How did you first get into triathlon?
As kids we always would get up early and watch Transworld Sport on Channel 4. There were some bizarre sports on there plus every so often triathlon would feature and me and my brother were in awe of Ironman and doing the three disciplines back to back. Triathlon was then embedded deep in our minds however it took until after university and joining a running club for my first triathlon. Some of the club were already doing triathlon however I couldn’t swim a length of front crawl so I almost dismissed it however every morning before work I would go to the local swimming pool and go up and down trying to “perfect” my front crawl. I would watch other people and try to understand what they were doing and I wasn’t.
After swallowing a considerable amount of water I became confident enough to complete a Sprint triathlon in Southwold, Notts, with a 400m swim and absolutely loved it. From that point I was racing almost every weekend in the summer and enjoying the social aspect of training.
What has been your favourite race to date and why?
I’ve loved almost every race I’ve done. Maybe not always at the time but the buzz you get afterwards and for crossing the finishing line. My favourite race so far was the Marathon des Sables (MdS) in 2003. A 250 km race across the Sahara desert where you carry all your own equipment (apart from water than a “tent”) over six stages. The longest stage is generally over 80 km.
Training for the MdS was hard work and involved a lot of time on my own but there were also memorable training events including a 60 km endurance race with my friend Billy in the Brecon Beacons. I also used to train on a static bike in my local gym in their sauna. I completed the MdS with Paul, my brother, and agreed that we would stick together knowing that you would have low points or struggles along the way. On Day 2 I suffered heat stroke and can barely remember getting to the finish line but Paul stayed just in front of me keeping an eye on me to make sure I was ok. Then on the marathon stage, Paul struggled and I returned the favour. It was a fantastic event and one I look back on now with great fondness.
Ironman Switzerland was a very close second. And Midnight sun run in Tromso, Norway where I went with my brother and sister. And Race the train in Wales. Great camping weekend away with my running club. So many to mention… I have done some great races and looking forward to doing many more.
What is your proudest achievement?
My proudest sporting achievement was completing the MdS with my brother knowing that we could spend so much time with each other and not fall out. This was summed up by a discussion while checking in for the flight home and discussing what we should do next, this was when the idea of Ironman was agreed on. Knowing I could hit such a low on Day 2 (Heat stroke) and still pick myself back up, quieten the voices in my head telling me that I’d made a huge mistake, and go again.
Have you ever had any racing disasters?
Yes two come to mind straight away.
The Excalibur Sword walk when I was in Scouts. The details are a little vague after almost 30 years however the feeling is not. From memory this was a 40 mile endurance walk and after 30 miles I decided to quit even though my team mates pleaded with me not to. I had completely justified it in my head and my mind was made up. After stopping I was lying on my sleeping bag in a village hall thinking to myself, you’re not that knackered, you could’ve gone on. At that point I committed to myself that I wouldn’t quit again.
The second one is the London Marathon in 2001. At the time I was running twice a week and considered myself “pretty fit”. I also had a new job where I would work longer hours because that’s what everyone did and you stood out negatively by leaving on time. I could run 10 miles comfortably and considered myself “ready” for the marathon and everyone was being over cautious training so much. On race day, everything was going so well until 18 miles. Guess what?! The wheels fell off big time however I consoled myself that I only had 6 miles left and I could cover that in two hours in a worst case scenario… I was so fatigued that it was only at mile 20 that I realised that I then had 6 miles left. This was a devastating blow but I sucked it up to teach myself a lesson to make sure I properly prepared before a race in the future. In the end I finished in 4:44:03. At the time, I was disappointed with my time but knew deep down it was a time I had trained for and deserved. I can honestly say, I didn’t necessarily learn enough from this as I’ve winged quite a few races since!
How do you overcome setbacks?
Setbacks have come in various different shapes and forms. Physical set backs have included injuries including getting knocked off my bike when someone opened their car door on me in 2003 or simple muscle strains/tears. The first thing I do is sulk! This time period can very from minutes to hours however when I got knocked off my bike this lasted for a few days as I couldn’t train at all after the operation. Now I look at what I can do rather than what I can’t do. I make a plan. This may involve anything from as simple as google/YouTube and a foam roller to seeing physio. As I’m getting older I spend more time stretching and on mobility than I’ve ever done before.
The hardest set backs I have experienced are mental and I don’t just mean the voices telling you that you’re tired and it’s ok to cut the session short or skip it all together. The mental set back I’m referring to is from the environment around you and the people you surround yourself by. I was consistently told I wasn’t good enough and I was useless, a failure and after a while you start believing this and questioning your own values. This has been the hardest set back to overcome and I’m still overcoming it today.
In 2016, I signed up for the long-distance course triathlon at Alpe d’Huez in 2017. This would be a huge challenge after doing nothing for nine years, but I had almost one year to get ready for a triathlon. How hard could it be? Long story short, I didn’t make it to the triathlon that year, or the next. Or the next. It turns out ‘finding yourself’ is not as easy as it sounds. The mental challenge has been way harder than the physical. Doubting my ability, lacking motivation, making excuses. In fact, it’s only this year that I am ready. I KNOW I can do it. This year I know I can do it and am working to a training plan that will let me enjoy it on the day.
What advice do you wish you'd been given when you first started out?
Be kind to yourself and don’t compare yourself to others. Yes, it’s great to pick someone to race against and use that to motivate yourself however the only person you should be really racing is yourself. This isn’t about setting yourself low expectations but more about self-improvement.
Be present in your training, in your racing and enjoy the moment. Enjoy the hard parts, enjoy the easy parts and laugh. Laugh lots. Make friends, share experiences and laugh some more.
Oh yeah, and stretch more and use a foam roller.
What are your goals?
To be better than I was yesterday and inspire my children. I’m not expecting all my kids to follow me into doing triathlon but to understand you can achieve what you want to do with dedication. I also want them to know it’s okay to fail but it’s not okay never to try. Failure should be an opportunity to learn.
I want to increase awareness around mental health and understand how I can assist (I’ve not figured this part out). I want people to understand that being in an abusive relationship is not right and not a sign of weakness. It’s not you at fault but the other person and life can and will get better. I’m working on this too.
Who inspires you?
This is a tricky one to answer. My parents inspire me. Knowing the sacrifices they made when we were growing up to give us as much as they could afford but more importantly they always gave us their time. I want to be that role model for my kids. When I’m with them (I see them every other weekend) I am present, we have experiences and life can be lived beyond a screen.
At the moment there isn’t a single person who inspires me. I listen to a lot of TED talks, Audible books and podcasts. There are lots of truly inspirational people however I’m now looking to myself to be my own inspiration. That might sound stupid however I want to be proud of what I have achieved. This isn’t just about racing but the journey to the race.
Why work with Sundried?
Sustainability and Wellbeing are two of my passions and the Sundried ethos and product range embody that.
The focus on using recycled material and reducing plastic pollution is fantastic and something I look for in products that I buy. I also love the EHOH approach in your offices. We have a huge focus on wellbeing at work and it’s great to see other organisations embracing this. I really believe that movement/exercise not only helps with physical health but also with mental health.
I want to utilise this relationship to help spread my message about mental health and sustainability and feel there is perfect alignment in our values.
To hear more from our ambassadors and get free tips on workout plans and more, connect with the Sundried Personal Trainers on our app.
Olli is a German athlete who has competed all over the world. He talks to Sundried about life as a triathlete.
Have you always been into sport?
I’ve been active since I was a child. Like most children in Germany, I played football growing up, then I swapped to athletics at the age of 17. However, after a couple of years of running around the track I got bored and picked up rowing while studying in California. Rowing was my main sport for five years and during the summer months we often went out for group bike rides to keep fit. That’s how I got into cycling.
What made you decide to enter the world of triathlon?
One of my friends persuaded me to enter an Ironman in 2017 and I thought it would be a great challenge. I’ve never been a good swimmer and the farthest I had run before the Ironman was a half marathon. After the race, I said I would never do a triathlon again. A week later, I signed up for another one.
What’s been your favourite race to date and why?
Ironman 70.3 Mallorca in 2019 has to be my favourite race to date. The atmosphere was incredible; there were lots of spectators shouting competitors’ names, perfect weather conditions, an amazing and very scenic bike course and a very unique and buzzing atmosphere along the run course. I can highly recommend the race to anyone. It is first-timer friendly too.
And your proudest achievement?
My proudest achievement is qualifying for the 2019 Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Nice, two years after I entered my first ever triathlon. I missed out on qualifying in Mallorca by one place so decided to sign up for another race four weeks after. Luckily it paid off.
Have you ever had any racing disasters/your toughest race yet?
I’ve had a few mini disasters along the way, ranging from having to walk the run leg of a triathlon because my knee locked up to cycling on a flat tyre for 40km and grabbing the wrong transition bag.
My toughest race yet was the 70.3 in Weymouth in 2018. The swim was shortened because the sea was choppy and it was very cold, very wet and very windy. I wasn’t prepared for the weather conditions and got so cold on the bike that I wasn’t able to eat or drink anything because my hands turned into ice blocks. Following the nutrition fail on the bike, the wheels came off during the run and I was just glad to make it to the finish line. A large number of competitors (including half of the professionals) were not able to finish the race.
How do you overcome setbacks?
Everyone gets ill or injured and I guess the key to overcome any obstacle is to be patient. These things are out of anyone’s control and will happen. You just have to believe in your training.
What advice do you wish you'd been given before you started competing?
Don’t do a full Ironman as your first ever triathlon and don’t eat a large portion of raw green vegetables and meat the evening before a race. Your stomach will thank you.
What are your goals for 2020?
Of course I’d like to do well in my races, but my main goals are to continue enjoying the sport and to stay healthy and injury-free.
Who do you take your inspiration from?
I’ve read quite a few books that provide great inspiration, such as ‘Iron War’ by Matt Fitzgerald and ‘A Life Without Limits’ by Chrissie Wellington. In addition, there are plenty of triathletes in my circle of friends and each of them has their own unique story.
What do you like about Sundried and what’s your favourite bit of our kit?
Sundried is a very unique company in terms of sustainability and offers products that are made from 100% recycled materials, thereby contributing to the reduction of the global carbon footprint of textiles. On top of that, the kit looks great and is very reasonably priced. My favourite piece of kit so far is the Cadence Men's Short Sleeve Cycle Jersey as it looks great and fits perfectly.
You can do all the swim, bike, and run training in the world, but a poor fuelling plan could land you with a dreaded DNF. Read our advice from athletes who have been there, done it, and made the mistakes so you don't have to.
Helena Kvepa – Experienced Ironman Triathlete
I consume 300kcal an hour on the bike and bit less on the run. It's something I do in training as well to get used to it. I eat every 20 minutes on the bike; a mix of gels and bars, and every 5km on the run, gels only. But it's very individual and something to practise on longer workouts.
It's important to hydrate leading up to the race and eat what you are used to. I hear way too many stories of people who stuff themselves with pizza and pasta to carb load and then suffer gastric problems during the race. I just eat as normal, just bigger portions and restrict the fibrous foods.
On race day, I'll have my usual breakfast of porridge with banana and honey and a black coffee. I'll sip 750ml of electrolyte drink while getting ready and have a gel just before the start, but not a caffeinated one as, together with the race nerves, it does terrible things to my blood pressure. I leave a gel and caffeine shot in my bike shoe or helmet to remind myself to take them straight away. I leave bike nutrition in the transition bag so I quickly stuff it in my tri suit.
I carry two bottles of water on my bike. One for the drinks that I replace at every water station and one backup. I always replenish my bottle at each feed station as it's better to have more than you need than to run out before the next station. Also, I carry a few caffeine gels, as in later stages you might need an extra boost. I make my watch beep at me every 20 minutes to remind me to eat. It's better to consume more on the bike than get to the run with an empty tank.
I have another gel and caffeine shot in my running shoe for the run. I have a race belt with a little pocket where I stuff my gels. I take one every 5km and try to time it around the water stations. I sip water and maybe Redbull later in the run. I don't carry water on the run as I make sure I hydrate on the bike so I don't need as much on the run. I can't stomach solids on the run, but other people I know would have a banana or something. If there is a special needs bag, I leave extra emergency gels and caffeine shots in there along with dry socks.
When racing in hot weather, I use salt stick tables. I carry them in the plastic egg found inside Kinder egg. I never skip food; it's better to have more and don't need it, than hit a wall, as it's almost impossible to recover from that. You will never consume as many calories in a long distance triathlon as you will burn.
After the race, I try to eat well and plenty of fruit and vegetables. After a long race, your immune system is depleted, so it's easier to become ill. Get some food in even if you don't feel like it and drink a lot of water.
Vikki Roberts-Caiger – Triathlete & Coach
Start fuelling before you feel you need to! It's almost impossible to recover if you get to the red line in terms of energy. I made the mistake of not taking on enough in T1 on my first middle distance event and so now I'm religious about having an energy bar in T1 and plenty early on during the bike.
Find out what's available on the course and see if it suits you, and if not, be prepared to carry everything you need. I've got a big bento box for the bike on the top bar, two bottles on the frame and use a race vest for the run unless there are lots of aid stations (one every mile at Lakesman for example).
Practise fuelling on your long training sessions. I found that I needed two squares of flapjack/energy balls/quarter sandwich and a Percy Pig every 5 miles on the bike. I also have a swig of electrolytes every 5 miles.
I favour food over gels (although I use them for a boost) and find it's important to have a mix of textures and flavours (I go sweet and savoury). I remember one ride where I only had fig rolls and I physically couldn't swallow them in the last third of the ride!
Steve Vaughan – Team GB Age Group Triathlete
Pre-race, you need to carb-load effectively. There are lots of different techniques and it's not just about eating tons of pasta the day before the race. I use the 6 day method, which means gradually building up carb intake in the week before the race.
On race day, I get up early and eat several hundred calories; I swear by rice pudding. Then I'll drink plenty of water and eat a banana before the start of the swim. After the swim, I try to use the little and often principle. I usually have half an energy bar in my transition bag that I try to eat on my way to mounting the bike (I used to force a gel down as well!) then graze constantly throughout the bike leg.
I break bars up into my box, perhaps put my favourite brand into my pockets if I don’t like the race brand, and then supplement with bananas. I have 2 bottles of carbohydrate drink on the bike to start with and then just take water from the aid stations. If there is an ‘aid bag’ opportunity, I have something savoury and another carbohydrate drink.
I often put something savoury in my T2 bag for the run; I like pretzels, but races now often have a savoury option on the run too. I put 2-3 packets of Clif blocs in my pockets and am disciplined about eating 1 of these with water at each stop (so one about every mile and a bit). If I’m hungry, I eat whatever is on the table!
Ben Greene – World Level Triathlete
It's important to remember that heat, humidity, and race pace all have an impact on digestion. I raced Ironman Cairns in North Australia earlier this year and to prepare over the winter, I completed a number of indoor brick sessions with the thermostat set to 30 degrees Celsius.
I quickly switched from solid fuel (my usual preference) to a more liquid-based approach as I struggled to digest the solid fuel at a higher heart rate (caused by the increase in temperate and race pace).
My top tip: practise your race nutrition in race conditions (i.e. climate and course specific) and at race pace. I've found that fuel which sits well in Zone 1 or 2 during a training ride might not sit so well at Zone 3 on race day.
Marc Went – Experienced Ironman Triathlete
Hydration and nutrition are always a hot topic of conversation and one which we all need to find out what works for us. For me, I found that I can take in gels fine at shorter distances, but for middle distance triathlon upwards, gels became a big gut issue on the run, so of late I've trained and raced with Tailwind. To date, it's been perfect for anything from ultra marathons to full distance Ironman, but I do add some solids on the bike.
The biggest thing I'd say is set out on finding out what works for you months in advance and train/test with it as there is a strong likelihood you'll tweak it along the way. Think how you will manage the volumes needed on the day, albeit using on-course sponsor brands or taking your own and if you'll need to add some additional hydration storage or bento boxes.
With Tailwind, I tend to pre-mix my Xlab Torpedo and carry the rest as a concentrate in a 750ml bottle and mix with water from course aid stations into the Xlab during the race.
Also, think about other factors which may influence your race day nutrition/hydration needs. I'm an above-average sweater, so I found without taking on some additional salts, my legs tended to cramp up later in the race. Since looking at salt loss more closely and introducing salt tablets on the bike and run, this tendency to cramp has gone completely.
Hydrate sufficiently in the week running up to the race and before the swim. Eat and drink little and often; I use my Garmin alarm notification to bleep every few minutes as a reminder.
On the final 10k of the run, take whatever you can and keep smiling!
David Rother – Professional Triathlete
I usually go for a no-carb Monday and Tuesday and start filling up with carbs slowly from Wednesday to Saturday lunchtime. Saturday evening is just a light normal meal. I also reduce my coffee intake during race week to zero to have maximum effect on race morning, when I drink up to 4 double espresso.
On race morning, I'll have some water-overnight oats with a half-ripe banana about 3 hours before the race start. Then I switch to Maurten gels and drink mix and I have one gel before the swim.
On the bike and on the run, I have a set nutrition plan personalised for me and try to execute it as well as I can. Normally, during the run, it's just taking gels and every cup of water, coke or gel that I can grab from the aid stations. Oh, and of course, half a litre of beetroot juice every day during race week!
Racing the Ironman 70.3 World Championship is always special. The calibre of athletes is high, the competition fierce, and the atmosphere is electric. I was absolutely delighted to qualify at my first race of 2019, despite having a year off due to injury throughout 2018.
This year, the world championship was to be in Nice in France, and athletes were to tackle what was being described as one of the toughest bike courses yet. 1,300m of climbing up the famous Col de Vence was going to be extremely tough. Especially when you favour flat courses as I do!
Training had gone well leading into the race though and with some specific turbo sessions designed to build climbing strength, a whole lot of track sessions, and a little weight lost to help my power to weight ratio, we were in a good position.
The weather was perfect – brilliant sunshine, blue skies, and the sea was so warm that the organisers were teetering on the decision of a wetsuit or non-wetsuit swim (wetsuits are banned over 24.5 degrees), but with just 0.5 degree leeway in favour of wetsuits on the morning of the race, the decision was favourable.
As we lined up on the beach with almost every famous name in triathlon present, I was excited but felt super relaxed. We hadn’t put any pressure on this race, just to see whether I could finally do myself justice at a world championship, in the toughest of tough fields on the global Ironman 70.3 circuit.
With the format of women racing on the Saturday and men racing on the Sunday, it always makes for a more pleasant race environment, especially during the swim and the bike. Women tend to race less aggressively than men and the atmosphere almost feels ‘calm’ in comparison.
Crystal clear water made for an additionally pleasant swim – in fact at one point I actually acknowledged that I was enjoying it, which is probably a first! The sea was warm, there were fish swimming below us, and no dramas at all, and with just a little chop, it didn’t seem to take too much out of me as I ran into T1.
The start of the bike was flat and fast along the coast so I was in my element, but this didn’t last long before the course swerved inland and we were hitting the start of the climbing.
Weirdly, I was also enjoying the climbing. My power numbers were looking super strong but I felt comfortable and was riding within myself, so pushed on trying to make the most of the stunning scenery. The famous climb seemed to go quite quickly and before I knew it we were starting what would be a FUN descent which would last about 30km – plenty of solid recovery time!
The final stretch of flat road led us back into transition and although my bike split seemed slow at a touch over 3 hours, the climbing would have accounted for much slower bike splits than usual – even for the pros.
I ran out of T2 feeling strong and was delighted to see my parents and my coach on the course – the support at a world championship is extra special, and it definitely made the 21km run go quickly. The run course stretched along the Promenade d’Anglais with the sea glistening alongside the entire way, it really was a beautiful spot for a race.
I was holding my pacing very comfortably, perhaps even a little too comfortably, and as I ran down the finish chute I felt super proud to have completed yet another Ironman 70.3 World Championship. I was pleased to have run a 1:34 half marathon, especially off the back of such a tough bike course, and although my overall time seemed a lot slower than usual, in 5 hours and 17 minutes, I knew my personal performance was strong and I couldn’t have got much more out of myself.
I ended up finishing 25th in my age group out of 250 – a huge improvement in my overall result compared to previous world championship events. I was so happy with this result, finally I had achieved the performance that was warranted and it was testament to all the hard work I had put in so far in 2019.
The best bit though, results aside, was that I absolutely loved the race – every single minute. I had no dark moments, I was just in my element and for me, you can’t ask for much more than a perfect race.
About the author: Amy Kilpin is an elite triathlete and Sundried ambassador.
Sam is an athlete who got into triathlon because he found just running to be too boring. He talks to Sundried about training and motivation.
Have you always been into sport?
Yes I have, from a very young age I’ve always been a very active person which has led me to participate in over 11 sports, a mixture of individual and team sports ranging from Judo to rowing to rugby or table tennis.
What made you decide to enter the world of triathlon?
I used to be a long distance runner only, and once took part in a 50km ultra-marathon run, which was great fun but also got slightly boring after a while, which led me to think whether I could be able to combine my running with other sports. Adding to that a friend of mine had previously competed in various Ironman races which convinced me to take up triathlon.
What’s been your favourite race to date and why?
My favourite race so far has been the Bath Half Marathon 2019 for a couple of reasons, one being that I am a student in Bath and was really looking forward to running in front of a home crowd and people I knew very well, and also because I managed to hit a PB of 1:24:29.
And your proudest achievement?
My proudest achievement was running the Bournemouth Marathon when I was aged 17, which I ran after having only just recovered from a 2 month long rugby injury.
Have you ever had racing disasters/your toughest race yet?
Luckily I haven’t yet had any major issues during a race, I do make sure the day before the race that all my equipment is all ready and set to go and that I am physically ready to race. But these things do happen and I am sure that I will inevitably face some more or less serious issues on the race course that I will have to deal with.
How do you overcome setbacks?
When I have a bad performance or a training session I’m disappointed with I just turn back and look at the positives, either in that particular race/training session, or throughout the months of training and the amount of improvement that I have gone through over that period. It’s always tough but this sport just like most sports is fought mentally and it’s your mentality which will often define if you reach your ultimate goal or not.
What advice do you wish you’d been given before you started competing?
A piece of advice I would have appreciated while training for my first ever triathlon would probably have been to practise transitions as well as brick sessions ( running straight after cycling, or cycling straight after swimming ). I had only been focusing on the individual disciplines and came the day of the race and I was so far off my target because running after cycling is just a new sport in itself, but it taught me a lot and it was a valuable experience.
What are your goals for 2019/2020?
My goals for 2019 are to compete the Ironman 70.3 in Vichy, being my first middle distance triathlon I have for goal to complete it in under 5 hours, but we’ll see how it goes. Then I will be running the Cardiff Half marathon in September and hope to aim for a new PB. There is no doubt I will be racing another 70.3 in the early months of 2020 but the dates aren’t yet confirmed.
Who do you take your inspiration from?
My inspiration comes from a lot of things, a lot of incredible athlete have completed a lot of incredible things which is in itself amazing, but if I were to think of an athlete in particular I would have to say Tim Don, who is a Ironman champion who in the past year had a terrible accident while he was ruling the triathlon world, which set him back hugely, but he made a full recovery in 3 months and is now back up and running and competing on the biggest stage again which is just incredible in terms of mental strength and motivation.
What do you like about Sundried and what is your favourite piece of kit?
I recently bought the Sundried tri-suit and have tried it a few times and have been incredibly surprised by how breathable it is and how incredibly aerodynamic it is. It also provides a surprising amount of comfort for long rides which I did not know was possible.