Lucy Charles was dreaming of a spot on Great Britain’s 2012 Olympic swimming team when she finished 8th in their Olympic Trials 800 meter swim final. She also showed promise in long course swimming. But after a recurring shoulder injury quashed that goal, she turned to triathlon.
By 2015, she honed her triathlon skills and showed bright promise with Female 18-24 age group victories at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship (by 6 and one half minutes) and at the Ironman World Championship in Kona (by 28 minutes).
Turning pro in 2016, Charles had a podium finish at Ironman Lanzarote. But recurring injuries throughout the rest of 2016 left her rising career on hold.
This year, Charles hit her stride early. At the April 22 Challenge Mogan Gran Canaria half distance, Charles lost the victory by 6 seconds to Emma Pallant at the line. On May 7, at the Challenge Lisboa half, Charles won and topped Portugal’s Olympic silver medalist Vanessa Fernandes’ comeback effort by 6:34.
At Lanzarote last weekend, Charles had her most significant breakthrough. Showing that her hard work on her bike was paying off, Charles jetted away from the competition to a new women’s bike course record of 5:23:29 that gave her a 19 minutes lead on 2014 Lanzarote winner Lucy Gossage and on Corinne Abraham.
Charles finished in 9:35:40 with an 8:49 margin on Abraham and 14:42 on Gossage. Notably, her bike course record split topped the previous mark of 5:26:23 set by Tara Norton in 2010.
Slowtwitch: You led wire-to-wire, broke the women’s bike record, and came within 11 minutes of Paul Newby-Fraser’s women’s course record. Was this a smashing good day for you?
Lucy Charles: Yeah you could say that. I am really delighted obviously. I knew I could have a strong swim [47:06]. But I didn’t expect to bike like that [5:23:29]. Had my fiancé Reece Barclay ahead of me for a few parts of the bike. He is in the men’s 25-29 age group. There were some points where I thought I might slightly edge ahead of him on the bike. But I thought better of that. LAUGHS
ST: He might have demoted you in in rank to friend. What have been your better races before this year?
Lucy: This year I have had some really good results before Lanzarote. I had second at Challenge Grand Canaria and first at Challenge Lisboa two weeks ago. This season I’ve had a string of good results, the best so far in my career. And I wanted to keep it going.
ST: What was your best performance before this?
Lucy: Probably this race last year. I finished third [in 10:10:13]. I didn’t expect to go that much faster today [9:35:40 - 34:33 faster.]
ST: You began as a great swimmer. Why trade the simplicity of a single sport for a three discipline sport with a great deal more sweat? How close did you come to the Olympics in swimming?
Lucy: I was fairly close. I was 8th at the 2012 Great Britain Olympic swimming trials in the 800 meter freestyle. And I used to swim the 10k open water.
ST: What was your best time?
Lucy: My best time for the 10k swim was just under 2 hours.
ST: That is close to the women’s 10k Olympic winning time? Why did you quit?
Lucy: After missing out on London I thought I ought to try something a little more difficult than a 10k swim. I decided to do an Ironman.
ST: Why did you take up triathlon?
Lucy: I had a pretty poor result at one of my swim races in 2013. So I decided to enter Ironman UK for the following year just for something to do. [Charles finished 2nd in Female 18-24 in 12:16:12 with a 4:17 marathon] I went on to have a few good results as an age grouper - I was Female 18-24 World Champion in Ironman 70.3 and at Ironman.
ST: Your sister took a nice picture of you in your Great Britain national team kit and a Union Jack – we ran it in Slowtwitch.
Lucy: Yes my sister Holly Charles is very talented photographer. She just finished her first year at Uni. She is doing really well. She got a few firsts in her photo projects.
ST: Take us through your day. Your 47:06 swim should have given you a big lead?
Lucy: I haven’t looked at the numbers. And my Garmin actually died on the run. I got halfway and had to go by feel.
ST: Did you do much better than expected on the bike?
Lucy: You could say that that. The bike has been my weakest discipline for a while and I worked hard to make it better.
ST: Much better. The announcer said you had a 17 minutes lead coming at T2.
Lucy: Yeah. I never really fancied the run at the end of an Ironman. So if you can get a big lead off the bike it will make it easier on the run. Still I had some dark patches. It was really, really tough out there.
ST: What were your lowest moments?
Lucy: I started to have some really bad stomach cramps. Then they went away. But they were in the back of my mind all the way. You can’t really be sure.
ST: Anything about the run course or the weather made it tougher than last year?
Lucy: The course was slightly different to last year. [The run changed from a two loops to three with a final 12 kilometer section] I thought it might be easier but it was definitely harder. Thinking that you actually haven’t reached the finish and you still have a long way to go. A lot of times you think: I’m never doing one of these again! Then you cross the line and you forget all about that.
ST: Unlike the bike, no wind to cool you off?
Lucy: It was really heating up. It helps when you have the gap I had. I hadn’t seen any of the girls on the bike. So you don’t know if you are safe. You are running a marathon at the end of the day. It’s not a short run. Anything can happen. That last stretch to the finish was really hot and really hard.
ST: What does it feel like to be following a long line of great British woman triathletes?
Lucy: That’s 100 percent true. Obviously today the top 3 were British [Charles 9:35:40, Corinne Abraham 9:44:29, Lucy Gossage 9:50:22]. So we long course women have a bright future.
ST: You’re still relatively new to the sport. Have you found any good training partners and friends?
Lucy: Lucy Gossage.
ST: The two Lucys! She won Ironman UK and Staffordshire 70.3 twice. She’s been in the sport longer than you, so what advice has she offered?
Lucy: Obviously she has been a role model. I know Lucy really, really well. When I first started Ironman, she was a mentor to me. She is a great friend and always gives me support on the course and off. So thank you, Lucy!
ST: Lucy Gossage is a dedicated doctor who works with cancer patients. And she is a tough athlete – she broke her collarbone two months before Kona last year and managed to finish top 10. She is a role model in every way?
ST: Have you met Chrissie Wellington?
Lucy: No. Obviously she is someone I have always looked up to. Especially when I started triathlon, I took a great liking to everything she has done. I would obviously love to meet her.
ST: Where does this win place you in your newfound career – at age 23?
Lucy: At first I couldn’t see myself as a pro. Last year I had a string of injuries which meant I didn’t get off to a good start. But I think I am definitely making up for that.
ST: Before this race, what results are you most proud of this year?
Lucy: I was second by six seconds to Emma Pallant at Challenge Gran Canaria. And both of us passed Daniela Ryf on the run. So that was a huge day.
ST: Then you won at Portugal. And beat the legendary Olympian Vanessa Fernandes. Congratulations!