Claire is a professional duathlete who won the ITU World Duathlon Age Group Championships in Adelaide, Australia in 2015. She talks to Sundried about how she became a world champion only 10 months after taking up the sport.
Have you always been into sport?
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. 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.
How did you get into the sport of duathlon?
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 become 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, and as an awful swimmer, duathlons seemed a logical step for me.
How did you get into competitive racing?
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 Championships 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 in which 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 2015 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 up the sport earlier.
What are your goals now?
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 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 qualified for the European Championships last 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 standard distance 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 races 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 came 6th overall, a huge improvement on the previous year, and I had won my age group again!
A typical workout for a World Champion duathlete
- 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 does the future hold for you?
I have pre-qualified for both the Europeans and Worlds next year, although I think I will probably only race at the worlds. As my team 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 otherwise. 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.
How do you balance racing with a having social life?
Nothing great comes without a cost and unfortunately, my social life is the cost! 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 personal training clients who are very supportive of my sport and helping me achieve my goals. I have set work hours in which I train clients which is separate from training time. 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.
What is your training regime?
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.
Why work with 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.
So, you have reached the end of your race season, what do you do now? Are you feeling a little bit lost or have you already started looking ahead to next year's races? Here is a triathlon coach's expert advice on maintaining fitness during the off-season.
The first thing everyone should be doing is having a break. That’s right, a complete stop from training. Cue hushed silence! So many athletes use training as their coping mechanism from stress and work – I know I have and still do use sport like that on occasion. To take that out of your life can leave a massive void, a worry about what you will do with your time, a worry about losing all your hard earned fitness and speed.
The problem with this is twofold. Firstly, without a proper solid break from training or physical stimulation, your body can’t have a full recovery and reset. Most endurance athletes train most days (if their work/family/life schedule allows), if not twice a day, so taking a few days of doesn’t cut it. Time for your body to recharge and repair is essential. On top of this, your brain needs a rest. If you have a particular goal that you want to work towards each year – whether it be a particular race (of any distance), or a PB – then hopefully you have ramped up your efforts towards that goal and hopefully you achieved it. But to have that ramp up in intensity and effort, you have to have some down time too. If you don’t feel like you need that downtime, then chances are you’ll find out at a later point that you did need it and you’ll have a period of low motivation.
Take at least 2 weeks, if not 3, of doing no training whatsoever. Just stop. Take time to spend with friends, family, socialising. Two or three weeks will not lose you all your fitness. But it will have you ready and raring to do something. After that period of proper time off, have a couple of weeks to a month of what you may call 'play'. Do “stuff”, but it’s not training. Don’t worry about your watch or your speed. But if you feel like going and running – go run. Leave the watch at home and focus on enjoying the experience. Try something different – maybe climb, mountain bike or row. All of this is about having fun, about being active and maybe building a little bit of fitness without any worry, any focus, keeping it all light. The great thing with play is that you might develop extra skills that can help your primary sports.
Then it’s time to work out what you are doing for the year ahead and what you need to be doing now to aid and assist that. Unless you’re planning on doing an Ironman or marathon in February/March, you don’t need long training sessions (which is good when the weather is horrible and dark!)
You can use the winter to start changing habits and help toward your end goal. Do you keep putting off improving your swimming? Now’s the time with no stress or races immediately round the corner. Do you keep getting run niggles? Get your running checked out. Use the time you have effectively, get things looked at now and you can start your training year with the best possible habits before you start doing more and working harder.
Along with technique and skill retraining, the other thing that can be of real benefit is starting to build strength work into your programme. I am a massive believer in doing something for strength all year round – it doesn’t have to be in a gym, although if you can get to a facility it will add benefits because of the extra resistance you can hopefully incorporate.
The gym is a scary place for many endurance athletes who would rather be outside, worry about being weak, and have fears of getting “bulky”. Let's deal with each of these in turn.
1) The less fun element, or being away from what you are good at – if you have a good PT, or even look online, you should be able to work out or find a programme that is fun, motivating and enjoyable. That doesn’t mean it is easy, but in the same way your swim or run training can vary, so can work in the gym. It’s not a one size fits all, and should certainly be adaptable to you.
2) Worries about being weak – compared to whom? Being the gym is the same as going out running, or being in the water. We notice other people while we’re out training – but we don’t pay huge attention. When you’re in the gym it’s the same – someone may notice that you’re there, but they aren’t going to be staring at your form or how much weight you are pushing. Besides, the reason you (and anyone else) is doing your training is to get better. Take a deep breathe and focus on yourself.
3) Being bulky/putting on weight – a massive fallacy. To put on bulk and muscle you need to eat a hell of a lot, and you need to work super hard in the gym for a concerted period of time. If your food is balanced (ie calories in v calories out) then you will not be physically able to put on weight or size. It’s a physical and biological impossibility, against the laws of nature.
Just because you might start getting in the gym, that doesn’t mean you need to spend hours there. One or two sessions of 45 minutes to an hour a week are plenty. And this can fit in nicely with reduced other training while you build into a rhythm. If you’re someone who does two sessions of each per week, a gym session or two hopefully can slot in nicely.
If time is an issue, you could substitute one of your other sessions, or maybe your long ride through the winter (rather than going out and riding in the wet for 3 hours, you could do a 45-minute gym session and get more bang for your buck). Or you could do body weight exercises at home to reduce the time pressures on yourself.
Your training through the winter should reflect that there’s nothing immediate coming up for you. Enjoy your training, and try not to stress about it too much. If you wake up in the morning feeling unmotivated – take the morning off. It doesn’t have to become a habit, but if you remove the mental stress now, you’ll feel much better about getting your head down when the sun comes out.
Keep the sessions short and punchy so that you can get in and get done – and then maybe go to the Christmas party or that catch up with friends you haven’t seen in six months.
Volume is easy to add back into training; the body generally absorbs that better, so go for the quick hits, a turbo or spin class to get the legs moving, a short trail run in the dark (a group I used to run with called it Blair Witch Running!), or a club swim session for company – and then be done with it. Use races as fun training sessions – whether that be your local off-road 5-miler or entering masters swimming.
Training in the winter can be a challenge, mentally as much if not more so than physically. Give your body and brain a change, some fun, and tick over. Remove the stress and have fun. You’ll be thankful in the new year.
About the author: John Wood has been involved in swimming for the last 25 years and has competed at National and International levels. He is now a triathlon coach with Bristol and District Triathlon club, Flying Monks Triathlon, and North Bristol Tri, training adults, children and para athletes.