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Lucy Charles-Barclay
Photograph: PTO

Lucy Charles-Barclay, winner of Ironman 2023, spills the joys and challenges of her journey as an athlete

She also tells us what she’s most looking forward to in Singapore, aside from the T100 race

Time Out Singapore in partnership with T100 Triathlon World Tour

If you're part of the triathlon circle, the name Lucy Charles-Barclay would be familiar – after all, she's the proud winner of the most recent Ironman World Championship. Naturally, one would expect that she's been training for this moment of glory for years, but truth is, she only made her pro racing debut in 2017 at the age of 20 – fairly late for an athlete – and this just proves that it’s never too late to try something new.

In fact, the T100 Singapore triathlon, which she’s participating in this coming April, is all about the idea of sports being for everyone. Whether you’re a triathlon pro or rookie, you’re welcome to sign up for a race that suits your preferred distance and fitness level.

Ahead of her arrival on our sunny island, we chat with Lucy about her journey as an athlete, where she shares how she fought her inner demons and overcame an injury, which only further fuelled her love for competing in races.

Congratulations on your 2023 Ironman World Championship win! What was going through your mind as you crossed the finish line?

I was in complete disbelief. I had dreamt of winning that race since I came second on my pro debut back in 2017. After four second-place finishes, I wondered if my day would ever come. Crossing the finish line and turning around to see a new overall course record, and having led from start to finish, was a dream come true. The journey, with its highs and lows, was worth it – every gruelling training session paid off at that moment.

You've come close to the top spot before, finishing second at the previous four Ironman World Championships. What did you do differently for the 2023 race?

A: Since coming second on my first attempt, I thought winning was only a matter of time. However, it became my biggest goal to win in Kona, and I never anticipated how long it would take. What drove me since around 2015, when I first raced on the island as an amateur, was this goal. Training at home in London in a training room at the bottom of my father-in-law's garden was a game-changer. My husband's dad, a former professional boxer, built this 'pain' training room, which we've now turned into our triathlon 'pain cave.' Training there in 30 degrees celsius heat to simulate Hawaii's conditions was brutal physically and mentally. The race had been a weight on my shoulders, but now, with the world title, I can enjoy racing and focus on the T100 Triathlon World Tour this season.

Lucy Charles-Barclay
Photograph: Holly CharlesLucy training at home in her ‘pain cave’

You started out as a swimmer and only began your first triathlon at 20. What inspired you to move into this sport?

I was a top-level swimmer and narrowly missed Olympic selection for open water swimming at the London 2012 Olympic Games. At a crossroads afterward, I debated whether to pursue four more years of swim training or leave sports altogether. My love for swimming dwindled, leading me to leave the sport for a few months. Working in marketing at a local wildlife park, I quickly missed having a sporting goal. Signing up for an Ironman triathlon, a big and scary unknown, reignited my training passion. I've always loved a challenge and this one has taken me further than I ever could imagine.

You can watch more on Lucy’s rise to become a champion here.

Athletes are no strangers to injury. What has been the most difficult one of your career, and how did you overcome it?

Sport is a rollercoaster of highs and lows. Despite reaching the highest highs, I've faced significant lows with injuries. Last May, I injured my foot by striking it on a rock during a race start, cracking my metatarsal bone. It was painful, and the timing was far from ideal. However, I continued training with a moon boot, maintaining good fitness to facilitate a quicker return to high-level racing.

You finished in fifth place at the PTO Asian Open in Singapore last year. Can you share a highlight from that experience?

My first visit to Singapore left a strong impression; the city felt like stepping into the future. Its cleanliness, greenery, and friendly people stood out. Meeting a large part of my online fan base in person was fantastic. The race featured a challenging 13 percent climb onto the highway, which created significant gaps and made for a fairer competition, highlighting athletes' strengths and weaknesses. Despite not performing my best, the supportive crowds and the battle made it one of my favourite race locations. I'm eager to return.

After the race, you mentioned getting "the demons out of your system," referring to your anxieties about injuring your foot. What challenges do you anticipate as you head into the 100km triathlon in Singapore this year?

Racing last year was crucial for overcoming my foot injury concerns. The focus was on trusting my body again, leading to a cautious but healthy race finish. Returning after the metatarsal injury was daunting, yet the most important aspect was finishing the race healthy. I'm looking forward to this year's Singapore T100, a fun course that presented a challenge last year. I'm excited to compete against the best female athletes once again.

On a positive note, what are you most looking forward to about the race?

I'm eager to give my all in Singapore this year. Learning a lot from last year's race, I aim to improve my performance and do so in front of the supportive fans.

Time Out is all about enjoying the city. What are you looking forward to doing in Singapore this time?

I plan to explore Singapore more thoroughly this time. Last year, I only glimpsed Gardens by the Bay during the run course, so I hope to visit it at a more leisurely pace this year. A successful race will definitely call for a celebration at one of the Marina Bay Sands rooftop bars.

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