Arriving in Loughborough was a breath of fresh air, literally and metaphorically. We were there to train with the British triathlon performance squad and were welcomed with intrigue and respect.
The squad is one of several throughout the UK, where British triathletes of certain standard are welcomed to train. It also contains some none British athletes who attend the University or add value to the programme. I took advantage of this from 2003-2006 when I was part of the squad, but representing Hong Kong. It was amazing to be back almost 10 years later to see how things had developed and from a coaches perspective, rather than an athletes. There is no doubt that the British system and triathletes it produces has been dominant over the last few years.
From day one it was evident that everybody meant business and it was great for our boys to be able to train with athletes racing at world level in both junior and senior categories. What was also fantastic was the diversity of the squad as well as its obvious values. Train hard, respect others and do what needs to be done to get results. It was great to see athletes who were representing GB for cycling, running, waterpolo and swimming, picking up triathlon and being welcomed in as potential future champions. This is something I have been implementing within our own programme and trying to encourage within the HK National setup. At the end of the day results are more important than the process and there is a clear understanding of that in the UK.
On to the sessions. Although the squad had some key sessions that everybody did, athletes were on different race schedules so training was adapted to fulfil their needs. Some of the group had just raced European champs whereas some were gearing up for the Rio test event next month. What interested me the most was seeing how our boys compared to their juniors. It was most satisfying see Oscar and James running a VO2 max set, stride for stride with junior athletes who had come top 15 at the World champs. They showed similar attributes on the bike and swim sets. What also really impressed me about our athletes was their maturity and diligence when it came to nutrition, rest, and recovery. They knew how to make healthy food choices, they needed little guidance on nutrition during training, and not once did I speak with anyone about having to sleep after sessions. All of this was key to getting through a tough week. Our weekly programme is documented here for anyone interested.
The main difference between our athletes and UK athletes seemed to be skill based. Turnover and placement in the swim, handling and pack riding on the bike, and pacing on the run. Also an overall sense of aggression and confidence was lacking in the boys. I put this down to race experience, something the GB coaches agreed with. Being such a technical sport, race experience is vital from a young age in order to progress sufficiently. In the UK there is the opportunity to race almost every weekend in local triathlons of a high standard, as well as free choice to race ITU events around the world. The junior athletes in the GB squad race up to twice per month, whereas HK athletes have very limited triathlon events back home and are restricted from entering ITU events of their choice.
Being in England it was easy to notice the differences between Elite sport in UK and HK. The standard and depth of athletes and coaches are incomparable, as well as the accessibility to training venues. What was most apparent to me as a coach however, was the favorable system in place. Every athlete knows the objective criteria to make teams, or go to races and they are grinding it out to get there. Because there are so many athletes in the UK many are doing so at their own cost with no funding. The athletes and coaches were passionate and hungry as a result, and all working towards the same goal, getting as many people as possible to toe the line and essentially get podium places for their country. Nobody is discriminated against, everyone is allowed to race to show their skills, and the best athletes are selected to race in the harder events based on race results. Most importantly, anybody not wanting to be part of the squad is still allowed to race and if that works for them, they are still treated as equals. During the camp we actually linked in to a few sessions with world class athletes who are not part of any programme, but training hard in their own way.
Overall the week was fantastic and I think our athletes will walk away with confidence knowing they are on the right footing, of a long term development pathway. They now know the feeling of how full time athletes train and rest but must understand, that to be successful you have to repeat the training we did almost every week of the year and then make progressions. I am hoping the boys will be more motivated than ever when they are back with our group and it will have a positive impact on everyone. Following in the footsteps of arguably the worlds best triathlon programme can easily be done and something we should all aspire to in HK. We are so grateful to the GB coaches and athletes and we look forward to hosting some of them for the HKITU this October.