Claire Steels went from zero to hero, just like that.
In the space of 10 months Claire went from nothing, to winning a gold medal for Great Britain in the ladies’ 25-29 year-old age group at the International Triathlon Union World Sprint Championships in Adelaide, Australia, earlier this year, we were lucky enough to find out just how she did it and not only that she’s a qualified personal trainer as well!
Featuring Claire Steels in the Sundried Tour Noir Tank
Enough from us, over to Claire:
The story so far...
I've always been active and enjoyed sport throughout primary and secondary school. We were always active as a family and growing up my parents always encouraged us to watch sport and be active.
At secondary school I played a lot of hockey and netball alongside cross country running and track and field, although I was a much better track athlete than field, throwing and jumping is definitely not my forte! I joined my local running club, Bourne Town Harriers and Bourne Hockey club so I could participate outside of school too. Sports day was definitely my favourite day at school!
Despite my love of running, my main sport was hockey and I continued to play throughout university. I played for Hull University 1st XI and even had a game for the men's 2nd XI because they were short of a player one week! I played in the BUSA university league and both Humberside and Yorkshire hockey leagues. Throughout my 4 years at university I didn't do a lot of running, once or twice a week for hockey fitness but nothing serious.
When I came home after university in 2008, I rejoined Bourne Hockey Club for one season and then moved to the City of Peterborough Hockey Club for 4 seasons. Alongside hockey I rejoined my local running club and started taking this a bit more seriously. I raced in some local cross country leagues and did a few road races. I took a break from running to go to Birmingham to study to be a personal trainer and focus on gym training.
Through these running races, in August 2014 became friends with a fellow runner, Abi Schofield. We started running together and talking about the different training we were doing. Abi told me about cycling and triathlons. As an ex swimmer, triathlon seemed a logical step for Abi, as an awful swimmer, duathlons seemed a logical step for me.
From there I bought my first bike and started being coached by cycling coach Mark Griffin and running coach Sean Beard. I trained throughout the winter and entered my first duathlon in early 2015. In March 2015 I raced at the Dambuster Duathlon at Rutland Water, fairly local to me. This was a standard distance race, 10km run, 40km ride, 5km run. I hated it!!! I wasn't prepared for just how much it was going to take out of me and how much it was going to hurt. Somehow I managed to qualify for the GB Age Group team to race at the World Champs in Adelaide in October 2015.
Adamant that I didn't want to do the standard distance again, I entered a race 2 weeks later at Clumber Park. This was another qualifier for the world champs, I finished 4th overall and secured a place in the sprint team! I then spent the summer training and racing to prepare myself for Adelaide.
In October I raced at the world champs in Adelaide and finished in the top 20 overall and won my age group. I couldn't believe it! My first race for GB AG and I had won! I was just annoyed I hadn't taken the sport up earlier.
After another winter of training it was becoming clear that cycling was rapidly becoming my strength, coming from a running background I always expected the run to stay as my strength but I feel so comfortable and relaxed on the bike that as time has gone on I find myself enjoying the training on the bike more and subsequently I think I subconsciously put more into it.
At the start of this year I decided I wanted to step back up to the standard distance and really give it a proper go. I had qualified for the European champs in the previous year, meaning I was doing the sprint race, so I still needed to keep some speed, but my main focus was on endurance.
I needed to race the qualifiers at the start of the year to be able to race in the standard distance at this year's world champs. I was First Lady home in the first 2 and 3rd lady home in the third race winning my age group in all of the races and also winning the age group British champs in the process.
So I had qualified for this year world champs at the standard distance, the next challenge was the European champs, but I was racing the sprint distance. I went to Germany for the race and came 2nd overall and 2nd in my age group. I was so happy! Another medal! This race was also my 6th race in 12 weeks so I was knackered and ready for a rest.
I had 7 weeks until the world champs, not really enough time for a decent rest and to get a full training block in but I did what I could. I went to Spain for the world champs and my first standard distance race for GB. It was awful! So hot and I wasn't on form. I had a terrible first run, pulled it back on the bike and then limped around the last 5km! Despite my performance I was 6th overall, a huge improvement on the previous year, and I had won my age group again!
Video of Claire Steels
- Squat Jumps
- Mountain Climbers
- Press Ups
- Split Jumps
- Plank Elbows/Hands
Work continuously for 5 minutes, rest for 2 minutes then repeat!
Complete 3 times!
What the future’s got in store
Sorry for the waffle, but that is an outline of my sporting background, how I got into duathlons and what I have achieved so far. As for future challenges, I have pre qualified for both the Europeans and Worlds next year, although I think I will probably only race at the worlds. As we are self funded, it gets so expensive with all of the travelling. The Worlds are in Canada next year, so I will probably turn it into a holiday and I suspect my family will come along too. One of the great parts of racing is that it means I get to go to places that I probably wouldn't go to unless I was racing. It also encourages my parents to travel a bit more and has meant my dad has had to overcome his fear of flying, Adelaide was a huge step for him and I was so grateful to have them both there to support me.
For the rest of this year I was probably focus on Time trials on the bike and maybe a little bit of road racing to try and get some more experience on the bike. I love training on the bike and when something takes up so much of your free time and money, it's important that you enjoy it.
Following on from that, you asked how I fit in clients around my own training, competing and social life. Well, nothing great comes without a cost and unfortunately my social life is the cost! Haha! Luckily I live with another athlete (Abi Schofield, the friend who introduced me to duathlons) so we understand each other's commitments. My uni friends and friends from school are all also very supportive and understanding. My boyfriend is a cyclist too, so he gets it, and we often fit 'date night' in around a time trial or a training ride! How romantic!
I am very fortunate to have some fantastic clients, who are very supportive of my sport and helping me achieve my goals. I have set work hours that I will PT clients in and I try to stick to these hours. The same applies to my training, which means that there isn't a lot of time for messing around or resting after training sessions. It is usually a case of, get in, shower, get dressed, eat and get out the door. I have to be organised and on a very tight schedule. When I am away competing I try not to go away for very long and I often set workouts for my clients to do while I am away. I will usually touch base with most of them while I am away to check that they are staying on track.
A standard training week consists of....
Monday - Turbo session usually of intervals followed by stretching and a gym session later in the day if I have time.
Tuesday - Track Session with running coach Sean Beard, followed by yoga with my housemate.
Wednesday - Gym session and stretching / foam rolling. Gentle run if I have time.
Thursday - Running session, either intervals or a tempo run. Bike session in the evening, either a time trial or road race.
Friday - Long bike ride, 2 - 3 hours.
Saturday - Long run, 90 minutes.
Sunday - REST DAY!!!!
The ‘big secret’
I've been asked about the 'big secret' a lot. There is no secret really, just train hard and eat well and listen to your body. No one knows your body like you do, you can take advice from other people and read about the facts but it's how you apply it to your body and your lifestyle that makes the difference. What works for one won't necessarily work for another.
My training goals are simple, be better. We very easily put a limit on our potential, but why should we? Very few people ever really achieve their true sporting potential, for varying reasons, but life gets in the way for a lot of people. My aim is to come away form this sport, irrespective of how well I do, knowing that I tried my hardest to reach my full sporting potential, that I couldn't have given it anymore. I guess that is what motivates me too. That and the fact, that like any competitor, I love racing and I love performing well. Yes I love winning too, but I would rather race well and come last than race badly and come first. I won in Spain but cried after the race because I felt I had let myself down, not by the outcome, but by my performance. I didn't race well and I knew that at the time and it stays with me. That feeling is an awful feeling, I am motivated to train hard so I don't feel like that again.
So (nearly there I promise) Sundried. The kit is fantastic, it looks great and feels great and I can train and perform in it. But Sundried is also a brand that cares about its environment and cares about giving something back. Fitness and training is not just a huge part of my life, it is my life. I live and breathe exercise and training, it is a lifestyle choice that I make sacrifices in order to maintain it. As a personal trainer I try to encourage others to lead a healthy lifestyle, not just to lose weight for a special day, or to train for a one off event, I want to encourage others to incorporate regular exercise and healthy into their everyday lives and to be able to maintain that. Walking or cycling instead of driving (I'm slightly biased but cycling is an excellent mode of transport) and living a clean lifestyle, both in terms of how you treat your body, but also how you treat those around you and then environment that we share. I feel that these values, echo the values held by Sundried.