Going pro: A Day in the Life of a Professional Triathlete
Getting paid to exercise might seem like the dream to many amateur athletes but does the professional triathlon lifestyle live up to the hype? Matthew de Vroet recently took up his professional triathlon license and takes us through a typical training day since turning pro and how it has differed since he made the step up from the amateur ranks. Specialising in the half-Ironman distance, de Vroet has plans to step up to the full Ironman once he finds his feet in the professional field.
Based in Melbourne for half the year and Girona for the European summer, a typical day in Australia for de Vroet looks vastly different to that in Spain. Early alarms as well as mid-ride coffees replace a Spanish sleep-in and siesta.
Matt was kind enough to run us through a typical day in his Catalonian paradise:
4.45am: Alarm goes off and I stumble out of bed. I play mind games with myself as I throw a couple of pods down the Nespresso machine, is swim squad this morning worth it? I could always go later in the day by myself? Why do Australians feel the need to get up this early? I blackmail myself by smashing down the espresso. No turning back now.
5:10am: Somehow swimmers are already cutting their warm-up laps at a ferocious pace. I simply try and stay afloat as my body slowly wakes up. I’ve never been a morning person but Australians have always been early risers. There isn’t much choice and the benefits of swimming with a squad outweigh the extra couple hours in bed, this is what I tell myself at least as I anxiously watch the coach write up the mornings session.
6:30am: Ninety minutes later and the first session for the day is done. A solid threshold set leaves my stomach begging for breakfast as I round out the final few laps of the 4.5k set. Quick shower down before making my way to the car. All done before sunrise, not bad productivity!
7:00am: Breakfast is pretty standard. Yoghurt and muesli accompanied by a glass of orange juice and obviously the second coffee for the day. I check any emails I would have missed overnight as well as flicking through the relevant news channels and sporting results from the night before.
7:30am: I get into some stretching to limber the body up before a long ride. I’ll be honest and say this usually ends up with me scrolling through social media on my phone while I lie on a spikey ball, but I’m sure it all still helps.
8:00am: The time of year will determine how long it takes me to kit up for a ride. Summertime means throwing on a jersey and knicks whereas winter can cause you major headaches. The constantly changing climate of Melbourne means kitting up is quite a task and I almost never get it right. I have learned to always pack a rain jacket even with the slightest chance of rain!
8:30am: I usually aim to get out the door between 8.30 and 9am. This is considered a late roll-out by Australian standards even in winter when the temperature is still fresh to say the least. On the cards for today is a four-hour endurance ride. Nothing special just about hours in the saddle. I enjoy these days the most as it usually means heading out with a group of mates and not working too hard or stressing about power.
10:30am: Mid-ride coffee stop. The age-old debate of pre, mid or post ride coffee stop still remains unanswered with most of my cycling mates enjoying a quick brew and cake midway through the ride. You will struggle to find another triathlete who stops midway through a ride, but I was raised as a cyclist. A third coffee for the day is consumed as well as a sneaky cake.
1:00pm: Endurance rides in Melbourne are best done down the beach where you can get into a nice rhythm and not have to do anything too strenuous. You usually end up with a nice tailwind home as a bonus. 125km done for the day with a good group of guys making the time past by quickly.
1:30pm: I always make a point of ensuring I have cooked enough the night before to have as leftovers for lunch the next day. It makes life a lot easier with lunch ready as I roll back through the door. There is nothing worse than coming back from a long ride and having to throw something together with whatever is left in the fridge. The quicker you eat, the better you recover so it always helps to plan ahead.
2:00pm: One of the hardest things about professional triathlon is that even though you are classified as a professional athlete, you do not get given a wage simply for qualifying for the license. You rely on sponsors and prize money to fund yourself and establishing these relationships have been a struggle for me since starting my pro career.
You obviously need to provide benefit for potential sponsors, and this can be done through different ways such as pulling results or social media promotion. Not all of us are lucky enough to be constantly standing on the podium and plugging yourself through social media posts requires a lot of effort. Without access to a professional photographer, it is sometimes quite a task to come up with new and engaging content to try and grow my profile. I aim to put some time aside each day to brainstorm ideas for my social media accounts.
2:30pm: Being a new pro, I do not have enough sponsors to keep myself financially stable year round. Relying on prize money is a major risk and you never want to jinx yourself out of getting a result. With my university degree completed at the end of last year, I use my spare time now to work a part-time job. This helps pays the bills and is the reality for many professionals, both new and veterans of the sport. It can be tough when you are physically exhausted as you want to make the most of the time to recover but almost every top professional has been through it before. There is some upside to having a part-time job as I believe it helps mentally to not always be obsessing over the sport and I enjoy using my brain for more than simply crunching power numbers.
A major change since being an amateur has been the amount of work I have taken on. I realise that now I am professional I cannot get away with slacking off training or you will be found out on race day very quickly. There is nothing more embarrassing than coming out of the water in last place, so I use this as motivation to get the sessions done.
5:30pm: Work done; it is time to get the last session of the day done. I usually leave the run for the last out of habit and enjoy catching the sunset. A straightforward set of 3x2km efforts at race pace with three minutes rest in-between is easy enough to get motivated for. Not ridiculously hard but a key run nevertheless. While endurance rides are my favourite type of session, running efforts make the time pass a lot quicker and get the kilometres ticking over.
I always do around a ten-minute warmup to shake the legs out before getting stuck into the efforts. Two kilometres is a nice effort to find a rhythm with the aim to complete them all around the seven-minute mark. This would be a decent pace for me on race day but doing it for 21 kilometres is a lot more complicated than six.
A nice round ten kilometres done, the satisfaction of another good training day in the books completed.
6:30pm: I get dinner down me as quick as possible after the run and if I am not in race season this is usually followed by dessert. The training day catches up to me after the sunsets with post-dinner activities usually solely consisting of Netflix and sitting on the couch. Not everyday is as long as today was with so much variety in triathlon training something that makes it such an interesting sport.
9:30pm: The 4:45am alarm catches up to me and it is usually lights out at the modest time of 9.30pm. Sleep is the best recovery tool around and I am to always get more than eight hours sleep. This is not always possible, but I aim to keep my bedtime consistent.
Professional triathlon might not be the most glamourous sport, but it often rewards those who put the most work in. Juggling work and training can be a difficult task before you throw in the added challenges of a social life and for many professionals, a family. I am learning new things everyday through the training and contacts I have made through the sport and have experienced things I never thought I would. While the major pay checks do not always roll through the door, I aim to get the most out of myself and see how far I can get in the sport.
If you want to see a more in depth look at what Matt and his girlfriend Kerry get up to over in Girona, they've just set up their own Youtube channel. The diary style weekly videos are a great insight into what it's like to live and train in the athlete's haven that is Girona. (We're not jealous.. Nope.. Not one bit..)
Click Here to check out their all new Youtube Channel