In Profile: Chris Goodwin (GBR)
Chris Goodwin was introduced to triathlon by the son of the then visually impaired world champion, and did his first race in 1999. After a long time away from the sport, he started racing again last year and as a result of hard training was crowned as the 2009 European Paratriathlon Champion in TRI6 category for visual impaired athletes.
1. What made you decide to compete in triathlon?
I’ve always kept myself fit from the time my father started me on swimming lessons at the age of seven, to doing my first half marathon in my early twenties. My wife and I used to go cycling on a tandem. So join the three up and you get a triathlon. Also, triathlon clubs seem to be the only way to get quality pool time away from the slower public sessions, and mixing with triathletes inevitably leads to having a go.
2. What is your typical training week?
My training is based on advice from a Level 3 coach from my local club. In winter I did the base training - longer, low intensity sessions. Then in spring, I started a series of four week cycles. Three weeks on, one week rest. Each week was slightly more intense than the previous one. Each cycle is slightly more intense than the one before.
In a week I planned to do nine sessions, though I rarely managed this. Seven or eight was the normal. Gentle swim on Thursday, with a medium cycle in the evening. A run based circuit session on Friday. Swim and long cycle on Saturday, with a long run on the Sunday. Monday was another swim, with Tuesday ending the week with a short, hard cycle and a medium run.
Wednesday was rest day.
This pattern was difficult to fit into my work and family commitments. It also has though an interesting shape to it, as it goes swim / cycle / run three times round.
3. Many triathletes use a training log. How meticulous are you in preparation for your training?
My coach wanted me to keep a log which I did, but found it more difficult to keep up than I thought it would. It was useful though. As each week was supposed to be slightly harder than the week before, it was useful to look in the diary before a session and see what I had to beat from the previous week. Was it to be more intense, or slightly longer?
I found after a while that I could remember what I did in my sessions, and eventually I dropped completing the diary.
4. What adaptations have you had to make to accommodate your disability for triathlon?
I think the hardest part of being a disabled athlete, and possibly this is more appropriate for some types of disability than others, is the difficulty in organising training. When I compete I have a guide, but a guide is not available when I need to train. I am fortunate that I can swim unguided with my club mates during standard pool training. Bike training though was all done on a turbo in the garage. This makes it very convenient to do as I can hop on the bike anytime it suits and have a very controlled and intense session. It is incredibly dull though, and saddles on static bikes are very unforgiving so long sessions are not practical. Finishing every session drenched in sweat is not great either. I envy those who can jump on a bike, feel the wind against their face as they ride through the countryside.
Running has similar downsides when visually impaired. Although the gym is only a short distance away, treadmill running is dull, although very controllable, and I wish I could run freely around the town and countryside and not end every session in dripping clothes. This all maybe a case of the grass being greener on the other side, but it would be good to have the freedom and the option.
5. Can you describe any special equipment that you use for triathlon?
One of the biggest obstacles for visually impaired athletes getting involved in triathlon is getting hold of a tandem. A decent tandem is the price of a top end solo. It also gives rise to problems when transporting it. Other than this, the kit for cycling is as usual.
For swimming, my guide and I are tethered to each other using an elastic cord. I attach the cord just above my knee, and my guide attaches it just below the knee. This means he swims slightly in front of me by a few centimetres and this helps his field of view when sighting. A cord that straps tightly to the leg is needed so it doesn’t come off mid-swim, but not so tight it hinders blood flow.
For running, all we use is a thin rope about one and a half metres long. I hold it in my right hand, my guide holds the other end in his left. I wrap the rope around my hand a few times. During the run, when the course is easy, I unwrap the rope so we can both run freely. As corners or other obstacles approach, my guide and I wind in the rope, sometimes to leave no spare at all, so he has maximum control over me.
So that’s it. A rope, a stretchy tether, and a tandem.
I’ve also found that a small square of light coloured carpet is useful in transition. I am able to see this quite easily and it helps me get my bearings during the hubbub of transition, as well as keeping bits of grit off my feet when coming out of the water.
Access to a turbo and a treadmill is essential for me to train, but of course is useful for all triathletes. The last bit of specialist kit is a waterproof MP3 player with a track like a talking clock on it. This allows me to independently and accurately know how fast I swim.
6. What is the highlight of you involvement competing in triathlon so far?
My racing high point came in the same race as my racing low point. The low point happened during the British Championships when I was passed on the last kilometre of the bike section and so pushed into second. I followed this with a terrible transition. The high point came around 20 minutes later when I heard the sound of the footfall of the same athlete in front of me and I knew I would catch him before the finish line.
7. What are your goals for this season?
I have completed the main races for my season this year. These were the British Championships and the European Championships. My next triathlon though is a little more humble but is likely to be the most competitive as it is a triathlon targeted by my club. We will set off as a club in one wave. It will be good to race with friends from the club who I’ve swam with for several years now.
8. Do you have any advice or words of encouragement for individuals thinking about competing in paratriathlon?
If you want to be a triathlete, go out and race. It’s racing that counts.
I know people, and I used to be one of them, who thought that doing the training was enough. Well, it’s not. You can fool yourself and say that you are doing the training - how fit you are. There is nothing though that compares to doing actual races. Admittedly, they take effort. There is cost, effort and time spent in doing a race, and it takes you out of that comfort zone. And that is what is so good about a race. It’s the day you have to perform, the day you find out the truth. It’s the day you do something different - the day you remember.