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The Sibling Advantage

Three pairs of triathlete siblings teach us all how to have a better training partner.

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Three pairs of triathlete siblings teach us all how to have a better training partner.

We all watched the Brownlees last summer, hammering away in London. Race commentators kept talking about their collective strength—how they dictate the pace early on and never relent. It’s an intensity trained through sibling rivalry, a kind of training where you can race hard against each other and then be brothers at the end of the day. The work paid off, Alistair taking gold and Jonathan bronze.

Watching the Brownlees it seems clear that it pays to have a triathlete sibling, and it doesn’t take much looking around to see that there are more than a few. You have Chris and Matt Lieto, the Raelert brothers, the Wassner twins. Some of these sets of siblings don’t train and race together, but for the ones who do there seems to be a real advantage in the level of intensity and support they’re able to achieve. So what is it that makes these triathlon siblings so strong? Is it just the great family gene pool? Is it always having a training partner who’s well matched? We talked with three pairs of siblings to see what lessons we could glean.

PHOTOS: The Brownlees’ Olympic Experience

The Wassner Twins

You won’t find a closer pair of triathlete siblings than the Wassner twins, Rebeccah and Laurel. Growing up in a sports-obsessed family, they were on the same swim team for 16 years. It was like racing a clone—literally. “We would always get really similar times, like within hundredths of a second,” Laurel says. Now as professional triathletes they continue to work off each other. “We are pushing each other every day,” Laurel says.

Rebeccah was the first of the twins to pursue professional triathlon. She competed in marathons for a few years, but “didn’t want to waste my swimming abilities by just running.” As she went pro and began training with other athletes, she kept thinking of her sister, “Laurel could be doing this too. Why isn’t she out here?”

Laurel had been going through her own physical challenge. A year after graduating from college she was diagnosed with cancer, a disease that she overcame with a hard bout of chemotherapy. A few years passed before she was ready to pursue anything athletic again. It was Rebeccah, whom Laurel calls her “biggest fan,” who got her off the couch and into the world of triathlon. It was a holistic effort, as Rebeccah even made Laurel lunches to wean her off the junk food she’d been eating. “She would cook me kale before kale was cool,” Laurel says.

As Laurel turned pro, it wasn’t hard for her to find a good training plan: Rebeccah was being coached by Cliff English, and Laurel would follow her sister’s plan. As she improved and was ready for more coaching, it only made sense that they would share the same coach since they trained together—a factor English says he has to take into account. “When I know they’re training together I know they’re training hard,” he says. “I have to sometimes tell them, ‘You need an easy day, so you shouldn’t train with your twin.’” It’s that competitive drive that makes the sisters such good training partners. “We know we can kill each other in a training session and then forgive each other the next day,” Laurel says. “Triathletes are so competitive, so you need an easygoing training partner who can forgive you if you beat them up a hill climb.”

It’s not just being able to push each other that give the sisters a sibling advantage. The twins help each other accomplish the critical work of recovery and nutrition. As their coach says, “A sibling can really help you stay on top of your game for all of the things we don’t like to do between training sessions—like foam rolling for recovery.”

Rebeccah and Laurel’s relationship has been evolving over the past two seasons as Rebeccah recently had her first child. The two sisters who regularly raced with each other are now setting out on a different calendar with different races. “I’ll help her with race prep and she’ll help me with babysitting,” Rebeccah says. Even with a different schedule the two remain close, encouraging and challenging each other. As Rebeccah cares for her new baby, she says “Laurel is back doing bike workouts on the trainer in my apartment.”

Both Rebeccah and Laurel Wassner will be competing at this weekend’s TriRock Philadelphia triathlon. Learn more about the race and the TriRock series at Trirockseries.com. The TriRock Series is owned by Triathlete.com’s parent company, Competitor Group, Inc.

The Raelert Brothers

There are no more famous siblings in triathlon than the Raelert brothers, Andreas and Michael. The brothers have a host of records and championships to their credit, Michael having won the Ironman 70.3 World Championship and Andreas racing the fastest iron-distance race ever. Andreas, the elder Raelert, was the first to begin racing triathlon, but Michael followed close behind. The brothers train together regularly and support each other in their races.

Andreas says that the biggest advantage of training with Michael is that “we know exactly what the other one thinks and feels—and what he’s worrying about.” Michael agrees, adding, “We push each other in training. When you know someone very well like we do, you really know how to hurt him in training. That maybe sounds a little bad, but it helps you to reach the next level.” But their training relationship isn’t all about intensity—like the Wassners, they also help each other find the right mix of rest and work.

Unlike the Wassners, though, the Raelerts avoid racing together, preferring to support each other rather than fighting it out on the course like the Brownlees. “Maybe we are rivals when we train together,” Michael says, “but it’s absolutely not a situation of ‘against.’ We are brothers and partners in sport.” Because of this, planning their season can be hard. “It really takes time,” says Andreas, joking, “It’s an endurance discussion.”

PHOTOS: Raelert Brothers Training In Canary Islands

The Linck Twins

Identical twins Jim and Paul Linck had always talked about doing a marathon together. After a weekend together, Jim got an email from Paul that read, “I signed us up.” That’s how their entrance into triathlon went as well. After Paul, a business owner in Atlanta, spent a season in the sport alone, he signed up his twin to race Ironman Louisville with him. That was 2009, and since then the twins have been competing together in triathlons every season. “It’s a way for us to spend time together,” says Jim, a finance professor at Southern Methodist University.

Sometimes that time together doesn’t come in the way they planned. One year as they were both racing in the Great Floridian Ultra Triathlon, Jim crashed his bike at mile 109. As the medics picked him up off the pavement, he told them, “Please don’t tell my brother. I don’t want him to stop the race.” The medic replied, “Don’t worry, your brother is already in the hospital.” Paul had crashed earlier in the day. Like Jim, he told the medics not to tell his brother. Nevertheless, the two ended up in the same hospital room a few hours later.

Like the Raelerts and Wassners, the Linck twins have found the greatest advantage of training and racing with a sibling to be the mix of challenge and support. Paul is the more serious of the two, having qualified for Kona several times. With Jim having missed a slot by a few minutes on several occasions, Paul says he doesn’t care about returning to Kona. “My only goal left is for Jim to get there because it is such a great experience,” he says.

RELATED: 13 Things Your Training Partner Won’t Tell You

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