A chat with the amazing age group triathlete Charlie Pennington of team Freespeed

A chat with the amazing age group triathlete Charlie Pennington of team Freespeed

Dad, husband, 8:45 amateur IM triathlete, Technology Consultant for Deloitte, Royal Marines Reservist and proud team member of Team Freespeed. Somehow managing to juggle it all. Just. 


What brought you to triathlon? Do you think that a sporting background as a child is important in order to be competitive in age group racing?

I started racing triathlon at university in 1998, doing a couple of standard distance events and some sprints. I kind of fell into it having been a distance runner at school and a decent swimmer. I had never raced a bike and when a friend suggested I give triathlon a go, he also (handily for him!) had a bike that I could buy. I think that having a background in doing sport and being able to stick to a training programme helped in some ways but I wouldn’t say that it holds people back. My time as a Royal Marine is probably of more significance because I became very accustomed to being uncomfortable and fatigued!


Where do you live now and what benefits and/or limitations does your area have for training?

I live in West Sussex and we have some fantastic cycling on our doorstep. Equally the running is good and there is a pool in my town that opens at 0600 Mon-Fri so the facilities are great. The pool is the only facility I need though as I can run or cycle in my own time, pretty much anywhere (within reason…). Having a pool that opens early really helps as I can get to it before I then catch a train into London for work. Without it I would struggle to get the swim training done that I want to.


How many hours do you train per week? Do you also work fulltime? How do you manage to balance everything together?

I tend to average about 12 hours per week for the good weeks, perhaps a little more some weeks, perhaps less in others. I don’t tend to focus too much on the quantity but rather the quality. I juggle family, work, Royal Marines Reservist time with training too so it can be difficult fitting it all in at times. Some days training has to be postponed but I try not to stress about it. Planning my time is key but being flexible is important too – I recognize that there are competing priorities and sometimes training has to be dropped. My coach and I spend time each week going through the schedule and working out what is achievable as there is no point him setting sessions that I just can’t fit in! Equally, I try to commit to them as best I can, even if that means getting up early to fit them in. The glue that holds it all together is undoubtedly my wife. Without her, none of this would be possible.


Do you feel that triathlon eats into your social life? 

Social what? Never heard of it… Joking. I’m married and don’t feel the necessity to go out very often. If anything, my wife is the one that suffers the most as she has to put up with me training in the evenings, which stops her from getting out with friends. I’m happy to spend what free time I have with her and my kids. I’m not anti-social but I like to spend time with them the most.


Was there ever a time when you were close to quitting? What keeps you going through the tough times?

I think it is inevitable for anyone with a busy life to think about quitting if they are also trying to be a semi-decent athlete. It’s hard to be successful at both without compromise. I keep myself going by having goals and also gathering inspiration from the many other people I know who are dealing with far more difficult lifestyles on a daily basis. That said, dealing with the mental pressure of a long race-season can be exhausting so having breaks can be hugely positive for your performance. Knowing that you can have a break and then sticking to it are things that require quite a mature attitude and it took me many years to get to a point where I would accept it mentally.


Do you have a visualization/race specific meditation routine? 

I’m not sure that I have a specific pre-race routine. I try to avoid being stuck in a routine as sometimes it isn’t possible to stick to one and this could ruin your preparation. I like to do a land-based warm up rather than swim (although I will swim if it is available and won’t mean I then spend 30 minutes stood around cold and wet) and try to focus on me. I zone out from everything and everyone else. I don’t meditate, rather I just try to ignore the things I can’t control or influence.


How do you spend your off-season? Are there sports that you enjoy doing that you feel compliment triathlon

Whilst I don’t stop racing/training over the year I definitely switch focus and allow myself some “downtime”. I look forward to the less goal-specific training and being able to do things for fun. I try to fit in some cross-country running and mountain biking over the winter and maybe a few obstacle course races with my wife. I don’t stop altogether though and I will still swim, bike and run each week.


What is your favourite race and why?

This is a difficult one to answer. I have done lots of races over the years and whilst Championship events always tend to be the focus, I have always enjoyed racing some smaller events too. Perranporth triathlon in Cornwall is a fantastic event with a great feel to it and one that I would do more regularly if I didn’t live so far away from it. I think that the first ITU Age Group World Championships I did (Hawaii, 2005) was also pretty special as there were a large number of us a long way from home and we made it fun. It was what got me hooked on AG racing.


Share with us any unexpected/funny events that happened during racing or training?

I try to make sure there are no unexpected events during racing! In all seriousness, I think that the most amusing thing that has happened to me recently was fracturing my right collarbone whilst out training one day. I had been given a “pass” from my wife to ride for 6 hours or so but fell off my bike stupidly within the first 20 minutes of the ride. I carried on in pain for the remainder of the ride and whilst it probably wasn’t that funny at the time, it amused me greatly afterwards!


What are your next goals?

For now the goal is to get on the podium for my Age Group in Kona for the Ironman World Championships next month. Beyond that, the only goal I have is to be a better husband and father and make up for the time away racing and training. They’ll get bored of me quickly though so that should free me up for some racing next year but I have no idea what yet.


Anything else you feel strongly about that you’d like to highlight?

The only thing I feel strongly about regarding triathlon is that it doesn’t matter who you are, come and have a go. It can be very daunting to read/hear about Ironman triathlons and other crazy stuff of a similar ilk but the reality is that it’s a great sport that caters for all and with some new race formats there really is something for everyone. Even if you don’t win, you are still beating the person who is sat on their sofa at home.


Major race achievements in the past:

2nd 4th and 5th at IM70.3 World Championships, 2nd IM World Championships 2015, AG wins at IM Wales, Austria and Hamburg including an 8:45 and 9th male overall at IM Austria. 220 Magazine Amateur Triathlete of the Year, 2016. UK standard distance military triathlon champion 2010-2014.

You can follow Charlie on Twitter and Instagram @c_e_pennington

Photo Credit: Richard Melik @Freespeed

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