October 2017, Lucy Charles prepared herself for the toughest challenge of her life: IRONMAN World Championship in Hawaii. Alongside prestigious company including Swiss legend Daniela Ryf, who won the event for the third consecutive time, Lucy, a rookie, stood at the start line to cross the finish moments behind the Swiss veteran.
After a 10-year competitive swimming career, that included Olympic trials final for team GB, Lucy looked to enter the toughest triathlon disciple of all – Ironman. She was an immediate hit. In 2016 she became a double world champion in the female 18-24 category winning both IRONMAN and 70.3 titles in 2015.
She turned pro in 2016 and got her first victory under her belt in Lanzarote 2017 with a brand new course record. Her success in the Canaries earned her a spot in the 2017 IRONMAN World Championship race in Hawaii.
In her Hawaiian debut, Lucy took the pack by storm and came in 2nd place with a time of 08:59:38. With her continuing rise to IRONMAN superiority, we spoke to Lucy about her top tips for triathletes and current or aspiring IRONMAN competitors everywhere.
World Champion triathlon tips: Lucy Charles’ guide to becoming a better cyclist
“No one discipline in triathlon is more important than the other. But out of swimming, cycling and running, it’s on the bike where competitors really have to put in the long hours.” – Lucy Charles
In an Ironman-distance triathlon, the sport’s most extreme format, competitors swim 3.8km, run 42km… but bike a massive 180km. Move your cycling game up a gear with the help of one of the UK’s top triathletes.
Cycling requires skill, balance, strength and determination in order to power through and get it done well.
“Knowing and trusting your kit is important especially when you have fast descents and tough climbs. One of the things I swear by is a power meter in my cranks which gives me all the numbers I need to see throughout a day in the saddle. It means I can make sure I am not going too hard on the climbs or freewheeling too much on the descents.
“For long rides, you need to make sure you are comfortable and aerodynamic. I use pads on my handlebars which help me with both of those things. Padding in your shorts is crucial… otherwise, you are in for an uncomfortable ride.”
“You want the bike to be an extension of yourself so that you can control the power you are putting through the bike. If you are new to cycling, like I was in 2014, it may take a lot of hours in the saddle to feel comfortable. Every week I will do at least one long ride which is a minimum of three hours but it is good to mix up your training with a spin class and a group ride as well.”
“You want to make sure you are supplementing your riding with specific gym work that will help you see improvements when you are out on the bike. I typically spent 1-2 hours in the gym solely dedicated to cycling. These exercises include leg extensions, hamstring curls and squats.”
The other key is single leg work because you need to have a good left-right balance. – Lucy Charles
“Using turbo trainers – a stationary bike – can help with your cycling strength and if you throw in things like Zwift to the mix, you can make training more exciting by racing in a virtual world. Time spent in the gym is time shaved off your bike split.”
“In order to get the right output, you need to get the right input. Nutrition is key – and entirely unique to each person. It is a case of trying something, seeing if it works for you and then sticking to that formula. I typically have 60-90g of carbs per hour during a ride which makes sure my energy levels are topped up and I don’t have any flat points at any stage during a ride. If I do feel like I need that little bit extra then I top up with caffeine.
“Once you have found that perfect balance of what works for you nutritionally, it is great to focus on other parts of your training like max interval training between 10-60 seconds. It is also good to find a nice loop and really perfect your cornering skills, doing time trial races can really see what you are capable of and put down your max power output. There is always a percentage to be gained.”
“Riding on the road is really gruelling, particularly if you’re out in the saddle for up to six hours exposed to the elements, it can be very exhausting. It is really important to get that relaxation and recovery going straight away after a ride. You need to stretch out the leg muscles and your back so that you do not stiffen up. Get your nutrition on board within the magic 30-minute window to replace all that you have spent on the bike.
“It is not enough to go out and just train, you need to reflect on the data that you have collected and review what you have done to learn from it for the next session.” – Lucy Charles
World Champion triathlon tips: Lucy Charles’ guide to becoming a better runner
“Ensure you are wearing the correct shoes for your run. If you are running off road, trail shoes will give you that stability and grip that you need on the more uneven terrain.
“The other shoes that I have are race flats. They have not got as much support in them or as much cushioning but they are a lot faster, so when I am racing, road running or on the track, I wear the flats. You don’t have too much other kit too think about in running but you might as well be comfortable. So make sure you are wearing breathable layers, you don’t want to be damp when you are running.
“A heart rate monitor will link up to your watch and let you see your pace as well as your heart rate. This is crucial to make sure that you are not surging on climbs or slowing down but keeping a nice, even pace.”
“Running is really pure and simple – but when you start to explore it there is a lot going on.
“Working on things like stride length, cadence, body position and breathing will make your running easier and more efficient.
“Stay relaxed by focusing on breathing properly, don’t exhaust yourself by taking shallow breaths. Stay nice a relaxed and get the oxygen.
“Build up your running mileage gradually by setting goals and targets and ticking them off – this keeps you motivated to keep getting better.
“Mix up where you run – choose from road, trail or treadmill, I find this changes things up nicely and also helps to keep me motivated.”
“There are loads of things you can do in the gym that is going to complement your running without having to go and smash out loads of miles. But, don’t worry a gym membership isn’t required, bodyweight squats and lunges are all going to help with your running.”
The key things that will see you notice improvements when you are running are core strength, stability, leg strength and plyometrics (aka explosive movement). – Lucy Charles
“Working on box jumps, planks, side planks and flutter kicks will help you build your core strength. Make sure you do not neglect your glutes, they’re the key to stability while running.”
ACCELERATE PERFORMANCE GAINS
“The key thing is to stay dedicated to your plan, work up your training gradually and you’ll begin to notice the gains. If you get sued to a regular routine of runs, try adding in extra workouts that can give you a performance boost. Incorporating a tempo run – running at near-race pace – into your training can also help get the competitive juices flowing.
“Doing at least one long run a week helps build endurance. This might be the run where you are likely to be bored, try running with music or with a friend to give you some distractions and extra motivation.
But if you are struggling with the regularity of your breathing, forget the music and focus on the rhythm of your breathing.
“If you’re running for more than an hour, carry water with you, ideally in something like a Camelbak to spread the weight around evenly.”
“As soon as your run is finished, focus on rehydrating, stretching, controlling your heart rate with proper breathing and getting warm.
“Stretch for 10-15 minutes at the end of the run, holding the stretches for 15-30 seconds for each muscle group.
“If you’ve got a heart rate monitor, use the stretching time to begin analysing your running data. Get some protein on board within 30 minutes of the run – ideally, prep what you’ll need for your post-run meal before you head out.”
World Champion triathlon tips: Lucy Charles guide to becoming a better swimmer
“Swimming is my favourite part of the triathlon, I’ve been swimming since I was eight years old and I feel like I know how to work with the water, which is really important.”
“One of the biggest things for me is preparing for the swim with the equipment that you need. If you get that right, then you can go a lot quicker with a lot less effort. There are a lot of different wetsuits out there, I prefer a thinner wetsuit because I can get a lot more movement in it, typically 2-3mm thick.”
“You need to take good care of your wetsuit, I would recommend hanging your wetsuit up inside out as the outside is not hydrophobic so will stay damp. It’s also key not to hang it up on a hanger to dry as it will stretch the fabric and change the shape, you want the neck of the wetsuit to stay tight to not let water in.”
“The more you can use hand paddles in training, the more you will improve the catch of your stroke and strengthen your forearms. Using kickboards and flippers will build the strength in your legs.”
“The best and most basic way of practising your bi-lateral breathing is the ‘bubble-bubble-breathe’ technique. Exhaling while you are underwater means that when you do lift your head to inhale, there is no wasted time breathing out.”
With freestyle, the key thing is making sure you are rotating from your hips and your shoulders. Couple this with a really nice long stroke and a good catch to ensure you get as much water as possible and you will be in good shape. – Lucy Charles
STRENGTH TRAINING TO BENEFIT SWIMMING
“It is really important to feel for your weaknesses when in you are in the water and work on them in the gym so that next time you’re swimming you can really feel the difference. I tend to spend 2-3 hours per week in the gym doing swimming-dedicated strength training. These exercises will be concentrated on lat pull-downs, bench press, chin-ups and deadlifts.”
You also might like – Make your time in the gym more worthwhile for the pool
“Working your upper body and your core will see you make huge improvements in the pool.”
I swear by the medicine ball, it can really help you improve your stability and strengthen your core. The stronger you feel in the gym and the pool, the more confident you will be on race day. – Lucy Charles
“It is all about shaving off those precious seconds off your finishing time. Ensure you keep a good line in the water, be smooth in your technique and try to avoid ‘snaking’ from side to side.”
“The more you put into your workouts and training, the more you will get out of it. Working out is important but the recovery and relaxation are where you gain the work you put in. You need to get your body back to its base state, so you must rest and recover to be able to go again the next day.
“As soon as you are out of the pool, you should stretch, rehydrate, refuel and get some protein on board, all within the magic 30-minute window.
Taking the time to wind down properly helps you feel positive and reflect on how far you’ve come and what you have achieved in your day’s training.”