Philip Graves announced himself to the triathlon world with the fastest bike leg in the Windsor triathlon, aged 17. Having decided the opportunity to become a professional triathlete was more realistic over the longer distances, in 2009 he moved to Ironman, and made his real breakthrough.
In his first year of racing over the Ironman distance he won the UK half-ironman, and followed that up with the UK Ironman title that same year, becoming the youngest champion in the history of the sport.
Having won Ironman UK in 2009, you’ve gone a little off the radar. What have you been up to, and what are your goals in the short and long term?
I have been spending a lot of time in the USA which didn't really end up agreeing with me and I have had a string of injuries, things haven’t really gone my way, especially last year when I was involved in a bike crash.
I was just riding in York on my shopping bike and a huge clump of bubblewrap blew into my front wheel and I went head over bars and ruptured all the ligaments in my right shoulder.
After this 2011 was never really the same and I just knocked things on the head and started again from scratch with a clear head for 2012.
In the short term I’m just looking at stringing some consistent training together but I am going to concentrate on solely Ironman races in 2012, it’s where my heart really lies.
Obviously long term I want to win in Hawaii but that’s a long term process and I just want to win some races this year.
Before moving to Ironman you had 6 months out of the sport where you focussed on cycling (having initially come to the sport from a swim/run background). Do you think that this period is what really moved you on in the world of triathlon, with the bike leg now being your strongest? And would you ever go back to cycling?
I would never say I had 6 months out of the sport. I went to Swansea University and was felt utterly let down. I was training at the High Performance Centre there but I never felt comfortable and soon after I had arrived the coaching setup was in disarray when the head coach left and I was just really unhappy so I decided to come home.
After this I had so little motivation I ran 3 times in about 4 months but still swam every day and didn’t really ride anymore than I did now, I just did some bike races because that’s why I enjoyed and that’s what gave me happiness at the point in time.
I did then decide to do the British Universities Olympic distance champs and after winning there, and the run nearly killing me, I started to get some confidence back and started running a little bit again.
After coming 4th in the National Junior Champs at the end of the year off minimal training I decided to fully commit and give Triathlon one last go in 2009 which thankfully for me paid off.
So in short, I wouldn’t say because I did some bike racing that’s why the bike is my strongest, it’s just what I enjoy and I seem to be ok at it.
Having never 'gone' to cycling I would never go back but I don’t think I could ever just been a cyclist, I can’t imagine my life without swimming in it!
Your first year of Ironman was pretty spectacular, and your win at Ironman UK qualified you for Hawaii. You went hard on the bike but the heat got to you and you finished 57th. What did you learn from this experience?
So many things...that race changed my life forever really. As one can expect I could write a book on the above subject but more so I just learned what it would take to win that race and how good everyone else on the IM circuit is.
I’ll be honest, when I did 70.3 worlds I learned so much more: how to sit in the pack on the bike and how a race develops.
In Hawaii once I had blown I was out the race to be honest. I just wanted to finish so from about half way through the bike I wasn’t racing, merely surviving.
You’ve stated in the past that your long term goal is to win Hawaii. What do you think you need to do training-wise to achieve that?
I think I will have to get used to that heat really, I really believe I can train myself to be one of the best IM athletes in the world but the highest ever temperature in York is 33 degrees so I’m going to have to do a lot of heat based training to be able to run a fast marathon in 35-40 degrees, and also get a bit of a tan so I don’t burn like a crisp!
How do you keep motivated with the volume of training you need to do?
I’m not sure really, I just focus on my upcoming races and one you get into a good routine its easy to get in 40h weeks of training.
What do you think about during a race – does an Ironman pass quickly or not?
An Ironman does pass quite quickly, if you are able to race the whole way though. If you blow like I did in Hawaii a 3h 37min marathon in the heat seems to go on for days but if you can just keep your concentration then it goes very fast.
Doing a few 100mile TTs I find is really good for that, I just focus on riding on the smoothest part of the road, read the wind conditions and take the shortest line and the bike usually flies by.
Then the run can be a little emotional but it’s easy when you break the run down from one aid station to the next.
What do you do to recover, particularly after the longer distance races?
I usually eat what I want to eat and keep on training, only very lightly, but if you tend to stop all together then your body just shuts down because there is so much muscle damage your body just seizes up.
Usually a big race hits you after a week, it sort of lurks and then hits you after 7 days when you find yourself really suffering.
You are from Yorkshire but have obviously trained and raced all over the world. Which are your favourite training and racing destinations?
Hmmmm, I simply love Lanzarote and Club la Santa, it’s so hassle free, there is nothing to do except train, eat and watch dvds which is perfect, it’s a way of life I adore!
Racing-wise I loved Wildflower Triathlon just south of San Francisco. It’s so beautiful out there in the Californian countryside and the race itself is very hard and different to any other race I have done, part off-road run, hilly bike and a very unique atmosphere.
Finally, could you give us your top tip(s) for someone looking to move from Olympic distance to Ironman?
I would say just try and get triathlon into your life, use your bike or run to get to work and the miles fair add up and that’s what you need for IM, more for your brain than for your body.
Ironman is very much a head game, if you believe you can get round you will, if you don’t think you can and are not confident in your training then you have all ready lost half the battle, and over 8 to 17 hours you’re going to have good times and bad times so it’s just knowing you have the training in the bag and the nutritional strategy to get round, because, after all, it is a hell of a long way!
19th February 2012