Athlete interview : Mack Grenfell, Advertising Director

We caught up with Mack Grenfell, 23, director in advertising, last week to discuss his training. He spent 4 years studying Physics and Philosophy at University of Oxford. He rowed for University College Boat Club first crew while there but after finishing University he decided to stop rowing, instead devoting himself to other sporting goals. We met him to discuss his preparation in the lead up to his next big event – a full Ironman.

Where and when are you competing?

The competition will take place on 3rd of August, in Estonia, more particularly in Tallinn. I have never been to Estonia before, so it will be fun to see what it’s like.

Have you done an Ironman before?

I have done a half ironman which was last year in Staffordshire, England. But I have never done the full event.

What made you decide to participate in this race?

I thought it was a ridiculous idea initially! Fundamentally I am a goal oriented person, so if I don’t have a goal to work towards I really struggle to motivate myself. At University it was easier because you had the big races at the end of the year and that’s always your motivation.

When you are in London you are working, you are on your own, you need to find your own motivation. For me an Ironman was a really tough goal so it forces me to put the hours in and train.

What is your ultimate goal for the full Ironman?

I haven’t really thought too much about overall goals – I just don’t know what to set as a time goal. Obviously finishing it will be some sort of a goal, I think if I can come in around 12-13 hour mark it would be nice. It’s so hard to say though when it is that far in advance. Swim and cycle will be long, but if I can do the run in a decent marathon time I will be happy.

Have you started training already?

I started training around November but more seriously since mid January. I started getting back into using Strava and Wattson Blue app to get a bit more visibility into how my training is going and be able to track and record my progress.

What does a typical training week look like?

If I don’t have a race at the weekend – I generally look for a target form in Wattson Blue in order to make sure I progress at a good long term rate. For me this means running to work two to three times. I might also take a slightly longer 10-15km route. I also try to go swimming one day a week – usually two to three kilometers. Now that it is light outside I might try and get a cycle in before work – not too far though! At the weekends I try and go a lot harder as I have more time. Or sometimes it is nice to have a longer relaxing cycle to get the miles in without putting too much stress on the body.

How do you expect this to change in the next few months?

I expect it’s going to get more painful. I don’t think it’s going to change much in terms of sort of exercise I am doing, but the main thing is going to be volume – scaling it up and managing that around work and social life. I think as it gets closer to the race I am going to try and do more sprint sessions, anaerobic sessions and try to get that extra bit of speed into my training.

Are you training on your own? Or do you train with friends?

I am training entirely on my own. I don’t have any friends.

[Wattson Blue: we think Mack is joking here, but not 100% sure]

Do you have a coach?

Other than Ali, no.

[Wattson Blue: Mack is definitely joking here.]

We know recovery plays a huge part in training response and performance, how are you finding balancing training with your work and life commitments to make sure you get enough recovery and rest?

The key has to be sleep. I find myself prioritising sleep over other things now that I am doing more training. Sometimes there is a little bit of conflict between having to leave a social event earlier, or planning what I do in the evenings around based on my sleep. But I find if I can get eight hours of sleep a night then there is never any problems. Preferably the more sleep the better though!

I heard that you are using Wattson blue app, how are you finding using Wattson Blue?

I think it’s really interesting and very different to a lot of things that are out there. There are three parts that I look at.  First is the metrics you complete every morning which then allows you to look at your long term history, and see how different metrics correlate with training and so on. Or perhaps I can use it to diagnose why I am feeling stressed, and how things are generally in my personal life. Second, I find looking at some of the longer term heart rate metrics also interesting. I have been using the metrics for the past two months, which maybe a bit too short to see, but I am hoping long term I will be able to see resting HR go down and HRV might increase a little. The third way that I use the app is a way of tracking all the data that comes from my training. I particularly like that Wattson Blue consolidates all the training load or training stress score from all the different activities that I train in. For example, if I am running or cycling I will strap a HR monitor on and hook up to Strava, do the activity and feed that back into Wattson Blue. If I am swimming I just upload that into Wattson Blue manually.

In order to prepare for this Ironman, are you following a special nutrition plan?

I definitely should be. I will later on but not at the moment.

Do you have a favourite post workout snack?

I do a lot of my exercises in the morning often running to work so as soon as I get into work I make myself a protein shake as soon as possible – I think it helps with recovery. If it’s on the weekend probably whatever snack is closest to me.

Has your lifestyle changed? Or do you expect it to change in the coming months?

I think it has changed a little bit. As I mentioned earlier the volume of training required does put some pressure on both work and social life. It’s difficult to say how that will change in the next few months but I think getting a balance will become increasingly important.

How does your work affect your training?

It currently doesn’t affect it too much. I think I am able to manage my work pretty well, so I don’t have many major stresses from that. It’s pretty helpful that we have showers at work so I can train really easily in the mornings and be ready for work on time. I am also lucky to have quite flexible work hours which means I can do longer run in the morning.

Do you use any other apps to monitor your training or recovery except Wattson Blue and Strava ?

No – I use Strava to record my running and cycling activities. As soon as the activity is completed on Strava, Wattson Blue automatically pulls in the data, so it’s really easy to use Strava to record my activities and then Wattson Blue to make the analysis.

Between swimming, cycling and running, what is your favourite sport?

That is a tough one…. I grew up more as a cyclist and that’s still where my heart is. I think since I really started training in November I have been doing a lot more running – its efficient and easy to get a good run in. I am not sure what my favourite is between cycling and running – but I know it’s definitely not swimming!

Do you regularly do any tests to monitor your fitness?

I don’t do as much as I should. I have done a few sprint duathlons at the Olympic Park to get a better big picture on my year on year view. I did them last year so I have a good baseline to compare against.  

Are you feeling nervous about the race?

I am feeling nervous about the swim –  I am not really comfortable with swimming. My view is that if I can survive the swim and I don’t have to be pulled out of the water then I can do the rest fine.

What has been your favourite athletic achievement so far?

I think either rowing in summer eights back at University with crews from all colleges competing in bumps racing, and being able to compete with friends year after year was just amazing! But also getting across the finish line of the half ironman in Staffordshire last year.

Do you have a sporting hero?

Obviously Ali Cigari who works at the start up Wattson Blue! He still has to compete in a Duathlon. He is my sporting hero because even in his old age he is still just so fast – it’s unbelievable….

If you could go back a year, and give yourself advice what would it be?

I think it would be to really focus on monitoring and tracking what you do. By exercising you are generating so much data that you can use in a number of ways and there is no real cost for you to use Strava and Wattson Blue together to pull all that date in. Not just because it gives you a lot of insight in terms of how you are performing, but it is also very motivating to see that level of data about yourself. It allows you to make micro goals to work towards.

Are you going to get an Ironman Tattoo to celebrate finishing the race?

Absolutely not. I think it’s peak capitalism that you pay to have a company’s logo branded on your leg.

(Interview by Caroline Munier, February 26, 2019)