International championship competition returns to the U.K. with the Glasgow ETU Triathlon European Championships.
The event, which includes Elite, Mixed Relay and Age-Group Sprint distance events, takes place at Strathclyde Park, the venue of the 2014 Commonwealth Games from 9th to 11th August.
Among the British Age-Group athletes aiming for podium success, is Michael Smallwood. A member of Rugby Triathlon Club, Mike was the British Triathlon Male Age-Group Athlete of the Year in 2016, a season in which he won six European and World Championship medals, including Gold (Sprint and Aquathlon), plus Silver (Standard) at the ITU World Championships in Cozumel, Mexico.
Michael – who will be racing in the 70-74 division in Glasgow – now holds a total of 25 podium finishes from ETU and ITU competition, a record total for a British athlete. We spoke to Mike about his training, keeping injury free, motivation and find out why he got to switch on the Christmas lights in his hometown!
Michael Smallwood, British Age-Group Triathlete
You’ve been busy already this year Mike, winning Silver medals in Fyn, Denmark (Aquabike) and Tartu, Estonia (Standard Distance). Were you pleased with your races?
Yes, very pleased even though I would have liked to win both. The Aquabike was a long distance event, which I don't do many of so it was a big learning curve. In the Triathlon I had an excellent swim and the bike course was a time trial dream, 20km of the 40km course was on a flat, newly surfaced road that didn't have so much as a dimple in it.
That Tartu medal was your 25th podium finish in ITU/ETU competition, which is a record for a British Age-Group athlete. What keeps you motivated to keep on racing?
That's (surprising and welcome) news to me! I've always liked competitive sport and I've been fortunate in my life to find sports wherever I've lived which have offered that opportunity.
When triathlon came onto my horizon in the early 90's it just seemed a natural fit. I was playing water polo so I could swim, I had a bike, even if it was used more for going to the shops, and I played Squash - although running around a court wasn't the most transferable of skills to triathlon!
I then stopped as family demands took over and it was only around 2006 that a friend suggested that I took up triathlons again as he reckoned I had a chance of getting into the British Age-Group team. I didn't realise that there was one and even more surprising was that there was one in the early 90's. So, the chance to represent my country in a competitive sport was too much to resist. I qualified at my first event back, which got me to Hamburg in 2007 and the rest, as they say, is history.
You’ve competed at Triathlon, Duathlon, Aquathlon and Aquabike and over Sprint, Standard and Middle Distances – do you have a favourite discipline and distance?
Those who know me, know that running is my least favoured part of triathlon so the new Aquabike event is becoming ever more attractive! As that is also available in long distance format it hits the spot for my two favourite disciplines.
As well as racing and training, you are also the Chairman of Rugby Triathlon Club. How do you fit everything in?
First of all I have a very understanding and supportive wife. As all athletes know, we can't do our sports without the support of our partners and family. For the actual chairmanship bit, delegation is the key! We are fortunate at Rugby Triathlon Club to have some incredibly talented and hard working committee members who make the club the success that it is.
As an ‘older’ athlete, have you found you need to adapt anything in your training / recovery in order to stay healthy and injury free?
The beauty of triathlon is that the three disciplines are quite diverse in their demands on the body and when and where you need to do the training.
I have swum all my life and have used swimming to maintain aerobic fitness when I've been injured at other sports. Cycling is similar although can be a bit more restricted by weather etc.
Like all athletes, the older you get the longer it takes to recover from either a hard session or an injury, but as I've got older I've realised that I do need to back off at times, even if I didn't always practice what I was preaching.
Having sufficient sleep and eating healthily are both important factors in maintaining good health. I also try to keep as flexible as possible and work on joint mobility. This is something that I unwittingly did with the different sports that I played when I was younger but as I've got older I have had to consciously work on this aspect more and more and I think that this has been a tremendous help in avoiding major injuries.
Are you looking forward to racing on ‘home’ soil in Glasgow?
Most definitely! At the major events the GB team and support is tremendous, but at Glasgow it will be massive and that can only be to the benefit of all the GB athletes.
It looks like you’ll be racing against you long-term rival, Klaus Kübler (AUT) in Strathclyde Park. He beat you in Tartu, but you finished ahead of him in Düsseldorf last year. Does having that level of competition provide a motivation to keep on pushing in training?
Klaus is a great athlete and especially a runner and he has beaten me far more times than I have beaten him, but these have always been at the Standard Distance. This time, like Düsseldorf, it's a Sprint so there is less running! There is always that background motivation because I'm still a competitive person.
Any plans for more racing after Glasgow?
For something different, I'll be doing the Time Trial / Chrono at the UCI Gran Fondo World Championships in Varese, Italy at the end of August. My finale for the year at the end of October will be the Aquathlon and Aquabike in Ibiza at the European Multisport Championships, which will make it a long season this year.
For someone considering wanting to qualify for and race in the British Triathlon Age-Group team, what would be your advice / encouragement?
Without any hesitation - go for it! Whatever your standard and whatever your aims whether it is just completing the event or competing for the podium, there's nothing like being able to say that you've officially represented your country at a major international event.
And finally… a few years ago you got to switch on the Christmas lights in your home town of Daventry – how did that come about?!
Trust you to raise this!! It was 2011 and I had won the World Sprint Championships in Beijing that September, so out of the blue came the request from the Town Council to turn on the Christmas lights. So there are now two scenarios: the previous year it had been Chesney Hawkes doing the honours so continuing the theme of teenage heart throbs I was the next logical choice; the other involves a barrel and a scraper - your call!