Seaford College Head Boy Harry Leleu is a hugely talented triathlete who regularly competes in races across the country. He aspires to compete at the 2020 Olympics, and has recently won one of the Chichester Corporate Challenge races, beating several older and more experienced athletes.
How did you get into triathlon?
My parents are both very sporty; my mum does yoga and my dad did gymnastics, trampolining and swimming. I was enrolled in swimming aged one, and I finished all levels of swimming by the age of 11 or 12. I could then choose to do triathlon or to continue swimming. I had never run before, but I had cycled, so I gave it a go and joined the Arun Triathlon Club in Felpham and really enjoyed it. By the end of Year 7 I was swimming, running and cycling all of the time.
When did you realise that you had a talent for triathlon?
Through the Chichester Triathlon Club I started competing in the South East Regional Series. When I was 14, I entered the South East Regional Academy, which is made up of 20 athletes between the ages of 14 to 18. The Academy runs six to seven training weekends across the summer season, and I was finding it impossible, it was so much harder than anything I’d ever done. But I realised that running was my strongest area, even though I’d been doing it for the shortest time. I was doing better in anything over 1500m; I had a lot of endurance, which is unusual as younger kids tend to be quicker.
What is your training schedule like?
Winter training is less intense, but longer. I’ll do three to four hours road biking, run three to four times a week, bike two to three times a week, and swim seven times a week. With swimming you really have to spend lots of time in the water; if I’m out of the water for two weeks it feels like I’m swimming in oil. I spend a lot of time on my technique, and I have a couple of guys who look after me. One is a lecturer in Sports Science at Portsmouth University, and he keeps an eye on the amount of running I’m doing and sets sessions for me. He sets the right pace for me, and makes sure I don’t over train. He’ll look after my running until I go to university.
What competitions do you have coming up?
This weekend I’m competing in the National Duathlon Championships, which is made up of a run, then cycling, then another run. I’d love to get into the top five, but I should make the top ten. I’ve got a two month gap after that, and then I’m competing in an Aquathon, which is a swim in an open water lake and a run. I train at Westhampnett Lake and I live close to the beach, so I’m used to swimming in open water. I’ve then got three big races, all triathlons at Blenheim Palace, Loughborough and Eton Dorny. These triathlons are organised by British Triathlon, they’re the highest you can compete in and you have to send your CV to them in order to get a place. Those who come top get to go to the Europeans.
How do you prepare for a race?
Two hours before a race I have a decent carb meal, something that’s not too heavy otherwise I feel sluggish. Then I’ll register and about an hour and a half before I’ll check my bike and my kit in the transition zone. Then about an hour and a quarter before the race I’ll do a steady run to warm up, I’ll do some drills, stretching, fast sprints, to get me mentally ready.
What are your future plans?
I’m looking to do an off-road triathlon, which is a cross-country run and a mountain bike ride. The qualification race for that will be in September time. I’m also applying to university, and I’m hoping to go to either Leeds or Loughborough to read Physics. It’s a great subject, and both universities are the best for triathlon in the country. The Brownlee brothers went to Leeds, and I met them at the end of the Petworth House TriSouth event. One of them told me he got lost over the South Downs! I really look up to them. For a career, I would want to do something related to Physics, possibly engineering or banking, something that would work with me; I don’t think I’m suited to sitting in an office all day.
Do you have any Olympic aspirations?
I am aiming for the 2020 Olympics, so for the next two to three years I would need to compete at a really high level nationally, getting into the top three to five. The UK is really the best at triathlon, and it is one of the fastest growing sports in the country. They pick three to four athletes to compete in the Olympics; there were three at London 2012. It might be the 2024 Olympics, it depends on each year, but I think I’ve got the potential to do it.
How do you cope with any difficulties in your training and in competitions?
If I’m finding a session difficult and I’m feeling horrible, I try to see if there is a clear reason why. There are so many factors that might affect your performance; you’ve got to keep pushing through even though you might be way off at times. Those are the really hard sessions. After a race, if I’ve lost, I won’t talk to many people. But before the race, I’ll think about the things I’m good at, what I can control. If it hasn’t gone well, it’ll be a massive disappointment, and I’ll think about whether it was due to food, lack of sleep, under or over training.
What sacrifices have you made in order to spend so much time training and competing?
My social life has been put on hold a bit, but I would say I socialise through sport, being part of a club and that’s a great way to train. Of course I have a social life at school; I’ve been at Seaford for six years. But I wouldn’t miss a training session for a party, I just wouldn’t want to. It’s all about finding that balance between work, sport and socialising. At the end of the day it’s my decision to sacrifice that part of my life. My parents have sacrificed a lot; my brother and sister have been carted around the country. They understand the importance of what I do, and now I can drive myself around, which is a lot easier.
What motivates you?
If I didn’t have my parents I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now. I get so much encouragement from my family and friends, and also from my results. If you do get a good result, you can use it positively, same with any bad results. You shouldn’t see it as the end of the world; you should make something good out of it. At the South East Regional Academy we had a few psychology sessions, and we talked about positive psychology: growing positives and growing strengths.
What advice would you give to those hoping to follow in your footsteps?
For triathlon, when you’re younger take it easy, don’t overdo it. There used to be guys I would compete against who would win all the time, but they fell away. When you’re young, do it if you enjoy it; if you don’t enjoy it don’t do it all. Certainly as I started to move up I enjoyed it more. Also, when you’re older, it is really important to get a balance between sport, work and social life. You’ve got to sacrifice something, you can’t have it all.