The life of an Olympic triathlete is about much more than the four-year cycle leading up to the next Games. For aspiring athletes, representing your country requires big sacrifices to be made from an early age.
But what do those sacrifices entail? At what age do you decide to focus on your goal of reaching the Olympics? How does it feel to be a teenager striving for international triathlon success?
To find out, we spoke to Blythe Fourie, one of Britain’s hottest triathlon prospects. The 17-year-old from Blackburn still has a long road ahead of her, but has already tasted plenty of success.
In 2016, the Lancashire triathlete won the 16-19 age group category at the Duathlon World Championships. Then in September last year, Blythe came fifth in the same age category at the World Triathlon Grand Final in Mexico, overcoming searing heat to finish as the highest-placed non-Mexican triathlete competing.
Here’s what Blythe had to say about the highs and lows in the life of a triathlete with Olympic dreams…
How did you get your start in triathlon?
I used to do lots of fell running, so I’ve always been a runner. My uncle challenged me, my brother and my dad to a triathlon at Eton Dorney, as he’d done a few and already had the bug… After that first one I decided to carry on and try to actually learn how to swim, so I could start doing it competitively.
What does a typical week look like?
Monday is my early start and I get up at 4:10 am to be at the pool at 4:50 for a quick warm-up, before swimming from 5-7. A typical swim set will see me doing 5.5 km in the 2 hours.
After a breakfast of porridge with chia seeds and a small handful of fruit, I take the train to college in Preston and have a full day of lessons.
I’m home about 4:30 pm and after a little rest, start on with my homework! I always do yoga stretches and roll with my foam roller before bed. I am very used to getting up early so don’t find it a problem, and I’ve only fallen asleep in Biology once!
Tuesday is a lie-in, getting up at 6:30 and heading to college. I have lessons all day, finishing at 4pm. When I get home I eat my tea, then I do my homework and go to bed!
Wednesday is a normal day at college followed by land training for swimming from 5-6:30 pm. The land training is basically circuit training and interval running. I find this session the easiest of the week so I have to work harder to make it tough enough for me, pushing the running times and the number of exercises I do at each stage. After training I go for some Spanish conversation classes to try and improve my Spanish, as I find the conversation the hardest bit of Spanish.
Thursday is another early swim, so I get up at 4:50 am and my dad normally takes me to swimming. The session on a Thursday morning is from 5.30-7. It’s often resistance training – where I pull along a parachute or a sponge to make it harder for me to swim in the water – or has land training built into it. This means that I would swim 3 lengths then jump out and do exercises such as squats, planks, medicine ball slams, band work and press ups. I enjoy this session and find it challenging.
Luckily, I don’t have any college lessons until the afternoon, so I go home after swimming and have a little rest before doing 45 minutes of spinning on my bike. I then use the rest of the morning to catch up on my homework and try to have a bit of a snooze before I go to college in the afternoon. After college, I go with a friend to Preston Harriers running club and train from 6:30-8 pm. My mum picks me up and I go home, eat my tea and go to bed.
Friday is college as normal and I have a rest day from training. I try to catch up with my friends if possible, otherwise I sit and watch TV in the evening or do some homework.
Saturday is another early swim, from 7-9 am. If I’m not racing in the afternoon, I will stay and do some teaching at Pioneer 79 in the Learn to Swim Programme. This finishes at 12, then I go home. After a good lunch, I either do my homework or go out with my friends.
Sunday is sleep-in and bike day! I try to go for a two-hour ride – I really enjoy whizzing around the countryside because I get to explore places that I wouldn’t normally go. I especially love being able to beat my dad up the hills!
How do you motivate yourself when things get tough?
I just keep going when I’m unmotivated. I know I’ll always have bad days or even weeks, but then if I keep going the good days will come, because that’s what I’ve found in my training. I can be training and feel as though I’m getting nowhere, then suddenly I will feel great and start going a lot faster! For me, the cycle just continues.
What areas are you working on in training?
I’m currently trying to improve my front crawl technique by putting the hours in at the pool and doing lots of stretching technical exercises. I am really working on extending my reach with my arms and getting a higher elbow as my arms come over.
Which races have you found toughest and enjoyed most?
My toughest race was the age group race in Mexico. I really struggled with the heat when I got onto the run! I found it really frustrating knowing I could go faster, but my body just wouldn’t let me
My favourite race would be a duathlon in Spain, I loved it, I had a good run which got me into a great pack on the bike and then I kept my lead on the second run.
What is your favourite discipline and why?
It’s hard to pick a favourite discipline, there is something I like in all the disciplines. I really enjoy the diversity of open-water swimming, I love my bike which is great to ride. If I had to pick one, it would be the run! I came from a running background so it comes easy to me.
Blythe is sponsored by Canopies UK, a Blackburn-based company that specialises in canopies for homes, schools and commercial properties. Canopies UK has played a vital role in Blythe’s triathlon journey, helping her with the cost of training kit, equipment, and travel to events.