Woman reveals she's burning 3,500 calories every day

What it takes to be an ironwoman! From 5am starts to burning 3,500 calories a day and working out in a heated ‘pain cave’, triathlete reveals her bid to become the first woman to complete an Ironman in under 8 hours

  • Lucy Charles-Barclay, 27, from Essex, is training for the Ironman triathlon in 2022
  • Aims to become the first woman to complete competition in under eight hours
  • Reveals she burns 3,500 calories and eats high-carb meals for energy everyday  

IT is 9am in Chingford, a leafy suburb in Essex.

The locals are only just clambering out of their beds to start the weekend but in her ‘pain cave’, Lucy Charles-Barclay is getting ready for her second workout of the day.

Her mini Jack Russell terrier Lola will be dutifully joining Lucy and her husband Reece for their scheduled 11 mile Saturday training run through Epping Forest, legs going ten to the dozen.

‘She’s a Duracell bunny,’ Lucy tells me, ‘I don’t know how she does it.’

In fact, I’m thinking the exact same thing about Lucy.

Lucy, 27, is an Ironman. That is, her chosen sport is a race which involves swimming 2.4miles, cycling 112 miles and running a marathon, back to back.

Lucy Charles-Barclay, 27, (pictured) who lives in Chingford, Essex, is training to become the first woman to complete the Ironman triathlon in under eight hours

It’s one of the most hardcore tests of human endurance there is and comes with associated stories of medical horrors and bleeding competitors crawling over the finish line.

The average time it takes to complete is 12 and a half hours.

But Lucy is hoping to achieve something that no other woman has ever achieved in the world before – by completing the Ironman triathlon in under eight hours.

She announced her intention last month to shave just over 18 minutes off the current women’s record of 8:18.13 and become the first woman to go ‘Sub-8’ in the longer form of the triathlon.

The landmark sporting challenge will take place in Spring 2022 and will give Lucy the chance to go down in Ironman history – and put her well and truly at the top of her game.

‘I’ve always been in search for the hardest challenge and where my limits are and how quick I can go over a certain distance,’ Lucy says.

‘That’s why this challenge appeals to me so much because I’m going to get the opportunity to see just how fast I can go over 140 miles.

‘It motivates me each day – I need to be the fastest I’ve ever swam, the fastest I’ve ever biked and the fastest I’ve ever run all in one day.’

Lucy (pictured) revealed her day starts at 5am, with a breakfast followed by a swim and another breakfast before a gym workout 

This real life British superwoman’s training and dedication to her sport is beyond admirable, but quite frankly, I find even listening to her schedule exhausting.

Lucy’s morning alarm rings at 5am when she jumps out of bed to wolf down her first breakfast of the day which usually consists of porridge or peanut butter on bagels with banana.

She then heads out for a morning swim with her husband Reece – either in her endless swimming pool or at the London Aquatic Centre in Stratford which she has now been granted access to.

After her swim, Lucy returns home for her second breakfast which is normally poached eggs and avocado on toast.

Typically, Lucy will then have a run or a bike session in the middle of the day and – if she feels like it – she will finish the day with a cycle, run or strength session.

She’ll have a high-carb dinner of either pasta or rice and on the rare occasion will treat herself to a curry or pizza.

‘We obviously eat quite a lot because we burn a lot of calories,’ Lucy says.

‘There’s quite a lot of carbs because we need that energy supply and we also eat quite a high-fat diet because a lot of the training we do we’re working in that fat burning zone.

‘On a run session we might burn 1,000 calories and if we’re doing a two-three hour bike session it might be another 2,000 calories so we’re already burning more on two sessions than your recommended allowance.’

Lucy (pictured) burns more than 3,500 calories a day with her brutal routine, ensuring that she trains a minimum of 20 hours a week

Unlike most of us who stay up until 11pm binge-watching the latest Netflix shows, Lucy heads to bed at 9pm so she can start a-fresh the next day.

Lucy repeats her brutal routine every day, seven days a week and will burn more than 3,500 calories in one day alone from her intense swim, bike and run sessions.

‘A normal week of training is a minimum of 20 hours when we’re just kind of ticking over and when we’re getting in to racing we will reach 30 hours or more of training a week,’ she says.

And while Lucy does struggle some days to get out of bed like the rest of us, it’s rare she will ever miss a training session.

‘We are all human and there are days I’m just so tired where it just takes me a lot longer to start my day,’ she adds.

‘But I’ll eventually always do it or I’ll just switch my sessions around so I have done something with the day.’

It may sound a tad extreme, but if Lucy’s going push the limits of human performance and smash the current female time for the ironman distance triathlon this is the only way to do it.

The Ironman triathlon hasn’t been dubbed the toughest race in the world for no reason.

It’s four times longer than the version of the triathlon that is raced at the Olympics.

The Tour de France may cover more miles, and there are longer races, such as the six-day Marathon des Sables across the Sahara desert, but in terms of sheer bloody-minded endurance it is an event that takes some beating.

Lucy (pictured) decided to do an Ironman after missing competing when she took a marketing job at Paradise Wildlife Park

But Lucy is more than well equipped to take on the challenge, and indeed her competitive streak has been in her blood ever since she was little.

‘Ever since I was young I’ve always been searching for what the hardest sporting event is,’ Lucy says.

Her sister Holly, who is also her publicist and photographer, recalls races and competitions as children.

‘When we were quite young we would make up a list of challenges for the summer holidays and whoever completed the most would win,’ she says.

‘We also used to get very competitive playing board games and video games as kids – but I think this is the only time I’ve ever beat her at something.’

Lucy started her sporting career when she was eight-years-old when she launched her bid to make the Team GB swim team for the London 2012 Olympics – but missed out on a spot.

Following the heartbreak, Lucy started a job in marketing at Paradise Wildlife Park, a zoo in Hertfordshire where Lucy’s parents had their wedding reception.

And despite being able to feed the lions and penguins, Lucy quickly started to miss competing and signed up for her first Ironman.

‘I missed that dedication of training for something, I missed racing so much – that was the biggest thing,’ Lucy says.

‘We decided that doing an Ironman was what we were going to do, it was completely crazy.

‘We’d heard a little bit about it but didn’t know much – we thought we could use a mountain bike to do the bike leg and soon learnt that would be impossible.

‘It was a steep learning curve but we just enjoyed the journey and all we wanted to do was finish.’

Lucy (pictured) and her husband Reece train in her father-in-law’s garden, where a ‘pain cave’ has been set up with workout machines

Lucy became hooked after her first Ironman in Bolton and the rest is history.

However, it’s not just Lucy’s sheer determination that drives her on, she also has a secret weapon in the form of her ‘pain cave’.

Just 250 metres down the road from Lucy and her husband Reece’s house in Chingford lies a wooden outbuilding at the bottom of her father-in-law’s garden.

It’s here that 90 per cent of Lucy’s rigorous training takes place.

Dean Barclay’s shed, which he built in the Eighties, has been lovingly dubbed the ‘pain cave’ and it is now the nerve centre for Lucy’s quest to beat the female Ironman world record.

‘We have the dream set up at the in-laws house that we can use for swim bike and run,’ Lucy says.

‘It used to be just spit and sawdust, with a real old boxing vibe gym, but we’ve done it up now and we love it in there.

‘We feel really lucky that we’ve got our own little cave where we can go away and train – no one can see us in there and we get the job done really.’

On entering the pain cave, the first thing that strikes you is the sheer amount of equipment.

There’s a boxing ring in the centre, which was used by Reece’s father when he was a professional boxer, and there are racing bikes hanging from the ceiling.

At one end of the ‘cave’ there’s a cardio area which consists of treadmills, a cross-trainer and turbo trainers that work by turning a normal bike into a static exercise machine.

Lucy (pictured) admits she doesn’t have much time for socialising because she’s busy training, eating and recovering 

And if that wasn’t enough there’s a weights section too which contains squat racks, a leg press and countless dumbbells.

The walls are adorned with heroic photos of Lucy and Reece taking part in various Ironman competitions and ‘#TeamCharlesBarclay’ in bold writing.

One of the couple’s friends has also installed a state-of-the-art lighting system in the cave which allows Lucy and Reece to change the lighting to different colours depending on their mood.

‘There’s something like 16 million colours that we can select for different areas of the pain cave,’ Lucy explains.

‘I found that the red light actually makes it feel hotter so I sometimes make it blue to trick my mind into thinking it’s cooler.’

On top of this, the pain cave has heaters and humidifiers so they can add to the illusion of Hawaiian heat – where the Ironman world championships take place every year.

At the other end of the pain cave is an endless pool, which costs £40,000 on average.

It works like a swimming treadmill and has propellers which create a current, allowing Lucy to swim in the same place without the need to turn.

Indeed, Lucy has little time for socialising.

‘There’s not a lot else we do when we’re training – it’s training, recovering, eating, training, recovering, eating – there’s not time for much else,’ Lucy admits.

And when Lucy does have time to catch up with friends it’s done in the pain cave, too.

Lucy (pictured) who has a secret obsession with Louboutin heels, said she would run a marathon in them for a sponsorship deal

While most 20-somethings are socialising through Facetime and Zoom in lockdown, Lucy connects with her friends in a virtual world called Watopia through an app called Zwift.

Zwift is a training game that enables users to link their bikes up to their computer, iPad, or phone, letting them ride with other cyclists in a virtual environment.

‘It’s quite like gaming – we all have headsets on and talk to each other while we cycle courses that can last up to six hours,’ Lucy reveals.

‘It’s a great training session and it’s a bit of a race as well so it’s a win-win really.’

Despite this, Lucy does occasionally find time to do what the majority of 20-something women love doing – online shopping.

While the majority of Lucy’s time is spent in her cycling cleats or Nike trainers, she does have a secret obsession with Louboutin heels.

‘I’ll admit I often find myself browsing the Louboutin website but stopping myself from buying,’ Lucy says.

‘But I would happily run a marathon in them if it meant I could get a sponsorship deal,’ Lucy quips.

Lucy certainly has a glamorous side, she always looks effortlessly stylish in her running gear – which I got to see first-hand when I joined her for a four mile, socially distanced run around Chingford.

Lucy was treated like a local celebrity on our run, with dog walkers and shops owners greeting Lucy with a wave and a ‘good morning’ as we ran by.

‘I think they all just think Reece and I are the mad couple that spend our lives out running and on our bikes,’ Lucy jokes.

When we eventually finished our muddy run, I was bright red in the face while Lucy looked like she’d gone for nothing but a short stroll in the park.

Lucy (pictured) married fellow professional triathlete Reece, six years after they met through swimming

In fact, Lucy has earnt the nickname ‘the mermaid’ in the triathlon world – not just for her gorgeous good-looks but also due to how incredibly talented at swimming she is.

While the women typically set off after the men in the Ironman, Lucy – in her pink swim cap – can often be seen joining and overtaking the men – in their blue caps.

One of Lucy’s sponsors even made Lucy and Reece a huge vodka luge in the shape of a mermaid for their wedding, in tribute to her nickname.

‘Reece and I always knew we wanted a vodka luge at our wedding, so when Red Bull offered to have a mermaid one made for us it was perfect,’ Lucy says.

‘I’m known as the mermaid in the triathlon world because of my swimming background, so I love anything mermaid themed.’

Lucy tied the knot to Reece – who is also a professional triathlete – in December 2018 after meeting six years earlier through swimming.

The triathlon-mad couple even went for an 18 mile run the morning after their big day.

‘I mean, going for a run the morning after our wedding pretty much sums us up,’ Lucy says.

‘One of Reece’s ushers, Adam, and the wedding photographer joined us, and I still had my wedding hair-do in.’

Indeed, the couple’s whole life is centred around the Ironman competition.

When they aren’t training themselves, they’re teaching other aspiring Ironman athletes – and Lucy has people queueing up to have her as her coach.

Reece is also Lucy’s coach and as she says, ‘he’s involved a lot in the science side of things – the nutrition and bringing in the experts on things like aerodynamics and he sets the training plans, pace and strategy.’

Lucy’s Ironman career is certainly a family business.

Lucy’s sister Holly is her photographer and publicist and travels around the world with Lucy to her Ironman competitions in the likes of South Africa, Lanzarote and Frankfurt.

Lucy revealed her personal best for ironman is eight hours, 31 minutes and nine seconds. Pictured: Lucy and writer Lucy Jones

One look at Lucy’s Instagram page and you can see just how much she’s travelled the world.

But it’s not all glamour, as Lucy admits she spent some of lockdown weight-lifting dog food.

‘In lockdown we wanted to experiment and see how we can do our strength training with minimal equipment,’ Lucy says.

‘We had a big sack of Lola’s dog food that we were putting on our backs and squatting with and we tried bench pressing cans of baked beans and seeing how many reps we could do.’

Lucy certainly can’t take anything for granted now she has her sub-eight hour Ironman challenge on the horizon.

She also has her rival in her sights – Swiss Ironman beast Nicola Spirig who will also be trying to smash the record next March.

Nicola, 39, is formidable when it comes to triathlons and is the 2012 Olympic and six times European champion in women’s triathlon.

The closest anyone has got to sub-eight has been by four-time world champion Chrissie Wellington, who completed the challenge in eight hours, 18 minutes and 13 seconds almost 10 years ago.

Lucy’s personal best for ironman is eight hours, 31 minutes and nine seconds.

But Lucy, who has finished second in the last three Ironman World Championships, is certain she can shave off over half an hour.

And she believes she can defeat Nicola and even take on the men’s fastest time when she takes on the challenge in March 2022.

‘I honestly believe it’s doable but everything has to go perfectly which in a race that long, so much can go wrong and I’ve experienced it before,’ she says.

Lucy said she has respect for individuals who train for an Ironman competition while juggling a full time job. Pictured: Lucy with writer Lucy Jones

‘But I believe it’s doable. And I think the fastest men’s time is seven hours and 35 minutes so if on the day I’m feeling good and know I can get under that eight hours I might push on and see if I can beat that fastest men’s time.’

Britain’s double Olympic champion Alistair Brownlee and Kristian Blummenfelt of Norway will also attempt to go under seven hours for the same distance for the men.

As near-impossible challenges go, Lucy’s sub eight-hour Ironman is up there with Eliud Kipchoge’s successful sub-two-hour marathon attempt in 2019.

And Lucy says she will be borrowing some of the Kenyan’s methods.

‘I’ll probably wear the same Nike Vaporfly that Kipchoge wore for his sub-two hour marathon. Whenever I put them on I feel like I’m flying,’ she says.

The challenge is being backed by The Pho3nix Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation that provides young people with opportunities through sport.

A venue has yet to be chosen for Lucy’s attempt but the Formula 1 race tracks in Montreal, Canada and Daytona, Florida are being considered.

Next month, another challenge will be thrown into Lucy’s already busy schedule.

She’s planning on heading to the Formula 1 circuit at Silverstone to go on her bike in the wind tunnels, which is normally used by companies like Mercedes for developing their cars.

She will be putting her new bike from her sponsors cube through its paces to make sure it’s as aerodynamic as possible for her sub-8 challenge.

While challenges like this seem to be reserved for elite athletes like Lucy with nothing else on their schedules, this simply isn’t the case.

The challenge is taking off with more and more average Joes wanting to push their bodies to the extreme.

Even my 55-year-old father, who works full time as an accountant, has completed three Ironman competitions each in around 11 hours.

Lucy says she has even more respect for individuals who train for an Ironman competition while juggling a full time job.

‘While I was working at the zoo I was training for my first Ironman as well so I know what it’s like to have a full-time job and train for an Ironman.

‘Physically it’s really tough but mentally it’s even harder to keep yourself focused for that long.

‘I feel fortunate that normally I race over eight or nine hours so I have to stay focused for that long but then hats off to the age-groupers who keep themselves focused and out there for even longer.

‘It’s incredible – you have up to 17 hours to complete it and when I see people still going then I think ‘fair play that is just some dedication’.’

Lucy suggests I should give the Ironman a go one day, but even just talking about the challenge leaves me exhausted.

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