Daniel Halksworth Exclusive Interview
We chat with Ironman UK winner Daniel Halksworth about his journey to triathlon, training in a team and plans for Kona.
Daniel Halksworth took his maiden Ironman win at Ironman UK in Bolton (Photo: James Mitchell/Ironman)
Daniel Halksworth is already one of Britain’s most formidable up and coming triathletes. With a pro swimming background, strong cycling and an improving run, Halksworth is one to keep an eye out for in Kona 2013.
We spoke exclusively to the Jersey-born athlete to find out how his first Ironman win in Bolton felt, his coaching with Brett Sutton and TeamTBB and plans to get even faster.
“Basically, I was a swimmer,” says Halksworth. “I used to swim for Jersey up until I was about 21. I qualified for the Commonwealth Games but didn’t swim as well as I wanted to and was really disappointed. I was first reserve for the final and two years earlier I’d won the youth Commonwealth Games and I actually swam slower than I had two years previously.
“I was really disappointed with myself – I’d been swimming and training great and it just didn’t go well for me. The year before, while I wasn’t swimming over the summer period and just wanted to keep myself busy, the triathlon guys persuaded me to go and try a sprint distance triathlon and I won that so I was hooked straight away, but obviously I wanted to go to the Commonwealth Games.
“After the Commonwealths, my coach sat me down and said I’m the type of guy who wants to win medals and even though I was swimming well and could probably go back to the next Commonwealth Games and get into the final, I wasn’t going to win a medal because my body physique wasn’t suited for swimming. I needed a new path and triathlon was what I took.
“I did Olympic distance for a couple of years and I really enjoyed it. I loved the tactics, but I was always getting frustrated that I wasn’t the strongest runner and it was always coming down to the run.”
“Because my coach at the time got very sick, I had to look for a new coach. I’d been looking around and asking international friends who would be a good coach to go to and Brett’s name kept pooping up. The more I looked into it, the more I wanted to be coached by him.
“I liked him and he’s basically like my old swimming coach – very tough and likes to push people and that’s what I wanted. Every time I spoke to someone, they said he’s the kind of guy that would make you or break you and I felt like I could train pretty well and hard and push myself quite hard so I thought it was a good opportunity to see if he could make me!
“That was two summers ago now. I was racing in Geneva and I messaged him a couple of days before and said, ‘Look, I’m going to the Czech Republic a week after and there’s no point in me flying back to Jersey, it’s just expensive, so I’m going to come up to Leysin and train with you.’ I think he was quite pleased that I made the effort and that I was quite pushy about wanting to be with him.
“So I went up for a few days and he said to me straight away, ‘You’ve got a future in the sport but it’s not at Olympic distance, it’s at long course. You don’t have to make a decision now – go away think about it.’
“I was a long-distance swimmer, and he liked the fact that I was a medley swimmer. Because he used to be a swim coach he knows the effort that swimmers have to put in, the getting up pearly, the dedication. The 400 medley is probably the toughest event, I had strong legs from breast stroke and he thought I could move that into my cycling. That’s why he asked if I would go long-course.
“I basically went for a two hour run up in the mountains that afternoon just to clear my mind and from then I knew I wanted to be with Brett.”
Training under Brett Sutton meant Halksworth would be joining renowned triathlon squad Team TBB, a Thai-originated team that now boasts 18 world-class athletes training at locations around the globe and whose members have included Chrissie Wellington, the Baylisses, James Cunnama, Caroline Steffen and Aaron Farlow.
Being exposed to and able to train with athletes of this calibre has made a huge difference to Halksworth’s development towards topping Ironman podiums.
“I think it’s hugely beneficial,” he says enthusiastically. “I mean, I’m from a small island and I don’t get to train with anyone really, so being around other top level guys is brilliant. I was out in Gran Canaria with Stephen Bayliss and Mathias Hecht. I’ve got my swim background, Stephen’s a really strong runner and Mathias is a really strong cyclist, so the three of us managed to learn something from each other. Having Mathias and Stephen there, well they’re kind of role models for me – they’ve won quite a few Ironmans between them and it’s great to be in that kind of squad and look up to those guys – and try and train as hard as they can!”
Despite boasting athletes of such quality, Halksworth says things don’t degenerate into competitive racing between them.
“I think the problem is that a lot of people tend to try and smash each other, but it’s not the best thing – you want to feed off each other rather than trying to kill each other all the time because you can do really well for a couple of days and then you get to a third day and you’re absolutely dead. You’ve really got to balance it.
“For age-groupers, we’re looking at possibly doing some Team TBB camps and they would definitely be beneficial for age groupers to come out and train with us rather than be coached by us.”
BECOMING AN IRONMAN
Having joined Team TBB last year, Halksworth wasn’t in a hurry to become an Ironman, instead committing to training and using races as experience to supplement this.
“It’s been about 15 or 16 months before my first full Ironman distance. Between then and now I was doing some Olympic distance races and I also did quite a few half Ironmans – I think I raced about eight last year.
“My first Ironman experience wasn’t great to be honest. Lanzarote wasn’t really a good race for me: I had a good swim but on the bike I seemed to struggle and on the run I got really bad stomach cramps.
“When I got back into camp Brett was giving me a bit of stick – saying I was nearly an Ironman and that ‘the quicker you go and do an Ironman and finish it, the quicker I’ll stop taking the mick out of you.’ So I entered a race and told him it was six days later.
“I think he was pleased with that and my instructions were just to get through it – get to the finish line and become an Ironman and then we could progress from there.”
That race was Ironman Regensburg, where the Brit did finish the race, and did so in style, complementing his 45:05 swim with a 4:52:18 bike and 3:08:59 marathon to finish in 8:50:38 and take sixth place. An impressive result for a first-time performance.
Next on the list was Ironman Zurich, less than a month later. “It was just a bit of a hit-out race. I was trying to help Mathias a bit on the swim and bike and just try and have a good training day in the week before Bolton.
“Even though I didn’t finish Lanzarote and I didn’t finish Zurich I know they were good training days and I knew I had a good, solid 180k in my legs so those things are always going to help toward the end of the season.
“I think now that I know how the races go down and I know that it’s nine hours of racing and not just a swim, not just a bike, not just a run: you’ve got to have a solid day in all three events, I think I’m a lot more relaxed about it now – I was very nervous at the start of the year – and last year as well – I couldn’t even fathom an Ironman out in my head to be honest.”
With an improving run, this is a view Halksworth's competition had better get used to (Photo: James Mitchell/Ironman)
THE BIG RACE
By the time he lined up in Bolton, Halksworth certainly seemed to have got his head around the big M-Dot.
“I wasn’t really expecting much of the race – I’ve been to Bolton a few times and I knew what the weather had been like in the previous weeks – so I was a little bit worried about the race, but it was actually a really nice event – great course, great crowd and very well organised. Even though there wasn’t huge depth in the field, there were still some quality athletes – Fraser [Cartmell] is a great athlete, so are Cyrill Viennot and Petr Vabrousek.
“To get on the podium was going to be quite tough for me; I’m new to this distance and wasn’t even supposed to be racing this year so I still don’t even know all the names really! I just went out there and swam my swim, just sat in and enjoyed it as much as I could. Then on the bike I wanted to ride pretty solidly – I’ve been talking to Brett a lot about my racing and he sees me as a swim-biker, which is fair enough because I’m not the strongest of runners. I know that and I’m working hard on it, but I knew I had to have a few minutes in front of Cyril going into the run.
“About 10k into the run I knew that Cyril was out of the race and that made me relax a little bit more. Fraser rode really, really strongly on the bike and dropped me towards the end and I was struggling. I didn’t think I was going to be able to get through it but I had the right nutrition, stayed calm and said in my head, ‘you’ve got a whole marathon – three hours of running – anything can happen.’ Even if you run for 40k, someone might fade in the last two-k and you can overtake them, so it’s a long day in the office and you just need to do your run and run as well as you can.
“It seemed to have worked and now I’ve actually finished a race properly with a solid swim, solid bike and solid run, it’s definitely a great feeling.”
‘Solid’ seems a little modest considering Halksworth clocked up splits of 47:56, 5:00:23 and 3:03:20 to finish in 8:55:11, nearly twelve minutes clear of second-place finisher Cartmell.
AHEAD OF SCHEDULE
The Bolton win was also enough to stop Sutton’s jibes, as he intended 2012 to be a training year and considered Halksworth 18 months away from his first M-dot victory.
“For Brett to be on my side and for him to say that I’m a year and a half ahead of where he wants me to be is a massive bonus. I wasn’t even supposed to be racing this year – I happened to get invited to Abu Dhabi thanks to Stephen Bayliss, so I went there for a bit of a hit out and then I managed to get free accommodation for Challenge Fuerteventura and I think I had to take those opportunities when they came along. I happened to have good races, so Brett wanted me to do an Ironman and it’s slowly progressed from there. I think he’s got a lot of confidence in me and so I’ve got to believe in myself as well.
“As this was supposed to be a training year, I think I haven’t really been targeting any races, so the way I’ve been looking at the events is as training races. I’m trying to get as much experience as I can and I think racing has been good for that. When I did Zurich I didn’t do the last 20k – I think those last 20k are what really take it out of your legs and in Regensburg I wasn’t running as hard as I could so it didn’t kill me. I was pretty much straight back into training after it, so I think having those sort of training days really makes you stronger and whilst I’m doing those races I’m learning as well.
“The main thing I’ve learnt is how hard I can push myself – not only in races but in training as well – and the one thing that Brett’s really trying to push into me is the fact that it’s a long race and you have to pace yourself. I tended to go out quite hard during races at start of the year and would suffer toward the end, but I’ve learnt now that it’s three hours of running, so I should just to take the first five-k getting and as much fluid as I can, have a couple of gels and get as much energy in as possible and then start racing. Some people go hard for 30k then start to suffer whereas if you do pace yourself you can overcome those guys.”
Halksworth says getting the right nutrition in is important for mind as well as body. In addition to Ignite Naturals, his preferred supplement brands, there are a few treats he savours when racing.
“Brett very much likes Mars bars. It’s not your typical nutrition, but you need 400 calories an hour so a couple of Mars bars and you’re nearly there! It’s quite nice compared to some energy bars that taste like cardboard and when you’re suffering on a 180km bike and you get to eat a Mars bar it’s a nice feeling! On the run, after some electrolyte drink, I pretty much get straight onto the coke and stay on it. I think you’ve got to have something that you’re happy with and that you’re not going to worry about at the end of the day. You’re training and racing hard enough that having a couple of Mars bars isn’t going to make a difference to your body weight and whatever you do decide to do in racing, always do in training – so that’s why I eat a lot of Mars bars!”
THE NEXT BIG THING
With win number one in the bag, Halksworth is thinking about possible areas for improvements before a potential trip to a certain island paradise next October.
“My swimming’s good so I kind of don’t really have to worry about that at the moment. Instead I’m trying to focus on big bike miles and a lot of long runs as well. Since I’ve been wearing the On Cloud Racer I haven’t been as tired – my legs recover a lot quicker. From being a swimmer to my feet impacting on the run, I used to really suffer with very tight Achilles and sore quads. Now after races I’m fine, so it’s a huge benefit having a pair of trainers that you trust.
“I want to be an athlete that can swim and bike really strongly and then have a solid run. I’m never going to be super quick and run like the Raelerts, but I think if I can minimise the damage on the bike, then that’s always going to help.
“After Bolton we were also having a little think about Kona, but it’s a little bit too late this year – I think we’re just going to focus on getting some early points for next year and then Kona’s definitely the plan for October next year.
“I’ve obviously got to qualify, but it’s one race that I’ve really been looking forward to for the last couple of years and it’s the Mecca of triathlon. That’s where I want to be – I can’t wait to go and I’m really excited already.”
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on Monday, August 20th, 2012 at 11:09 am under Triathlon News.
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Tags: Daniel Halksworth, Hot, Ironman, Ironman UK, On Running, TeamTBB, Triathlon Plus Magazine