Anyone who’s watched triathlons will know the extraordinary impact Alistair Brownlee has had on the sport. The Yorkshireman is the only athlete in history to hold two Olympic titles in the triathlon event, as well as being a two-time Triathlon World Champion, four-time European Champion and Commonwealth champion.
His brother Jonny is also a triathlete, with similarly impressive accolades to speak off. Pre-pandemic, the pair trained together every day and competed together often. A video went viral in 2016 of Alistair helping his brother down the final stretch of a race in Mexico and pushing him over the finish line – giving up the chance to win the race himself.
Just like for the rest of us though, life has become markedly different in the last month; the Tokyo Olympics, which the brothers had been working towards, have been delayed to July 2021.
“It was really important the Olympics got postponed – while something like this is going on, it’s appropriate that all the possible resource that can be is used to keep people well and healthy and alive,” he says. “As much as sport is important to me and important to lots of people, I think it’s somewhere quite a long way down the list of things that should restart after this.”
So what’s life like for a top endurance athlete in lockdown?
Exercising in the pandemic
With no competition in the immediate future to train for, Brownlee says it’s a strange time for any athlete: “It’s a a big change not having goals because you don’t know when the next event will be.”
Unable to train with Jonny at the moment, the brothers have to instead wave at each other from a distance (they live down the road from one another), speak on the phone and train alone.
“Normally I go swimming in the morning. I’m lucky enough to have a pool in the house,” – he fitted a personal five-metre pool, that pumps flumes of water to help build strength and resistance, in his basement pre-lockdown – “so I can still go swimming. Then usually I might go running twice a day and cycle, but now I can only do one of those outside, usually running.
“I’m still doing three, four, or five hours of training a day, but at the moment it’s quite relaxed, it’s not too focused – I’m just keeping it ticking over.”
Looking after mental health
“I think exercising is always to some extent about your mental health, it definitely is for me,” he says. “It’s really important for me to be able to get out and do some kind of exercise every day, it’s what I’ve done for my whole life and I definitely feel so much better for it. Not being able to get outside would be really tough.”
So, like many of us, he’s using this time to wind down (in a way only a top athlete can, by still doing five hours training). “I’m actually enjoying having my foot off the gas, and going out riding my bike and exploring rather than specifically training,” he says.
“I am missing training with other people and the competitive aspect of it,” But he adds: “My parents are doctors so I’m very conscious that I’ve not got a particularly tough time.”
Alistair Brownlee’s fitness advice for lockdown
For serious fitness fanatics or amateur triathletes, gyms and fitness classes closing will have meant a real shift in your own regime. Brownlee advises not to put too much pressure on yourself.
“Have the thought that this could be long term, rather than focusing on training as hard as you can for a race that might happen in four, five, six weeks time, or a bit further down the line,” he says.
“It’s just trying to work out what is an appropriate amount of training you can do week in week out for the next six months, that isn’t going to weigh you down psychologically. It’s good to do something sustainable, keeping yourself healthy without overloading yourself.”
You can even workout with Brownlee yourself as part of one of the new Airbnb Experiences if you have a stationary bike or smart turbo trainer. He’s teamed up with the travel company to offer a virtual cycle where fans can video stream a ride, along with the pro, around some of his favourite triathlon locations – like Kona in Hawaii, Rio and, of course, Yorkshire.
“You can do it in your garage,” he says. “I hope people get a bit of entertainment and insight into my training and what life is like for me, some stories and racing experiences from the past, and at the end of it, climb off the bike a bit sweaty after some hard work.”
Airbnb’s Cycle with Olympian Alistair Brownlee costs £50 and all proceeds go to the Brownlee Foundation which helps children get into triathlon. Book at airbnb.co.uk/experiences.