When it comes to staying fit, who better to dole out advice then triathlete champions, the Brownlee brothers? We spoke to the Yorkshire-born athletes Alistair and Jonny Brownlee about their top tips for exercising when the days get shorter and darker, plus how to work out when you don't have a lot of time.
Finding a group or friends to train with makes a big difference. If you’ve arranged to meet a running group after work at 6 o’clock then you’ve got to be there because you’ve sent that text round!
We also got the scoop on what was going through Alistair's mind as he helped his younger brother Jonny cross the finish line at the recent Triathlon World Series in Mexico - scroll down to watch the incredible viral video (but you might want to keep some tissues handy - it's such an emotional, impromptu act!).
Read on to discover the Brownlee brothers’ brilliant tips for how us busy people can stay fit as the seasons change (and when we only have 30 minutes to spare!) and learn a little more about the Brownlee Foundation and the Collective Dairy, a brilliant initiative to get kids fired up about sport.
Congratulations on your amazing wins in Rio this year - how does it feel to bring back both silver and gold for Great Britain?
Alistair: Thanks very much! It’s a fantastic feeling. I feel like I’ve achieved far more in sport than I ever set out to - I'm very happy at the moment.
Jonny: Thank you! To get a silver medal in the Olympics is obviously amazing. And for Alistair to get gold and for me to get silver, it was a dream come true really. It just caps off the perfect Olympic Games.
Describe a typical day of training - does it change as the seasons change?
Jonny: Well, now it’s off season so we have about five weeks off training. So it's been nice to have a break and do stupid things like clean your house and garage, and go out with your school friends – normal things!
Alistair: When training starts up again, we train about 30-35 hours per week.
Jonny: The hardest day we do is a Wednesday, which involves a 70-minute run in the morning, then a four hour bike ride, followed by another 30-minute run and then a 90-minute swim.
Alistair: We don't really like doing things indoors. We don’t mind the weather and we’re quite used to it so we get on with it!
Jonny: Yeah, I try and avoid going indoors if I can because that’s one of the reasons why I love training. I love being outside, exploring on the moors and seeing the countryside.
What advice would you give to people who want to keep active when the days get shorter and darker?
Jonny: Find a group or friends to train with is a big one - it makes a big difference. If you’ve arranged to meet a running group after work at 6 o’clock then you’ve got to be there because you’ve sent that text round!
Alistair: Yeah, arrange something social around exercise - either to meet a friend for a session or join a club.
Jonny: You know what it’s like, when you come home and you sit on the sofa and you go, ‘oh, I’ll leave in 10 minutes...' - even I do that! But if you've arranged to meet a group then you’ve GOT to get there for that time!
Alistair: Another tip is to enter an event in the spring or summer that gives you the motivation to get out and get training.
Jonny: Yeah, having an aim makes a big difference. So you’re not just training for training's sake. And get some good high-vis kit! So you can get seen if you want to go out cycling or go out running - make sure you’ve got a good high-vis kit.
Do you have any tips for exercises that you can do when you’re in a rush or when you don’t have a lot of time to work out?
Alistair: A few things, definitely! The first one is, if you can, to somehow combine exercise with your commute. So, running to work or cycling to work – it's an absolutely brilliant way to do it!
Jonny: Definitely! I always says to people - 'fit your exercising in with your commute.' We used to cycle to school as kids. So from the age of probably 12 to 18, we used to ride along the canal tow path and it took about 50 minutes to get to school. It was a way to get our exercise in but also to save time! When I cycled to school, the school bus used to leave at 7:40 but if I was cycling I could leave a bit later, at 8 o’clock, so I actually gained time by cycling in. Sometimes it might actually be quicker to cycle than it is to drive!
Alistair: Yeah, using your commute is great. I think more and more workplaces have got showers installed now, which is brilliant. Another tip is to go for a run. One of the best things about running as opposed to swimming, cycling or going to the gym, is that although it takes a bit of time to get changed and get in the shower afterwards, if you’re really quick, within 40 minutes, you can do a really genuine, good bit of exercise.
Jonny: Running is a simple sport - you need your running shoes, shirt and shorts and on you go!
Brilliant! Moving on to your diet… What foods do you guys eat to keep fit?
Jonny: Well, obviously, we burn a lot of calories so we eat LOTS of food to keep fit! But generally, I eat just eat lots of normal foods, plenty of fruit and veg, lots of protein, lots of meat and eggs.
Alistair: Most of the time, I don’t massively worry about food that I’m eating. I tend to just eat a healthy diet around training and racing, maybe be a bit more careful after a race, then I might have a recovery shake. I just believe in trying to eat healthy and consistently.
Jonny: I absolutely love a roast dinner though, it’s my favourite food - even when training!
Do you have any guilty pleasures?
Alistair: I try not to see anything as a guilty pleasure - I think everything is quite good in moderation. But I like everything like anyone normal! I love a good burger and chips, chocolate, and the occasional glass or wine or a beer. But I am a massive believer that everything is good in moderation, so if you’re not too extreme in your diet or your eating habits and you train as hard as you can, then that’s a really good thing.
Jonny: Oh and mince pies! I really enjoy mince pies around Christmas time.
How do you keep going through all those training sessions, day after day - what motivates you?
Jonny: Firstly, routine is very, very important. Secondly, a group is important. And thirdly, if you haven’t got a group, like when I’m on my own and not feeling motivated, then having a goal is very important. So for me it’s routine, a group, or the race season coming up.
How hard is it to separate being a competitor versus being a brother?
Alistair: I’s a bit of a boring answer, but it’s just very natural to us. We’ve been competing in everything for as long as we can remember, so we don’t really give it a lot of thoughtl
Jonny: It’s not hard, I find it quite easy. We’re bothers on the start line before the race, we’re brothers and team mates on the swimming or bike where we can work together, talk tactics and try to beat other opponents, and then on the run, we’re still brothers but we stop helping each other out and start racing against each other when the run starts.
You say that it's easy to compete against each other but you recently completed a very dramatic World Triathlon Series in Mexico where Alistair helped Jonny across the finish line...
Jonny: Yeah, thats true - last week might have changed it all!
Alistair, what made you decide to do that?
Alistair: I don’t know. It was a very instinctive. I think the only real reason I can give is that he was my brother and I had to get him to the finish line and to get him some medical attention as quick as possible.
And Jonny, are you going to do the same for Alistair next time?
Jonny: I’d like to think so, definitely! For him, it was very instinctive but I’d like to think that I would do the same. I actually had the chance to back in 2010 when he did a similar thing to me in London, and I ran straight past him - so I didn’t help him then! But back then I didn’t understand about the heat and I was only 20 years old, so now I understand it a little more. So, if he was in a dangerous position like I was then I would help him out, definitely.
So do you think that Alistair is ever going to let you forget it, Jonny?
Jonny: Definitely not! He’s already told me, 'it’s your turn to buy lunch’, about 50 times since we got back! I think I’ll be buying him lunch for the rest of his life.
Alistair: I’ll never let Jonny forget it for too long - I’ll keep bringing it up in sporadic intervals!
And finally, can you talk a little bit about your brilliant Brownlee Foundation where you inspire kids to get active - why is this so important to you?
Jonny: The Brownlee foundation is very important to us. Together with the Collective Dairy, we inspire kids to get involved in sports. I got a lot from sports growing up - confidence, routine and discipline - so I know how important it can be.
Alistair: We’re very thankful for what triathlon has done in our lives, so the Brownlee Foundation is all about trying to give as many young people a triathlon experience as possible, and hopefully to inspire them to do more physical activity.
Jonny: We started the foundation three years ago and what we do is we put on events throughout the year for kids to get involved in a triathlon. Kids turn up on a school bus with just their swimming shorts and shoes, and everything else is ready for them. They do a little swim course, they cycle around the school field a couple of times on bikes that are provided for them, and then they run around the school. It’s great to see kids who have never heard of a triathlon who now know what a triathlon is. And it’s great to see those kids who didn’t think they could do it, when they cross that finish line with a big smile on their face!
Alistair: This year we've had nearly 5000 kids do a triathlon for the first time which has been absolutely fantastic.
To find out more, visit thebrownleefoundation.org