The Making Of Lucy Charles-Barclay | Swimmer To Triathlon Champion

The Making Of Lucy Charles-Barclay | Swimmer To Triathlon Champion

August 14, 2019 63 By William Morgan


– Lucy Charles-Barclay is one
of the most talented athletes
in the world of triathlon.
In 2019, at the age of 25,
she has multiple Ironman wins,
numerous swim course records,
and a second at KONA twice
in consecutive years.
And she’s achieved all of
this in just four years.
So I wanted to catch up
with her to hear her story
and how she’s done all of this.
Okay Lucy, so we know loads
about you as a triathlete
and all your triathlon accolades,
but I’m really keen now today
to hear about, well, the
making of Lucy the triathlete.
So where it all started,
and from what I know you
started out in swimming,
when did you get into swimming?
What age were you getting in the water,
was it before you could walk?
– Yeah, so I mean, as a child I kind of,
my mum and dad said I
was quite water obsessed.
So we’d go on holiday, I think
I probably wasn’t even one
but I was like one of those young toddlers
just sort of running
around out of control.
And I had arm bands on and we
was on the beach on holiday
and my mum and dad said they
literally turn their head
for one second and I
was running at the sea
tryna get in there.
I think there was always, sort
of a love of water as a child
but it wasn’t until I
was about eight years old
that I actually got into a swimming club
and started swimming properly.
– At what point then,
in this swimming career
that you started out in,
did you then start thinking,
right I actually kind of want
to do this quite seriously
and started upping the game a bit with it?
– Yeah, I mean, so if I
started round about eight
and then I was nine I won
the county championship,
so that was kind of what sparked it,
that actually I’d quite like to do this
and I’d watched previous Olympic games
and knew what the Olympics was.
So I was always sort of
thinking, even at nine years old,
the Olympics is what I want to do,
it’s the pinnacle in the sport
and can I get there?
So even at nine years old
I was probably super dedicated to training
and probably a bit obsessed with it.
– What were your kind
of biggest results then
in performances in swimming?
– So I had several national titles from,
I think my first one was when I was 16,
I got the open water national title
and the 1,500, and maybe even the 800.
I mean, we were part of
a great swimming club,
so we were at Hatfield Swimming Club
and one year, we sort of, we won the relay
and several national titles.
So it helped that we were part of,
sort of a massive club
were people were going
and winning these national medals.
So yeah, I think some of highlights
were probably winning
those national medals
and then gettin’ selected for the GB Team,
so I raced in Canada.
Then when I did open water,
I was racing in Brazil
and Argentina, so it
was a lot of traveling
and quite a lot of elite level racing.
– Can you impress us all now,
just give us a few of your swim times
and PB’s for those years,
like 400, 1,500, full time.
– Yeah, I think my most impressive time
is probably my 1,500 which
short course was a 16:15.
So I think that’s still
the fastest ever in the UK.
Yeah, that was a pretty good swim.
– Do you think you’d still
be close to that now?
– I think, I wouldn’t
probably have to swim
the volume I used to then,
to do that kind of swim,
but I would have to swim
more than I’m swimming now.
But I think actually the cross training
with the bike and run would maybe allow me
to be just as good on less swim volume.
So worth the same,
maybe I’ll give it a go.
– That’s really interesting.
So at what point did you then decide,
actually this isn’t for me anymore
and start maybe drifting
away from swimming?
– So I think I was about 19
and, yeah, I kind of, I just missed out
on the London Olympics for the open water
where Great Britain only took one athlete.
So, I was quite disheartened by that.
It was like can I do another four years
trying to make an Olympic team
or do I just not think I could do it?
And I basically gave it a shot for 2013
and I really went for it.
Like I joined a new club
and committed more training
than I’d ever done,
more strength training than I’d ever done,
and I had one of my best ever swims
at British championships.
I should of been over the moon with it,
but I kind of was a bit
flat after the race I guess,
and that was I knew,
I don’t think I can do
four more years of this
because I’m not getting
that same buzz that I used to get.
And basically just, I think
it was May of that year,
I just decided I couldn’t of it anymore
and pretty much went straight into work.
I worked at a zoo, which is quite random.
But it was the local zoo,
and I actually worked there
doing marketing, so I did all their
socials and stuff.
– So you weren’t looking
after the animals?
– No, I got to see all the animals,
but unfortunately, yeah,
I wasn’t qualified enough
to actually work with the animals
or anything like that,
but I did get to shadow the keepers
and find out a lot more actually,
and I am a real animal lover, so.
– I was just picturing
you mucking out the rhinos
and stuff like that.
Now let’s talk a little bit more
about that Olympics selection
because how does that make you feel then
when they didn’t select you
and that idea of sort of,
just letting swimming go.
– Yeah, I think it’s a pretty scary thing
for any athlete when all you’ve ever known
is the sport that you’re in,
so you’re very much in that bubble
and the outside world
is kind of quite scary
because it’s like, yeah,
you’ve got to get a real job
if you’re not going to
work in this environment
of swimming anymore,
where I wasn’t earning
really any money at all actually,
because the funding was so little.
And we weren’t allowed to get a job
whilst we were swimming
because basically you
had to be fully committed
to your swim program which those hours
didn’t really allow you to get a job.
So you had no real work experience,
you’d only sort of been
studying and swimming.
So yeah, it was quite scary
which I think is why I think
I gave a little bit more time
before I decided, actually
I know I can’t do this.
But, I guess from being a nine year old
pursuing that goal of
being an Olympic swimmer
and then 10 years later deciding,
actually no I’m not going to do it,
you kind of feel, one I
felt I’d let my parents down
because they’d dedicated so much time
taking me training that
I felt guilty for them,
and then I felt guilty
for my nine year old self
that I’d been like, I’m going to do this,
I’m going to put everything into.
So, yeah, it’s a scary time I think
for any athlete to kind
of make that decision.
– Yeah, I mean, it’s your life,
it’s your identity isn’t it?
– Yeah.
– So, yeah that’s really hard.
So how did you find the day to day work,
the nine to five grind?
– I quickly found out that I definitely
didn’t want to work for someone else.
Having kind of, I guess
I was told what to do
as a swimmer, but you’re in
control of what you’re doing
to some extent.
Actually being in a job
where you have arrive at nine O’Clock,
and I think sometimes we had
to work ’til six or later,
depending on the summer hours.
So I kind of quickly realized
I definitely don’t want
to work for someone else.
And then, I hadn’t been
working there that long
and Reece and I decided
to set up a personal training business.
So basically, whilst I
was working at the zoo
I was training to be a personal trainer,
Reece was obviously
studying sport science,
so as part of that he would get
his personal trainer qualification.
So we then decided to
start up our own business
so we didn’t have to work for anyone else.
– And out of interest, did
you keep swimming going
in the background?
I’m guessing not to the same level
and like as much training,
but were you still doing a little bit?
– I had no real desire at all to swim,
I was completely done with
the sport all together.
So the thought of getting back in a pool
and having to swim just
didn’t appeal to me.
Yeah, I definitely didn’t
do much swimming after that.
– When did triathlon come along?
What was your first, sort
of encounter with the sport?
– I think it must have
been the back end of 2013.
So I basically stopped
swimming in May 2013
and then, I think it was around June time
or maybe even later, it
might’ve been August actually,
we decided to still enter
this open water swim
which was the Great Scottish swim.
So I’d done a lot of the
great swim series before,
so I decided I’ll still do that,
let’s see where I’m at.
It was kind of just to
keep me training I guess,
and keep me a bit fit,
to have a bit of a goal.
But Reece and I both
went and did that swim
and swam absolutely abysmal,
it was so embarrassing, I was like,
oh, we shouldn’t have done this.
And basically, went
back to the hotel after
and I think it was Reece’s idea actually,
we just pulled up Ironman UK’s website
and just both signed
there and then basically.
‘Cause we knew we needed
something to train for
otherwise we wasn’t
even going to keep fit.
I think if you haven’t got
something to work towards then–
– Straight in on the hardest distance,
no messing about.
– Yeah, then it was kind of,
we went down to the post
athlete awards evening
and basically said, ah well,
we’re doing Ironman now, we’ve signed up.
So it was like, yeah that’s
what we’re doing now,
we’re not swimming
anymore, we’re doing this.
So I guess it was a bit of
spur of the moment thing
and quickly learned actually
this is going to be pretty difficult.
I mean, originally we
said we got probably do it
on a mountain bike.
And then, wow, we have a mountain bike
so we can do it on that.
And it was like, you soon learnt
there’s no way we’re going to even finish
if we do it on a mountain bike.
So it was a steep learning
curb in that sense,
then we finally got road bikes
that was a whole difference experience.
And I remember just
falling off every minute
and gettin’ laughed at.
And I think, the thing was
I was only going to do one
and tick the box, say yeah I’ve done it,
and then I was hooked after that.
– Where there any big hiccups
or things that you look
at now from that race
and like, oh god, why did do that?
– I mean, I did something
I would never recommend
to any of the athletes I work with now,
but I basically got a TT bike
one month before the race
and used that,
and having obviously–
– To come from a mountain bike
to a TT bike within a matter months.
– So yeah, I mean
obviously I’m no where near
in the aero position I am now,
so it probably still basically looked like
a road bike position on a TT bike,
but the biggest thing was
I was too scared to change
from the big ring to the
little ring on climbs,
so I thought I was going to drop my chain
and even then I was didn’t know
how to put a chain back on,
so it would be like the end of my race
if a chain drops.
I find it so funny now how I
kind of feel so comfortable
around basic bike mechanics,
but back then a small thing like that
I just would have no clue what to do.
But, I mean, aside from that,
actually there wasn’t
really any major hiccups.
I think the hardest part was coming in
being a strong swimmer, it was,
I came out the swim very near the front,
and then the whole day on the bike
was just constantly being overtaken,
which is quite hard sort
of to handle I guess.
– What made you kind of
pursue going for it really,
in a pro lifestyle?
– I mean, initially it
literally was just for fun,
something completely different.
I almost hoped that I would
be rubbish at it in a way,
because I’d had that top
end elite career in swimming
that I just wanted to do something for fun
that maybe I could just
be an average person at
and just enjoy it.
And then instantly my
competitive edge came in
and I wanted to win races.
And I think as I started to get
more comfortable on the bike
and my run developed, I was like,
oh I could maybe be quite good at this,
and then after that first Ironman
I learnt about what KONA was
and wanted to pursue that
so I signed up for Ironman
UK again the next year,
and I kind of dedicated a lot
more time to training actually.
So I quit the job at the zoo
and then was a personal trainer full time
so I could train around that
and to have more of that pro lifestyle.
But obviously I had to fund it someway
so we had to personal
train a hell of a lot.
But it gave me that
bit more time to train.
So I think I went from
doing 12 hours 16 minutes
in that first Ironman,
and then a year later went
just under 11 hours, so.
– You won your age group right?
– Yes, yeah, so that’s
how I qualified for KONA.
From getting that big
jump of taking an hour off
I kind of knew actually,
yeah maybe I could be quite good at this.
And once I won my age
group in KONA that year,
I kind of thought, well what’s next?
There’s not really a bigger
step than that in long distance
so that was when I decided to
try and get my pro license,
which, I don’t know if many people know,
but I actually got rejected
from British triathlon
the first time.
So I had to appeal it
and then kind of got it
on a trial basis, which
meant kind of the year 2016
I was tryin’ to prove a point
that I deserved to have the license.
(upbeat music)
– Do you feel that this kind of need
to go to KONA, win KONA, be
this fantastic pro triathlete
is maybe a little bit of a
hangover from the swimming
and not being selected for the Olympics?
– Yeah definitely, I think
obviously, as I said,
as a nine year when you have that goal
of making the Olympics
and then when you come so close
to not get it at the end,
the Olympics was always the big goal,
so even when I came into triathlon
I kind of still had a
think about the Olympics
and could I do that?
Which I was kind of almost
shocked now and again
by the governing body of triathlon,
and it felt similar to in swimming,
so I guess I really did have that fire
to be like, right well, okay,
I’m kind of doing long distance,
let’s see if I can get to the top in that
and prove everyone wrong.
I guess, yeah, I’m able now
to compete at the top level
in long distance, at the
pinnacle of that sport,
so for me that’s kind of yeah,
it means I can be
satisfied now because yeah.
I think if I hadn’t of done that
I always would of thought,
well what if, could I
have been at the top level
in whatever sport I was doing?
– And would you even go back
to considering triathlon
Olympics and ITU racing anywhere?
– I feel less likely to do that now.
I think this is going so well,
I’ve sort of said before
maybe to a few people,
that if I’d won KONA twice now,
then maybe I would ’cause I’d be like,
actually I kind of done that
maybe now let’s have a
new challenge and do this.
But the fact that I’ve come second twice,
I’m so hungry to get that top spot in KONA
that I’m not willing to change my plan yet
until I’ve done that.
– Let’s think back to you in
that marketing job at the zoo,
how old were you then?
– So I think I was about 20
when I was working there.
– Okay, so you’re 20, if
you were to think back
to yourself there and you were to say,
oh, I’m going to be a pro
triathlete in three years time or so
and I’m going to be one of the best,
rocking up at KONA and duking
it out with Danny Oreefe,
I mean, what would you think?
– Yeah, it wouldn’t of
even crossed my mind.
I think sitting at that desk,
so initially obviously I had signed up
for the first ever Ironman
and I told the people working there
I was going to do this crazy triathlon,
and they kind of knew what it was,
and my kind of biggest
goal was just to maybe
get first out of the swim,
because I used to be a swimmer,
but there was never any thought of,
I didn’t even really know you could be
a pro triathlete in Ironman,
I didn’t know it was a thing.
So yeah, I wouldn’t of
even dreamt about it.
Yeah, it wouldn’t of crossed my mind.
(gentle upbeat music)
– Well, thanks ever so
much for joining us today,
it’s been absolutely fascinating.
I hope you guys enjoyed that as well.
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