Olympic triathlete Greg Billington reveals his training regimen and what it takes to compete in a triathlon
For most of us, a workout schedule includes fitting in the gym when we can -- maybe before work or on the weekends, and occasionally taking the stairs instead of the elevator. But for triathletes, it's a much different story.
For Greg Billington, triathlons aren't just a hobby, they're a way of life.
This year, Billington represented the United States in Rio, and he definitely earned his spot. From age 9, he knew he wanted to make it to the Olympic games, and trained as hard as anyone to get there.
See our interview with Billington below to learn more about his intense schedule, and what goes through his mind during the races.
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What is a typical training session for you? How long do you train per day or per week normally? Does it change after you qualify for the Olympics?
The training doesn't change that much. We go into every race wanting to be as perfectly prepared as we can. We will change our training slightly depending on the type of race we're preparing for. The Olympics is going to be a choppy swim, a hard ride, and then a really hot run. So we'll be training in the heat and doing more cycling than usual. We're starting to swim more too. We swim 6 days a week, some days we'll put in a double swim. We'll swim in the open water one day a week. We end up swimming 30-40 kilometers over the course of the week. Most guys are closer to 30km. We'll bike 5 days a week, and one of those is a long ride -- Sundays are usually 4-5 hours. Then there will be a few days a week where we do hill sessions on the bike. Then, running is the same kind of thing -- some longer days, some double days. We have one or two hard runs a week. Most days we swim at 8 for about 90 minutes, come back, eat breakfast, do some rehab stuff, then go bike for 90 minutes to two hours, and then in the evening go for a 50-60 minute run. In between that you have to do the nutrition right, and eat within 30 minutes of finishing exercise and do stretches and rolling.
What is going through your mind when you're doing a triathlon? It seems like such an endurance test.
As soon as you show up you start scoping out the competition. The main thing you're thinking the whole race is how to get an edge on the next guy, and how am I going to beat him. We go through all of the little things in training to make sure we're ready on race day. But when you dive into that water on race day with 70 guys lined up, you're just thinking: A how can I avoid these flailing TK TK B: I can sneak in a pull or something here to move myself up a few body lengths, and get around these buoys without getting completely drowned. With the bikes, you're just staying on wheels, into the front, and making everyone else hurt. Once you get on the run, it's just a matter of time before you're coming up to the last couple Ks and you need to make a big move to move as many places or drop as many guys as you can.
So, it's basically a mind game when you're racing?
Yeah, the key is to stay really focused. If you lose a couple seconds coming out of the water, you'll miss the big bike pack. There will be a number of packs in every race, and if you miss that front pack of 10-15 guys, then the top ten is probably out of the question. If you miss the second pack of 30 guys, then you've got a heck of a lot of work to do if you're even going to be in any kind of race at all. If you are too far back out of the water just by five seconds, you're whole race is done. The race can be over before you get out of the water, and the race can end during the bike. Some of these races, there will be 100 180 degree turns, where its just -- you have to slow way down, and then everyone sprints like a crazy person to each corner. If you're slightly off you'll get dropped and you'll have to chase really hard to get back on the pack. It's a lot of staying completely in the moment and doing what you have to do to stay in the pack and not lose time.
Who has been your biggest role model throughout your career?
That's tough, hmm. A lot of people that kind of inspire me to be the best that I can be. That will come in different areas of triathlon. My parents have always been there for me and I wouldn't have made it this far without their help. And then there's people who are in triathlon that I look up to -- people who do everything right on a daily basis in training. Then there's my coach Paulo Souza who really works with me a lot on staying calm and mentally focused, and not getting caught up too much if one workout doesn't go perfectly, or if one race goes really well. When I get out there and I race, I'm just trying to be the best version of myself I can be. I don't want to emulate other people too closely. If I'm going to do as well as I can, I know it's because I've maximized my own potential, and not tried to copy what other people have done.
What is the one piece of advice you wish you had received before becoming a professional athlete?
I'd say, for me it's been a lot more of staying calm and focused, and not focusing too much on little things that happen from day-to-day. But rather, staying focused on the bigger picture and knowing that maybe a lost day or two of training is not worth losing a whole season of training. It's best not to freak out about every single training, and to just know that every athlete out there is going to go through tough times and every athlete is going to have little things they have to work through. If you can just work through those small things as effectively and efficiently as you can, you'll have a successful career.
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