20 Questions: RNLI lifeguard James Walton on triathlon training and why worrying is like sitting on a rocking horse

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: James Walton from Ballerin in Co Derry, a triathlete and senior RNLI lifeguard

Gail Bell

1) UP AND at it – what is your morning routine?

I work as an RNLI beach lifeguard five days a week, from 11am until 7pm in the summer, so most mornings I get up around 6am. I flick through social media for a few minutes and then grab a small bowl of porridge and begin my first training session of the day.

Maybe I'll throw in some foam-rolling, depending on how tight I am from the previous day's training. I start my master's degree in Leeds in September, so my morning routine will probably comprise a 6am swim before class.

2) What might you eat in a typical working day for...breakfast?

A small bowl of porridge for my first breakfast, with my second breakfast (post-training) consisting of three scrambled eggs and three slices of toast.


Turkey steak/chicken breast and some rice

Evening meal?

I have a pre-evening training meal, which is, again, a small bowl of porridge. This is followed by main dinner which I'll have after training and will probably be a high protein meal from the butcher's with some veg and carbs.

My favourite snack is oatcakes and peanut butter.

3) Is nutrition important to you?

Yes – you wouldn't fill your car full of dirty fuel, so why feed yourself bad food? Nutrition is very important in allowing me to train to a high standard and recover effectively.

Working on the beaches you always need to be fuelled and ready to go for any incident that may occur, so eating the right food at the right time is especially important.

4) Best meal ever?

It's a toss-up between mammy's homemade pizza or beef stroganoff from McAtamney's butcher shop.

5) Do you have a guilty pleasure?

I enjoy a good doughnut every so often.

6) Have you ever been on a diet? If so, how did it go?

I've never really been on a diet. I will alternate my calorific intake depending on how busy I might be on the beaches or if my training load is quite high/low.

7) Do you take health supplements?

I take probiotics, Omega 3 and vitamin C supplements. I'm very susceptible to getting sick with all my training and work, so I need to keep my immune system on top of things.

8) How do you relax?

I usually chill out by getting some wins on Fortnite on the PlayStation or playing with my dog.

9) Teetotal or tipple?

Completely teetotal – except when I win a race and they let us celebrate with a bottle of champagne.

10) Stairs or lift?

Usually the lift. I'm not lazy, I just don't like walking.

11) Do you have a daily exercise regime?

My daily exercise regime is pretty hectic. When working on the beaches, I train for two to three hours before and after work. I'm a triathlete, so I'll usually swim in the morning and bike or run in the evening.

Gym sessions are usually done in the morning as well. It's hard to get the balance of four to five swims a week, three to four cycles, three to four runs and two gym sessions! Thankfully, the RNLI encourages lifeguards to train at work to improve fitness and skill levels, so I can usually do some swimming, board paddles, running and circuits.

12) Best tip for everyday fitness?

Set yourself a long-term target – something that's one or two months away – and then break this target into weekly goals. After that, plan your week out and what you have to do each day to reach your goal.

Writing down your goals makes it easier and helps you take accountability for what you want.

13) On a scale of one to 10, how fit do you think you are and how fit would you like to be?

I've just had a chest infection, so I'm a six out of 10 at the moment. In regards to how fit I want to be, I've set times I want to achieve in swimming, cycling and running and reaching those goals will leave me at peak fitness.

14) Have you tried, or would you try, alternative therapy?

I've just graduated with a degree in sport and exercise science, so I'm a firm believer in the science.

15) Were school sports happy times or do you have a memory you would rather forget?

To be honest, I wasn't a fan of school sports. We just didn't get to do enough of it and were limited to what sports we got to do. I would have loved a chance to try out rugby at school.

There definitely needs to be change in the national school sport curriculum. One hour per week just isn't enough to encourage children to engage in a healthy lifestyle.

16) Did you ever have a health epiphany which made you change your lifestyle?

Not really; I've always been active since I was a kid. Working as beach lifeguard for the RNLI means there are fitness standards we have to meet to keep our job.

17) Best health/lifestyle advice you were ever given and would pass on to others?

My grandad said "worrying is like sitting on a rocking horse; no matter how hard you do it, you aren't going to get anywhere." This is especially important, considering the current state of mental health in the country.

It's important to take some 'chill' time every now and then and find someone to talk to if you're feeling down.

18) Who inspires you or who would you try to emulate in terms of fitness / attitude to life?

In terms of fitness, Caine Eckstein [Australian Ironman surf lifesaving champion] inspires me. His surf lifesaving skills and fitness are just incredible and he's a bit of a freak of nature.

When it comes to attitude to life, Larry Enticer [snow mobile jumper] is my inspiration. His fearless attitude and never-ending drive for success are awesome.

19) What time do you normally get to bed and do you get enough sleep?

Once I've finished training after work, I usually get to bed around 11pm. I try to get eight hours' sleep a day, but sometimes that can be a struggle.

20) Would you say you have a healthy attitude towards your own mortality?

I would say, yes, I do. I am very aware that things can change and how tragedy can strike at any age. I make the most out of the here-and-now, living life to the full every day. Carpe diem.

:: James has been keeping swimmers safe on on beaches at Benone, Downhill and Castlerock this summer. He is part of the Irish triathlon under-23 development squad and recently finished in second place at the national aquathon championships in Bull Island, Dublin.

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