European Games triathlon gold medallist Gordon Benson is heading to his first Olympics in Rio this year. We caught up with the 22-year-old proud Yorkshireman to find out how he’s preparing.
I’ll be going to Rio in a support role for the Brownlee brothers, Alistair and Jonny. I’ll offer them protection during the swim and they’ll draft behind me. On the bike I’ll chase down breakaways and do the majority of the work for them so it puts them in a position to win.
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I train about 30 hours a week. Monday is a relatively easy swim, cycle, run and gym session. Tuesday is more intense with a hard swim in the morning and a cycling session in the evening. Wednesday is a long aerobic day, with around 4½ hours on the bike, a 5K swim and a run.
On Thursday there’s a really intense swim in the morning and then a bike session in the evening, which is good fun. There’s a group of about 60 guys – called the Leeds Chain Gang – who roll out from Leeds to Ilkley and back every Thursday, doing about 40km in just under an hour. Friday is an easy day – just a swim and gym session in the morning.
Weekends involve quite long hours of training. The Brownlees usually do a run session on Saturday morning but I’ll be doing a swim instead, then we’ll ride for 4½ hours. Sunday is another long ride and I’ll also go for a jog and a swim.
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The majority of work we do in the gym is focused on injury protection. We have a screening at the start of the year to find the weak points in our bodies and then we target them because they’re a potential source of injury. We’ll be doing things like calf raises and Bulgarian split squats with 8kg weights.
My favourite discipline is probably cycling. Until this year it wasn’t my strongest but I’ve worked on it a lot. It’s good riding in Yorkshire and our long training rides across the Dales are really sociable – we usually stop at a café halfway through.
I particularly like cycling when you’re overseas because you can go a long way and explore. When we were at a training camp in St Moritz you could pass a couple of borders and be riding through Switzerland, Austria and Italy. I like the aspect of speed too, descending Alpine passes at 80km/h.
We go to St Moritz for altitude training. This year was my first year because the physio told me I needed to wait until I was 21 and fully developed cardiovascularly. There are some really nice running trails around the mountains there.
We train in Spain for eight weeks in the winter too, two weeks on, two weeks off. Where we go is around 10km from Benidorm and a lot of pro cycling teams go there. It’s really good for riding, the running’s nice and you’ve got great weather.
I’ve used a heat chamber at Leeds University to get used to the Brazilian environment. It’s like a big sweaty box. You turn the temperature to 35°C and 70% humidity, so it’s quite extreme, and get on the turbo trainer or treadmill. It’s a good resource because you can monitor how your body reacts, look at your core temperature and sweat loss and work out how much you should drink in a race.
Now the weather’s picking up we’ve started swimming in the lake in Otley, just north of Leeds, which is good because we can do more race-style training. It’ll be a sea swim in Rio so we went to Australia in April and learned how to body-surf waves. If you get that opportunity in a race you can build a good lead.
My diet is fairly balanced. I studied nutrition at university and try and eat healthily, but I wouldn’t say I never eat unhealthily either. I’ve never really counted calories – I just eat to fuel and stop hunger. I like cooking and I try to push myself, but I mainly like making a stir-fry because you’ve not actually done much but it looks quite good.
I did yoga for a period and I found it a really good mental break, and a chance to relax and finish with a clear head. I felt like that was the best psychological training I could have. You’d finish by lying on your back in a really relaxed state for five minutes – I’d fall asleep every time. It really helped my bike position through back flexibility as well. I put it on the back foot when I was doing my dissertation but I’m going to get back into it.
I'm really looking forward to being part of a big multi-sport Team GB in Rio. I have friends in other sports that have qualified and a guy I went to school with has just qualified to dive for Jamaica, so it’ll be great to share it all with them.
Müller Rice is the official British Triathlon partner, helping Team GB go the distance in the lead-up to Rio Olympic and Paralympic Games. Look out for Gordon fronting the campaign on TV and in magazines until October.
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