Amy comes from a sporty background and with triathlete parents, this sport is in her blood. She talks to Sundried about training, racing, and everything in between.
Have you always been into sport?
Yes! My mum always tells people that I learnt to swim before I could walk. I have always loved sport and my family are super sporty too. Before triathlon, I came from a swimming background with a bit of netball, horse riding and cross country running thrown in.
What made you decide to enter the world of triathlon?
Both my parents are into triathlon and I remember watching them race the day I left for my first year of university and I thought ‘this looks great, I would love to give this a go’. I had also already decided that I wanted to continue my running and swimming at university, and it worked out cheaper to join the triathlon club than to join both swimming and athletics.
What’s been your favourite race to date and why?
Definitely the ITU World Triathlon Championships in Australia this September. I have just got back home and it was the most incredible experience and an opportunity that I am so grateful for. The whole race was so well organised and the standard was high which was inspiring, so I had my best race of the season. We were very lucky to be able to watch the Senior Elite Women the afternoon before our race which was very exciting and watching Vicky Holland win the world title definitely spurred me on in my race the next day.
And your proudest achievement?
It has to be qualifying for the Age Group World Championships this year and being able to race in the GBR trisuit.
Have you ever had any racing disasters/your toughest race yet?
I did a swim leg in a team triathlon last summer where it was a mixed start and I got totally pummelled. My goggles came off and I got caught up in a fight around the first buoy which meant I got held under the water and swallowed so much water that I had to stop and be sick before I could carry on swimming.
How do you overcome setbacks?
I absolutely love triathlon, so I am in a lucky position that even after a tough race I love being able to get back to training again. But I think that when you have a setback, you have to remind yourself of all the other positives that you have going for yourself. I am a firm believer that setbacks only make us stronger, even if it feels rubbish at the time. You can’t always have everything go your way.
What is the best bit of advice you wish someone had told you before you started competing?
To enjoy it! During my swimming days I definitely let the pressure get to me too much at times and you perform way better if you can just let go and love what you are doing.
What are your goals for 2018?
I am on my end-of-season break right now, which means 2 weeks where I don’t do any specific training so I can let myself recover from a long race season. But after that I want to establish a good base of winter training with some 10km run races to help with my pacing and maybe some bike time trials too. Then it is into 2019 where my main focus will be the European and World Age Group Championships in the summer - and finishing my degree!
Who do you take your inspiration from?
My parents are a massive source of inspiration for me, balancing all they do with training whilst keeping it fun and always enjoying what they do. Vicky Holland has also been amazing this year. All the female elite triathletes are so inspiring, they train hard but always seem to love what they do. I am also super impressed with how humble they all are and how they really seem to support each other, even when they might not have got the result they wanted.
What do you like about Sundried and what’s your favourite bit of our kit?
One of my favourite things about Sundried is the hard work that goes towards making sure their products have the smallest carbon footprint possible. We could all do more towards minimising our carbon footprint so buying Sundried products is a great way to make a start. At the moment I am loving the Sundried water bottle - it means saving on plastic as I can take it everywhere so no more buying throw-away water bottles! It never leaks and is super easy to clean too.
Getting in cold, open water can hold fear or confusion for many athletes, or others just simply don’t enjoy it. Whatever happens, it’s good to be prepared; follow these tips for preparing for the open water.
When you get in open water, take time to familiarise yourself and if you can't get comfortable, at least get acclimatised. The number one issue for panic is people setting off too quickly, either just to get on or to get warm. This spikes your heart rate and your breathing and will likely set off any anxiety that will become more difficult to control. Let your wetsuit float you up in the water and try to relax back so you can float on your back – and then on your front too.
Identify the struggles of swimming in open water
Going off course. Panicking. Swimming into people. Letting your form collapse. Maybe you’re not being used to swimming in a wetsuit. Unforeseen conditions like strong currents and surf/chop.
The number one remedy to the majority if not all of the above is practice, practice, practice.
It's true that it is hard to get a lot of practice in open water because of schedules, weather conditions, and other commitments. So continue to swim your regular sessions every week. But as the race approaches take one or two of those swims into open water, whether it be a lake, estuary, or ocean. Make it as high a priority as possible.
Swimming in the pool is not completely different from swimming in the open water – but it does have its own vagaries. So to get faster at the latter, you need to do it more. And not just on race day.
Use these swims to test your wetsuit, practice sighting, get used to not seeing the bottom, and practice with others. Also, work on longer intervals at race pace. Some people will benefit from maintaining a more constant rhythm – others will need to readjust from having a rest and a push off at the end of every length!
Prepare as much as you can in the pool
Swimming in the pool still has its place. Even though you race in the open water, you should still keep up your regular weekly pool sessions, especially if your form is still weak. Of course, you can work on technique in the lake or sea, but it becomes more challenging. Pool swims are important to develop speed and improve technique without the distractions that open water provides. Use the pool to focus on your form and drill work as well as a few race pace speed sets for time so that you can monitor your splits.
If open water is simply out of the question, simulate the chop, surf, and congestion by trying to swim in a lane with three to four other people at the same time. It is tough but it will mimic that race start well. Also, close your eyes while swimming to mimic losing your ability to guide yourself with the black line (obviously only do this if you have an empty lane!) Turning before the wall is also a great way to simulate the stop-go of open water swimming, and not resting between lengths.
Swimming in open water – at least with a wetsuit – should be quicker than swimming in the pool. So make sure that you are prepared for swimming in open water. Practise putting your wetsuit on so that it fits properly over your shoulders. Get yourself comfortable entering the water so that your heart rate doesn’t take such a shock to the system come race day.
Read more: Tips For Swimming In Open Water
About the author: John Wood is a triathlete, triathlon coach, and Sundried ambassador.
Once you’re comfortable in the water and swimming further and easier than before, the next challenge is to get quicker! Either because you want to beat your friends, set personal bests, finish further up the results, or potentially even qualify for age group teams.
There are three keys to getting faster at swimming:
- Reducing frontal resistance to the water
- Pulling/kicking with purpose
- Not rushing your stroke
Reducing your resistance to the water
This will mean that you can move faster and further with the same level of effort and this is a real foundation to strong and fast swimming. If you are able to focus on good posture in the water – i.e. looking down, lengthening your spine and engaging your core, then you’ll be in a really good place.
A simple trick to focus this is to streamline when you push off the wall every time. This is not cheating – a comment that I get from many athletes! This is a skill that will help you travel faster and with better form, improving the quality of your swims. Imagine it like a squat jump. When you push off the wall, if possible, squeeze your ears between your biceps with your hands together above your head. If shoulder mobility doesn’t allow this, just keep your arms in front of you but still aiming to tuck your chin down toward your chest.
All this will help lengthen your spine and keep your head in the right position – it’s your reset point every length. Finally, when you push off, you will automatically engage your core – meaning that your first few strokes will be among your best ever. Your challenge is then to try and maintain that as far down each length as you can!
Pulling and kicking with purpose
With resistance reduced, you can look to engage with the water more rather than moving your arms and legs just for the sake of moving them. Kick drills can teach you to kick smoothly rather than panic splashing your legs around. You can kick streamlined (see above), on your front or on your back, or do side kick to work on body roll – in any case, make sure that your legs are pushing against the water.
With your arms, you can do sculling drills to get used to feeling pressure of the water against your hands and forearms – and transferring this into doing your full stroke. Swimming with fists can have the same effect. Whatever drills you end up doing, mix them into doing full stroke so that you can feel where the drill is trying to work on in your stroke. Focus on each kick or pull having some purpose rather than trying to just do things for the sake of doing them!
Not rushing your stroke
Finally, with regards to swimming faster I like to think of the phrase "less haste, more speed". If you look at the top athletes in most sports – Jonny Wilkinson or Dan Carter in rugby, Messi or Ronaldo in football, rowers Heather Stanning and Helen Glover, swimmer Katie Ledecky etc – they never look like they are rushing, even though they are doing things at incredibly high speed.
Some of this comes down to the fact that they are very well practised. On top of this though, they know that they have all the time that they need to undertake the skills that they are doing. There is no rush. In the case of Glover & Stanning, or Katie Ledecky, their stroke rates are incredibly high – but they don’t look like they are rushing things. Again, think about connecting with the water and pushing – rather than just trying to throw your arms and legs around aimlessly to go quicker. Effort does not necessarily equal speed!
About the author: John Wood is a triathlete, triathlon coach, and Sundried ambassador.
Getting in the water can be incredibly daunting for some people. 20% of the UK’s adults are scared of the water or can’t swim. A lot of people doing triathlon or contemplating doing one don’t enjoy swimming or are new to the concept. So, starting out can be a tense process.
There are 3 main steps when getting started with swimming:
Putting your face in the water
This will make your life easier and you won’t then get a horrible shock if you get splashed.
Learning to float
Most humans will naturally float to some degree. Maybe not perfectly (men especially), but if you can learn to trust the water to support your body weight, you can learn to allow your body to relax.
Frantically trying to kick and pull will spike your heart rate and breathing rate, which are counter-intuitive to feeling that calm and zen feeling that being in the water can give.
My go-to when teaching to swim is to get people floating on their back – aiming for some sort of starfish type position. It takes some confidence that you might not entirely have, but the trick is to try and stay still and fight the urge to kick or pull to keep yourself stable on the surface. These things will lift you in the water, but then you will sink again to your starting point so there is no real gain. Once you find that you can trust the water to support you, you’ll be a fair bit calmer!
The second thing to do when getting water-ready is to do some sink downs. Take a big breath of air, sink under the water/push yourself under and breath out – then stand up. Simple! In practise, if you’re not so comfortable it can be a little challenging to start with, so really force the air out of your lungs. When you come to swim this will be key, as it will allow you to breathe in efficiently when the time comes.
The final stage to getting started in the water is getting comfortable on your front. My favourite drill to teach this skill is the dead man float.
Start face down, completely relaxed and floppy. You should feel your legs and arms hang down (for the vast majority). Then repeat the float but with 3 distinct changes:
- Lengthen your spine – pull your ears away from your shoulders, keeping your neck neutral
- Lift your arms up in front of you so that your ears are between your biceps (keeping your hands in the water)
- Engage your core – pull your belly button toward your spine, and squeeze your glute muscles.
For the most part, people should feel their legs raise up toward the surface – if not completely then at least in part. This gives us a starting position to work from in the water. From here, you can practically do anything with your arms and legs, and you should get smooth forward movement.
One point to remember; swimming is incredibly counter-intuitive. Human nature is to want to look where you are going – but this will drop your legs in the water and make it harder to pull and to breathe. Survival instinct is to want to lift your head to take a breath – but the same thing happens. Your brain will tell you to frantically kick your legs to keep you afloat and moving, but a smooth relaxed and slower kick will be far more productive and less energy-sapping. If you can overrule your panic and discomfort reactions, it will make your life in the water far easier.
About the author: John Wood is a triathlete and triathlon coach.
Team GB Age Group triathlete and Sundried ambassador Leigh Harris gives us his insight into training as an amateur yet high level athlete while juggling work and family life.
Training and Time Management
Recently, a friend asked me about training and time management. With a busy job, young family, two dogs and other commitments, I must admit it can be hard to fit training into a daily schedule.
It’s important to get the balance right. I must be regimented to get in the training I need as an amateur athlete but also allow time for family, work, and all-important rest.
For me, consistency and flexibility play key roles. If you want to see the most gains or improvements in your training and racing, you've got to be consistent, however, it's important to have a training plan that is realistic for your schedule. A schedule that will allow you to be successful includes adequate time for training, recovery and is in harmony with both family and your work life.
Trying to cram in training and not allowing enough time for recovery or having a training plan that puts stress on work and family time won't be sustainable over the long term.
Some weeks I train up to 15 hours, other weeks I struggle to do 7 hours, this inconsistent training used to frustrate me, however, having worked with sport psychologist Evie Serventi (www.evieserventi.com) she has helped me to understand that training isn’t necessarily about quantity but instead is about quality. You need to make every session count, know the purpose for each session and the benefit each workout is giving you.
This ethos has help me to develop a training plan that fits in with my busy life and allows for consistency.
Developing a training plan
My training plan doesn’t change greatly from week to week. I have a number of key workouts that I repeat without fail and I view these as my core sessions where I see the biggest gains. The remainder of my training is flexible and fits around family and other commitments. These core sets also keep training simple; knowing I will do a certain type of workout each Monday brings better time management and provides stability for the family.
When planning my training schedule, I start with 4 core sessions per week – 1 run speed/track workout, 1 bike speed or hill efforts, 1 gym/strength and 1 swim speed set. These sessions are consistent throughout my training.
Having set my core sessions, I then incorporate my endurance (long run, swim or bike), technique (swim or run) and recovery (stretching and rolling) sessions into the plan. I like to keep these flexible so that I can fit them in around work and family commitments.
I complete a lot of my training either first thing in the morning, at lunchtime, or after the little ones are in bed. I struggle to complete high intensity workouts first thing, so these sessions tend to be either strength training or endurance based.
Most of my high intensity sessions are completed in the evening where I don’t need to rush and can really concentrate on getting the best out of the workout and my body.
If I only manage to train 7-10 hours a week then there’s no real need taking recovery sessions and easy weeks, it’s unlikely that I’ve done enough to warrant that rest. I use my endurance/technique sessions as a gauge of how I’m feeling but most importantly I listen to my body.
Another important aspect of my training is to ensure that I’m fueling my body properly. I don’t follow any strict diet, I just make sure I eat sensibly, have a healthy balanced diet and eat everything in moderation. This helps me to recover quickly, ensures I’m ready for the next session and provides consistency to my training.
Finally, it’s very important to get your family on board with what you want to achieve. You won’t be able to do it without their support and unless you can communicate your goals with them, then it’ll be hard for them to understand your training.
Triathlon will certainly impact their life as well as yours and it’s important that you can give back. I always try to factor in my family whenever I can, either by training with them (kids bike while I run), going to races together or simply socialising with other members of my triathlon club.
This year I qualified to compete at the World Triathlon Championships for team GB in Australia, we will be travelling out there together and will experience the build up to the championships and the racing as a family.
I can’t wait to have my family cheering me on and they are so excited to see me racing for my country. It’s that enthusiasm that keeps me motivated and helps them understand why I train.
About the author: Leigh Harris is a Team GB Age Group Triathlete and Sundried ambassador.
Read more: Winter Circuit Workout By Leigh Harris