Photo: Graeme Murray/Red Bull
Last year, former swimmer-turned-Ironman triathlete Lucy Charles made an incredible pro racing debut at the Kona Ironman World Championship, scooping a second place podium after dominating much of the bike leg. Not bad for someone who’d never even sat on a road bike before signing up for her first Ironman just over three years ago.
Here, the Red Bull athlete and former professional swimmer chats about bike falls, her love of Zwift, and how there’s more in her swim-bike-run tank for 2018.
Switching from competitive swimming to long distance triathlon, were there any learning curves?
The great thing about my background was that I specialised in distance swimming, so my engine was suited to long distance triathlon. That being said, attempting to learn to ride a bike was a steep learning curve. To begin with, I fell off so many times when I tried to unclip from my pedals.
You were totally new to road cycling – did clipping in take some getting used to?
I was hopeless to begin with, stopping at traffic lights was my nemesis. I must have fallen off four out of five times when I had to stop and unclip. Members of my triathlon club would laugh when I said I was training for an Ironman. I had no technique at all, my bike was just driven by my existing swimmer engine!
Three years later you broke the bike record at IM Lanzarote! What do you put this down to?
Once I turned professional in 2016, my partner and coach, Reece, said it’s time I started to train smarter if I want to improve further. We planned and focused a lot of my training towards the bike – after all, it’s the biggest section in an Ironman race. Our good friend and bike nerd, Ant Collier, introduced us to Zwift. This meant we could create and import specific sessions whilst training in a safe, fun and slightly competitive environment.
How did using Zwift change your training?
I started using Zwift towards the end of 2015. For me, because I live near London, most of my cycling is done on the turbo. When you cycle inside the same four walls day in, day out, it can be difficult, and motivation can be hard to find sometimes. This is where Zwift was a game-changer for my training. It has allowed me to consistently work the bike and stay motivated, playing a huge part in my Kona performance in 2017.
What kind of Zwift sessions did you do last year in preparation for Kona?
I always like to work hard on the turbo – I respond well to intensity. The longest Zwift session I’ve done is just over 4 hours.
You’ve come from a pro swimming background. Is swimming your favourite triathlon discipline?
No way! After years of swimming up and down staring at a black line, it’s not my favourite discipline. I love the fact you can be social on [the] bike and run.
You took an incredible 2nd place at Kona last year, but said there’s still much you can improve on – can you elaborate?
I know I can go faster on all three disciplines. My swim’s still not at the level it was when I was a swimmer. My bike is constantly improving and is already a lot better than it was in Kona 2017. I also feel I haven’t reached my run potential. If I can stay injury-free and keep getting stronger, I know I can comfortably run under 3 hours on that marathon split.
What does a typical week of training look like during race season?
It’s hard to pinpoint a typical week during race season, particularly with travelling from one race to the next. I will aim to do 3-4 sessions on each discipline; it’s more about maintaining form as opposed to building fitness during race season. The good thing with racing is it keeps you sharp and works as a big training stimulus too.
Do you ever use training aids during your swim sessions?
I use a lot of kit during my swim sessions as I want to keep things as interesting as possible. My favourite piece of kit are hand paddles, working on the catch phase of my stroke and improving forearm strength.
What mental strategies do you use when you’re hurting in a race or training?
I just love the pain. I can take myself to a different place when I have a number on my back.
You’ve said that you often work above Ironman intensities in training – is this across all 3 disciplines?
I’ll do a large amount of my training at Ironman intensity, but I will push above Ironman effort on all three disciplines. I know this works for me personally, and therefore I would say this played a big role in my 2017 success.
What did a typical day in your life look like prior to Kona?
7am – Wake up and have a coffee
Morning run – 8km
8:30am – Breakfast
9am – Gym session
10am – Protein shake and a banana
10:30am – Bike session
12:30 – Coffee/cake stop
4pm – End ride
1-hour – Rest/nap/refuel
5:15pm – Swim session
7pm – Dinner
9pm – bed!
How do you fuel your Ironman events, and what do you eat the morning of a big event?
I always have a big bowl of porridge on race morning. I fuel the bike on Snickers bars and gels. On the run, I’ll have anything I can get my hands on; usually plenty of fluids and a few Red Bulls.
Do you find it hard to take rest days?
I don’t like rest days. A rest day for me will be a swim and a gym session only – that’s as easy as I’m willing to take it!
What’s next on the horizon for you in 2018?
I’m doing some single discipline events here in the UK at the moment. My first events of the triathlon season will be in April at Challenge Gran Canaria and the Cannes international triathlon.
What are your favourite pieces of kit for racing and training?
My power meter! I love working with power and seeing the numbers improve.
*Lucy is a Specialized Zwift Academy Tri Team mentor. See below for your chance to earn a place on the Specialized Zwift Academy Tri Team and work with Lucy!*
Are you a competitive age-group Ironman triathlete with Kona in your sights? Fancy the chance to be part of the world’s best supported amateur tri team? Register for the new Specialized Zwift Tri Academy before 18 March and you could be one of four people chosen to become part of the new Specialized Zwift Tri team, complete with full Specialized support, travel expenses and mentoring from Lucy Charles and Ironman WR holder, Tim Don. Find out more information here.
You can keep up-to-date with Lucy’s training and racing this season by following her on social media via www.instagram.com/lucycharles93, www.twitter.com/lucyannecharles and by visiting her website, www.lucycharles.com.