I joined James' Optima set up at the end of 2013 after moving down to London. I was initially hesitant about turning up to the sessions. From the outside James' coaching group looked like a very professional outfit and I was unsure that I was the right caliber of athlete, having only done a handful of triathlons and 10k races. It became clear pretty quickly that I had made a good decision. James maintains a coaching environment in which it is an athlete's attitude rather than their ability that is the most important factor. It didn't take long under James coaching for me to start believing that it might be possible to compete at a higher level than I had considered myself capable. James knows how to push an athlete's buttons but compliments this in equal measure with deep technical knowledge. In the two years that James has been coaching me my running technique has been completely transformed (I think my swimming technique might be beyond even James' expertise). I have picked up so much in the two years of James' coaching. I look back at the training I was doing before I joined the Optima set up and cringe a little bit.
Until I met James I was a self-coached triathlete with 4 ironman races under my belt, including one trip to Kona in 2005 and one sub-10 hour time (9:55 at Ironman Austria in July 2007). I was proud of those achievements, but thought I had probably got myself about as fast as I could be at ironman triathlon and therefore wondered whether or not I would continue with it. Over the past three years with Optima however I have improved significantly every season, taking my best ironman times down first to 9:42 (Switzerland , 2008), then 9:28 (Switzerland, 2009) and then to 9:09 (IM Western Australia, 2010), along the way knocking 4 minutes off my previous best ironman swim time (to 57 minutes), more than 20 minutes off my bike split (to 4 hours 53) and 13 minutes off my ironman run split (to 3 hours 10). I have also qualified for Hawaii every year and have progressed from making up the numbers there in 2005 to feeling that I have a genuine shot at the podium in my age group (finishing 19th in 2008, 21st in 2009 and 14th in 2010, when I also finished in under 9 hours 30, a time I would not have believed possible for me three years ago).
Thanks to James’ input and to the quality of the other athletes I get to train with as part of Optima I am convinced that there are further improvements still to come, even though I am now in my mid-40’s and could be expected to be slowing down rather than getting faster.
On a technical level James took me right back to basics with my running and converted me from heel striking to forefoot running. This was a process that I found very difficult at first (mentally as much as physically, as the run was already my strongest discipline and I took some convincing that such a big change was sensible or necessary), but it has paid dividends and has contributed substantially to my triathlon achievements over the last few years and has given me a huge amount of confidence in my ability to make up places towards the end of races.
Having raced as a junior elite at World Championship level, I approached James at the end of 2009 (aged 28) after a lengthy lay off from triathlon with view to getting back into things and with the goal of a podium at World Age Group Champs the following year. I had done triathlon for many years but had never had a triathlon coach. I had relied on individual discipline coaches for my swimming and running and later on had just become self coached due to a pressurised law career.
What initially attracted me to joining James and Optima was the location of all of the sessions in South West London, the group training environment as well as the small, specialised nature of Optima’s set up.
In a very short space of time James took me under his wing and developed me into a vastly improved triathlete. So much better in fact that we decided to by pass the Age Group World Champs goal and head straight onto the ITU elite circuit to compete with all the very best triathletes in the world.
How did he do this/how is he doing this?
It is difficult to teach ‘an old dog new tricks’ but after some careful analysis James pinpointed the weaknesses and challenges that I would need to overcome in each 3 discipline and how we would put those into practice. Given the small group training environment James was the able to continuously assess me and I was not left to my own devices for things to fall apart. James’s attention to detail and technical expertise sets him way above any equivalent coach in the London region. It can be extremely frustrating trying to change technical aspects of a discipline but James’s tenacity and ever continuous encouragement made it all that easier.
James is energetic and innovative and not afraid to lead from the front and put into practise new methods and skills that he has clearly researched. This cutting edge approach again sets him way above his coaching peers.
James has a structured program where we are able to train as a group and push one another, all whilst under his watchful eye and encouragement. I have found this environment a very productive one to train and improve in. His enthusiasm and love of triathlon is clearly evident in his coaching.
James is also unselfish and reliable and has bent over backwards to help me get to where I am today. James and I continue to work successfully with each other and I look forward to sharing even more personal achievements and successes with him in the years to come.
See Gill's ITU results here.
Road to Rio Blog Series
Read Gill's Road to Rio blog series to follow her journey to see if she'll make the Rio 2016 Olympics.
James Beckinsale has helped me to unlock my potential, through his knowledgeable and intelligent approach to training and technique, and his excellent motivational skills. Before I started training under James 2 years ago, I had reached a plateau. I was getting good results (multiple top 10 places at major championships), but I knew I could achieve more with the right support, and I had an ambition of winning an international medal. With James’ support, after two seasons of continuous and significant improvements in my performance, I achieved that goal in 2010, winning the bronze medal in my age group at the EuropeanDuathlon Championships, and enjoying the experience of leading the race onto the final run.
Results 40-44 AG:
2011 National Duathlon Champs, 1st
2010 ETU European Duathlon Champs, Nancy, 3rd
2009 ETU European Duathlon Champs, Budapest, 5th
2009 ITU World Duathlon Champs, Concorde, USA, 4th
James was formerly in the Army and, as well as being a boxer, he developed a passion for triathlon; setting up his own club in 2000 in order to give his athletes the kind of personal coaching he believed would really make a difference. James’ club Optima Racing Team continues to grow and thrive but the numbers remain largely the same. It’s in performance, culture and esteem where the impact has been seen. James has coached multiple age group winners, some of best junior elites in the country and taken one of his athletes to the Olympics. This is merely the tip of the iceberg. I cannot think of anyone in the club whose performance and confidence has not improved immeasurably under his coaching.
I once asked James what he wanted to achieve and his response shows exactly what makes him tick – he wants to be on the side of the track with a stop watch, still coaching his athletes when he’s old and grey.
That vision has not altered and I doubt it ever will. What makes James a great coach is his ability to change and progress in the way his athletes’ performances must too. He’s a sponge for information, seeks advice with humility and then mixes it all up and makes ideas his own – testing these theories on his athletes with their total trust and commitment. He is never satisfied and knows that what is working now will only work for so long, making experimentation and occasional failure absolutely fine too. It’s about being in the moment and always trying to better. He’s always one step ahead and it’s great to have someone like that when you want to get better. It breeds a high performance culture as well as generating the trust you need when you are hurting in training. You know it works. You have to trust your coach.
What is more remarkable is that James is able to do this with people of any age and ability. The club has a thriving junior section and James is also responsible for high performance junior triathletes across the London region. He is able to push and apply just enough pressure, but never too much – critical with younger athletes where there are significant drop outs as they hit their mid-teens. With any athlete it’s about helping them to work things out for themselves. He doesn’t give you answers but he does give you the tools to ask the right questions of him and of yourself. You work it out and it sticks. You work it out and you own it. It’s much more of a revelation that way and it makes all the difference. You become equipped to deal with things in the pressure of competition or in life, in a similar way to a boxer alone in the ring or a soldier at war.
I admire James for his passion, his relentless learning, his philosophy towards life, but mostly for the successes and dreams he has helped others to reach and to feel they have truly owned. They would always thank him first but it’s really their achievement and he would be the first person to say it. When the successes come, there’s always the ‘what’s next?’ and there is always something more that James can help you learn about both your performance and yourself.
What will stay the same is the vision of the man who did what he loved and who loved achieving with others – old, happy and at the track with his athletes. To help so many people reach levels they could never have possibly imagined is something to feel very proud about. Few can say they played a part in so many people’s greatest moments; fewer still could do it with such humility.
If you’re interested in coaching or performance then the following articles may provide you with some inspiration....
I met James and Emma for the first time in March 2010. It was a rainy Saturday morning in Richmond Park and I was there for my first proper run. I was a swimmer before and having done good at an Aquathlon, I decided to try running and maybe get into Triathlon a bit later. However, it didn’t start very well: just 5km were enough to kill me. Nevertheless, I came back for the next session and I didn’t give up – so James didn’t give up on me and taught me how to run properly.
I made good progress and at the end of summer and after having done several Aquathlons, I was selected to represent the London region at the Interregional Triathlon Championships. There was just one problem: never having ridden a roadbike before, I only had seven weeks to get fit on the bike. While James pushed my motivation and self confidence to get this done, it was Emma who understood my concerns and spent a lot of time to teach me the “mysteries” of cycling. After those seven weeks, and some minor crashes, I was ready for the IRCs and achieved a very good 15. place.
James is an amazing coach. He knows what is going on in your head, he knows when it hurts and he has always an open ear if it is about fitting training sessions around school or solving any other problems that might come up. In addition, he has taught me how to have fun while training hard, that the key to success is to never give up and that pain is just weakness leaving the body.