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Outside of his last-minute swing at the Tokyo Olympics earlier this year, which ended in an injury and DQ, Alistair Brownlee hasn’t been seen much on the race course lately.
But that doesn’t mean the double gold medalist has just been sitting around. We checked in to find out what he has planned for 2022: a sub-7, Ironman world championships, and maybe another book?
Gravel racing and injuries
“I’ve been injured pretty much all of this year,” Brownlee said. An ankle that he had surgery on six years ago suddenly started bothering him out of nowhere back in March, and it ultimately required surgery again to release the scar tissue around the tendons.
Without being able to run more than a handful of steps (outside of his last World Triathlon Championship Series race in Leeds in June), Brownlee was eager to find something to keep the famous competitive juices flowing. Someone suggested a gravel race coming up in ten days. Sure, he thought, what are the details? It turned out to be the 740-kilometer Transiberica Badlands self-supported non-stop adventure race. Naturally, he was in.
“I loved it,” Brownlee said. “I kind of loved the simplicity of it.” You just have to keep riding, fixing flats (of which he had many), finding places to sleep on the side of the road, and refilling water. As they say: It’s hard, but it’s not complicated.
He did another shorter gravel race after that, but the focus now is primarily on recovery and getting back to triathlon. “I’ve always been a triathlete at heart, and probably always will be,” he said.
At 33, he said, he’s focusing more on recovery now, with an emphasis on good nutrition and good sleep (alongside other recovery tools). That’s partially why he’s started working with a performance manager, Nigel Mitchell, who’s helping him plan his sub-7 attempt (more on that below) and helping him create nutrition plans focused on real whole foods—hence, the recent pistachios sponsorship.
While he hasn’t run much this year and hasn’t been able to perform at the level he’s used to, the older Brownlee brother is still training hard in his rainy home base of Leeds and getting ready for some big things next year.
What’s next in tri
For those wondering: Yes, the sub-7 attempt is still on.
Brownlee is signed on as one of four superstars attempting to break seven hours in the iron-distance for the men and eight hours for the women. He’s been working on a number of projects for it: creating the fastest wetsuit, scouting the fastest venues, vetting the best team, nailing the nutrition. The attempt will be draft-legal, in a similarly controlled style to the Breaking2 marathon attempts, so the team is key, but he said it’s still really fast to go for a long time—no matter what—and nutrition will be a major factor. He’s the first to acknowledge he’s still working on perfecting his Ironman nutrition and strategy. Olympic-distance racing is more about going all-out and knowing there are five minutes left and thinking “How can I find a way to win in these last minutes,” he said, whereas Ironman is about having two more hours to go and being uncomfortable and wondering how you can maintain that level of discomfort for two more hours.
They don’t have a date or location yet for the sub-7 attempt, though it’ll be spring or early summer. But, with the two Ironman world championship races planned next year in May and October, that does potentially make “the calendar quite busy,” he said. He’s hoping to do both world championship races (with an eye on winning, as always, though his first Kona outing in 2019 ended with a 21st place) and then he plans to also support the Pro Triathletes Organization’s (PTO) races, like the Collins Cup, which he’s involved with. It’s a lot, even for Alistair Brownlee.
“But if the last few years have taught me anything, you got to stay flexible,” he said.
Part of the reason Brownlee is involved with the PTO is because he wants to work on issues affecting athletes and is especially passionate about helping elite athletes set up their post-sport careers and transitions. As a member of the PTO board of directors, Brownlee spends a lot of time working with athletes on things like the ranking system, support policies, and, of course, the new Collins Cup event. He knows there are things to be worked out—the Collins Cup broadcast, for instance, could be improved for viewers—but he’s also aware that every new athlete organization and ranking system probably had kinks to work out when it started. “We have to take a step back and realize we’re way better off that the PTO exists than that it doesn’t,” he said.
He was also elected to the European Olympic Committee’s Athlete Commission this year and ran for the international athlete commission earlier in the summer—making a trip to Tokyo with Team GB.
“I actually really enjoyed going and being on the other side of the fence,” he said of the Olympics. He spent time talking to athletes (something you don’t to do as much when you’re going for a gold medal), watched all the triathlon races, and was able to go to other events too for a change, like BMX and climbing.
And then there was his other pandemic project: writing a book—and, yes, he actually did all the interviews himself, took all the notes and transcripts, and co-wrote it with a writer. The book, Relentless, is a look at what it takes to not just be a success in sports but to go to that next level, not just one world title but many. There were a few themes, he said: hard work, consistency, self belief (which is different than confidence). And he found the whole process of conducting interviews with so many different athletes fascinating. He hopes to put together another book in the future.
His post-triathlon plan certainly has the potential to include any number of things, representing athletes and working in the sport. “I think I’m slowly setting myself up so I can have a number of avenues and opportunities,” he said.
But first: The only triathlete in history to win two Olympic gold medals wants to add more titles to that list. After all, he’s relentless.
Both Brownlee brothers will be live on Facebook on the Friday Fuel-Up next week, Nov. 5.