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Speedo Says...

Date 07-04-2017
Pushing boundaries: My journey from a running novice to a triathlon competitor

Lawyer, photographer and keen runner, Leyla Razavi, shares her fitness story and how she is preparing for her upcoming triathlon challenge

After watching my friends take part in the Marrakech marathon in January 2009, I decided to give running a try. A few weeks later, without telling anyone, I bought a pair of trainers and went for a short run.

Running came easily to me. I found it enjoyable and it was a release from the stresses of my day. Within a few weeks I was running about 30 minutes consistently around Regents’ Park after work a few times a week. I was amazed what our bodies are capable of and I wanted to see how far I could push myself. I soon plucked up the courage to tell my friends and family that I had started running!

Later that year I completed my first run event: a 15km race in Istanbul, Turkey. To date, I have run around 15 half marathons – my favourite distance – and seven marathons, mainly across the UK and Europe. It’s amazing to look back to see how far I have progressed – I am just an ordinary woman with no real athletic ability or background!
My family think I’m crazy, but I love keeping active and racing. I’m no Paula Radcliffe, but I have great fun travelling to races and making new friends and memories.

I’m in great physical health too; I don’t have any significant health concerns and running helps me control my weight. I am also stronger and happier. Every day that I get up to train I know that I’m working towards something: the best version of me.

“I know that I’m working towards something: the best version of me”

After my two running buddies set their sights on ultramarathons, I was inspired to look for a new challenge of my own and I took up a triathlon last year. It seemed strange that people weren’t only running but swimming and cycling as well; as if one sport wasn’t enough!


So, I learnt how to swim all over again. I bought a new bike and fell off it a lot – I still have the bruises – and kept up with my running training. Last year was a busy year as I tried to keep running and do triathlon: I took part in three triathlons; three marathons; and a handful of other races.

(photo credit: Wilkins Kennedy Grays Triathlon organised by East Essex Tri Club)

This year I am focusing on triathlon. I love the challenge and there’s so much to think about: transitions; road safety; dealing with mechanical issues (punctures, chains); race rules; and not overdoing it before the run.

“I love the challenge of triathlon”

My main race will be an Olympic triathlon with my running and triathlon club; a 1,500m open water swim, followed by a 40km bike ride and finishing off with a 10km run. I’m aiming to complete the race in around 3 hours 30 minutes: swim in 40 minutes; bike in 1 hour 40; and run in 55 minutes.


I spent the winter months working on my swimming and cycling technique. Swimming is the most challenging of the three disciplines for me and it’s probably where I can make the most gains. So, I used the base/build phase to focus on technique and increase my endurance.

As my training progressed, I started to work on my cycling skills. Since I don’t enjoy cycling as much as running or swimming, it was often the first session to get the chop when I was busy or tired. I started with one watt bike or a spin class a week, but even that was a bit hit-and-miss.

The indoor sessions were good for general fitness but I knew I really needed to cycle outdoors. To improve my confidence I attended a 1-2-1 cycling skills class to help with the basics and then added ‘brick sessions’ (bike then run training) with my triathlon club.


I have always enjoyed swimming but I wasn’t very strong when I first started my triathlon training. Initially, I went for a swimming lesson and received guidance on how to improve. I also read articles and training guides online specifically aimed at triathletes. I found videos on YouTube and signed up for a technique class. By swimming consistently and working on my technique, I have gone from stopping after every length to swimming in the fast lane!

When my schedule allows, I swim with a coached group. I really recommend joining one as you get immediate feedback on technique and it’s both fun and intense trying to keep up.

“I recommend joining a swimming group: it’s both fun and intense”

I’m currently in the pool three times a week, swimming 6-7.5km. Each session is about 60-80 minutes long and includes technique drills, followed up with steady swimming.


My work schedule is often demanding but I make time for a lunch break where I can fit in short sessions. I also keep up a set routine: I run some of the journey home on Monday evenings; I have a personal training session on Wednesday evenings; and I swim on Fridays after work.


Like most people, I struggle to keep motivated; I am easily distracted by friends, work often gets in the way or I am just too tired.

My best tips are:

  • plan your week in advance and schedule in some training with friends so it’s harder to back out

  • keep your running and swimming gear with you at least a few times a week so you have a choice to swap sessions or even just go for a stretch

  • keep records of your workouts so you can monitor your progress – is my 400m swim time faster? Can I squat a heavier weight? Seeing the results keeps me motivated as I am quite competitive with myself

  • listen to your body – if I am feeling run down, often I just need a couple of days rest from training, a sleep catch-up and to eat well

So I’ve got a few busy months ahead of me, with some longer and harder sessions. I’m feeling excited and a bit nervous – I can’t wait to get on that starting line and see how it goes!

Regardless of the time I finish the Olympic triathlon, knowing that I’ve trained my hardest and pushed myself out of my comfort zone they are accomplishments in themselves for me, and I look forward to pushing myself even further in the future. Who knows, maybe next year I might even sign up for an even longer triathlon distance!

You can follow my journey on Let’s hope I get through the swim and don’t get a puncture!