Back in February, Jamie Hilton made the brave decision to sign up for a series of Marauder triathlons… as a complete beginner. He chose a June Sprint, an Olympic distance in August, and finally the Sundowner Triathlon, which is a half-Ironman event taking place this September. If you haven’t watched Jamie’s vlogs yet, you’re missing out.
There’s something for everyone to relate to in Jamie’s honest and compelling journey-so-far, whether you’re a first-time triathlete yourself, or you’ve been competing in multi-sport events for years.
Now with one triathlon down, we decided to catch up with Jamie for some in-person training tips, insights and reflections.
Marauder: Can you give us a quick introduction, for readers who don’t know your story so far?
Jamie: I was an active kid, participating in a variety of sports. I’ve got a strong background in martial arts, which I love mostly because they focus on self-development and self-discipline. I trained and competed in those for a long time.
Then, the upheaval of the past few years meant that for the first time in my life, my activity levels slipped. I hardly moved, and I let myself get really out of shape.
So I started looking around for a new challenge. I wanted to focus on something specific and inspiring… almost like a ‘Couch to 5k’ concept, but tougher.
Doing a series of triathlon events appealed to me in lots of ways, in particular the competitive element. Competing against myself has always been important, but after so much time in isolation, the idea of competing against others really fired me up!
What were your expectations when you started out?
I’ll be honest: at the start, training for a sprint-distance event didn’t get me leaping out of bed in the morning.
I went to the gym and completed the entire event-distance there… but then reality kicked in. My times weren’t great, and I knew there’d be a big difference between swimming at the gym on my own, for example, and swimming in Allerthorpe Lake with lots of other people.
I also started thinking about the differences between triathlon and martial arts. With the latter, you either win or lose against one person. I’m comfortable with that idea, especially as just stepping through the ropes can make you feel like you’ve already won.
But I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of ending up right at the back of a huge pack. I thought: I could actually come in last here, so I’d better up my game!
Have there been any surprises on your training journey so far?
I’ve been used to walking into an MMA gym knowing exactly what I was supposed to do while I was there.
Now I was on my own… but triathlon is only biking, running and swimming, right? I could just make it all up as I went along.
To say I was wrong about that is an understatement!
I learned the importance of structure pretty quickly. For example, I might have a hazy idea of doing a bike session outside, but then it’d be raining, so I’d think: “I’ll go to the gym instead”.
You might think there’s nothing wrong with the odd adjustment here and there. But I found even a small deliberation like that created extra space in my mind, which I could then use to talk myself out of going at all.
There are times when I really don’t want to go out and train, but having the structure in place means I don’t have to think about it. Then, once I’m out there in nature, my endorphins kick in and I’m really happy I went.
However, I think the biggest surprise has been how quickly training for a triathlon becomes part of a healthy everyday lifestyle. I enjoy using my body and being out in nature, so for me, training offers a reward in itself.
After all, the race is just a few hours out of my life, but I’m training for months, so it’s important to enjoy every session for what it is, and enjoy improving as a human being!
(Follow Jamie’s training journey – including training as part of different clubs – in his regular vlog updates).
Are there any specific training tips you could offer, particularly for beginners?
Don’t give up.
It’s easy to think that you’re not getting any better, especially when every training session feels like an uphill struggle – sometimes literally!
Recording your results will give you a sense of how you’re improving, though try to see them as a brief guide, rather than making them your entire focus.
We all have bad days, and it’s important not to get too fixated on those. I speak from experience – at the start of my training I got so hung up on ‘bad’ results that I stopped recording anything for a while, just to get myself back on track.
Also, listen to your body, and don’t ignore any niggles.
How was your first triathlon, and how are you adjusting your schedule to cope with the longer distances?
I loved it!
However, I made a huge mistake with the swim. I was feeling so relaxed and motivated that my competitive nature kicked in. So I made my way to the front of the pack, with all the triathlon veterans.
At the time I noticed there wasn’t much jostling to get to the front, and I soon realised why. Suddenly, there were swimmers everywhere – all of them much more experienced than me, and some almost clambering on top of me to get past!
That experience couldn’t have been more different to the relaxed, Zen-like rhythm I’d fallen into on my training swims, and I found it really difficult to cope with. But it was my own fault – it was my first triathlon so I should have focused on getting through at my own pace, rather than striding up to the front.
There’s another tip for beginners: it’s OK to hang back a bit. In fact, if you do you’ll probably benefit from being in the wake of the more experienced swimmers!
As for how I’m dealing with longer distances now, my training has become more about volume and consistency, rather than going in hard every time. For example, I’m running a couple of half-marathons a week now, but I’m pacing myself throughout. I’m also taking my recovery more seriously.