Keep it Simple: Learnings from the Brownlees

Outside of running, I have an interest in triathlon.  Yes, I know it includes running, but its only a third of the whole package.  Having trained as a triathlete and having a triathlon coach has in turn taught me a lot about my own running, particularly in the areas of overall aerobic fitness, recovery and balancing a hectic training schedule.  

Two of the most prominent triathletes on a global stage over the past 10 years are actually brothers, Alistair and Jonny Brownlee.  I recently read their book, aptly named “Swim, Bike, Run.” These lads are heroes to many and have raised the profile of triathlon into the mass conscience of the British public, all whilst remaining relatively normal lads from Yorkshire who enjoy a beer with fish and chips. They were an exciting part of the London 2012 Olympic games and along with Jessica Ennis, Andy Murray and Mo Farah represented a golden summer of British sport.

Their achievements and impact on triathlon are without question. ITU event winners, Commonwealth champions, Olympic champions, World Champions, the list goes on. For me, whilst I was interested in reading about these successes, the most interesting facet of the book was the comparisons between the two of them and their vastly different attitudes to training, food, injury and life in general. Normally in an autobiography you are looking at one life, in depth. To have a comparison of the approaches of two world-leading triathletes was a nice insight.

So if I had to pick a few main things that I took from the book, what would they be?

1. Much like life, there is no one single, right approach to training and racing for everyone. The brothers had vastly different attitudes to relaxing, training, food, injury and life in general, but have both had enormous success. It was refreshing to see two different approaches and not a preference for one over the other.

If you are anything like me, you are constantly wondering how to improve your training. Fortunately or unfortunately, we are faced with millions of magazine articles, blogs and reviews on exactly that. These are even endorsed by pros sand claim to have THE answer, so they must be good, right? All of these can be useful if taken with a pinch of salt. I would hate to think what would happen if you combined all of the ‘recommended’ training from one magazine. Carnage I suspect. It sounds clichéd, but you have to find approaches that are right for you as an individual, even if your brother is a world champion triathlete.

2. It is ok to have a relatively normal diet. We are encouraged through professional athlete endorsements and advertising and to take on the latest diet, or a myriad of different supplements. I am a sucker for this stuff, but you can eat all the quinoa and goji berries you want but it isn’t going to help much if you don’t train properly. There was a point in the book where Jonny is comparing himself to Alistair and saying, “well if a World Champion can eat fish and chips, its ok for me to do it.”

As someone who like the occasional ice cream it was really refreshing to hear that eating ‘normal’ foods can be ok. Don’t be a sucker for all of the advertising hype!  If you follow these guys on instagram, you will see a fair few Yorkshire Ales, pies and they are even sponsored by Yorkshire Tea!

3. You need a supportive system and environment in place to support your development. The brothers had each other, supportive school teachers, better than average sporting facilities nearby, a father that encouraged sport, cycling shops and teams that welcomed young people, great country roads for cycling up hills, the list goes on…. Some of this was luck of where they were born, but much of it was deliberate.  For example they had plenty of opportunities to live elsewhere, but chose to stay because of these factors.   It goes to show that even the most seemingly individual sports, can actually be far more of a team effort than you might think.  I would argue that the Brownlees are also a big reason why there has continued to be growth of a huge sporting hub up in the North of England in Leeds, and other athletes are now thriving there or moving to the area because of that environment.

I have said before, have a think about the team that is around you, supporting, encouraging, fixing, feeding…or the opposite. Try to create your own environment where that team is all pulling in the same (positive!) direction.

Coach Chris