This training article is not an article as such but an interview and insight into one of the best triathletes in the world over the last decade, ITU star and Team GB Olympian Stuart Hayes. Stuart is a highly experienced athlete and has been competing for nearly 20 years! He has seen a lot of changes within the sport, its racing styles and training methods. He has used this knowledge to great effect competing for England in the 2002 Commonwealth games where he broke away on the bike with non-other than triathlon legend, Chris McCormack. He has used his bike strength well over the years winning many non-drafting triathlon events and also winning the 2010 World Triathlon Series event in Kitzbuhel, Austria. But it was because of this bike strength and tactical ability that he was selected to compete for Team GB at the London 2012 Olympics as a domestique, to help Team GB take that long awaited sort after Olympic medal! This had been a lifelong ambition after being a reserve in Athens 2004 and then in 2008 having his chances scuppered due to a double puncture at the selection race in Madrid and consequently missing out on a place for Beijing. This interview just gives you a little insight into what it takes to race at the very top and what training is involved. We also ask him about his plans for the future.
Me: Hi Stu, Many thanks for taking the time for this chat! Firstly Congratulations on making the Olympic team and the fantastic job you did in helping Team GB get gold and bronze with the Brownlee’s. How was the experience for you?
Stu: Yea thanks, the experience was fantastic and I had the best triathlon experience of my life from start to finish.
Me: In 2010 you won an ITU World Series event in kitzbuhel, Austria. Something that not many triathletes can say they’ve done! Which for you was the best race, London or Kitzbuhel? Or is there another race/performance that you would rate higher?
Stu: Kitzbuhel was my best performance by far! Because all the best ITU triathletes in the world at that time were racing and I won! That stands as my best performance to date.
Me: You’ve been trying to get that Olympic place right since triathlon was put in the Sydney 2000 games, you must have just about given up hope on ever going?
Stu: After a double puncture in 2008 at the selection trials in Madrid which ruined my chances of going to Beijing. Then in January 2012 I suffered a stress fracture in my knee which stopped me from running so I thought it was game over as far as London was going and the whole Olympic dream period! But if you keep fighting anything can happen and my wife, Michelle Dillon, kept me in the fight!
Me: Coming from London yourself and having all your friends and family and the whole country cheering you on, if you were ever going to make one games then London would have to be the one! Do you think it was meant to be?
Stu: It meant everything to me when I was selected! It was a dream come true because it was my first Olympics and it was in my home town of London. What was even more special was the fact that I was part of a Gold and Bronze medal winning team! We knew that the other competitors would be racing for themselves but went into the race with a team approach, to race as a team, as team GB, and it worked!
Me: You started your sporting career as a swimmer and changed to triathlon 18 years ago when you were 15. Why the change, and how did you get into the sport being as it wasn’t as prominent in the public eye all those years back?
Stu: Spencer Smith got me into triathlon. I watched him win the World Championships in Manchester, 1993 on TV and it made me want to be part of the swim, bike and run community!
Me: Did you ever think that you would make a career out of the sport and go to the Olympics all that time ago?
Stu: I saw Spencer Smith and Simon Lessing training and racing as professionals and new that was what I wanted to do. I love being active and getting paid for it! When I first started out in triathlon it wasn’t an Olympic sport so when it did come about, I was one of the first to say I wanted to go, but I didn’t think it would take me 12 years!
Me: Obviously the sport at ITU level has changed massively over the years, going from non- drafting to drafting and you were around when drafting races started. Did your training change at all during those early days?
Stu: My training has changed completely over the last couple of years. We train so much more and really have to plan our training blocks so that we’re peaking for certain events.
Me: One of the biggest things that I have noticed has been a massive increase in the performance of ITU racing, especially over the last few years, most notably in the swim and run! Do you feel the bike has improved or not?
Stu: The bike has got faster but I feel that this is a discipline which will be the next to jump up to a new level, especially if they make the bike courses harder. The athletes will have to spend more time on their bikes in training. They can’t get much faster on the run!
Me: Just touching on the swim, the standard has shot up big time, with the likes of Gomez, the Brownlee’s and super swimmers like Richard Varga really pushing the pace. Has it been a gradual increase in performance over the years or do you feel the pace has suddenly gotten faster?
Stu: The pace has gradually got quicker. A couple of years back I was the big man in the swim but now there are 50 guys who can swim as fast as me and the only way I can make sure I exit with the leaders is by doing loads of swimming!
Me: Yea like you said you’ve always been one of the fastest swimmers in the sport anyway, so you would have had to improve to stay with those guys. How has your swim training and methods had to change and adapt over the years to go with the pace?
Stu: I am swimming 6 times a week and 5km a session, which is 10km more a week that what I was doing back in the 1990’s. The problem I have is that I get so skinny from all the running and biking that I do, it makes me slower because I don’t float as well and sink! I get round this by making myself a stronger swimmer by using paddles and a band when I swim which is a must. (Hand paddles create a bigger surface area for the hands against the water increasing resistance and a band is a tube tied around the ankles to make it harder to get through the water!)
Me: Same with the run, back in the mid to late 90’s and early 00’s the likes of Simon Lessing were winning with a 31min 10km run splits, I remember Simon Whitfield just broke 31mins to win in Sydney 2000. Those times wouldn’t have got a top 10 in London! In fact the top 4 all ran sub 30mins! What training methods are athletes doing different now compared to back then to try and go with this increase in performance?
Stu: The top runners that can handle the load are doing a lot of double run days and even triple run days in there training week! Those kinds of sessions were unheard of back in the 90’s.
Me: You’ve had great success over the years in the non-drafting format of racing, especially in the USA where there are a lot of big money races that are non-drafting. Which style of racing do you prefer?
Stu: I like them both! If I do loads of ITU races then I miss the non-drafting races and vice versa. If you have ITU run speed and have been doing loads of riding on your TT bike, you can win the non-drafting events, so that’s why I do both.
Me: Does your training have to change much depending on what style you are racing?
Stu: Not for me. I like to attack on the bike in ITU races which means I need to be able to time trial so I can break away. This obviously transfers well for non-drafting racing.
Me: What about long course? I know you dipped into it in 2010 with a good result at 70.3 St Croix and then going to the 70.3 World championships in Clearwater. Any plans for more in the future?
Stu: I’m going to do a couple more years of Olympic distance non-drafting and the odd ITU race as I want to qualify for the ITU World Triathlon series final which is in London in 2013!
Me: What will be your main goals for the 2013 season?
Stu: The 5130 triathlon championship final in Hy-Vee.
Me: And what about Ironman? You know you want to!
Stu: NO IRONMAN!!
Me: “Brain training” is a big thing at the minute, especially for Ironman; do you do any mental training methods to help with training and racing? If so what kind of things do you do?
Stu: My wife Michelle Dillon is my mentor. She pumps me up all the time, especially before races. She also keeps me on the road when things go wrong.
Me: You’ve been under the guidance of many coaches over the years, but your recent successes have been under the coaching of your now wife, Michelle, at Team Dillon. How do Michelle’s methods differ from other coaches you’ve been with?
Stu: We live, sleep and breathe triathlon! We also change things every year. I recently spent 3 months training with the Brownlee brothers which really opened my eyes. We will be taking this forward with us into 2013.
Me: Is strength and conditioning part of your training with Team Dillon? What are the area’s you would get triathletes to focus on in the gym?
Stu: GLUTES! Without your glutes working properly you are going to get injured at some point! It’s only a matter of time!
Me: What are your favourite sessions for swim, bike and run?
Stu: Swim; 2km warm up – 4 x (300m max with 30sec rest then 4 x 50m max off 1min then 100m easy) 1km warm down.
Bike and run; 1hr TT best effort with a 5km hard run off the bike. I have PB’s for this and like to try and beat them.
Me: Do you have three tips for triathletes to help them improve?
Stu: Work the glutes in the gym in the winter, loads of bike miles all year round and try training at altitude! It really works but don’t overdo it.
Me: Thanks for your time Stu, and good luck for the future!