Until the lockdowns in 2020, Elly Sykes didn’t own a bike, but later this month she will be representing the Great Britain Age-Group Team at the World Triathlon Age-Group Championships in Abu Dhabi, her first race outside of Britain.
It will be the first time the 26-year-old from London has worn the GB Age-Group Team trisuit when she competes in the standard distance triathlon event in Abu Dhabi having only taken up the sport just over two years ago.
“My parents both do triathlon and they both went to the IRONMAN 70.3 World Champs in Utah, but I was never really into triathlon,” Sykes said. “During lockdown, I bought my first bike and then got into cycling, and it’s escalated from there. I have always done running, I’ve always done a Parkrun or run at school, so when I put the run and bike together, I thought why not add the swim?”
Sykes did exactly that and has enjoyed seeing the progression that has seen her go from competing in her first triathlon at Hever Castle in September 2020 to now representing the country on the international stage.
“It was quite quick from beginning training in all three to my first event, so I actually hadn’t done that much preparation before the event,” Sykes said. “That’s one of the hardest races I have ever done but I think the atmosphere, everyone there, the crowd must have just done it for me.
“The swim was absolutely freezing so I’m not sure I really enjoyed that, the bike course was so hilly, and I hadn’t really done much hills before and the run was cross-country and again not really my style. It was the crowds, the people and just the adrenalin of finishing that must have brought me back.
"It does that every time because during the race and before the race I do sometimes think ‘why am I doing this?’ but as soon as you’re running towards the line at the end with the atmosphere and everyone cheering you on you forget everything.
“I think that’s why I find it quite fun at the moment because I’ve been able to watch that progress in such a short amount of time which makes it even more motivating.”
This motivation has increased even further since Sykes found out she had qualified to represent the GB Age-Group Team after finishing as one of the highest finishers in her age group at last year’s qualifying event at the London Triathlon.
“This was all new to me so I wasn’t sure when I finished whether it’s something I would be in contention for,” Sykes said. “It wasn’t until the email came through and then I was amazed and was messaging my parents to say, ‘look at this, it’s amazing’. It was more of a shock because when you are racing you don’t really know where you are finishing, so it was definitely a shock and something I was super excited to find out more.
“It definitely pushes you that bit harder on the bike or the run if you know there is an Age-Group Team slot available. It’s such an exciting opportunity and an opportunity you might not have in many other sports. This year I have wanted to try and qualify for more and it’s definitely given me more motivation [knowing she had qualified for the World Championships].”
With the World Championships in Abu Dhabi now only a week away, which will also include the World Triathlon Championship Finals and World Triathlon Para Championships, Sykes can’t wait to wear the GB Age-Group Team trisuit for the first time.
“I am looking forward to it,” Sykes said. “All of my races have been in the UK, so this is going to be a new experience. It’s going to be fun to race somewhere pretty epic so I’m excited. When the trisuit arrived and it had my name on it, I was like ‘wow, I’m actually going to race, and this is pretty crazy’.
“It’s going to be a completely different experience to what I am used to so I think a big thing will be not to be overwhelmed by it all and to just enjoy the experience. You don’t know what is going to happen and you don’t know who is going to turn up, so I’m going to try not to overthink it and just put all the training I’ve done into practice.
“I follow triathlon quite closely now so it’s going to be exciting to have the pros racing there too. Even when we were in Leeds and got to watch those guys racing it made the whole weekend even more special, being able to watch them gave you a bit more motivation for your race.”
The 2023 calendar of Age-Group Championships and Qualifiers has already been announced, and you can find out more about the Great Britain Age-Group Team and how to qualify, as well as the various swim, bike, run disciplines here.