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Dublin: 6 °C Thursday 24 January, 2019

Balancing 5 disciplines and burning 4000 calories daily: A day in the life of Natalya Coyle

The modern pentathlete talks fitness, Rio 2016 and brings us through her rise to where she is today.

“74% OF WOMEN aged 17-24 have little or no interest in sport.”

Natalya Coyle Natalya Coyle. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

This is the statistic among those released by Liberty Insurance at the #SupportHerSport conference that immediately catches the eye of modern pentathlete Natalya Coyle.

And it’s no wonder considering she’s an expert swimmer, runner, shooter, fencer and show jumper and has a huge interest in sport across the board.

“It was the one that was glaring to me,” she tells The42.

“I understand it, but I get such pleasure and such amazing things from sport that I just would love for everyone to have a sport.

I understand that can’t come true but I think there is a sport out there for everyone, they just need to try and try, try, try — and it’s up to parents, brothers, sisters, everyone just try lots of different sports, because there is a sport out there for everyone.

“And also, that word ‘sporty’ — you can just be active. Active is going for a walk with the dog, it’s going hiking. That’s activity, that’s sporty, that’s whatever you want to call it. You can be a dancer… You find you, just try and figure out what that is.”

Growing up, sport has always been the central focus of the two-time Olympic top-ten finisher’s life.

She started off with Pony Club — horse riding, running, swimming and shooting — and she laughs that she wasn’t the best in her early days. It was all just for fun and games at the start, but it soon turned more serious.

She started competing nationally in tetrathlon, and it wasn’t long before she got a few wins under her belt.


“I wasn’t good when I started, I was really bad. I didn’t even make the Meath team. And then, I eventually started to make the Meath team, I started getting competitive and training harder because I loved it.

“Some of the best summers of my life were when I was 15, 16, 17, competing around Ireland and I still have some of my best friends from that. I think that’s something I’d love people to get — there’s such a social aspect to sport, whether it be going out in the evening or going to the gym or doing classes, and that’s something that’s really important as well.”

With the tetrathlon national wins, something ‘hit’ Coyle, as she says herself.

She realised that pentathlon was a possibility. All she had to do was pick up a fifth event — fencing.

“I actually got introduced to it by one of my friends. I never looked back from there.

“I remember thinking ‘oh, Jesus, fencing. There’s something after this?’, because you can only go so long in pony club, until your early twenties. I just kind of was like ‘where else is there to go?’ after that.

“And then I figured it out, which was going to pentathlon. A lot of things aligned at the time — we had a really good performance director come over, we had a really good fencing coach come over, and also I had two guys — Eanna [Bailey] and Arthur [Lanigan-O'Keeffe] — who both trained and competed with me. We had each other, which made it really important as well.

“It all snowballed from there.

Look, I won’t be one of those people who said when I was younger it was a big goal to go to the Olympics, I never really thought it was achievable. I think that’s what happened to me, it just started to get more achievable and I started to get bigger goals.

“I was a late bloomer in terms of international competition. It wasn’t until I was in 5th or 6th year that I had my first international, and then about two or three years after that I went to my first Olympics. So I was very late. It’s never really too late to try something new or to go for an international sport, or to go and just compete casually.”

Natalya Coyle after finishing 7th Coyle finished 7th in Rio. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Her first Olympics was London 2012. People often say that your first Olympics is almost like a trial and results are often disregarded, but it’s your second where you properly peak. Coyle peaked at both though.

The Meath woman finished ninth in her debut Games and from there, we started hearing more and more about Natalya Coyle.

She then went on to Rio, where she raised the bar and finished seventh.

It was amazing. I said it at the last Games, and I said it at this Games, I just had the best day of my life. I had such fun doing it, competing in front of my family and friends.

“I had such great craic and that’s how I compete the best, and I did. Both of them, I’ve gone in quite lowly ranked and placed top ten. I knew that I could do it, I was in great form, I just needed to show what it was on the day.

“It was an incredible Olympics. I thought it was a great Olympics for women and also, for minority sports, which is fantastic.”

As a minority sport, the 26-year-old has noticed increased recognition with each year that passes.

Coyle, of course, has helped in raising the profile of the Modern Triathlon and she notices it first hand through her work as a Sky Sports Living for Sport ambassador.

“I work in a lot of secondary schools. A couple of years ago, I used to be like ‘does anyone know what the sports of modern pentathlon are?’ and there’s be blank faces.

I’m not saying everyone in the class is knocking down the door trying to tell you what it is now, but there’s people there who watch it. As you explain it more, people are like ‘Oh wait, I actually saw that last year’ which is amazing.

“It’s brilliant to see it come on, and hopefully it will continue. It’s never going to be the most popular. But also it is a very diverse sport, there’s a lot of things that interest many people And hopefully people will get more involved and interested in it.”

Natalya Coyle celebrates finishing 7th with friends and family 'I think there is a sport out there for everyone, they just need to try and try, try, try.' Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

In terms of her training, it’s undoubtedly hectic. Balancing five different disciplines is challenging, but it’s organised at the minute by the Institute of Sport.

“I do six days a week always, Sunday’s always my day off. I’ll do about 20 hours of training in a week across the different days.

“On a Monday, so yesterday I went running, swimming , fencing, today I’ll run and swim, tomorrow I’ll have gym and shooting and fencing for example. Each day is very diverse and different, and each day is broken into an endurance or a power day so that I can use different energy systems.

“It’s done incredibly well by the Institute. It’s kept very elite and high performance so that I can get the most out of me and the most recovery time in between big sets.”

Of course, the running, swimming, shooting, fencing and riding has to be done, but Coyle also has to put the hours in in the gym.

Every athlete knows that gym work has to be done in order to perform to their optimum in their sport. Not everyone enjoys it but Coyle sees it as more than just something she has to do.

“I do two gym sessions a week with Martina McCarthy from the Institute of Sport. I’ve seen massive gains there this year and also huge for injury prevention and getting a different running form which I’m trying to work on, and keeping strength in all my sports.

“It’s definitely core, and Martina is incredible with the drills and all the different exercises that we work on, flexibility and strength as well so that’s really really important.

“I would do a lot of different heavy things, like heavy squats, a lot of lifting and then running drills as well. Different weeks are for different things. I was never very good at gym, but this year I’m much better, much stronger and I can see it across all my different sports.

“I really enjoy gym, I think half if that is Martina is really fun as well, but also I really enjoy the benefits you see each week. Maybe you can lift more, not every week obviously. But drills are getting easier and flexibility is getting better so that’s what I enjoy.”

Natalya Coyle, Fiona Coghlan, Annalise Murphy and Mags D'Arcy Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

With her load of training, nutrition is, of course, of huge importance. She burns about 3000-4000 calories on a daily basis and hence, must fuel her body accordingly.

“Each day is very different depending on what I do. I always start off the morning with something porridge-based, milk-based like that, different berries and things on top.

Then I’ll have an ‘elevensie snack’. I could have a big lunch depending on whatever is on, it’s going to be carb-based with protein and veg, and then I’ll have another snack at about 3pm or 4pm before my main set, recovery shake after that. A big carb-based dinner with protein as well and vegetables, and then I’ll have another snack before dinner.

“So a lot of food throughout the day. For me, it’s key to keep grazing because I’m not a big person I find it difficult to eat an awful lot all the time. It’s up to me, it’s a key component.”

My body is my work so I’ve got to fuel it really well.”

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Emma Duffy

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