The work life balance of an Age Group Triathlete


22.06.17 at 11:44 am

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Looking to take that next step and qualify for the GB Age Group Team or perhaps you are already an age grouper struggling to balance your training with your work and social life? We caught up with top age group athlete, Alys Mathew, to ask her a few questions about her experiences racing at the very top of amateur triathlon. She even throws in a few very handy tips at the end.

Work life balance of an age grouper

Can you describe yourself in one sentence?

I’m a coffee lover, cake eater, food dustbin, most happy when out pedaling and always trying to fit too much in (meaning I’m always late), unbelievably clumsy, ridiculously competitive, user of races in exotic places as an excuse to travel… oh, and I do the odd triathlon!

How long have you been doing triathlons and how did you get into the sport?

I first did a triathlon (Blenheim Palace Tri) back in 2005 after being told that I ‘was not built for marathons’ and should try multi-disciplined events. I did absolutely no training for it, was a mediocre doggy-paddler at best and could hardly walk the next day but I absolutely loved it, especially the biking. A few months later I did my first ever Olympic distance race and was overwhelmingly proud to manage to swim front crawl for the whole of the swim in around 38 minutes!

After nearly 10 years with almost no triathlon and with a bit of time between jobs I decided to go on a Triathlon training camp in Lanzarote with Robin Brew. I loved it and Robin seemed to see a bit of potential, so he said I should consider going for Age Group qualification.

How long have you been doing Age Group racing for?  What races have you done?

Robin kindly wrote me a training plan in February 2014 and a few months later in May I raced at Ellesmere Triathlon which was a ITU qualifier race for the World Championships in Edmonton, Canada. Much to my amazement and excitement I qualified and in September of that year was exceptionally proud to don the GB suit. I came 17th and that was the start of my age grouping and aspiration to climb up the rankings!

Since then I’ve raced at ETU European Champs in Geneva placing 7th (July’15), ITU Chicago World Champs placing 8th (Sept’15),  ETU European Champs in Lisbon placing 4th (May’16) and ITU Cozumel Worlds placing 17th (Sept’16).  yep, last one didn’t go so well – not a fan of the heat/humidity – but suffice to say I’ve definitely got the triathlon bug!

Talk us through a typical weekday and weekend for you 

In the run up to ITU race in Chicago Sept’16 I decided to invest in coaching and chose Method Triathlon. Its something I’ve not looked back from and probably the best decision I’ve made in a long time. This means that I don’t have to think about what to do on a daily/weekly basis, Max Curle does all that for me and puts it into training peaks. I’d recommend this to anyone looking at improving their work life balance.

A typical week would look like this:

Monday – rest day….. Quite often lunchtime is a visit to see Chris from Method Triathlon for a massage/remedial work – he is the sole reason my body continues to work & I can do the training Max sets. This is despite my best efforts to regularly break it! Its also a chance to catch up on admin or work late to ensure I prep as much as I can for week ahead.

Tuesday – Turbo session in the morning, long day at work and then a swim later in the evening.

Wednesday – Run session (normally do these pm) and every 6 weeks a lesson with Ray Gibbs at Swim Canary Wharf then perhaps drinks/dinner with mates afterwards.

Thursday – Swim session in the morning (open water if lake/lido/docklands open) and turbo in the evening. Again if I have plans with friends, try to leave work on time to nail turbo and get to wherever I’m due at a reasonable hour (i.e. not too late, something I’m also well known for!)

Friday – Swim in the morning and strength & conditioning in the pm. As much as I know I should go out/make plans I generally am pretty exhausted so tend to flop!

Saturday – Longer Bike or run and perhaps recovery swim… broken up by large lunch (for refueling purposes obviously) and ending in glass of wine/dinner with mates

Sunday – Pending previous days activity longer bike, brick or open water session and then relaxing for rest of the day.

How often does your alarm go off before 6am?

Rarely thankfully, it’s not for me! Ok… unless its on race day morning or I’m going abroad & have been stupid enough to book a ridiculously early flight.

How do you cope with juggling such a busy job, training and trying to maintain a social life?

Ha – something I ask myself daily and not sure I have 100% nailed it. Training does impact my social life but that’s a choice I’ve made as I love the training and racing plus have made some great friends through triathlon.

That said, I tend to try to get the main session done pre-work (around 6.30am-7.30am) so that the evenings or at least a couple during the week are free for socialising or getting work done. I also attempt where possible to incorporate training in to life so running to/from work, joining group of friends to go to the lido/lake and then going for cake afterwards or cycling to friend’s houses for the weekend rather than taking the train.

Do you think you cope well with it?  

I’m getting better at the balance of training, life and work. With the amount of training I do, I get tired so the first thing that gets sacrificed is social life. When injured, (the last time being 2 weeks ago when I tore a calf muscle) I’m possibly not the greatest person to be around!! Worrying about implications to training, losing fitness, not being able to race but most of all HATING having red boxes in my Training Peaks diary!

I am, however, unbelievably lucky to have Chris and Max from Method Tri around to chat through training issues, nutrition, injuries, how to recover from injuries, when NOT to train when ill (still not great at this!) and generally be a sounding board which makes coping that much easier

What races have you targeted this year?  How have they gone?

I had 2 major races planned for this year as I stepped up in distance to 70.3:

  • IM Aix-en Provence, FR 70.3 was 14th May and despite a horrific run where legs would not work I ended up coming 3rd in my AG and 24TH female overall.
  • IM Elsinore, DK 70.3 European Championships on 18th June . It was touch and go whether or not I would race and/or be able to complete the run given the tear in the calf 2 weeks before the race but relaxing, doing the rehabilitation exercises Chris gave me, stretching and utilising the POD in the Altitude Centre to aid recovery and maintain fitness all seemed to pay off. With a PB on the swim, a flat and fast 90k and a calf that decided to behave on the day was hugely chuffed to get Silver in my AG
work life balance of an age grouper

Have you made any changes to your training as you’ve become more experienced (e.g. more interval sessions that are time efficient)?

3 things that have changed as I’ve come more experienced

  • Understanding nutrition and hydration – ensuring I’m eating the right stuff at the right time to fuel my training. This means I get maximum benefit from sessions my coaches set and I can apply most learnings to race day situation too. Max did a nutritional analysis which was hugely useful and also very educational.
  • Appreciating my body! I also now understand my body a lot more, how to push harder for longer, belief in what I’m capable of, when to listen to it (and when to ignore it), that a few days off wont mean I lose fitness or technique so don’t panic.
  • Focus on improving technique – You don’t need to go fast ALL the time! It helps reduce injuries, gains ‘free’ speed and improves efficiency. This has been most noticeable on my swimming. Swim lessons with Ray at Swim Canary Wharf every 6 weeks or so and ensuring I actually do the drills he sets as part of every swim set has been key to exiting the water fresher and quicker so that I can do a better bike split

Do you have any advice for fellow age groupers or people looking to take a step up into the Age Group family but are worried about time commitments?

Go for it, it’s the most rewarding and fun experience in my opinion and to be able to pull on the GB suit and represent your country is a huge honour. I’ve also met some flipping awesome people along the way and made some great mates off back of doing it. That said be realistic, if you get in to it, it is time consuming (like any hobby) and you will find you acquire more lycra and carbon-fibre than you thought possible. Its also not cheap – see previous sentence!!

For me, investing in a coach has been invaluable but don’t do it unless you are going to do the sessions they set! If you get one, make sure you talk through your life/work commitments with your coach to ensure they adapt the plans accordingly to work for you. It also helps having a supportive boss, like I do at Just Eat, but regardless your work situation, getting up that little bit earlier means you get the sessions done and the rest of the day to feel smug and enjoy!

What’s your favourite and worst training sessions?

Favourite – most sessions on the bike but especially enjoy the 3 lap challenge of Richmond Park

Worst – 18 x 500m at 3m45s/km pace with just 15 seconds recovery between each interval

Work life balance of an age grouper

What motivates you?

Oh, good question! The enjoyment of taking exercise, hitting the times/numbers that Max has set me, racing in exotic locations, competing at the very highest level possible, challenging myself to do better/go faster, winning… but ultimately realising just a very, very small part of that childhood dream of being an ‘athlete’.

What drives you to carry on? Do you ever think about giving up?

Drives me to carry on – Getting better, going faster, placing higher

Giving up, no, but having a break from it yes. Its time consuming and does impact other areas of your life. Likely I’m going to take rest of 2017 off training so hard or doing any major races but will start again in 2018 – or at least that is where my head is at now!!

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