Just, wow. Syros. Tri Training Harder. Mind-blown.
Jaime joined us in Greece for our Syros training camp. Below, she gives her open and honest review of her experiences and gives advice on travelling as well as top Greek phrases that helped her get through the week! You can also see another previous guest’s review here.
This is a self-initiated piece I wanted to write to advocate for Tri Training Harder (TTH) and preserve precious memories. I hope my experience with TTH will provide you with inspiration and motivation to take your triathlon development to the next level. More importantly, for anyone new to TTH and has doubt about the team, I want to tell you how awesome these guys truly are.
I cannot speak higher of the thoughtful communication from TTH I had received between when I first expressed interest in the camp (early 2018) and the day I set off (June 2019). The team was always ready to help, from online registration set-up to travel tips, I felt taken care of even before the camp official commenced. The excellent communication was the main reason why I felt comfortable spending a week with a coach (Philip Hatzis) who I had never met in person, in a country I had never visited and undertaking a type of holiday I had never experienced. In the end, my seemingly high-risk investment paid dividend.
The journey from London to Syros was a challenge in itself: a taxi from home to the airport (with a bike box the size of a baby elephant, the tube was quickly ruled out); a flight from Heathrow to Athens; a bus from Athens to Piraeus ferry port; a ferry from Athens to Syros; a taxi from Syros port to Airbnb (a 5-minute journey, but walking up the Syros hills with a baby elephant in hand seemed mission impossible after 13 hours of travelling).
Here are a few travel tips from my own experience:
Try to book an overnight flight, so you land at Athens airport before Dawn. You can then take the bus X96 right outside the airport for 6 EUR, which will take you directly to the Piraeus port (~1.5hr).
I took the 7am World Championship ferry by the ferry company “Seajets”. It was the first and quickest ferry of the day, which means it is less crowded and twice quicker than some later, slower ferries. Boarding started around 6am so I had plenty of time to store my luggage and start my much-needed nap.
June wasn’t the peak season for travelling in Greece, so I didn’t book ferry tickets in advance and instead bought them at Seajets’ counter in Gate E9 of the port. I had heard that you have to pick up the physical ticket from the counter even if you have booked online, so I didn’t see the point of booking in advance.
Relax! Although the journey seems complicated, and I was admittedly very nervous about getting lost/missing a connection etc., it was much more straightforward then I anticipated. If in doubt, the TTH team would always be happy to answer any questions.
There are two types of swim session: open water and pool-based. There is a large focus on open water swimming throughout the week – we might as well take full advantage of the beautiful, crystal clear Aegean Sea situated right at our doorstep.
I was always nervous about swimming, even more so in the open water. Given my upcoming 14-km swim marathon in August, I informed Philip prior to the camp that I would like to focus on my swim during the camp. My request was duly fulfilled: I learnt a range of open water swimming techniques, pool-based swimming drills and spent plenty of time in the water effectively. Under the close supervision of Philip, I was able to acknowledge my areas of improvement and gradually became more comfortable in the water as the week progressed.
I have been swimming with a masters group twice a week since December 2018, yet I was not aware of the ineffectiveness of my prior training until I hit the pool under Philip’s guidance. The sessions were a real test of my mental strength and physical endurance. I used to have an irrational belief that I could not swim with speed for the fear of getting out of breath and drowning, a belief that was finally debunked in the “Big Swim Session” where I did laps and laps of sprinting in the 50-meter, Olympic-standard pool under the beautiful blue sky of Syros.
I had my first swim analysis conducted during one of the pool sessions and it was an eye-opener. I had a very different image of myself swimming prior to the analysis, and little did I know how my body was not moving in the most efficient way under water. Through looking at the video with Philip, we identified my biggest weakness – my “lazy left arm” – and discussed drills and techniques that could help me improve my swim movements.
The pool and sea are situated within walking distance from the town centre and readily accessible from most accommodations. No wonder the Greeks are good swimmers – you are never more than 15 minutes away from the water. As such, a big perk of training in Syros is that a sunbath is always recommended after a swim session, and a cool dip is never a bad idea after running intervals. There are plenty of public swimming areas/beaches around the island which are popular amongst both locals and tourists, in which I have made new friends – including an ex-Project Runway contender!
All of the bike sessions were accompanied by Philip who acted as both the coach, the cycling buddy and the guide. Philip’s local knowledge took away all hassles related to navigation that normally occur during a weekend ride.
The “hilly” disclosure was made on the TTH website but I didn’t really pay attention to it, so admittedly the first bike session was a shock to the system, especially for someone like me who either only rode on an indoor trainer or around the flat-as-a-pancake Regent’s Park. However, even though some climbs are lung-burners, the uphill bit was not the hardest part for me. As someone who is not used to outdoor terrains, I was petrified by the steep downhills and sharp corners that came after a big climb. In my first ride, I was constantly braking and going extremely slowly downhill. Having observed that, Philip taught me the essential cornering techniques/bike handling skills and acted as the role model for me to follow during the downhills. Although I am no Chris Froome on the descent, I am certainly a much more confident rider compared to who I was at the start of the camp.
The scenery during every single ride was a photograph worth a museum display. Most roads are traffic- and pedestrian-free and the road surface was easy enough to ride on. The sessions were a mixture of sprints, endurance, hills and social rides addressing different training zones and physiology, which was new to me. I had been training in the “grey zone” by riding at a constant speed for a fixed duration of time. During one session, I even had the chance to take my shoes off, left the bike by the roadside and explored the mysterious Ano Syros on bare feet.
The combination of a scorching sun and top-quality coffee in Greece means that when it comes to group rides, a post/during-ride coffee stop is inevitable, which was a great way to get to know my new friends better over an “Freddo Espresso Sketo”.
Run sessions consisted of interval-based sessions (speed/hills) that took place by the seaside, and longer runs around the city which include some decent elevation. Philip would always have a stopwatch in hand and be observing through a pair of sunglasses, providing a mix of motivation and pressure for me to hit the target times – the exact mixture one would expect from a coach. For the longer, steady-pace runs, Philip was a great company and tour guide who would point out the culturally-significant spots of Syros and explain the history behind them.
Running has always been my strongest discipline in triathlon, but the sessions that were designed based on my historic running data and took place in the hot climate taught me a lot more about running than what I had learnt previously through running 10ks and marathons. Furthermore, the run analysis allowed me to see myself from various angles and take note of the positional adjustments I can make in order to go faster.
Lastly, I have always enjoyed running in the hills, and Syros provides plenty of undulating options to choose from.
There were plenty of opportunities to take part in local races during the camp. The camp dates were tactically chosen so that they collide with both an open-water swimming race in the beginning of the camp as a warm-up race, and the end-of-camp triathlon weekend that offered a 5k running time trial and Sprint/Olympic distance triathlon race.
On my second day on the island, I participated in the open water race as a “fun race”. To my surprise, I took home a trophy for placing fifth in the 2.5km swim, aligning my result with Philip who also came fifth in his category. That was a nice way to start the camp and to explore the water where I would spend plenty of time swimming in.
Towards the end of the camp, there was an opportunity to participate in a 5k charity run which started at the Miaouli Square where Syros’ City Hall is situated. The race organiser, Syrathlon, managed to create a big-race atmosphere for a small-island competition whilst maintaining a parkrun-like community feeling, making the race a special one. To my surprise, I broke the tape of the race and took home another trophy. That was my first time breaking the tape in a race and the feeling is nothing less than joyful. I should do that more often!
The last race of the camp took place on the Sunday morning prior to my flight back to London. I signed up to the Olympic distance race of the Syrathlon weekend which consisted of 2 laps of a 600m sea swim (deep water start), 4 laps of a 10km up-and-down bike course and 4 laps of a 2.5km uphill-downhill run leg. There were plenty of events prior to race day: race briefing with the appearance of an Olympian, DJ-ed welcome party for athletes and beach workouts led by fitness instructors. I only attended the briefing with the hope to get an early night, yet due to the “Greek timing” – things tend to happen late at night – the briefing only finished at 10 pm and I didn’t get into bed until midnight. Certainly not a typical night-before-race-day, but nevertheless a chance for my mind and body to adapt to local culture and be flexible with my race preparation.
Being 7-minute ride away from race start made my race morning significantly easier. The race itself was tough – likely the toughest triathlon I have ever competed in – not only because of the hilly course but also the abnormally windy condition on the day. Even though I felt more confident in the open water after a week of training, the big waves created by the wind and the incoming ferries made the shortened (1200m) swim leg feel much longer and harder to get through. I battled against the negative thoughts in mind (“the water is too rough to safely swim in, maybe I’ll just get onto the bike after lap 1?”) and completed the swim as one of the last athletes to get out of the water (the Greeks are good swimmers as aforementioned).
The bike leg has an ascending difficulty scale. The first uphill felt fine, with a tailwind pushing me up, I was able to apply some sprinting power on the ascent. The downhill was slow, due to the headwind that covers the whole of the bike course, but I still felt strong at that point. The rest of the cycling was a blur – the strong wind seemed to have blown some of my brain cells away and the only thought I had in mind was to “keep pushing (against the wind)” and try to reach T2 as quickly as I can.
I thought the run would be easier with the lack of headwind, but I knew I was wrong during the first 200m. The run start was at the pier where my run intervals took place, which was turned into a fierce beast by the rough weather conditions. Unforgiving headwind together with big waves that functioned as a massive shower, I thought I was running through a gigantic storm. The second half of the run lap was relatively “clam” since it took place inside the town centre, however, the gradient of Syros kept the difficulty at a high level. I would classify the run as a challenging rather than an enjoyable one, yet I kept my head down and pictured the podium in mind, which certainly helped me run pass a few of my competitors in the final part of the triathlon.
My second-place finish in the race was sufficient to make me feel accomplished at the end of the week-long training camp. It was a spectacular way to end the week and the most suitable farewell party Syros hosted for me.
Philip went above and beyond his coaching responsibility and took care of the social element of the camp. Not only was he a great company at the dinner table but also a Syros local with plenty of friends around the island, some of whom are people I now call friends.
The majority of the social time occurred at local cafes/restaurants, where the athlete and the coach would discuss anything from how a training session went to how TTH was born over a plate of fresh Greek salad made from locally-sourced ingredients. Not only was it a great way to savour the Mediterranean cuisine but also an easy way to ensure you know what you are putting into your mouth – Philip’s Greek language skill was particularly useful in explaining the vegan concept to the locals.
Coffee shop is another hotspot for socialising, people-watching and simply a great place to let time pass. The iced coffees in Greece are top-notch, strong and punchy which was what I craved after a tough, fun and fulfilling day of training.
I can testify the saying “a day in the hills is better than an hour in the office”.
Syros was idyllic!
Major post-holiday blues.
I miss Syros!
One thing that kept my nostalgic emotions at bay was the tailored Athlete Report sent to me a few days after the end of the camp. It contains an informative overview of each of the 3 disciplines as well as the video and swim analysis clips. There are also plenty of photos taken during the week for a handy reminiscence of the good times.
Due to my fantastic experience with TTH in Syros, and the opportunity to experience at first hand Philip’s coaching philosophy, I got in touch with Philip a week post-camp to discuss options going forward. At the time of writing, I have already signed up to become a TTH-coached athlete with Philip as my coach to continue my triathlon journey in a structured, efficient and intelligent manner. I have also ordered my customised TTH speed suit which I hope would become my outfit for the podiums in future races.
This blogpost was written a month after I set off to the Syros the “hidden germ of Greece” (I described it as “a quiet island between Athens and Mykonos” to friends in the UK). My Syros training camp was a life-changing experience for me as a passionate triathlete who had only been “exercising” not “training”, doing “lifestyle exercise” instead of “goal-oriented training”. The organisation was professional, meticulous and welcoming. The style of coaching was effective, motivating and personable. The delivery was tailored, accurate and beyond expectation. I would therefore highly recommend the Syros training camp to any recreational/professional triathletes who not only wish to challenge their bodies but also strengthen the minds, and on top of that to overhaul their lifestyle for the better.
You can also see another previous guest’s review here.