Have you ever wondered what it would feel like to represent your country at your chosen sport? Or even at one you can’t do, but dream of being good at? Olympic athletes aren’t the only ones who get to pull on a GB vest. What does it take to compete at international level as an age-grouper? I asked my friend Ellie Barnes, a Personal Trainer, to tell us her story – just before she sets of to compete at the European Triathlon Championships this Saturday.
thefitwriter: Ellie, massive congrats on making the GB team for the Europeans. So exciting! Can you give readers some background on your own sporting journey and history?
Ellie Barnes: Sport has always been high on my agenda (not surprising with a mother as a PE Teacher and a father who cycled from London to Paris for fun!) I was a keen netballer but it wasn’t until I moved to Reading in 2006 that I started to get into competitive running. My first race was the Shinfield 10km. My partner at the time put money on me not completing it in under 60 minutes (tfw: Ha ha, I have a similar story behind my first running race!) Much to his wallet’s dismay, I finished in 43 minutes!
I then did the London Marathon in 2007, training with Reading Roadrunners and finishing in 3hrs 38minutes. Marathons became my mainstay for a few years with my PB a few years later in Amsterdam: 3hrs 07minutes. Whilst training for the London Marathon 2010 I got a stress fracture in my metatarsal, which taught my body a lesson about cross training and I mixed my running up with some cycling and swimming.
I was introduced to a competent triathlete and triathlon coach in 2010 (Jo Lewis of Tri50), who has nurtured me to become the GB Age-Group triathlete I am now!
tfw: For how long have you been doing triathlon?
EB: My very first triathlon was whilst marathon training was very much still my main focus so I really didn’t know what I was doing. So much so, that when I was in transition from swim to bike, I put my cycle helmet on first and then tried to get my t-shirt on over the top. Top tip: this doesn’t work!
My next encounter with triathlon was in May 2011 at Dorney Lake. I still didn’t really know what I was doing, swimming in open water with a wetsuit was rather an alien experience and trying to keep track of how many laps I had cycled proved a challenge! Much to my amazement, I actually was the first lady to cross this line, I really wasn’t expecting that at all! That success gave me the bug to learn more about triathlon and do more races.
tfw: When did you realise you might be good enough to challenge for a GB place?
EB: Once I competed in the London Triathlon in August 2011, I realised I may have potential to go further. I finished 6th in my age group (25-30) at this event and really wasn’t that far behind the winning women. I actually had the fastest run time of the whole day. I spoke to my coach, Jo, about trying to qualify for the GB Age Group Squad and she suggested we look at last year’s results from the European Championships to see whether we thought it was realistic. We did, and I decided “why not?”
tfw: What was the process like? How did you have to qualify?
EB: There are three events per year which are “qualifying races” for the GB Age Group Squad, and there was only one left in the season, so I had no choice but to enter “Newbiggin-by-the-Sea Triathlon” on 11 September 2011. I had no idea where Newbiggin was before I entered it. Turns out it is 325 miles from Reading, yes, this is commitment! And the swim was in the North Sea in September. What was I thinking??
tfw: How did your training, nutrition, recovery and general preparation change once you knew you were going for qualification?
EB: Once I knew I was going for qualification I read up a lot about triathlon specific training and sought expert advice from Jo. I trained with the David Lloyd Triathlon Club that Jo coached as well as the Tri20 Club in Reading. I also learnt that I needed to work on my swimming to increase my chances of qualification, so this became my main focus for the next six weeks, swimming 4-5 times per week including a 6am session on a Friday morning!
tfw: Tell us about the qualifying race.
EB: Five hours in a car is not my idea of fun, however my Mum, Dad, brother and partner all came along for the ride. Arriving in Newbiggin-by-the-Sea was like walking back in time: a quintessentially British seaside town, with the traditional fish and chips shops and beach huts.. and what felt like Force 10 gale winds. Just walking through the car-park to registration was a challenge as the wind was howling. The sea was choppy with seven lifeboats on the course, the bike was a two-lap course with some great headwind sections as well as tailwinds downhill, so not all bad. Then the run, where I usually feel strongest, but not today. It was along the sea wall and back and I couldn’t feel my feet by this point. I actually had one of the quickest run times of the day, though.
When I crossed the line I didn’t know where I had finished in my age-group. I knew I had to finish in the top four and, by the time I went to get my results print-out it was confirmed, I had finished 3rd in my age group, and therefore I had qualified! Woohoo!
tfw: What then – how long between qualifier and GB event, and how did things change for you?
EB: Since that race, the date 21 April 2012 has been engraved on my brain! The remainder of 2011 was spent maintaining base level fitness and primarily working on swim technique. On 1 January 2012 it was time to start SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic & Timed) training – I could not have done this without the amazing guidance and support from coach Jo Lewis: our weekly meeting to review my progress from the previous week and look at the next few weeks training has been invaluable. I also sought expert nutrition advice from Janie Perry of Relax to Revive, Strength and Conditioning advice from Aynsley Fry of Gecko Fitness and regular Sports Massage from Diksha of FixMe.
Training became more intense with two sessions most days, six days a week. A lighter week was welcomed every five weeks. A very intense week training in Lanzarote was thrown in the mix as well as various races to test my fitness including the Green Park Triathlon (1st Lady), Oulton Park Duathlon (1st Lady) and monthly parkrun 5km run timetrials.
tfw: How does it feel to be racing with a GB vest? Is it a dream come true? Does it live up to expectations? Is it different to imagined?
EB: When I received my GB trisuit with BARNES, GBR emblazoned across it it seemed a little surreal. Is this really for me? Then when I put it on for the first time I was a little stunned… yes this is me, I have worked hard for this but need to keep focused on 21 April 2012 when the training will be really put to the test.
tfw: What’s next for you and how can readers look out for you/support you?
EB: Saturday 21 April 2012, 7am in Eilat, Israel, the ETU Triathlon European Championships (2hrs ahead of GMT). I will be updating my Facebook and Twitter, but you should also be able to find results here (select 25 – 29 Female AG Sprint).
tfw: Finally, what advice do you have for any amateur triathletes wanting to one day qualify for GB kit?
EB: Do it! Don’t think about it, get yourself entered and believe in yourself….look here for more info.
Best of luck, Ellie! Perhaps you’ll come back and tell us about the race?
Nicola Joyce – the Fit Writer – is a freelance copywriter and journalist who writes for the sport and fitness industry. Her main website is here.