon saw Chrissie, who gave the calm instructions to keep a steady pace and then build in the later stages.

From the coaches

The run is Katy’s strength. It’s important that Katy relaxed in the initial kilometre, found her stride and rhythm and didn’t panic about trying to gain time on her competitors. A great overall race result can be made – or lost – in the first few 100 metres of the run. 

Katy says…

The run is by far my strongest discipline, and I feel very fortunate that my abilities are this way round, as it really helps when you’re absolutely dying during the late stages! My second gel gave me a bit of a boost too – we actually only put it in the plan as a test for my stomach, but the psychological effect was palpable.

I was slightly taken aback by the presence of a water station – clearly I should have known there would be one! As my gel didn’t require water, and the water on offer was in cups and I didn’t want to stop, I didn’t take any. I regretted this slightly as the sun came out and things started to warm up!

From the coaches

We want Katy to practice her nutrition, not just tailored to this race but also for Alpe D’Huez. It’s important for her to get used to drinking regularly on the bike (and run) and to work out what is palatable for her at different stages in the race.

Lesson learned to check the course map and the location of nutrition/water stations. It was quite a warm day, and Katy should have had a drink of water at that aid station. Typically water is provided in cups, and so going forward Katy will need to practice drinking “on the run” to ensure she can hydrate properly at Alpe D’Huez.  

Katy says…

I focussed on picking off the ladies (and the occasional man) ahead of me, staying strong, keeping my form. After all the long runs I’ve been doing in training, I knew it wouldn’t feel too long, so I could dig in with confidence.

Katy Campbell on the run at Bristol Harbourside Triathlon

From the coaches

Having smaller goals, like an aid station, a tree, or people ahead of you, is great for breaking the race down into smaller, manageable segments and keep you mind in the moment. The key is to also sustain your own pace, and not over-exert yourself in catching someone else.

Developing the mental strength during training, especially longer or harder sessions, will give you peace of mind that you can endure in races. Katy’s form was good, although she does have a tendency to hunch her shoulders and clench her fists, and so will need to focus periodically on ensuring her form is as good as it can be. 

Katy says…

At the halfway point I felt great, and upped the pace for a couple of kilometres. But that was all I could manage, something switched, my legs felt wobbly, and from then on it was a case of hanging on. Big cheers at the finish and it was done. Medal awarded, chip removed, and hugs and congratulations from Chrissie! 

I quickly took on some water and a couple of bananas, followed by my usual chocolate soya milk to up the protein content. I then thoroughly enjoyed cheering my friends over the line, followed by swapping stories and  comparing medals.

We soon headed off for lunch, where I hoovered up a jacket potato with beans and cheese, followed by a celebratory piece of cake. I felt like I’d earned it!

I noticed once again that I recovered really well, and even felt ok to drive back to Devon a few hours later. I’m hoping this demonstrates how fit I am, and also the effect of much improved nutrition thanks to many discussions with Chrissie.

From the coaches

Katy made great choices for her recovery fuelling. A mix of carbs and protein, and something that also tastes good immediately after the race followed by a more substantial meal and hour or so later when her body was ready and relaxed enough to digest it.

Katy says…

I finished 11th lady out of 46, placing 19th, 19th and 7th in each discipline respectively, total time 2:45:38. While this is a great result for me overall, and four minutes faster than my other Olympic-distance race, I can’t help being a bit disappointed with the bike leg. 

It seems crazy that I placed the same in the swim and bike elements, given that I am so new to swimming, and have done so much bike training. Something to work on I suppose, but it does make me worry about my strength for Alpe d’Huez, given that the bike part is so challenging.  

I also might have expected to run slightly faster, as my time was 2secs slower than in the previous race, and over 2.5mins slower than my 10K PB. It was really tough though, I’m sure I couldn’t have gone any faster, but why?

That said, it was a brilliant day.  Such a fantastic event, thanks TriBristol!

From the coaches

We are so happy with Katy’s performance at the Bristol Tri. Yes, there are lessons to learn and modifications we can make to her programme going forward but overall her effort level was good, she remained focused and managed to overcome “dips” really well.

She is beginning to take control of her preparation, and needs less hand-holding going into the race, which is always empowering for any athlete. Her recovery has been good and she has been able to get back into full training after a few easier days.

This also shows improved strength and fitness, as well as getting the smaller, but important, pieces of the puzzle in place – such as reducing energy-sapping anxiety and honing her nutritional strategy. It means her body has been adapting, is becoming efficient, and more of her body (like her core) is working for her. 

Sign for Alpe d'Huez

This race should give Katy the confidence she needs going into the final block of training, and the race practice that is essential for easing worries going into your “A” race. We can ensure that any creases are ironed out well in advance of the big day. Well done Katy, we are proud of you!

(Images: Andrew James / Marathon Photos / iStockPhoto / Jonny Gawler)

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Katy will be racing the Alpe d’Huez Long Course Triathlon on 31July. We’ll be carrying her race report right here on the 220 website shortly afterwards – watch this space!