An age-group triathlete’s perspective on staying motivated during the winter months.
As many age-group athletes can appreciate, juggling training and a full time job is never easy, Lee Thompson, representing Great Britain, shares his take on how he stays motivated through the various seasons, especially during the cold British winter, and his principle on finding the harmony between rest and training.
Five-years ago Lee Thompson signed up for his first triathlon race goal. He continues to thrive on the training, goal-setting and sport of triathlon in its entirety. As an age-group triathlete, the sport has already taken him to many welcoming destinations, where communities of enthusiasts embrace the sport as he does.
“The prospect of standing on a podium at a championship event was a wild dream.”
Looking back on 2018, Lee Thompson has had so many great moments worth celebrating. He stepped onto the podium in the 2018 Fyn ITU Duathlon World Championships, holding the bronze medal, claimed a remarkable result finishing in eighth position in the 30-34 age-group at the 2018 ITU World Triathlon Grand Final Gold Coast and sixth place in the 2018 Ibiza ETU Duathlon European Championships. It’s now time to get back into training, reset for the season ahead and train during winter in the UK.
“I always get so excited when someone tells me they’ve signed up to their first triathlon. I remember the excitement, the fear, the trepidation I had, when I signed up for mine five years ago.”
How do you stay motivated to swim, bike and run when winter hits London?
I’m not sure why I live in the UK. I actually hate the cold. I was supposed to live in a warm climate, I’m not sure what happened! I have friends who love getting out in the cold weather, but I’m going to be honest, give me 33-degrees and a blue sky any day!
As much as I’d like to, avoiding the cold when living in London is impossible. So a strong winter program is really important to my training.
That said, rest is also key! I took the decision to take four weeks totally off training at the end of this season. Having raced four championship events back to back (World Duathlon Championships, Fyn; European Triathlon Championships, Glasgow; World Triathlon Championships, Gold Coast; European Duathlon Championships, Ibiza), my legs and mind needed a rest. As many age group athletes can appreciate, juggling training and a full time job is never easy and I really felt I needed a break after this season. I’m not going to lie to you, taking time off when you’re used to training two or three times a day, six days a week is not easy. Mentally your head is telling you to go for a run, just an easy swim. But the time off, I believe, pays dividends in the long run!
In terms of my winter training, my aim is creating a strong level of base fitness with a focus on technique and looking at improvement areas for next season.
My outdoor swims move into the pool, I try to swim 2-3 times a week. With one session focused on technique. I’m very open about the fact that my swim is my weakest of the three disciplines, so it’s really important to me to carve out a session that focuses on drills and techniques. I also swim with two swim teams. On Friday’s, I swim with a team predominately made up of swimmers “Team Mermaids” (and Mermen!), I find swimming with a team really helps as it pushes you. Last week we did a set which involved 20 X2 lengths at race pace, with a ten second rest. Doing that alone will never be fun and I know I wouldn’t push myself like I do when I’m around others.
On the bike, I try to get out when I can. I’m really lucky that I work near an amazing facility, Athlete Lab London which is an indoor cycling studio, five minutes from my work. With a team of dedicated cycling coaches, I work with the team there to sustain and push my FTP (functional threshold power). I tend to train at Athlete Lab 3-4 times a week mainly on sessions working around and above my threshold. I’m not going to lie to you, it’s never fun. But the facility allows me to train in the warm and provides me with reams of data to geek out on afterwards!
For the run, I try to add a long run into my training that I don’t usually have time for racing over the summer. I’m lucky that I train with a number of marathon runners, so there is always someone willing to get out in the cold for a few miles. I also try to add in a weekly track session into the mix. Track is one of the toughest sessions of the week, but it’s a great way to keep a little bit of speed when you’re not racing on a regular basis.
Avoiding the cold, I also try to get into the gym and work on my strength and conditioning over the winter. I try to do one session a week during race season that is dedicated solely to strength, so looking to avoid the cold at any cost, I up that to two times a week. I work closely with my strength and conditioning (S&C) Coach Anthony Fletcher, who provides me with a dedicated program of what to do, week in, week out. S&C can often be daunting for a new multi-sport athlete. But I can’t recommend enough adding it into your program. It makes a real difference!
Do you train solo or in a club?
Training in a group is always a great way to motivate yourself, especially in the areas where you’re weakest. It’s always better to chase someone right?!
Unlike many athletes, I don’t have a dedicated triathlon coach. I work on the three disciplines individually. So I don’t have a structured program but I try to fit in 2-3 sessions of each sport a week, with a dose of strength and conditioning!
When it’s dark and cold outside, how do you maintain the motivation to keep doing triathlon?
People often ask me, does getting up at 5am get easier the more you do it? The answer is no! Especially when it’s -2 outside and I know I have to scrape ice off my car. Motivation is really important though. Different things motivate different people. Some people are focused on smashing a PB, some people are focused on getting better at a different sport.
For me, I’m motivated by progress! I actually didn’t take up triathlon until 2015 so my journey over the last four years has totally changed my life. 2018 was an amazing year for me and I’m constantly focused on pushing myself further, bettering myself and making myself stronger. I don’t think I’m ever going to be a person that says “I’m going into this race and I’m going to win it” – I’m not wired that way. But I am focused on pushing myself and bettering myself as I continue on my triathlon journey.
Can you please share your insights and tips for people who are new to the sport of triathlon and training during winter for the first time?
I always get so excited when someone tells me they’ve signed up to their first triathlon. I remember the excitement, the fear, the trepidation I had when I signed up for mine five years ago! If I was to give three pieces of advice for newbies, it would be this…
1.Take things slowly. If you’re new to the sport the temptation will be there to throw yourself into the deep end and to be doing brick sessions three or four times a day. I’d recommend firstly seeing the three sports individually. Where are you strongest? Where are you the weakest? What can you do to improve on the three?
2. Don’t worry about getting all the gear. One thing you’ll quickly learn about triathletes is that we LOVE all the gear and gadgets! I spend way too much time talking to friends about what Garmin they have, or what additions they’re adding to the bike. As you enter the sport, don’t worry about getting all the snazzy accessories, just concentrate on getting the basics.
3. ENJOY IT. I often get asked – especially during the Christmas period – why are you still training? Why are you off to the gym? I do it, because I love it! Getting out in winter can be tough, but it’s important to enjoy the journey and the process! Triathlon can be a lot of fun, so make sure you enjoy it along the way!
Do you have your 2019 schedule locked in?
Absolutely! One of the great things about taking a break is using the time you would usually be training to create a race calendar for the year ahead! My two big races next year will be the World Duathlon Championships in Pontevedra and the ITU Triathlon World Championships in Lausanne.
Highs and lows of 2018?
The start of 2018 was tough for me. I was diagnosed with bone stress in my hip at the back end of 2017 and was forced to take 3 months off training. At the time I was struggling to walk, let alone run and the journey back to full fitness was mentally and physically tough! My mind was telling me to jump into full training straight away, but the journey was slow and – at times – painful!
Luckily though, I managed to regain my fitness and return stronger. A huge high for me this year was coming third at the World Duathlon Championships in Fyn, Denmark. As I said earlier, I came to the sport really late and the prospect of standing on a podium at a championship event was a wild dream! When it happened, and I realised I’d come third, I actually couldn’t believe it! I’m really lucky that I’ve made some amazing friends through racing triathlon and I was really lucky that many of them were in Fyn. Although the elation of coming third was really special, the real reward for me was celebrating the achievement with them afterwards!
Of course, another highlight was the World Triathlon Championships in the Gold Coast in September. The Aussie’s put on an amazing show and it really was a fantastic week of racing. The race itself was extremely tough but I loved every minute. It really was one of the best courses I’ve ever raced, technically challenging, beautiful scenery and amazing support along the way!
I think a key learning from this season has been to take things slow and trust the process. After my injury, I wanted to dive back in and push things straight away. But by listening to the experts around me, I structured my training to ensure I built back my fitness in a healthy, sustainable, injury-free manner.
Going into the season, mentally I’d prepared myself that my performances weren’t going to be a good as I’d hoped (luckily, in the end they were). But I think that process was also a reminder to enjoy it and love what you do. This sport is amazing and you can meet the most fantastic people. So when things are tough, or you don’t want to get out at 5am on a cold January morning, remember, it’s all worth it!
The end of year brings end of season celebrations and the silly season? How do you find the balance between keeping healthy, active, training well and enjoying the festivities?
I would be lying if I said I don’t each chocolate, drink alcohol or indulge in as many Christmas lunches as possible! I think for me, the festive period is about balance! If you know you’re going to be overdosing on the calories, make sure you’re offsetting them pre or post indulgence!
Life is short, so enjoy yourself!
World triathlete Lee Thompson is aiming to line up and represent Great Britain at the 2019 Pontevedra ITU Multisport World Championships and 2019 ITU World Triathlon Grand Final Lausanne.