“You’re not racing for yourself but for your Service”

Commander Toby Clay, Royal Navy Triathlon Chairman, spoke to us ahead of the OA Inter-Services Triathlon.

Tell us about yourself
I’ve served in the Royal Navy for just over 22 years, and I am a Lynx helicopter pilot by background. I currently work in the Carrier Strike and Aviation Division of the Navy Command Headquarters. I started competing in triathlons 2004, and I’m the Chairman of Royal Navy Triathlon.

Why do you enjoy competing in triathlons?
I enjoy the buzz of competing, and putting myself on the line. You rarely thrash yourself in training like you do in a race and I enjoy testing my limits; the post-race feeling of exhaustion is addictive. I enjoy the multi-discipline aspect, whereby you can be slower in one area than another and make up the difference elsewhere. I like that triathlon requires broad training across several disciplines; if you’re injured you can usually train in at least one sport, which at my age is increasingly important!

What makes a triathlon tough?
A triathlon is a challenging event, which requires mental as well as physical resilience. A mass start in a lake can be a cold uncomfortable melee, yet on the run you can be sweltering and on your own for long periods. Additionally, you need a tactical mind-set, and to quickly transition from one sport to another. This is vital, involving good admin and discipline rather than pure fitness. Transition is really a fourth discipline and it can make or break results.

What is your training programme?
Like many athletes, I fit my training around my children and of course a full-time job, which can make it rather ad hoc. The majority of my training is cycling, commuting 22 miles to work when I can, plus weekend rides and the odd Time Trial and running race to work on speed. I run about once a week, and swim twice a week when time allows.

What advice would you give to someone competing in a triathlon?
The first bit of advice I would give a newcomer is to have a good look at the race setup and know exactly what you’ll be doing, including how the transition is laid out and what you’ll be wearing. Make sure you know where your bike is! Walk through your transitions, and know the course. I’ve been disqualified for going the wrong way, and a friend was disqualified from a race for taking someone else’s trainers. There’s no excuse! Pace yourself if it’s a long race, but make sure you have no ‘fuel in the tank’ at the end. If it’s a sprint distance then don’t save yourself for the run, just blitz it. Finally, enjoy it; all too soon it’ll be a distant memory and if you haven’t given it your all you’ll regret it.

What makes the OA Inter-Services Triathlon challenging?
The standard of competition is extremely high – it’s an elite level race. In an open triathlon I might expect to come in the top 10 per cent but at the OA Inter-Services Triathlon I’m well down the field. There’s also a shift in emphasis to the team – you’re not racing for yourself but for your service. I’m very proud to represent the Royal Navy and delighted to be part of the event, which is only made possible through the generous support of the Officer’s Association.

Organised this year by the Royal Navy Triathlon Association, the championship takes place on Wednesday 25th July.

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