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Athlete's Corner #5: Will Cowen; Chasing the Pro Card

Updated: Dec 9, 2020

We are delighted to introduce to you this week another fellow Loughborough University graduate, and elite triathlete currently aiming to regain his Pro Licence, Will Cowen. After dipping his toe into the world of Triathlon in 2009 at the London Triathlon, Will fell in love with the sport and hasn’t looked back since. With a strong background in Swimming, Will was soon picked up by the Performance Squad when he arrived at Loughborough University and he made good progress over the next years as he sought to be competitive in the Draft-Legal domestic scene. Since graduating he’s turned his attention to the 70.3 distance (Half Ironman), and already had a brief stint with a pro licence in 2017.

I never had a eureka moment of sorts,” he explains when asked about why he wanted to be a professional triathlete, “for me it’s always been about figuring out what comes next after achieving a goal. Initially it was working my way through the ranks in the draft legal scene, but more recently I’ve been focussed on the Half-Ironman distance and have experienced more success with that.”

TTL: How did you earn your Pro Licence the first time? And how come you no longer have it?

WC: I became eligible for the Pro Licence in 2016 when I won the English Middle-Distance Championships at the Vitruvian. Turning Pro had been one of the goals I had set for myself when I turned my focus to this type of racing, so when I won that race it felt like the right opportunity to try and break through into the pro ranks. In hindsight, it was probably a bit too early for me to take that jump, and the following season proved to be quite challenging as I crashed 10km into the bike on my first pro race and broke my scaphoid (this went undiagnosed at the time). I never got back to full fitness that year as my training was hampered by persistent pain in my wrist, so I didn’t get any performances in the books that would allow me to retain my licence. I ended up getting an operation almost a year later to fix my wrist and was finally able to get back into some training and racing properly after that.

TTL: We are nearly 3 years on now, and you’re aiming to get your pro licence again. What made you want to go Pro again despite having a job and working full time?

WC: I never lost my passion for triathlon, and I always want to see how I stack up against the best, no matter what I do. I've also found that now with a job, I'm training and racing better than ever before. This is probably due to a combination of things, but I’ve found that not having all my eggs in the 'triathlon' basket allows me to enjoy training and racing more than in the past. This enjoyment means that I'm super motivated to do the work in training, which is key if I want to pursue this objective and reach my ceiling in the sport. Having a bit more money thanks to my job also makes life a lot less stressful than when I was working as a lifeguard and living in a shared house!

TTL: How do you fit your training in around your job? Does your employer allow you to adapt your hours at all?

WC: Well obviously this year it became easier as working from home became the norm, but that’s not a very helpful answer for when things get back to normal! Before COVID-19 turned up I had quite a standard schedule where I would swim every weekday morning from 7-8am in pool that is just 800m from our house. Then, depending on the weather/energy/time I’d be able to cycle into work and take my running kit with me in case I am able to squeeze in a run over lunch. Thankfully, I enjoy the work I do so the time at the office is enjoyable and it’s nice to be paid to sit down and recover from training sessions and work on my marketing skills at the same time. In the evening then I will either do a bike session on my commute home or use the commute to warm up and then either do a session on the turbo or go for a run session under the streetlights. I feel confident that if I can tick off 15-16 hours consistently all year round then I know I’m going to be competitive come race season. It might not seem like a heavy training schedule, but I am strong advocate for quality over quantity. I’d like to add that I also have a very understanding boss who gets that dedicating a lot of time to my training doesn't mean I will be any less capable whilst I'm at work- if anything the opposite is true.

Editor’s note: Will is coached by Chris Hine of Pure Performance Coaching, read an interview with Chris here.

TTL: Where would you say is your biggest margin for progression if you want to make it to the pro ranks? WC: You can't win any pro triathlon races these days if you're not a shit-hot runner. But doing that isn't just about being a quick runner, it's also about your legs being able to take a battering for 90km on the bike and still being able to run fast after that. This is where I'm focussing all my efforts over this winter, as last season's limited racing opportunities showed that my swim and bike performances are much closer to the required standard than my running currently is!

TTL: So, with next season’s calendar now starting to take shape, how will you try to get your pro licence next year? And what are the criteria?

WC: My first race planned for 2021 is Ironman 70.3 Mallorca, where I'm hoping there will be a pro field. The British Triathlon criteria require you to finish within a certain time percentage of the pro winner to be eligible for a license. I'll be using this race to see where I'm at after the winter, and if I'm ready to take on racing in the pro field again. If things go well in Mallorca I will pick out some more races where I will aim to fill the criteria to take my licence at the end of the season. I don't want to make the same mistake as I did last time, in taking my pro license too early, as I don't think that making up the numbers as a back of pack racer in the pro field would be all that fun or motivating. I want to have confidence before I take my pro licence, that I can be competitive in the races I do.

TTL: If you do get your licence, what would your ambitions be as a Pro? Would you keep working full time still?

WC: Obviously the goal once you've got your pro license is to be competitive and to get on your first pro podium, then your first pro win, etc etc. But after 11 years in the sport, I've realised that there's no use in focusing on outcome goals that you can't control. I guess my ultimate ambition is to focus on the process to see how far I can take my personal abilities at swim, bike & run, and where this places me in races will be largely out of my control. It'd be nice to get some big results, but if I can say that I've done everything in my power to get as good as I can get, then I'd be happy. I'm also definitely planning on keeping working outside of triathlon in some form, I just don't operate well in triathlon when all I'm thinking about is triathlon! If that's with my current job or something else- I'm not too sure, but I want to have more going on than just training and racing.

TTL: Thanks for your time Will, always a pleasure chatting! Now’s your chance to give a shout out to any sponsors or partners if you want?

WC: Well, if you enjoyed this interview go check out my youtube channel (here) where I document some of my training, racing and travelling. Once I get my pro licence I’ll come back to you with the sponsors I want to plug...

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