Lucy Charles-Barclay: The Next Big Leap
After a successful, but ultimately frustrating, swimming career as a teenager, Lucy Charles-Barclay made her first big leap: to swap a single sport for three. The British athlete’s entry to the world of tri was emphatic, and her rise to the top - or so nearly the top - has continued to be extraordinary. On the eve of the Kona World Championships, where she’s finished in the runner-up position the last two years, we spoke to Lucy about her preparation, motivation, and how to make that next big leap and turn 2nd spot to #1...
“After missing out on selection for the 2012 Olympic Games I had been struggling to keep my motivation in swimming,” Lucy told us. “I tried to give it one last shot and really push for another four years towards the next Games but I soon realised my love and passion for the sport was lacking. Reece and I decided to sign up for Ironman UK which would take place in July 2014. However my first triathlon was in May 2014, it went surprisingly okay, I had bought a second hand TT bike which had arrived the week of the race and I used that in the event – by the way, I would not recommend doing that! – I can’t remember my exact result but I remember loving every minute of the event and instantly wanting to do more racing.”
And the performances and podiums kept coming: 3rd at Lanzarote in 2016 became 1st at Lanzarote in 2017. Runner-up in the Europeans, winning Ironman South Africa in 2018, and Roth this year. Do these victories set Lucy mentally in tune to win the big one, Kona?
“Every race plays a role in helping me towards the next, like a stepping stone, South Africa and Roth have given me a big boost leading into Kona this year. However, as much as a great result helps the confidence I often find a bad result motivates me to learn and grow. I have learnt so much in my short career as a triathlete but I am by no means a master of the sport, this excited me as I feel my room for improvement is still pretty big.”
Making that final step up
Although 99% of us can’t comprehend being at the level to podium at the World Champs – not once, not twice, not ever – we do all have our own targets and techniques to push forward. But Lucy IS in the position of knowing she’s one step short of being on top of the world...
“From as young as I can remember I have been competitive, chasing the next biggest challenge and driving my poor sister crazy from my need to make everything a competition,” she tells us. “This reflects my journey into Ironman and my motivation to get to the top. Coming 2nd in the world at my professional debut in Kona was potentially the best thing that could have happened to me, it kept the fire alive. If I had rocked up in year one and walked away with the win I might have considered looking for a new, bigger challenge. Then looking back on last year, I improved massively, putting down a performance I was incredibly proud of and still came away with 2nd place. This left me feeling satisfied but even more hungry for the top spot. Every day, every early morning alarm, every track rep is motivated by chasing that elusive Ironman World Championship title.”
With a race time comfortably sub-9hrs, Lucy and her coach – husband Reece Barclay – are continually on the look-out for the next performance gain.
“Reece spends every day with me, training alongside me and analysing what I’m doing,” says Lucy. “From this, he is able to pinpoint my areas of weakness and plan ways to improve. We don’t focus specifically on overall race times but more gradual progression across each individual discipline.”
“Part-time mermaid” Lucy Charles-Barclay is known to be fiercely fast through the water. Although she skipped it this year, three straight years of winning the pre-Kona Ho’ala IRONMAN Training Swim leaves no-one in doubt of the Brit’s best leg. So the bike is one of the two big opportunities to shave time.
“The bike is the largest part of the race so it’s definitely not the place where I want to lose too much time as the gaps can open up pretty quickly. However, there is still a marathon to run so over-biking is not a smart plan either. Ultimately I want to train hard enough to become the strongest athlete in all three disciplines, a hard task but a big enough challenge to keep me motivated.
“Cycling is still pretty new to me, it’s exciting and I’m still seeing a large amount of progress. Whereas in swimming I’m always chasing the pace that I used to be able to hit, at times this can be frustrating but I have to remember that I now ride a bike and run too.
“The more I ride the better I perform. I've also found shorter interval sessions have lifted my ability and the use of Zwift for indoor training has played a big part.”
Advantages on the bike
Coach Reece Barclay did a fine job of improving his own bike time, turning a perceived weakness into a certain strength. And with him as part of her team, Lucy puts time into getting the best set-up for training and race day.
“We look at a combination of things; the course, the weight of the bike and components, aerodynamics, comfort, ability to lay down the power in certain positions and watt savings.
“The key thing over an Ironman distance is you want to be as fast as possible while expending as little effort as possible. There is no point being the most powerful athlete on the course in the worse aerodynamic setup, this will come back to bite you in the later half of the bike and on the run.
“I have been using CeramicSpeed components – OSPW System, Bottom Bracket, UFO Racing Chain and Wheel Bearings – since my professional debut at Ironman Lanzarote in 2016. I love how the components feel, the smoothness of power transfer and of course how the products look. My personalised Oversized Pulley Wheel System is definitely watt saving but it also looks seriously cool which must make me faster!”
Looking cool is definitely on the ‘plus’ list, but does knowing that she has the very best equipment give Lucy an additional boost?
“Of course! You do all the training to make sure you’re in your best physical shape and you install all the best equipment to make sure your bike performs at it’s best mechanically. Both of these things also give a psychological boost come race day.”
And the biggest ‘race day’ is coming soon. We wish Lucy the best of luck in making the next big leap at this year’s World Championships this weekend.