Alex is a final year Veterinary Medicine student. Pretty much a sporting novice when he began uni, Alex is now a pentathlon, tetrathlon, athletics (1500m and 3k) and hockey regular and an occasional swimmer and fencer. Pretty impressive alongside a demanding degree! Here, Leona catches up with Alex after his Varsity Triathlon win to find out a bit more about how (and why!) he does it…
Hi Alex! Thanks for chatting to us. Tell us about what the pentathlon and tetrathlon include?
Pentathlon’s included at the Olympics, you run, swim, shoot, ride and fence. The shooting and the running’s combined and the tetrathlon’s the same but without the fencing.
Out of all these, what’s your favourite event of the year?
I much prefer triathlon and it’s a better spectator sport, it’s all sorts, over and done with in the morning.
What about the worst event of the year?
Is there any event where you think it’s too cold to go running or something?
Silence. Maybe if there’s a lot of pressure on, I don’t like that as much. Like for the Worlds and stuff, people expect you to win.
You won the Elite wave of Varsity Triathlon this March, how did it feel to be the winner of the first one in Nottingham?
It was good but I was quite disappointed with how the race went. I got a penalty in the swim and then fell off the bike – I thought I looked like an oompa loompa trying to run because it was pretty painful. I had a stomach bug Saturday and Sunday so after the race I felt pretty dreadful. But it was good, I was just tired. The preparation was difficult. The three weeks prior to the race, I had 7am-7pm and then 11[am]-1 at night, everyday scanning mares which isn’t fun but it [Varsity Triathlon] felt really good, it was a really good event. I was probably a bit ungrateful. It was really nice to win but it wasn’t a very good race for me at all.
With all the sports you do, what’s your typical training week?
This year has been very difficult because I’m never in the same spot and I don’t necessarily have access to stuff, like the last few weeks I haven’t been able to swim except when I was at the BUCS Champs for Pentathlon. It depends, if I start really early I won’t run in the morning, when I was at uni 9-5 I’d run in the morning and swim with the swim team most evenings, possibly on a morning too. Maybe do cycling on Sunday, a hockey match Saturday or Sunday, swim on a Sunday. On a Tuesday night I might do athletics, swim and then fence but that’s like five hours which is pretty…not fun. It really depends, I’m finding it hard this year to fit everything in. Uni’s hard and they expect you to do a lot of work on placement and if you’ve just come back from swimming and have to go straight into two hours surgery it’s just a bit…sigh.
I can only imagine. What’s been your greatest sporting achievement so far?
Last summer, winning the World Championships probably. I got a gold record for the highest combined swim and run for the tetrathlon in the UK records as well.
That’s really impressive, since you hadn’t done much sport before uni.
When I first came to uni, I’d done a little bit. Then summer of first year, I got beaten by someone who was a couple of years younger than me at a triathlon and I thought “right, sod it,” so I trained after that. In my third year I trained quite hard and it went really well, I won the internationals for three years so I was quite pleased.
Tetrathlon. I’d like to focus more on triathlon but it’s just fitting it all in. When I was doing pentathlon, I was thinking of going to Bath because that’s where the performance centre for all the GB teams is. All they do is train in the morning, sleep, train in the evening. I can’t really compete with all the facilities they have. But I’m sort of moving away from the elite races and more towards fun stuff.
And you consider triathlons fun?
Yeah, I like beating people. The run usually goes really well for me. I’ve got quite a lazy [swim] stroke, which is quite good for triathlon and longer distances suit me better. I really like the atmosphere and the people. That was really nice at the Varsity Triathlon, it was probably my favourite event I’ve done because everyone was there cheering me on…and it was fun to do a cartwheel at the end.
Photo credit: Shawn Ryan
That’s pretty impressive – I had no energy to anything at the end of my race apart from eat.
I think the worst thing was because there was no one else there, I didn’t really push myself as hard. I’ve found that before, when I haven’t got anyone to race with I can be quite lazy if I’m in the lead. That’s something I have to work on in the future, but my legs were quite sore. Running up the hills I literally looked like an idiot. When I fell off, I couldn’t get my chain back on as well and Josh biked past me, so in the transition I managed to run past him.
On race days, do you have any routines or rituals? I know some athletes do things like meditation.
I usually try and get a good sleep but sometimes I stay up quite late, it depends which team I’m with. If I’m with the swimmers, we just stay up and muck about till quite late. I like to know what time everything’s happening, but I say this then I always do stupid stuff.
Rituals…I have porridge in the morning if I can. But often at the bigger events you’re at hotels so you have to make do. Maybe use a foam roller the night before and try to chill out. I get really stressed and nervous before events – no one will talk to me for about 10 minutes before! I find it difficult in events where people expect you to do well. Sometimes I prefer it when you’re unknown, like the first triathlon I did, I really enjoyed because nobody knew how I was going to do.
Photo credit: Mr Bowman
Will doing a cartwheel at the finish line be a ritual from now on?
Laughs. Well it depends. I don’t know why I did that, it was a bit odd.
Final question, where can we find you on Friday nights?
Normally at Ocean. If it’s not Ocean then I probably watch a film, I’m quite sad, I really like watching films.
Thanks so much for your time and good luck for the rest of the events this year!
Edited by Samantha Carey