As a newcomer to the world of triathlon, I’m very lucky to be able to rub shoulders with the elite in Leeds. One of my favourite triathletes is the lovely Suzie Richards: by day, a TeachFirst Ambassador, and by night, an elite triathlete. With wins this season at the Stockton Duathlon, the Slateman Triathlon and the World Duathlon Age Group Championships in Spain, Suzie is one of triathlon’s rising stars.
I was lucky enough to grab her for a quick interview about the hard yards of triathlon training & the secrets behind her success.
Suzie on training structure and the typical week of a winning triathlete:
This is where having a coach is crucial for me, as I would definitely favour the disciplines I enjoy most! So I spend 6 hours in the water swimming over 5 sessions, all 1 hour in duration, except Saturday which is 2 hours.
I then run and bike 4 times a week and go to the gym twice a week. In terms of running I do one 3km type pace session on the track, one 10km pace session on grass or treadmill and 2 easy runs on road or trail.
On the bike, 1 session is a timetrial tempo pace session, 1 is chaingang in summer and others are steady riding; I usually incorporate this into cycling to & from the pool.
Training varies throughout the year in terms of actual sessions, but pretty much follows a very similar weekly routine, eg. always 2 hour masters swim set on Saturday morning, followed by a 10K pace run session. Sunday is always long steady bike ride with cycle club.
Suzie on making the switch from long-distance triathlon training to shorter distances without burning out or getting injured as training intensity goes up:
Races may be short and fast but that doesn’t mean all your training needs to be! That’s something that has taken me a while to learn. I came from a running background and through uni would get to each uni holiday exhausted & sleep solidly for several days, as everything we did was at a rapid pace (stick 30 competitive runners together and that’s what happens, until you get wise!) The only way I can train consistently day after day, week after week for months on end is by following hard training sessions (track running or chain gang cycling etc) with very easy recovery sessions. So if I’m running fast on the track on a Tuesday, on the Wednesday I will run really slowly. I have also learned to listen to my body and do as it’s telling me; I’ve learned that it’s better to do a 30 minute run instead of an hour run if you’re tired, so you do not get burnt out. In terms of avoiding injuries, stretch, stretch, stretch and foam roller!!! If I’m short on time, I have learned to cut my run or bike down in length so I have time for stretching.
Suzie on making the move from runner to triathlete:
If you don’t enjoy it,. you probably need to do it! I have a tendency to do more of what I like and enjoy- inevitably the things you’re good at. So if you have an hour, you naturally go for a run, but really, you need to work on what you’re not good at! So swimming with your feet tied up in a band is a killer for me, as my upper body isn’t that strong. Also, I have cut down on mileage and spend more time on drills to help my running technique and stretching/mobility exercises- something that has really helped me.
Also, I have found it key to trust my coach & go with the training programme- even when it flips what you want to do on its head! I have had to really alter my mindset. Before I was a runner tagging on some biking & swimming- now I am training for triathlon rather than ‘being a runner’.
Suzie on her ‘key’ workouts & how they’ve changed over the years:
My answer now is very different to what it would have been a year or so ago. I used to think the hard sessions were the key ones, like track reps or hard all out swim reps, but now I would say the gym sessions are key for me, it helps keep injuries at bay or niggles under control (my Achilles has been my weak spot during last summer & this winter) and its about consistency of training. No good hitting out one awesome track session or 100 mile cycle ride if you’re too knackered to do anything the next day!
Suzie on diet and fuelling all that training:
The short answer to ‘what does a triathlete eat?’ is: a lot! Seriously, you need to when you’re exercising for several hours a day & on top of that, my bike is my mode of transport so I use that to bob around on.
Breakfast is usually porridge with fruit.
Lunch is last night’s dinner leftovers, or an omelette (3 eggs) with a can of tuna or slices of ham, tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers, yoghurt or quark, salad or veg (broccoli, carrots, leafy greens etc)
Dinner is some sort of meat and veg combo. We do lots of stir fry dishes and slow cooker meals, so stews, mince dishes, fish and veg. My boyfriend and I take it in turns to cook, or often cook together- chopping is twice as quick when done by two people! We eat pretty healthily, with lots of fresh veg, and we make a fruit box every few days, so we have a ready supply of chopped pineapple, melon etc from the market to snack on.
Cake, chocolate and pork pies are also consumed!
Suzie on the importance of local tea:
Yorkshire Tea is a 110% vital part of the training regime!
Suzie on transition times & how to reduce them:
Practice! I practice jumping on and off the bike in a cul de sac near my house, and when I ride my commuter bike to and from the pool or shops, I practice jumping off on the move. Before a race, I walk around transition, checking out where run in/out and bike in/out is, to get familiar, and I try and pick a land mark near my bike so I can find it quickly (Something that moves isn’t ideal!)
And how about inside a top triathlete’s saddle bag?
Inner tube, tyre levers, puncture patches, allen key- all the essentials to repair a puncture. Nothing exciting, I’m afraid!
One that all the ladies have wondered about: how do the elite manage the tri suit/bra department situation?
Well, I don’t have much cleavage bouncing around to worry about! But I wear a normal sports bra under my tri suit. I haven’t always, but on seeing a picture appear on a flyer advertising an event where I wasn’t wearing anything under my tri suit (believe you me, it was cold that day & my nipples could have cut glass), I’ve taken the safe approach & worn a sports bra!
Suzie on the best piece of triathlon advice she’d share with a newcomer to the sport:
Be patient! Be consistent- success & progress don’t happen overnight. Triathlon is its own sport: it’s not swim, bike, run stuck together, think about it as one sport not three separate ones.
If you want to read more about Suzie’s international triathlon adventures, she writes a pretty inspiring blog here, and you can find her on Twitter too, @suzie_richards.