Swim, run and cycle - what does it take to be a professional triathlete?

Russell White is one of Ireland’s leading triathletes and his daily routine is, as you would expect, strenuous.

RUSSELL WHITE IS one of the country’s best triathletes and despite coming to the sport relatively late he’s made quite an impact.

Russell White on his way to winning the Vodafone Dublin City Triathlon Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The 23-year-old has already competed at the Commonwealth Games (in 2014) and is making a determined bid to make the biggest show on earth this August in Brazil.

As unlikely as it maybe be at this stage, White is logging the miles, pounding the roads and rising at 5am every morning to clock lap after lap in the pool.

He’s a qualified primary school teacher after graduating from the University of Stirling in Scotland last year, he racks up to 30 hours a week and just loves pushing himself to his limits.

“Triathlon is a very time consuming sport because you’re trying to juggle three disciplines plus gym work and not every day follows the same pattern,” he said.

“I follow a weekly schedule of between 25-30 hours of training and most days start off with an early-morning  pool session, except on Sunday when I never swim.

“Not every day will be exactly the same but this would be a rough plan; it’s usually swim, bike, run, get it done.

“I’d also have two gym sessions to do during the week so they’d be thrown in on a Wednesday afternoon and a Friday morning.”

Think you could handle this life? Take a read…

4.55am: Alarm goes off. I hit the snooze button once but try not to hit it twice. It’s hard at that time of the day.

I get up, get changed and eat something light like a small bowl of Coco Pops or Frosties with a coffee. It’s just something light so I’m not training on an empty stomach.

5.30am: Leave the house for a swimming session. I get there in time so I can do 10 minutes of band work to warm up the shoulders before jumping in the water at 6am.

6am: Training at this time of the morning has just become normal to me. The whole way through school I swam at 5.30am three times a week.

Swimming sessions vary; Monday is usually aerobic with some paddle work to build strength, Tuesday would be faster, shorter efforts, Wednesday is long and aerobic, Thursday is threshold/tempo type stuff, Friday is recovery and Saturday is whatever is required for the current time of the season.

Russell White Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

7.30am: Out of the water after usually swimming 4.5/5 kilometres. Time to head home.

8am: Back home and it’s time for porridge. This replaces my stores after swimming and is a substantial fuel for what the rest of the day has in store.

Nobody likes plane porridge, my choices of toppings are usually mixed berries and cinnamon or else peanut butter and honey (yes, peanut butter in porridge – just trust me).

I wash it down with a large cup of tea whilst chatting with my training buddy and housemate.

9am: Time for bed. I love sleeping during the day, some people believe in power naps but I usually just try and sleep for as long as I can whenever I can.
11am: Wake up to get organised for the next session which is usually a bike ride. I normally need to get more fuel in so something like a peanut butter and jam sandwich will keep the body going.

12pm: Time to head out on the bike with the rest of the group. During the week this could be just general riding for between 90 mins-2 hours, just to get the mileage up.

I might do some hill repeats to build strength and power or hard group riding at race pace. Sometimes I’ll do a longer ride of between 3-4 hours.

Fuel on the bike is always very important so I’m constantly eating bars and keeping on top of hydration, roughly trying to get around 40g carbs per hour into me.

2pm: As I’m lucky enough to be supported by Lakeland Bikes Enniskillen, it’s important to take good care of the bikes they give me, so if it’s been a wet ride (which it often is in Scotland) it will need a good clean, then time for lunch.

Lunch time is usually whenever the second session of the day is finished, so it could be 1 o’clock or 4 o’clock.

Russell White on his way to winning Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

I’m a big fan of eggs so a regular lunch is poached eggs and toast – a great combination of protein for recovery and carbs for energy.

3pm: Time to put my feet up in front of the TV or the laptop.

This is a time to let the food settle and my body to recover before running later.

What are they
really like?

Rare insights on sport's biggest names from the writers who know them best. Listen to Behind the Lines podcast.

Become a Member

5pm: Back out the door again, this time for a run. This could be an easy run to get the mileage up or if it’s Tuesday it could be a track session.

Sometimes in the winter on a Thursday it’s common to head out for a long group night run with the head torches.

6.30pm: Time for a quick shower and some food. I wouldn’t be the most adventurous of cooks; I’ll eat anything and lots of it but it will usually be simple.

I just focus on getting a good mix of carbs, protein and veg – and a sufficient amount to allow me recover for the next day.
7.30pm: I usually just chill out for the night. Sometimes I’ll stick on a movie and just switch off.

10pm: Bed time, lights off and ready to do it all again tomorrow.

White is out of the U23 category and into the big bad world of elite triathlon. He was originally a swimmer and has competed in that discipline at a high level for over a decade now.

But when he tried out for triathlon he became an instant success. He was subsequently fast-tracked into the Irish high performance squad alongside Bryan Keane and Ben Shaw.

He’s raced at European and World Championships level for the past number of years and has tasted victory in the London junior elite event two years ago.

Russell White on his way to winning the Vodafone Dublin City Triathlon Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

That really marked him out as one to keep an eye on and he’s gradually progressed year on year.

“I’ve had a steep learning curve and it has not all went smoothly,” he said.

“Up until last season, previous years were plagued by niggles and injuries but I’ve still managed to gradually progress, maybe not making massive waves but starting to carry plenty of momentum.

“After making the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow 2014 I’ve started to race more on the World Triathlon Series (WTS) so I’ve been on some to biggest stages in triathlon.

“But now it’s time to start being competitive at the highest level.

“It was nice to know I’m not just making up the numbers and finishing 28th in a WTS event in Edmonton last year proved I have what it takes.

“I also secured my first Irish national senior title and they were big confidence boosts.

“What I want from this year is more of the same – while always enjoying it.”

The 13-week couch to 10km running plan to help you achieve the results you want

About the author:

The42 Team

Read next: