This month, we’d like to introduce you to up-and-coming superstar Josh Stapley. At just 20 years old he is already a veteran in the sport of triathlon with 10 years and a World Championships under his tri-suit. The Bathurst local is also studying a degree in exercise and sports science.
How did you get into triathlons? It tends to be an older demographic so it’s unusual for someone so young to start the sport.
While junior programs are becoming much more common, you’re right, the older age groups do have a much higher participation rate. The 40 to 50 age group is absolutely massive at races. I was a competitive swimmer before I started triathlon for several years, and also quite into social bike riding too. My local triathlon club was having a race and my dad took me down thinking it would be worth having a crack. That was my first race and from there I just caught the bug.
Obviously as a junior you did shorter distance races. What type of race do you do now?
Now I mostly do the standard length race which is a 1.5km swim, 40km ride and 10km run. That’s the Olympic distance. I’ve found I’m better suited to the longer distances, I don’t really have the run speed to be that good at the sprint distance races. The next step for me is going another step up which is half-iron man distance – 1.9km swim, 90km ride and a half marathon (21km) run. I’m going to have my first go at racing that distance early next year. Eventually I’ll do a full iron-man too.
Last year you broke your C5 vertebra when you hit a sandbar diving into the water. Can you share with us what happened? How have you recovered?
January last year, I went to the beach with a couple of mates. We were all on holidays and just taking a day off to relax. We went to get straight into the water and literally the first dive into the water I hit a shallow sand bar. Most of the impact was actually in my hands, and it was a whiplash break – I broke my C5 vertebra when my head snapped forward on impact.
I lost all movement when it first happened which was very scary. I couldn’t move my legs or arms. My friends dragged me out of the water and I was put straight onto the spinal board stretcher. Luckily I started to regain some movement on the way to hospital, and once the doctors at multiple hospitals finished doing scans they decided that I didn’t need surgery as they’d originally predicted. The injury was not nearly as bad as they’d thought, and I actually walked out of the hospital on my own after 2 days.
In terms of recovery, I had 6 weeks in an orthopaedic collar. I also had to deal with a lot of weakness in my right tricep, as well severe nerve sensitivity – I couldn’t even stand to have cold water on my skin for a while. I started training again as soon as the collar came off, but it took about 10 months to get back to full strength.
What does your training week look like?
Most days I’m up at 5am and training by 6am. A light load for me is 6 days a week with half of those days being just one session, and the other half having both a morning and evening session.
In the lead up to a big race when the load is a bit heavier I’ll still keep my one rest day per week, but there will be a lot more of double and even triple training days. Probably for a total of 15 sessions per week. That’s split across swim, bike, run and gym.
What specific training drills do you do that people might not expect?
You actually get a fair amount of variety in triathlon training. The distance I’m racing now – standard distance – is considered to be right on the verge between endurance and sprint so it can be a bit tricky to program training for that. It’s about a 2 hour race but you need to maintain your speed as well. We’ll do training that includes things like hill sprints, or intervals switching from riding to running. One of the hardest sessions of my life was in the lead up to World Championships where I did twenty 400m run intervals at race pace with only 15 seconds rest between each one.
We still do the long sessions that people expect where you just run for 90 minutes, or ride for 3 hours, but it’s mixed with a lot of other things.
Is chafing or blisters an issue going from the water to the bike? It always struck me as uncomfortable having to run or ride while you were still wet from the swim.
In terms of running barefoot – or without socks – it’s all about picking the right shoe. If the distance is longer, like a half-ironman, most competitors will stop and put their socks on. It’s quite entertaining to watch the transition. You see them sprint in off the bike, sit down, and there are a bunch of men racing to put their socks on the fastest.
Baby powder is the big one for keeping your feet good. You can also use a product called glide sticks to avoid chafing.
What do you get to eat? Do you get to carb load all the time?
Generally I eat pretty well, and I’m very rarely not eating in the day. I’ve tried different nutrition plans but it’s not for me, especially the high protein or high fat ones. As a triathlete you need to keep a decent level of carbs in your diet. I can also devour half a block of chocolate after a hard training session on occasion.
I usually eat half a dozen Weet-Bix when I wake up, train, then have second breakfast of a bacon and egg roll or something. And I’ll have full meals for lunch and dinner, but I’ll also snack a lot all throughout the day. For dessert, I usually have another bowl of cereal because it’s more carbs and you need them in a full training load.
Mentally, how do you ward off boredom in training when going long distances?
My coach is really good at keeping variety in the training sessions. You also have to remember that in your weekly program you have 4 different sports to train – run, bike, swim and gym. I have a lot of respect for swimmers because they have to be in the pool twice a day, 6 days a week without breaking up their sport with another sport like I get to do.
As far as long sessions go, for instance going out for a long ride or run, it can get a bit boring. I usually try and go with other cyclists or runners. Doing it with someone else makes it much more interesting.
I also do a fair bit of commentary for triathlon races as well. So when I’m training alone I’ll find myself commentating my own training session in my head. I’ll play out a race situation and I’ll commentate myself ‘coming up on a competitor’ or ‘breaking away from the pack’. I get to practice my commentary skills too, it’s a win-win.
And what do you focus on when you are racing?
If you are chasing someone down then you just become focused on the person in front of you. If you are in a group and want to maintain the pace, then I focus on keeping exactly the same distance between myself and the next closest person. When I run, I firstly try and make sure my technique doesn’t drop as I become tired, and then seek out a comfortable pace that I can sustain. I don’t race with a watch to measure my pace – a lot of people do – but I find going by feel works best for me.
Has your coach given you any great advice that has helped you?
I’ve been coached by the same person for many years now – she’s fantastic and has been there and done it all herself. Her and I have a really great connection so I find her extremely motivating. Before a race, I can fall into the trap of doubting myself or doubting my preparation. My favourite pre-race pep-talk is ‘it’s just swim, bike and run’. It’s so simple but it just works. It is a reminder that it’s what I do day in and day out so there is nothing to be worried about. It calms me down.
What’s the goal for this season? And your ultimate goal?
This is my first season back after injury so I’m just going to ease back into it. I’ll do the Sydney City-to-Surf, then my first half marathon. My first full triathlon will be the Nepean Triathlon in October.
Next year I will do a couple of Olympic distance races early in the year with the aim of hitting the qualifying time for the World Championships (which will be held on home soil in the Gold Coast next year). The other goal I have for next year is to complete my first long-course race and start moving into more endurance length races.
In the long-run I aim to get my pro-license in the half-ironman distance (70.3 miles total distance) by 2019. I want to be a pro triathlete for many years, and that will include working up to doing some full Ironman distance races too.
Any tricks of the trade for other people training for a triathlon?
I only track pace and speed. I recommend that you don’t get too caught up in heart rate, calories or other numbers. Just do the work.
The most common questions I’m asked by beginners in triathlon relate mostly to transitions – for instance how to put your shoes on quickly. A few tricks that I’ve learnt are to put baby powder in your shoes so they slip on and don’t rub, leave your helmet unclipped waiting on your bike, put a towel on the ground next to your bike so you can stand on it and your feet will dry a little without you taking the time to rub them, and use elastic laces in your shoes. A big one is how to get your wetsuit on and off – people use all different tricks with this. Some will use baby oil, some will spray themselves with cooking oil. The one that I’ve found works best is going to sound very random, but it’s actually sex lube. It’s water soluble so it just works perfectly!
What’s the best way to get into the sport?
The biggest thing to remember is that you don’t need to over-prepare for it. Most triathlon festivals will have Enticer races which are a much shorter distance. You don’t need any fancy equipment, you can just have a go. If you are swimming and biking once a week you can do a triathlon no problems. Once you’ve done one you’ll be hooked – then you can start looking at actually training for it and joining a club.