Born in 1993, heralding from Enfield in the UK and often seen on race day sporting her ‘battle braids’ hairstyle, Lucy Charles-Barclay (or LCB) is a one-of-a-kind athlete.
Often the reason an athlete starts their professional triathlon career in non-drafting middle or full-iron distance events is because their swim is not strong enough for ITU short-course racing. This is not the case for Lucy.
She almost qualified for the 2012 Olympics as an open water swimmer, and finished second over 1,500m at the British Olympic Swimming trials in 2021. Her exceptional swim prowess not only sees her at the front (and often with a significant gap to second) in the water, but also gives her a unique opportunity.
Elite triathletes normally move from short-course onto long-course, not the other way, that is the traditional route. However, rules are there to be broken. Lucy’s ability in the water means she will always be in contention at T1, allowing her to be the exception to the rule if she so chooses. With the swim sorted, the main obstacles to Lucy’s short-course ambitions are likely to be her bike handling and run speed – she has already dispelled many doubters (see below).
It is unfair to label Lucy as simply a strong swimmer. In a race of over eight hours, you cannot win or be on the podium if your trump card is over in the first 50 minutes of the event. She has shown her ability on the bike and run over middle and long distance to be very competitive, and seems to be adding some top-end speed as well. She runs for Orion Harriers and is a keen parkrunner (with a 16.25 Parkrun in 2019), and is frequently in the top-10 female parkrun times in the UK.
Elite success doesn’t come easy though. Lucy is open about the realities of the life of a pro triathlete, and regularly documents her training on her impressive YouTube channel. She often splits her training between the inclement UK and the windy but warm (and very popular amongst triathletes) Lanzarote – where she bases herself out of Club La Santa.
Now a professional World Champion at last after that spectacular IRONMAN 70.3 victory in St George in September 2021, Charles-Barclay then suffered a devastating injury blow in March 2022 when a scan revealed a stress fracture in her left hip.
In her own words that has put the season “on pause” and definitely ruled out both the IRONMAN World Championship at St George in May and her Sub8 attempt in June.
Career record and results
Lucy’s triathlon journey began in 2013, when she signed up for IRONMAN UK and started training. She would subsequently finish second in her Age-Group at Ironman UK 2014 and this was the start of a very steep trajectory.
After impressive Age-Group success in 2015 (including winning her category at both the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship and IRONMAN World Championship in Hawaii), Lucy made the move to get her PRO licence. Her life in the paid ranks started promisingly with third place at IRONMAN Lanzarote, but her debut 2016 season was derailed by a stress fracture. Deciding to go full-time in 2017 (no longer working as a personal trainer) had an immediate impact: Lucy won both IRONMAN Lanzarote 2017 (where she broke the bike course record) and the inaugural Challenge Family The Championship; she finished second at Ironman Frankfurt and, even more impressively, claimed second on her Kona PRO debut behind Daniela Ryf.
Lucy has been exceptionally consistent since then. In both 2018 and 2019 she again finished second in Kona, retained her Challenge The Championship title, and won the IRONMAN African Championship. In addition, she showed promise at the shorter 70.3 distance by winning IRONMAN 70.3 Staffordshire 2019 and following this up later in the year with a stellar fifth place at the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships in Nice, France. That was achieved despite a five-minute penalty on the bike course.
The above results and performances are all very impressive, but for many it is her foray into short-course racing which has been particularly explosive. First, there was her appearance at the Super League Triathlon Arena Games London 2021. Surely for someone accustomed to racing for eight hours, a sequence of races consisting of a 200m swim, 4km bike, and 1km run would be a step too far for Lucy? Wrong. She bested some very impressive competition in finishing second behind Beth Potter.
If there had been any doubts about her short-course aptitude, and whether qualification for Paris 2024 is conceivable, her appearance at the Olympic distance WTCS Leeds 2021 dispelled them. As expected, Lucy was at the front and in the mix at the end of the swim. Along with Taylor Spivey and Vittoria Lopes, she lost contact with the front three athletes on the bike, but was seen animating the race and working on the front of her group. So far, very good and as some may have predicted. The biggest question was how would Lucy fare on the run? She showed that her run is certainly moving in the right direction. Her 35.07 for 10k helped her finish in a superb fifth place. Think that’s impressive? She had less than two weeks’ notice that she would be racing!
A one-off race may not be representative of Lucy’s standing in short-course racing. However, she also took part in another ITU-draft legal race at the end of 2021, at the sprint distance WTCS Abu Dhabi where she finished a creditable 12th in a stacked field.
Based on her short-course performances to date, LCB can certainly be a contender to qualify to represent Great Britain at Paris 2024. However, she will need to develop her bike handling and peak power, especially on tight technical courses, to make the most of her swim prowess. The other major stumbling block is the exceptional level of competition within the female GB team.
IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship 2021
Up until 2021, the only thing that was really missing from Lucy’s list of achievements was a professional world title. Her performance at the 2021 IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship in St. George, USA was so dominant it left no doubt as to her status.
Charles-Barclay led from gun to tape, producing the fast swim, bike, and run. Her winning margin was substantial, over eight minutes, against a stacked field which included 2016 70.3 World Champion Holly Lawrence, five-time World Champion Daniela Ryf, short-course sensation Taylor Knibb, Aussie Ellie Salthouse, and fellow Brit Emma Pallant-Browne.
The swim went to plan, with a lead of circa 1.30 mins. On the bike, LCB rode to heart rate and feel rather than to power and it worked well as she entered T2 with a six-minute gap to second. Lucy’s run is becoming a weapon to attack with, rather than simply damage limitation. This was reiterated by her being the only athlete to go sub-80 minutes for the half-marathon, and improving her winning margin by a further tw0 minutes. It was truly one of the most complete performances in the history of the sport.
Lucy Charles-Barclay and family
Lucy met her partner Reece in 2011 at the Hatfield Elite Swim Squad, and they married in December 2018. Reece is also a PRO triathlete and he has had multiple top-10 finishes with his biggest results being eighth at Challenge Daytona 2019 and fifth at IRONMAN Emilia-Romagna, Italy in 2018.
Reece is not only Lucy’s husband, he is also her coach and training partner. However, he might not be Lucy’s favoured training partner, this position is likely to be held by their Jack Russell, Lola, who seems to steal the show in any picture she is in! During 2021 Lucy and Reece also added Dan Lorang, the highly regarded coach of both Jan Frodeno and Anne Haug, to their team.
Lucy’s success is very much a family affair. If you follow her on Instagram and YouTube, you will have seen some of the work of her sister Holly – who is an accomplished photographer and videographer. Holly also took part in her first triathlon as an adult at the London Triathlon 2021.
Lucy Charles-Barclay and Sub8
If you were thinking of putting together a project to push the boundaries of what is humanly possible in long-course triathlon, Lucy Charles-Barclay would be one of the, if not ‘the’ first name on your start sheet.
And that was the plan for summer 2022, with herself and Swiss athlete Nicola Spirig part of the Pho3nix Sub8 project and endeavouring to go under eight hours for a full-iron distance event (3.8km swim/180km bike/42km run). Alistair Brownlee and Kristian Blummenfelt meanwhile are aiming to go sub-7 hours.
To put the challenge into perspective, Chrissie Wellington’s best time at a full iron-distance race was 8:18:13 at Challenge Roth in 2011. Lucy’s best time is 8:31:09, also at Roth, in 2019.
Unfortunately that hip injury means she has had to rule herself out.
Lucy Charles-Barclay gear
It probably isn’t a surprise. The combination of being the first out of the water in nearly every race you do, and consistently winning or being on the podium, has made Lucy Charles-Barclay one of the most popular and marketable triathletes in the world.
Red Bull have a reputation of supporting some of most eye-catching athletes. LCB is one such athlete and she is regularly seen donning a Red Bull-branded headband, baseball cap, or a bike helmet with the brand’s cool livery.
In 2021 Lucy changed her bike sponsor, moving to German brand Cube and it appears to be a relationship which is going well. In addition to some great performances on two wheels, Lucy has a special pink paint job on her road bike.
Pink is certainly a theme for LCB, and she can often be spotted in a pink cycling gear. Her cycling kit is supplied by Scottish brand Endura, who she has collaborated with to create several colourful clothing choices.
Another key kit choice for Lucy is her wetsuit and swimsuit provider. She opts for American brand Roka, popular amongst elite triathletes (including Flora Duffy and Katie Zaferes), and its top of the range Maverick X2 wetsuit.