Glasgow Triathlon Club

Swimming, Cycling, Running. We do it best!

GTC athlete of the month: John Willock

John has been a member of Glasgow Triathlon Club for two years and races in the super vets category. He came to the sport via football and rugby and he has been enjoying triathlon for about six years.

As a child, football was John’s passion. He says: “I was never a great athlete but I could kick a ball. Then, when I started secondary school, I quit football and started playing rugby and I have played it ever since. I still do.”

It was rugby that gave John the motivation to run for fitness. He says: “Until this point, I had only ran when I was playing football or rugby. But I started training a bit more seriously when I started playing senior rugby and I realised I would need to do more running and other types of training if I wanted to play up the teams. 

“I hardly ever ran more than 3km to 5km though. The first time I ran any further was in 2008 for the Men’s Health Forum 10K at Bellahouston.”

After this, John did a couple of half marathons and then decided to give triathlon a go.

The attraction of triathlon 

There were several reasons why John became involved in triathlon. He says: “A number of the guys I used to play rugby with started posting on Facebook about their exploits with different Ironman events. 

“This impressed me and I started thinking that it may be a sport I could get into if I could sort my lousy swimming out – because cycling and running are easy, right?

“I had also met Karin my partner around this time, too, and she had recently bought a bike, so I thought I’d start cycling with her. 

“Prior to that it was probably eight or nine years since I’d been on a bike and that was to go about with my son Shaun when he was young.

“I was also getting on a bit by then and I thought it was time to find something different from rugby with a bit less impact on my body. At that time, I was still captaining the 2XV at GHA and was finding that my body would hardly be in a fit state to play from one Saturday to the next, let alone do the midweek training. 

“So, I decided it was time to find something different and I chose triathlon.”

At first John enjoyed triathlon because he believed it was a solitary sport. He says: “I had always taken part in team sports – except golf, but that’s an entirely different story! – and I enjoyed the fact that the only person you had to worry about was yourself. 

“However, I would say the reason I enjoy the sport is actually because of the three different disciplines.

“As I get older, the injuries don’t heal as quickly and I have become more injury prone. I enjoy the fact if you pick up an injury that may stop you running, you can usually still swim and cycle.

“I also like the discipline you need to instil in yourself to be able to train for a race if you want to be successful.”

A great decision to join GTC

John reveals that joining GTC has been the best decision he has made in the sport.  He says: “The coaching and encouragement you get from the club is second to none. I’ll never forget all the good luck wishes I got on our Facebook page on the week running up to Ironman Italy. 

“Some of these came from people I had hardly met or even not met yet. It was just amazing.”

It is swimming that John feels he has improved the most since joining GTC. He says: “I couldn’t front crawl more than a length without stopping when I first started. These days,  I don’t know if I’m any faster, but my stroke has definitely improved. 

“I love the Sunday evening Western Baths sessions, although it may not look like it when I’m there!”

John has raced most distances and declares that he doesn’t have a favourite. He said: “I like them all. One of my best experiences with the club was the Monikie Relay last year. It may have only been 25 minutes of activity but I was absolutely knackered at the end. 

“You don’t want to let your team mates down so you don’t take a rest. It was full on. Neebs, Amanda and Isla were fantastic team mates.”

Racing and training

John’s first Ironman is the one he highlights as a stand-out achievement. He says: “It was in Wales in 2016 and it is something I am very proud of. I purposely didn’t join a club as I wanted to say I had achieved it on my own, with support from Karin, of course. 

“I think I was quite naïve when I entered it. The longest distance I had completed was a standard distance triathlon and I actually didn’t  know that Wales had a reputation until after I signed up. I only chose it because I could drive there and it was in September giving me a full year to train.”

When John is facing a tough training session, he reminds himself “it’s not rugby”. He explains: “No matter what session I am in, if I am finding it tough, I just tell myself it’s not rugby training on a cold December evening and you’re not having to do 50 press-ups on the wet, muddy rugby pitch in the lashing rain. I tell myself, just get it done Johnny!”

Lockdown has been a hard shift for many club members and John has seen a reduction in volume. He says: “I’ve restricted my outdoors training to an hour but I think I’ve managed to keep reasonably fit. Garmin Connect currently tells me I have the fitness of a 23-year-old. Believe it or not, I’m probably fitter than I was at 23!

“I’m sticking to outdoor running, some outdoor cycling and I’m loving the Zoom Spin Classes. I hate spin normally, although I’ve never been to a GTC Wednesday Class.”

John has had several of his races for 2020 cancelled. He says: “I was meant to be doing Tranent Sprint in April and I was going to be part of the GTC exodus to Yorkshire for the Yorkshireman Half and I also had a sprint event down near Cambridge in July, which has also been cancelled.

“I lived there for a while when I was a boy and I was planning on visiting again and taking in a wee triathlon at the same time. Hopefully, there will be some kind of movement allowed by then so at least I can visit the area and do some cycling.”

The future in triathlon

John has a few goals for next year. He says: “I want to lose some weight and get fit for next season. I’ve deferred on Tranent, so that will be the first race entered for 2021. I will probably enter a half distance like Aberfeldy and look for some other races in between.”

In the longer-term, John’s triathlon aspirations are to “keep going as long as I can”. He adds: “I’d like to maybe get another Ironman done. I’ve completed two now and both were great events. Wales was fantastic and the crowd are brilliant.

“In Italy last year, the crowd were excellent, too, and it’s a lot less hilly than Wales. If you’re considering a foreign one I’d recommend it. I’d like to give Austria a go because it’s a beautiful part of the world.”

John’s triathlon tips

Join a club: You’ll reap the benefits quickly. I wish I had  done this from the start.

Get an event done as quickly as possible: Don’t wait until you’re “ready” because you’ll be amazed at how completing an event just fuels your enthusiasm for triathlon. My first was the Wee Beastie. It was a 400m swim and half of it I swam breaststroke. I used my old mountain bike that was well beyond it’s “use by” date. But at the end of the event I was totally hooked.

Listen to your body: Sometimes the better option is to do nothing and take a rest, or stop running because your calf is twinging. Your body will thank you for it in the long run.