Six forty-five a.m., 7 August 2012. I opened my eyes and looked around.
I saw the ceiling of my hotel room, I saw piles of kit strewn around the floor. I sat up in bed and asked myself how I felt. How do you sleep the night before a home Olympic final, the biggest two hours of your life? If you’re me, the answer – rather unusually – was extremely well.
As we set up our helmets and running shoes in the transition area – which we would later come sprinting into after the swim and then the cycle – we became aware of the thousands crammed in along the banks of the Serpentine. Then, coming round a corner and out from behind a screen as we headed out on our bikes for a brief warm-up, the noise hit us.
Twenty-four years, all building up to this. Eighteen years of training, much of it brutal, much of it wonderful, culminating in this single race.
I’m pretty rubbish at taking time to read books and so our summer holiday is usually my best time for reading. I wanted to read this book as I enjoy learning about people like Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee and discovering the things they do, the behaviours and the beliefs that have helped them become the legends they are in Triathlon.
What’s it about?
The book begins on the morning of and the build up to, the Triathlon at the 2012 London Olympics. It switches from Alistair to Jonny and you already get an insight into how each of them prepares mentally for a race. For anyone who’s done a race of any size, you can draw comparisons from how World Champions prepare to how you prepare and you learn that they’re human like the rest of us!
The narrative switches back and forth between them for the rest of the book as they share their earliest memories of being active as kids and how they got into running. It’s an enjoyable journey and we learn a lot about their own relationship as brothers and that their success was achieved by hard work and learning from those better than them as they grew up.
The book is conveniently split into sections on Swim, Bike and Run and inside each section, they share one of their workouts and some general tips about each discipline. There’s another section on The Brownlee Way, where they talk about their training, their mindset about everything they do and sharing general tips. What is fascinating throughout the book is learning about their characters, how they benefit from each other and just how down to earth they are. For me, it makes it easier to relate to these two as they come across as two regular guys who happen to be very good at what they do.
What can I learn from reading this book?
There is a lot that we can all learn from Ali and Jonny, even if we’re far from being Olympic Athletes:
- Be consistent – they’ve been consistent with following the same pattern for years. Alistair talks about always doing his long runs on a Monday morning as he used to have a double free period then when he was at school and so did his long runs then. This is a familiar theme so they do their sessions on the same day/time as they’ve always done. The only thing that changes is the workout, everything stays the same. Perhaps one of the reasons they’re successful?
- Work hard – you might think that elite athletes are a different breed from the rest of us, are able to do more and have access to better training facilities but one thing that’s glaring in this book is that their success has come from sheer hard work and not being afraid of making mistakes.
- Eat what fuels you – like number 2, you might think that athletes like the Brownlees follow a scientific diet to help them be champions but it couldn’t be further from the truth. They talk of eating normal food like Coco Pops, meat pies and fish and chips, only adjusting slightly closer to a competition. They eat what works for them, what their bodies respond well to. That doesn’t mean we can go eat these things but it means we don’t have to go and source specific foods just because we’ve read about them in a magazine.
- Listen to your body – many of us feel we have to do the same workouts at the same level regardless and become despondent if we’re not able to do as much. They talk about being clever and listening to what your body is telling you so if you need to ease off and have a rest day or do a lighter workout instead of the one we planned then that’s ok and we can do a little more another day. Having that rest may improve your performance, not damage it.
- Make it fun – it’s interesting hearing this from a world and Olympic champion. While their sessions are tough, they always aim to make them fun and encourage us all to do the same. They say it should never be too serious or we will lose motivation at some point if it feels like a slog. We can maintain the intensity but why not change the route, run or ride somewhere new, go discover the area, follow a different path. Changing an aspect of your training can make a positive difference.
I loved reading this book as Alistair and Jonny come across as just normal, regular guys. Their passion for what they do comes across very well and it’s hard not to be drawn in and motivated from it. What was refreshing for me was to read that their strength and success has come from putting the hours in swimming, cycling and running, becoming better at their sport and not doing lots of strength and conditioning in the gym that lots of people on social media seem to be doing.
The book leads towards the Olympic Triathlon, the build up from their training to standing on the start line to during the race and since the event. You can get drawn in and feel the excitement and tension as the big event drew closer and then you get to see from their perspective, going from just being normal guys to being recognised everywhere. I think it’s an interesting read for anyone regardless of what level of exerciser they are. We can all identify with them at some level from what they say to the behaviours, hopes and fears. We can identify either with Alistair’s confidence to Jonny’s race day rituals of constantly checking things over and over.
We might not become Olympic or World Champions but we can become better versions of ourselves.
You can buy the book here.