Ahh, the Olympics – the tears, the agony, the falling down, and that’s just the winners. But what does it feel like to put in the training? We think we know as we put in a fair bit. But let’s try something new. Instructor for London South, Richard Wagstaff decided to test his aptitude at the triathlon. Would his Kung Fu training help him? And with the Brownlee brothers in his sights, at the back of his mind simmered an ancient emotion – sibling rivalry.
“I love the three disciplines of the Triathlon.
Followed cycling since watching Greg LeMond battle with the legendary Bernard Hinault in the Tour de France in the mid 1980s. Been a regular swimmer – ever since my Father’s promise of £10 for swimming my first width of a pool.
Even went through a period in my younger days of getting up before 6am to make it down to the pool before work to put in some serious lengths. Running is something I have learnt to enjoy more recently. First started going for gentle jogs in preparation for the infamous FWC Crete training camp early morning run and hill sprints (after which breakfast never tasted so good). Since then I have used running as a great warm down and mental release following a hard training session on Sundays with the Chief Instructor, Dennis Ngo.
“It’s an Olympic year – what do you want to try?”
So when Instructor Sharon Ngo pointed out it was an Olympic year and asked who wanted to give training for one of the sports a go, I was immediately drawn to the Triathlon. Other than just for the fun of it, I was intrigued with the idea of finding out whether the training we do as Kung Fu martial artists compares and if our skills are transferable. In addition, having made the trip into central London in 2012 to watch the Brownlee brothers win Gold and Bronze I was struck by the sibling rivalry and the similarity to my own – sometimes competitive – relationship with my brother.
Brothers – love ’em, but…
Being the younger brother my heart goes out to Jonathan Brownlee, Olympic bronze and silver Triathlon medal winner. He is 2 years younger than older brother Alistair Brownlee, now double Olympic Triathlon champion. It is sometimes hard not to constantly compare yourself to an older sibling. My older brother is also 2 years my senior and the battle to keep up with someone whilst growing up who is physically more developed can be life defining. My brother is taller and rangier than me in a similar way that Alistair Brownlee is to younger and stockier brother Jonny. Looking back I have always set my ability to compete with him as my benchmark of success. I hold him in high esteem and being able to keep up with him has given me a great competitive edge when it comes to competing in the wider world.
What do you mean I can’t swim breaststroke in the Triathlon?
Ah – despite spending a lot of time in my life in a swimming pool, I had never learnt to swim front crawl. I can swim breast stroke for hours and when I was younger I was able to keep up with my brother when he swam the faster front crawl stroke. This conversely may have held me back. I never wanted to be that far behind him, so whenever we went swimming together I wouldn’t give myself the time to learn front crawl instead choosing to always be competitive and keep up by swimming breast stroke. So this was my first challenge – learn to swim front crawl – pronto!
Usual question – how hard can it be?
Anyway I train my body everyday in Kung Fu, so how hard can it be to teach myself a swimming stroke? And this is where one of the big benefits of training Fujian White Crane Kung Fu comes into play. It gives you an amazing understanding of how the body works, it gives you the ability to compartmentalise your body and then observe the mechanics to work out how to move it for any given discipline. Well I knew this was the theory so it was nice to put it to the test.
A quick trip to the swimming pool and (subtly) observe those who are charging up and down the lanes swimming crawl and it is time to give it a go. I was pleasantly surprised, my knowledge of the body and how it moves immediately gives me the rewards I am looking for. After a couple of slow(ish) messy lengths and some quick adjustment to my kicking legs and I’m already swimming crawl faster than my previously preferred and supposedly faster breast stroke. It is immensely rewarding to be able to learn a new skill, especially when your number of grey hairs appear to be increasing daily!
Getting out of the pool and into the sea
Next task was to give it a go in the sea. The triathlon starts with an open water swim of 1.5km. Time to find some open water to put my new found skill to the test. What a great excuse to go on holiday! Off I go (with the family of course) to the Island of Gozo and the far warmer crystal blue waters of the Mediterranean. Bit nicer than the grim freezing waters of the English coast. As anyone who has swum in the sea will know the waves make a huge difference in comparison to the still waters of the pool. My new stroke held up to the challenge and I loved powering through against the current.
On your bike
Anyway out of the water and into the transition to the bike. As I mentioned I have been an avid follower of the Tour de France since learning to ride a bike and Chris Froome, triple Tour de France winner is a bit of a hero of mine (it’s good to have them). I used to do a kind of one person time trial around our estate as a youngster, always trying to beat my previous time. But it has been a while since I pedalled a bike in anger. Having recently (along with my ever-patient wife George) taught my 4 year old daughter to ride a bike I have felt the need to keep up as she fearlessly disappears into the distance. So I have treated myself to a new super lightweight road bike (well it sounded like a good reason for a new bike).
Kung Fu training is my focus, so I don’t have the desire to spend hours and hours on a bike putting in the miles and checking my power output, doing the long rides that triathlon training would require for the 40km ride. Instead I have fitted my riding in by chasing my daughter around the long paths of the local park and cycling from the train station to the Chief Instructor’s house to train in preparation for this year’s Kung Fu competition in China.
Despite not putting in the huge mileage It has been great fun. One thing I have not struggled with is the power in my legs. Kung Fu training indubitably gives you thighs of iron (or should that be steel?) and as a physical attribute it is definitely very quickly transferable to cycling. The bike section of the Rio Olympics Triathlon was hilly and with the strength I feel in my legs I have been searching out short but steep hills in South London to test how fast I can power up them and really get the blood flowing – again very rewarding and great fun.
Time for some new trainers?
The final Triathlon discipline is a 10km run. Observing the Brownlee brothers power around the course this is where the difference between the two was apparent. Alistair had the edge on his brother and from all accounts this is not down to his physicality and physiology, but his mental strength and desire to win. After a physically hard and mentally challenging day training with the Chief Instructor in his Sunday class I have often felt the need to bring myself back down to earth. A quick jog a great way to do this. Ever mindful of the fact that too much hard running can be bad for your joints I have been doing a pleasant half an hour run along the canal banks and little rivers hidden in and amongst the houses of North London.
I have always tried to get the most out of my time exercising so I have built in a habit that when I get to the last four hundred metres or so I break into a sprint for the front door and the comfort of home. It burns, it really burns, but I have always fancied that if I ever am in a foot race I am developing the kind of kick for the line that will leave any competitors in my wake.
And the winner is…
Watching Alistair Brownlee slowly ramp up the pace and pressure on his brother during the last few kilometres of the Olympic Triathlon showed the mental strength it takes to be a winner. But by the next Olympics, who knows?
I have a Kung Fu competition coming up in November – it’s time to increase the intensity of my own training again and go for my own gold.”
Dog photos taken by Instructor Sharon Ngo on 16.08.16. These are four-week old Malinois puppies.