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The hard working Nikki Bartlett
Posted by: John Levison
Posted on: Wednesday 23rd July 2014


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It is fair to say that British long distance female triathlon is not short on talent right now. Leanda Cave, Rachel Joyce, Liz Blatchford, Jodie Swallow, Lucy Gossage, Cat Morrison, Catherine Faux, Julie Dibens, Emma-Kate Lidbury... and several more that I could add into this list.

Could relative newcomer Nikki Bartlett (www.nikki-bartlett.blogspot.co.uk) be on track to be joining them one day?

Age Grouper Nikki, if you recall, recently finished second overall at Ironman 70.3 UK. We grabbed a few post-race word with her HERE, but with the dust now settled on that performance, we wanted to find out a lot more about this "sociable, hard-working, talkative, sports geek" - who once qualified for Kona, but didn't actually know what that was...


Hi Nikki, I understand you were quite an accomplished rower. Can you tell us a bit more about that, and why the switch from rowing to triathlon?

My rowing career started at University (University of Birmingham). I was simply looking for the athletics stand at the sports fair, and stumbled across the rowing stand. I signed up, had a go. They absolutely killed us freshers in a 500m relay format. I simply loved the team atmosphere; at the time I was also quite a big drinker/loved to party. We went out after the training session, and drank heavily. I was sold.

Nikki BartlettAs the University years went on, we developed a very good development squad, that turned into the Senior squad and then I qualified to represent GB at the University Rowing Championships. We qualified in last spot, so expectations were low, although our ambition and drive was high. We worked our butts off that summer, and qualified for the final, and finished second overall! This kick-started my dream of becoming an Elite athlete.

I graduated from University and entered the ‘Girls for Gold' initiative in 2008 to find potential ‘Gold medal winners' for the 2012 Olympics. I tested one of the highest results, and was fast-tracked onto the GB rowing World Class Start system. I packed my bags and moved to Teeside, which then transferred down near Caversham, at the High Performance centre in Reading.

I had many successful achievements, but I was plagued with a rib stress fracture. This kept recurring and eventually I took a few months fully away, working as a PE teacher. I fully recovered, and a friend; Cath and I decided to do a challenge, whilst still on the rowing set up, for charity. We decided to enter a half and full Ironman by the time we were 30. However, we entered a half in 2010, which I somehow won with no specific training. I didn't even have a water bottle cage on my £200 bike from ebay. We then entered Ironman UK Bolton in 2011 for charity. I did this off the back of rowing training, and won my AG (18-24 at the time). I was hooked and in 2012 my rowing coach and I decided that maybe I should try my hand in Triathlon.

Lots of ex rowers do very well in triathlon (Jordan Rapp, Hamish Carter,Toby Garbutt, James Cracknell, Louise Collins and many others). Why do you think that is?

I think the main factor of why ex rowers can transfer to triathlon is their well trained mental/mind capabilities. If you go to the gym, lets be honest the ‘average' gym-goer may stay on the ‘erg' for around 5-10 minutes. Or they are the least used machines, at times. Try training 30-40k (around 16-24k for each session), coupled with weights, and a part time job. That is a ‘typical' training day for a rower. It's brutal. It's mainly mileage based, at a certain low based stroke rate, but essentially it's a power-stroke on the legs, every stroke, picking up the boat and crew weight with it.

As a lightweight rower, most of my time was spent in a single scull. Yes, you trained alongside others, but you're ultimately on your own. There will always be an ergo session, perhaps once a day, especially in the winter months. The next time you are at the gym, do a 16-20k erg, rate capped at 18. It's dull, its just you, staring at a screen, in a hot room, mind numbing session. It makes turbos seem easy.

The ‘making weight' side of the sport is mentally draining, and has a huge impact both physically and mentally on the body. Before you even race, you have to weigh in at weight/below (57kg in the summer for lightweight women), two hours before you race. This usually/most often involves a ‘sweat down'. That's right, dehydrating yourself before a race! Putting on a bin bag for the base layer, then layering yourself up so that only your eyes are in sight. Then sweating out around 0.7-1kg. Luckily for me, and I challenge anyone on this, I am the sweatiest person you will ever meet. So 10 minutes of running, like a sumo wrestler, looking like an idiot, allowed me to sweat 1kg or more. You would then hydrate but have to be careful, as racing lasts all weekend or over several days, and you have to weigh in each day!

Nikki BartlettDoes triathlon provide a degree of 'freedom' for training versus rowing-my understanding is rowing is very dependent on your squad all training together (otherwise there is a space in a boat!)?

I LOVE the freedom element. We had a very structured daily/weekly/monthly plan. Going home or visiting friends was not really an option. You missed all family and friends events. A typical training few weeks would provide you with maybe one day off. You didn't want to move out of bed. Due to being within a set up, you couldn't just put your boat on the car and travel home. You were in the set up-you had to fully commit to it. I did and I do love that element, don't get me wrong. But now I can transfer that learnt ability/nature that you HAVE to portray to try and be an Elite athlete. But I can now take my training back home.

The program isn't tailored individually as you might imagine, yes there is some degree of focus, but as a crew. Not the individual. The rowing system is brutal in that it's miles after miles after miles. For me, it didn't suit me; as I clearly broke. But that's the set up, if you cant cope, off you go! So now, I have a program, which I have developed a lot more intensity than that of the rowing program I was on. But now I can recover specific for me. How my body needs it. I have a program, but always go by feel. I monitor one session a week, in a run session, and bike, always swim. But the rest is all by feel. I also believe that you have to listen to the body, and a program is set in place, not in stone. I adjust my structure and sessions a lot day-by-day. I can also structure my training around work to when suits me/work demands (I work in PR with Kate McNeill's Compete PR business).

How would you describe yourself as a person?

Good question, one which I would prefer someone who knows me to answer ;-). I think ultimately in every aspect of life, I make a dream/goal and work bloody hard at it. I understand this isn't a ‘quick fix/plan'. I commit and dedicate all my energy, drive and committed nature into achieving this.

For instance, lets take my education. I came out of my GCSE's with I think 4 A-C's. I scrapped into Sixth Form which I had to work my ass off to get 2xC's and B. I went to University of Birmingham. Took my partying way too seriously, and scrapped through first year with a 40%. Something had to change otherwise I was going to be kicked out, I did and came out with a First Class with Hons, whilst holding down a part time job, voluntary work and training twice a day.

I guess my Twitter ‘motto' says it all; 'Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard'. I truly believe that if you set out on your dreams, and allow development time, you can achieve it! Patience is the key.

Other than this I'm sociable, love to meet like-minded people with stories to tell, dreams they are taking. I'm a bit of a sports (certain sports more so), geek-I love to watch and follow! I think anyone who knows me, would probably say; I can talk for England! Other than this; I love to cook and bake!

What are you strengths and weaknesses as an athlete?

Strengths:

  • Hardworking attitude/being mentally strong: understanding that this process is merely the beginning, consistency in training over years and years of hard graft to come
  • Planning recovery; we all know the importance of recovery, but I actually plan it like I do with training (however…see weaknesses!)
  • working closely with sponsors

Weaknesses:

  • Learning to take advantage of recovery time; I structure recovery, but I need to learn to sit on my bum more! I'm getting there; definitely an area to improve on
  • Technique/everything; swim, bike, run and transitions. May sound harsh, but if I can improve on all areas from technique to motor skills to ability, then that can be classed as a weakness right?
  • Having no specific background in any of the three disciplines, except running although I was a social runner. I turned up to more training and races drunk/hungover than sober! 400/800m is my ‘background'.
  • I hate the cold; yes ironic considering I live in Scotland. I don't mind as much running, but I'm a sucker for taking the turbo option. I sweat a lot too, so I have tried all the best kit out there. No-one can stop the ‘cold sweat' situation that I seem to cause!

Being very new to triathlon, are you working with a coach, club or similar?

I'm self-coached at present.

This doesn't mean that I don't want a coach, but at the moment being self-coached with an awesome support team; sponsors, friends and family is great. My partner is a triathlon coach within the Scottish Triathlon Squad, so all these people combined offer me all the advice I need.

I would love a coach in the near future though. I have a whole list of what I search for and want in a coach. Ultimately someone I can spend daily/most days working CLOSELY with. Like I have said before, working on technique, and to be honest, the whole athlete/triathlete/complete development! The list is endless on areas to work on.

I also want a coach who knows me/has the scope to have time to get to know me and develop together. Every athlete is so different; this area is obviously huge, so I wont ramble on about it.

But in summary, I'm currently self-coached. That said, I ‘watch' closely, and there are some coaches out there who I would love to get to know/would love to develop and work with.

You said after Wimbleball you want to race relatively locally, gain experience - what are your race plans for the rest of the year?

Yes, for me I'm very much at the very bottom of my development stage. I have raced I think now, 10 triathlons, so not very many at all! So with having qualified for the World Champs a few times now, why would I save up and only afford to race there, rather than gain race experience and race more often?

So I have therefore used my brain (hopefully ;-) and decided to race more ‘locally' – we live in Scotland so actually, not many races are local/the ones in the UK I have chosen!

To come: Castle Howard, Aberfeldy Middle Distance; British and Scottish Champs, Helvellyn (because I just love the hills ;-) and finally Challenge Mallorca; European Champs.

Nikki BartlettLooking at your splits from Wimbleball suggests (to me at least!), you are quite balanced in terms of performance across the three disciplines - would that be fair?

Yes, I guess your right. The bike wasn't a true reflection of where I am at on the bike due to my frustrating mechanical issues.

Basically, I learnt to stay afloat/survive swim wise when I was little. That's how far my swimming experience goes. My dad taught me the basics/how to swim a width, but apart from that, until I started out in triathlon, I hadn't swam ever really. With that in mind, I swam seven times a week over the winter, one of those a double swim day. That coupled with a run focus saw me, until Feb, not neglect, but tick over with bike training. From Feb 2014 onwards, more bike training took/has taken place, with swimming cut back to 4-5 key sessions a week.

If you looked at my training program, it would be noticeable that I work on a two-week schedule, rather than the ‘typical' one-week. This is so I can do my key sessions and have enough time to recover. What's also obvious is that there are no ‘big days' so to speak. At the moment I am doing more frequent sessions amongst the three disciplines. Consistency is key here. I am developing VERY slowly in all three, as you simply have to be strong at all three sections. I wont go on too much into my training plan; I don't want to bore you here. But I wouldn't say I have ‘huge mileage' sessions either. For instance, my bike training is mostly always around the 2-3 hour 15min mark.

Beyond 2014, what are your longer terms plans / aims for triathlon racing?

With regards to the future, as you can see (hopefully), I want to become a Pro. However if you know me/follow my progress, I don't want to rush any of my development as a triathlete. It takes years of hard grafting. I want to compete consistently when I turn Pro. Not turn up to one race do well (hopefully), then not be able to consistently perform/race. I don't want to be a ‘one hit wonder'. So with that in mind, I need to build the ‘development blocks' slowly.


You can follow Nikki's progress via her blog:

http://nikki-bartlett.blogspot.co.uk


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