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Best In Class- Carolyn Hayes Triathlete

Planet X has just signed a deal to sponsor up and coming Irish Triathlete Carolyn Hayes. With a background in competitive swimming and making the qualifiers for the World Champs at her first Ironman event she's sure to become a force to be reckoned with on the international scene.

Carolyn, please introduce yourself.  "I'm Carolyn Maria Hayes, I'm 26 years old, I'm studying medicine, competing in triathlon and I'm from Newcastle West, County Limerick."

Carolyn, what's your bike history, have you come up through the ranks? "Ha-ha, I was waiting for this. Here I am at a bike company for an interview as a sponsored rider and here's my first truth- I don't really have a bike history. I've only been cycling for just over a year. I get around on a bike a little at college, but that's it. I started cycling so that I could compete in triathlon and I did my first event about 3 months after I got on a bike for the first time."

I think there are a lot of people coming into triathlon who wish they had your talent then, why did you choose triathlon? "I came from a swimming background. So I would have competed internationally with Ireland, but when I got to 17/18 I found my competing declined when I went to college. I was looking for something to fill the gap so I took up water polo, which I loved. But I needed something more, a personal challenge, not just a team sport. So I started running, marathons. I was turning in 3-hour marathon times without any real training or experience. Triathlon seemed to offer me more of what I wanted, it took in my swimming, the running which it seemed I was good at and there was the new element of the bike. That was completely new to me."

"I did my first triathlon in college, completely off the cuff. I didn't even have a bike to ride. I had to borrow one from a friend on my course. It wasn't even a real road bike; more of a hybrid- is that what they're called? And I won, by about ten minutes. I raced this year on road bikes and TT bikes and I pretty much haven't been beaten. (That sounds arrogant, doesn't it? Don't print that.)"

Was there much of a step in terms of endurance coming from swimming to marathon and then triathlon? "My first triathlon was an Olympic distance and I feel comfortable with that. I'm able to sit at my limit without going over it, so there was no big step up from swimming. I already had the marathon under my belt as well, it was ok. I've done all sorts of events since, sprint distance, ITU, ETU, draft legal and none. I'm happy to tackle them all."

Do you have a preference for any distance? "I want to try and qualify for Rio, so I'm really looking at targeting the Olympic distance events this year. I need to do more cycle races to support that, I need to get used to being in the bunch and time trialling because obviously on the Olympic distance there's an age limit on that but when you get into the 70.3 there's better prize money and if you're a strong swimmer and a strong runner, I feel that's where I'll end up."

It sounds like this is a full-time commitment for you? "Oh, it is. I'm a medical student and I'm in my second year currently but I'm hoping to defer and putting that on hold to focus on the Olympics. I'm in a fortunate position and the opportunity is there for me, it's now or never."

What are your specific goals for this year, you had a great 2014 season with a lot of silverware coming your way, are you only building to a peak for the Olympic qualifiers or are you going to do a full season? "This year I want to retain all the titles that I won last year. I want to continue to be national series champ, standard distance champion,  Aquathon champion and Munster champ there's tough competition for me in the duathlon with SIiobhan Horgan. If I qualified for the duathlon championships or the Euros I'd love to do that. But it all has to fit in of course. There are points races for Rio which I have to do as well, it's going to be a busy year. "

Who do you see as your main competition? "At home in triathlon I'm confident of my ability. In cycling, of course, there's Siobhan Horgan, she's five times champion, and I'm hoping I have the advantage of youth over her. I'm relatively new to the bike and I think I can make substantial gains there. She's a fierce competitor though, so we'll see.  I can hold my own with many of the pure cyclists in the cycling split and I can take them out in the run. So in terms of duathlon I want a podium, I'll not be happy with less. In Mallorca, I want to win my age group and I want to be up with the pro's. I'm going to need a better bike for that and that's where Planet X comes in, they'll provide the machine and I'll provide the engine."

You're quite petite can you get away with riding a 650 wheel, there's reduced frontal area to be won if you're lower to the ground? "Oh, I don't know about that. Honestly the bike is a bit of a mystery to me. I'm on a small or an XS frame usually depending on the bike. That's why I'm here today really. I have a Retul fit booked with Chris in your showroom. We're going to get my bike size and position dialled; we'll take some power measurements with me on the bike as he dials in my position and we'll go from there. I'm quite excited about it, I feel like I'm learning so much on the bike side of things."

"People see me as a swimmer and a runner so I'm going to be focussing on the bike overall this season. Jan-Feb I'm starting with running events, 5-10k events to get my speed up. Cycling starts at home in April. At the weekends, I'll probably use bike racing as training events, to bring my standard up and get used to bunch riding. Then 1st triathlon of the season is an ETU in Portugal and then we have the rest of June, July August for the rest of the triathlon season. We have the Europeans in July, I think.  August will be points racing for me for Rio. Then we have the Ironman in Dublin for the first time. I have my entry in hand for that in August. One Ironman in Mallorca in May then another in August and I got my World Championship place last year, but I didn't take it. If I get it again this year then I'll take it, take my new good bikes and do them justice. So it's mainly bike races at home for me and triathlon wherever it takes me."

What are your split times, where do you sit? "My best 1500 swim is 18:48 last year, that's a 1:10 turnaround. Bike splits, well I still haven't broken the 40k for the hour yet, but that's my aim. If I manage to do 40kph then I can start getting a real advantage on aero wheels can't I. You see I do know something about bikes, laughs. My fastest split is a 1:07 that's on my current Orbea, I threw all my money at that bike last year, but it's a little bit big for me. It's a small frame, but it's not quite right. There's  a couple of the lads I know who rides 650 wheeled bikes and they seem really happy with them, but the easy availability of tyres put me off. I might rethink that now I'm sponsored. I'm looking for the best position I can find. For my run, coming off of the bike I'm down to 37 minutes and I really want to drive that down to 36 minutes. That's where I need to be for a 10k."

You have a big year planned with a lot of goals to reach, who do you train with, who is your coach? "I train with Go-Tri, they're a Shannon and Limerick based Tri team, our coach is Stephan Teeling-Lynch. There's Triathlon Ireland as well and their coaches are Tommy Evans who's the bike specialist and Stephen Delaney Both of whom rode the tours in Ireland."

"My training is stepping up a gear again this year. I'm  swimming 5 days a week. My cycling is probably 3-4 days a  week, and there's running on top of that. Of course, the quality of training is as, if not more important than volume of training and I'm working hard on quality. I'm lucky that my college schedule allows for this, I'm only timetabled for 3 hours a day. I'm so lucky; I have a 50m pool on my doorstep. I have a track nearby, there's one on campus. It makes such a difference when you don't have to travel huge distances to train, you can get so much more done. "

You have your season all lined up, your coaching plan is in place, you have your goals set, what will success look like for you? "Hopefully by the end of the season I'll be on the podium again for most of my events, and for the international triathlon events, I'm looking for top ten finishes in Portugal and Rega. In Portugal, the field will be stacked. In my first ITU this year a top 15 would be a good result, I'd be really happy with that."

You compete in sprint, Olympic and Ironman distance events, which do you favour? "Oh, I don't favour any of them, they are all damn hard work. I suppose I have a bias to the longer events, I'm light and not that tall so carrying less weight plays a part over the longer distance. I don't generate the same power on the bike as some of the girls do, but I'm really comfortable sitting at threshold and turning the pedals over. When I get off the bike I can make gains in the run. My run off the bike is very similar to my run from cold. I come out of the water pretty easily, I'm always fresh. Swimming was always my primary sport growing up so I'm strong in the water. I don't overdo it on the bike and I push on the run. Obviously that bias will change as I get stronger on the bike. I'm confident in being more comfortable on my new Planet X Exocet2 TT bike as well. The fit went well, I was surprised at how easily Chris was able to dial in a more powerful and more comfortable position. I can't wait to get it out on the road and check some splits on it. So to answer your question, I think the endurance events do play to my strengths."

Do you train to power on the bike? "I do. It informs my on bike training. I run a Stages meter on my bike and use a Watt Bike for indoor sessions. My four-minute max is pretty good and I can hang there for a while but I'm only 50kg. I need to work on max, I have to be able to sustain that level and I need to have some gas in the tank to counter breaks. I haven't raced a lot of hilly courses yet. I did an ETU last year in Spain, in September. It has this huge climb and it's an 8 lap course, with this hill that's a 10-15% gradient. It's a proper steep climb, and it just absolutely took me out, I've never ridden anything like it. Jessica Learmonth just destroyed the field, she lapped me and lots of other riders on lap 8, steamed past on her Blue Planet X TT bike and I never saw her again."

"I died a death that day. That's what makes me want to improve on the bike. I wondered maybe she had a super bike, but she's an age group cyclist for Britain, she has fitness and power and she has the miles in her legs. I'd like to avoid that experience again. That was me put on notice to improve my cycling. I hope when I go to Ironman Mallorca this year that I see at least a ten minute improvement on my bike leg. I had very little mileage in my legs last year. I was new to the bike, I don't have years and years in my legs."

How are you viewed by other competitors, you're new to the sport but you had a big year last year on the national scene and good results internationally; are you a known quantity yet?  "Ha-ha, now I am. I can't get away with turning up at races and no one knowing who I am. Since the national championships I've been on the radar and I've had Irish Runner cover pages and the Irish Triathlon magazines so there's no hiding anymore. But there's no hiding during an event either so I'm comfortable with that."

How did the hook up with Planet X come about? "When you're racing you see the bikes, and Jessica killing it in Spain last year and dropping me while aboard her blue PX bike might have planted an unknown seed. I submitted a speculative sponsorship request via the website. I'd met Eimear Mullan at an event and I knew that she was sponsored by Planet X, and I knew Aileen had been sponsored by Planet X as well so it made sense for me to approach Planet X as well. Dave reviewed my results, we had a chat about what we both wanted to achieve from the relationship. I really want to make the jump to becoming a professional athlete in the future and part of that mix is my ability to deliver results as well as interesting content and exposure on behalf of my sponsors. I've a lot to learn about keeping up with blogs, Facebook, Instagram and all that web stuff, but I'm up for the challenge. I'm always up for a new challenge..."

We bid goodbye to Carolyn as she heads off back to Ireland, with two new bikes and a new sponsorship deal for the upcoming season. We are sure to be hearing lots and lots from her in the upcoming months. if you'd like to follow her season you can catch up with via...

Website: Carolyn Hayes.com

[email protected] Carolyn Hayes

Facebook: Carolyn Hayes

16 January 2015