Take a deep breath and get ready to run, swim and cycle like this lad. João Pereira is one of the best triathletes in the world and that not only means he has to keep in shape, but also always in transit. Meet one of the strongest candidates for the Rio Olympics in 2016.
In the space of nine years, João Pereira has gone from one extreme to another. In that period, he went from an occasional sportsman to a top-level athlete. Believe you me: in the world of sport, this transition is not only sudden, but also very rare.
It was aged 18, in his last year of secondary school and after achieving a record time in a stamina test in PE, that João realised that he might just have the stuff of triathletes. “My teacher convinced me to try the triathlon, a sport I was unfamiliar with. As I had some free time, I took advantage to keep in shape and meet new people.”
“I found a new hobby”, he thought, never imagining that eight years later he would end the triathlon world circuit in fifth place and that virtually assured a place at the 2016 Rio Olympics. However, at the start, it wasn’t exactly a bed of roses. His natural predisposition for running and talent cycling went in his favour but less so in terms of swimming. He trained hard and quickly to overcome that handicap. So quickly that, less than a year after dedicating his time to the sport, he was invited to represent the national team at the European Championships. “With the result of that European Championship I gained top-level athlete status, I entered the Faculdade de Motricidade Humana and began attending the Centro de Alto Rendimento (CAR) in Jamor.” High-level training is very tough and demanding. So much so that, after a year at CAR, João thought about giving up. His family, trainers and the Federation convinced him to try one more year and when he started getting results his doubts vanished.
However, the definitive change occurred when João began training with Lino Barruncho (his current trainer). “Being an ex-athlete, Lino gave me great tools to be more determined in competition and his methodology and commitment were crucial to my development. To compete at this level, it’s not enough to be technically and physically strong, we also need to be well prepared psychologically – this is almost half the battle to achieve good results. With him by my side, I have made a leap in terms of performance and return.”
Like many others in a similar position, João admits that top-level competition means giving up certain things, but those that he has enjoyed in return have balanced things out: “I’ve met incredible people, discovered remarkable places, and most of all: I’ve got to know myself better”.
1, 2, 3… let’s do it again
This is the part where you have to take a deep breath to handle the pace. Ready? Let’s do it! João’s training can easily reach 40 hours a week, at least in the pre-season period. At that time, the routine is intense and plays out like this: “First thing in the morning, around 7h30, we go out for a run for an hour and a half, on an empty stomach. Then we have a good breakfast, rest for a while and then off for a cycling session of between 60 and 90 kilometres, which last between two and three hours. Around 13h, well stretched, we have lunch, we take another break and at 16h30 it’s time for the pool and swimming four to six kilometres”. And is that it? No. “When we finish swimming, around 18h30, we go to the gym or sauna and only then do we rest and have dinner. If there’s any injury that needs looking at, we visit the physio. The closer we get to the start of the season, we reduce the hours of training and increase intensity.”
When he’s away from home, the training routine begins the day he arrives at his destination. “We try to arrive at a time when can still do something to stretch our legs. In addition to this, we try to combat jetlag travelling one day before for every hour of time difference – for example, if we travel to Australia, for example, we try to arrive a week and a half before the competition”. Jetlag affects performance and João has already felt its effects. “On a trip to China I slept on the plane and when I arrived, it was already night, I couldn’t get any shut-eye for the life of me. Then I slept during the day and on the second night I wasn’t able to sleep again. I began a nervous cycle and couldn’t sleep. On the eve of the competition, I had to take a pill and did the circuit half asleep.”
Run the world
His first time competing abroad for Portugal was in Autan, in France. “I didn’t realise what it meant to compete against the best in my sport and it was tough. Of course, at the end, it felt great knowing I had done my best and that I still had a lot of work to do.”
In 2010, João began competing in the World Triathlon Series (WTS). The annual circuit runs between March and September and visits ten countries: Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Canada, USA, United Arab Emirates, Sweden, Germany, South Africa. João does not do all of them because at the end of the year, because only the five best results (plus the Chicago final) count and, sometimes, it’s better to sacrifice one event to attack the following one with verve and extra strength. It was in the “noisy but very nice” city of Chicago that João achieved his best result on the circuit, second place in 2014 – in that year, he was the Portuguese athlete with the best ever WTS ranking (5th). Auckland, in New Zealand, is the most difficult event because of the city’s topography and Chicago isn’t far behind because it’s “very hot and humid”.
And if there are places where João feels like a fish in water, they are Hamburg – “which, for some reason, reminds me of Lisbon” – and the Gold Coast, in Australia, which has everything he enjoys: “beach, sun, heat, wonderful landscapes and friendly people, geared towards sport and the outdoor life”.
He says that competing for his country “is motivating”, with a small group of countrymen appearing to cheer him on, wherever it may be. “We feel very appreciated and always chat with fellow Portuguese abroad”.
text Maria Ana Ventura photo Subtilography
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