The journey to Kona

Gary Laybourne - Discipline: Triathlon, Ironman Triathlon, Aquathlon

Presca Ambassador, Gary Laybourne, is an ETU European age group champion in Aquathlon, current national sprint age group champion and 2 time middle distance age group champion (2016 and 17). He is club captain of South London Harriers Tri Club.  In August 2019 Gary completed his first Ironman triathlon in an incredible 8h55, qualifying for the World Championships in Kona! We talk to him about preparing for the World Championships and how he fits his triathlon training in to his busy life as a married father of two and project manager at “Coach Core” – an inspiring apprenticeship scheme that gives young people aged 16-24 the chance to become the next generation of coaches.

Have you always been into sport?

Yes – obsessed with it from an early age.  Passionate about football particularly but all sports really and very early on, I also fell in love with the Olympics too.  I also had a father who was an army training instructor and national gymnast so I think the natural genes were always going to gravitate me towards endurance sports and certainly individual sports.  I was lucky that I went to a very sporty secondary school with PE teachers who saw I had a bit of an engine so they were the ones who got me into running more competitively than just chasing after a football!

How did you get into triathlon, and particularly Ironman?

I was a half decent athletics track junior and also swam to a good level as a kid too.  After having my ‘fat years’ after Uni (!), I wanted to get fit and again, got very lucky in that at my gym there was a PT who was into triathlons.  He set me a plan, lent me a road bike and I entered London Triathlon in 2007 and I’ve loved it ever since.  As the years progressed I went from ‘keeping fit’ to actually winning some races and after starting to focus on it a bit more in the last 5-6 years, I’ve been fortunate enough to represent GB a few times and win some decent bling too from sprint up to middle distance.  Last year, I had a moment of clarity that as of 2019, my job is only getting to get busier and my kids are going to need my time so much more so I thought this would probably be my best opportunity to finally scratch the Ironman itch and so with great training partners telling me about the experience, I couldn’t wait to enter!

What has been your best race so far?

Obviously winning a European gold medal is pretty special particularly as I had to come from so far back in the field due to a nightmare start in the water!  I basically sighted incorrectly and missed the front pack which meant coming out in 5th place.  I had to run a very low 15min 5k in order to run past Reyes from Spain with just 400m to go!  However I think the real breakthrough moment for me was the National Middle Distance Champs at the Vitruvian race in 2016.  I genuinely had no idea how I would do and the day itself was miserable so to clock 3hr 58 in my first attempt at half distance and come second overall was just amazing and gave me such confidence that long distance racing could be just as successful for me.  Running 1hr 15min half marathon off the bike also got me a little national attention too which helped set up a busy schedule for the following season!


How do you feel about qualifying for Kona at your first Ironman attempt?

I’m still in shock!  Again, I had no idea how it would go and that is being 100% honest.  I knew very early on with a 5 and 3 year old I only really get to see at weekends around a busy UK wide job, long rides and runs were just not going to happen.  So I chose to train every day (I did 100 consecutive days in January to April!) with most sessions being around 1-3 hours maximum of varying intensity.  This meant that I felt in great shape going in to Copenhagen but unsure if I would be able to last the distance.  After a really enjoyable swim, I was pleased to clock 55min and feel super comfy.  The bike was great and despite going out a little hard, again, really happy to come into T2 in just over 4hr 45 feeling pretty good.  My run is my strength so coming through the halfway stage in 1hr 25, feeling super strong, I knew it was mine to lose…. and I nearly did!  I had the most insane quad cramps ever from mile 15 so had to walk-run so much of the last part of the race but still managed to sum up the energy to clock 3hr 6mins and critically go under the 9 hour mark in 8.55.  I was ecstatic but then had the long wait to see if I had my Kona place as it had been an insanely fast year!  However I did get it and now, I’m recovering well and albeit its not ideal in terms of turn round time for prep or expense, it’s a chance of a lifetime and I just had to accept my place on the Big Island – cant wait!!!

How do you manage to fit training in to your busy schedule?

As before, it’s about 3 overarching things for me:

  • 1) work out what are the key family and work commitments you have for the week/month/12 week training cycle and block those out.  They have to come first;
  • 2) work out your training blocks based around this resulting time you have available and review it weekly to ensure you are getting the right balance of sport and intensity for your needs;
  • 3) work out where each training session will take place and what you might need to complete the session (training partners for hard sessions, kit, bikes, etc).

    For me I literally do only one or maximum two training session with partners every week.  The rest is based around my commute or getting up at 5am to go and do the sessions solo.  For example, I have a one hour ride into London but frequently I would get up early to ride for three hours before work to put in some structured hard intervals in safer locations and to ride for longer.  Things like this, jumping off the train early to run home, swimming in a lunch break, etc all make huge difference if you are dedicated to getting the training done, particularly if your job is ever changing.

Why did you choose to be a Presca Ambassador and what do you like best about the brand? 

I was first drawn to Presca because of the environmental element.  I had never engaged with a sponsor or brand previously but being passionate about the environment and working for a charity that also has this as one of its core programme themes, I was fascinated at how the team were able to make such quality clothing from waste that is doing so much damage to our world and particularly, marine habitats.  When the guys agreed to send me some kit to try, I was blown away at how good it was and so for me it was a no brainer –  I am competing in kit I truly believe is of a high quality and has allowed me to perform in some major races with success whilst also knowing that everything I am wearing is eco-friendly and helps promote the power and quality of work the Presca team are doing.

What is your one piece of advice for young people involved in competitive sport?

Same question I ask all the young people I work with during any training session or even key event – is this fun?  The minute sport or physical activity is not fun, is the minute they will become disengaged.  Therefore my advice for a young person would be to be honest with their coach or their parents about how much fun and enjoyment they are getting from their sport.  I have seen so many very talented young players not develop further simply as they fell out of love with their sport and thus a coach worth their salt should always prioritise fun and positive environments above anything else or risk demotivating or even losing their participants.  This doesn’t mean every session becomes play time but a very good coach can deliver strong learning objectives it in the right way and still ensure everyone is still smiling at the end no matter how hard the session may have been!

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