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Jack Maitland: coaching the Brownlees
Posted by: Editor
Posted on: Thursday 12th July 2012

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Everyone in the world of triathlon knows about the Brownlee brothers. But, who is the team behind that boys that has helped get them to their current status not just within triathlon, but increasingly, within British sport?

One of them is coach Jack Maitland. A elite athlete himself in years past - and winner of the Everest Marathon - Jack is a cornerstone of the coaching structure based in Leeds, Yorkshire, which is developing a significant percentage of Great Britain's top triathletes.

Having interviewed the Brownlee brothers last month, we asked Nina McArthur to find out more about Jack Maitland...

5pm on Friday and having just arrived through the door looking like a drowned rat after deciding for some reason to commute in the torrential rain I thought, if I had a personal coach would they have really recommended I do that? I like to think commuting is time efficient training within the working week however now sat there hugging a hot drink in my Hollister hoodie, I wasn't so sure. Maybe a phone call to triathlon coach Jack Maitland might help make up my mind?

I was lucky enough to be coached by Jack Maitland many years ago at British Triathlon Northern Talent Squad Training Camps so whilst I know he is renowned for coaching Olympic hopefuls Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee alongside other elite athletes such as David McNamee & Lois Rosindale, he coaches a host of other age group triathletes. I firstly wondered how Jack's coaching methods differed for different ability levels, are they the same or similar but at a lesser intensity?

"It depends on the individual athletes and the stage of their development, so for example when you were on the training camps with Alistair & Jonny I saw them once a month and coached them very differently to how I do now seeing them five days a week. It often depends on the time with athletes."

Jack Maitland with athletes

Jack has worked as a full-time coach for Leeds & Bradford Triathlon Club since 2002, coaches with Leeds Metropolitan University Tri Club and is co-director of so his CV is certainly stacked with experience on top of his elite athlete involvement too. My club coaches often say that they find it hard to fit any of their own training around coaching but I remembered Jack Maitland on the training camps coming with us for runs up Ingleborough and bike rides around the Yorkshire Dales. Does he still manage to fit any training into his incredibly busy schedule?

"Well I'm still riding my bike a bit. I try to keep up enough fitness to ride out with the athletes [training group at Leeds Metropolitan University High Performance Centre] once a week, usually the Thursday Chaingang. I'm going on a training camp in San Moritz with Alistair & Jonny soon."

Any chance of keeping up with his elites on the rides?

"No, I'm not near their level of fitness but I do one or two rides with them, like I did a few of the flatter ones with Lois [Rosindale] last year. On a personal level I do yoga for an hour and a half a day and use it with individual athletes I coach and also on some of the Junior Camps. The main benefit is getting your body in balance physically and mentally which is really important as any imbalance is exaggerated by training. Secondly, it gets you in touch and aware of your body; you know the quote ‘listen to your body'. Some do and ignore it whereas those such as Alistair, Jonny and Lois have learnt over time that its not possible to ignore it. Yoga can help you realise that earlier rather than later."

Jack in coaching modeIn June 2011, Jack held a Gatorade Triathlon Swimming Master Class with the Brownlee Brothers, offering tips for drafting and transitions for age group athletes, how to perfect your technique in the water and the benefits of drafting. On Sunday 1st July I did the Great Manchester Mile Swim and a sneaky swimmer took drafting one step too far, pulling my foot down and swimming over the top of me. Clinging on the side of Salford Quays for dear life until my swim coach shouted ‘Nina, calm down and get going!', I was eager to get some tips on coping with dirty tactics and generally surviving those sometimes brutal open water swims.

"You've got to be confident in your own ability and not be put off by others. Keep your space in open water just like on a road, it sounds silly but think of the Tour de France where the riders ride shoulder to shoulder confidently in a large pack. If you hold your own then people won't swim over the top of you."

Onto cycling and after Alistair and Jonny's mention of Gatorade's G Series Pro Range for coping with the training volume particularly on those long bike rides, I wondered what Jack's view on avoiding the dreaded ‘bonking' was and if he would recommend the same.

"Any athlete needs to find the strategy that works for them so this would be choosing a range of products such as Gatorade Prime, Perform, Recover, then a feeding strategy and working out the quantity that your body needs. Everyone is comfortable with different ways."

Jack has a similar Mountain Running background to the Brownlee Brothers as he himself was the British Fell Running Champion in 1986, before then participating in triathlon's demonstration event at the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland finishing as the highest placed Scot. Does he think that there is a benefit to training and racing specifically in each sport before bringing them all together?

"Yes, it's really good to be involved in the single sports, particularly when you're younger. Alistair & Jonny benefited a lot from that and they still do now with their current training companions. For example, some of the top class runners who train with them are going to the camp in San Moritz. It is important that they have people around them who are as good as them and you pick up a lot about the individual disciplines. Its difficult to do everything as a young athlete as you can't just move across the country to live where its most convenient to train consistently in all three sports so it is important to hang on to what you can learn."

In the last ITU World Series Race in Kitzbühel, adding together Alistair's times for T1 and T2 showed him to be pretty much the fastest at transitions in the field so I guessed Jack had some cheeky tips up his sleeve in terms of how much time athletes should spend on perfecting their transitions.

"Most triathletes should spend a lot more! Like most skills, you need to learn transitions well. I'm sure you remember from the camps and may have seen from some of the Gatorade Training Tip Videos online that you firstly need to know or be told what you're supposed to be doing. Then you practice this until you can do it quickly. Some learn differently to others but most can't do it straight away. Once you've learned them well, you can always do them well. It's like once you ride a bike, you can always ride a bike or whilst cycling on rollers is hard at first, once you can do it you can always do it. Now Alistair & Jonny already have the skills, they only need a little bit of polishing each season."

Jack shows a great understanding of the tricky balancing act that many age group triathletes have in combining training with work and family life, often forgotten by elite athletes. After a race or a hard training session, what would he recommend to ensure adequate recovery in terms of refuelling the body?

"It does depend on your circumstance. Ideally you need to get some good, natural, wholesome food in you but this is not always practical. When leaving the swimming pool, most people will often be getting in their car to go to work or college and that is where products like the Gatorade Range come in. You can take them on the go and make sure you get the recovery straight away. If you don't refuel adequately afterwards then you risk illness or a lack of energy in training."

So after guiding his athletes through the hours of training it comes down to race day. I thought I'd give Jack a little scenario and with the Olympic Triathlon now less than a month away, what better than the following.

N.M. "So it's the morning of the Olympic Triathlon and you sit down with the Brownlees' to breakfast. What last minute piece of advice or final words would you say to them before the race?"

J.M "I would just say trust yourself, you know how to race, trust your instincts. I would want them to be normal as I always say to athletes don't do anything new on race day."

Everyone within the sport of triathlon and beyond are excited about the British Triathlon Team's medal chances in less than four weeks time, with the rest of field looking towards the Brownlees as the ones to beat. Personally, I am so excited for the moment when I am down at Hyde Park cheering on the red, white and blue of Alistair, Jonny, Stuart Hayes, Helen Jenkins, Vicky Holland and Lucy Hall. How is Jack feeling about the day?

"I'll certainly be down [at Hyde Park] at the Olympics. Alistair and Jonny have been on a camp in San Moritz for two weeks with coach Malcolm Brown, then I'm going over to finish their preparation before heading to London after that. The guys will travel down to register on the day of the Womens' Race. I'm feeling that we're exactly where we'd like to be. They are fit, have raced successfully and won races but that doesn't necessarily mean they will be successful on the day. A lot can happen from now until the start, and between the start and the finish. This sport is inherently un-predictive and I won't be at rest until they are over that finish line. It's as good as it possibly could be at the moment and I think the inclusion of Stuart [Hayes] is good strong addition to the team too."

Jack embodies all that a coach should. He has a sporting background himself yet still manages to fit in a bit of training whilst looking to new ideas such as Yoga to aid his athletes. He manages to co-direct a successful coaching company, whilst working with other partners such as Leeds Met University and Gatorade to offer the best package of experience he can to his amateur and elite athletes.

Having such guidance along with the support of British Triathlon is invaluable and means that Alistair and Jonny along with the rest of Team GB are almost ready to take the stage. All that is left is to let such coaches finish off their preparations, the athletes to make it to that start line and for us to crowd around the Hyde Park Course, a British Triathlon Live Site or our TV screens and cheer them on. Great Britain is certainly lucky to have such competent coaches, a good governing body and surging support.

We can be truly great, I am sure.

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