Training camp in St-Moritz with Brett Sutton and Nicola Spirig


We always hear that Life, real life, happens outside our comfort zone.

Getting out of your comfort zone is easy, just take the train for 10 hours!

That’s what I did to go to Saint-Moritz, in the far east of Switzerland, at 6000 ft high. I am surrounded by people speaking some kind of german. I don’t understand the menu so much that it seems I just ordered coffee with milk. I am cross-country skiing and I look like a baby learning how to walk.

I am completely outside of my comfort zone but I love it. It is so relaxing not to worry about being excellent all the time.

This camp is organized by Brett Sutton, one of the greatest triathlon coaches in the world. His pro athletes, including 2012 Olympic Champion, Nicola Spirig, are also there.

I decided to join this camp because I want to train everyday with high-level athletes and with a coach by my side.

Needless to say that if I join this group, I am on the highway leading to the 2020 Olympic Games.

However, I changed my mind. I think that going to New-Zealand and staying with Guy Hemmerlin, my current coach will have a better impact on my health and personal development than spending one more winter in France under Brett Sutton’s coaching.

Let’s go now! Time for the recap of this 3 day camp, where, you know it, many characters are involved!


From L to R: Christian, Alicia, Lukas, Coach, Mariana, Greg, Rafal, Martin.

Day 1

6:55 am at the pool. Session starts at 7. Don’t be late.

There are 150m between my hotel room and the Ovaverva centre. This is where I meet Mariana. She’s Mexican, qualified for next year’s 70.3 World Championship in Australia.

I get to the pool and Nicola’s Spirig is already there, alone.

Before coming to Switzerland, I was wondering how I would react in front of her, if I would feel impressed or not. Well, I went to her and very naturally, I asked, “What’s your name?”

She looked surprise by my question but she answered and from that point on, we spoke for 2 minutes where we laughed and where she asked me questions.

I asked her, “When did you resume training?”

“Euh…I never stopped actually”, she said. “My goal is too big. I cannot stop”.

It’s not yet 7am but I already learnt something important.

You know I am very interested in everything related to communication and human interactions so I want to write a bit more about this “What’s your name?”

One day, I was with a buddy, saying, “Imagine, you come across Scarlett Johansson in the street. How do you approach her?”

So we mentioned every possible pick-up line we know but in the end, we thought that doing so would immediately put us in the same category as all the guys who hit on her. Then we thought that saying, “I loved this movie you made”, would put us in the same category as all her fans and nothing else. Mmm, not the right approach.

Then, I suddenly told my buddy that asking something very random like “Sorry but what time is it, please?” might be the best approach because it could surprise her.

This year, I read “The Game” and the author advices, when we want to approach someone famous, to act as if this person was exactly the same as all of us. Never ever put him or her on the level that magazines and the medias do. He shares the story about a guy who hit on Paris Hilton and waited 30 minutes to finally ask “Oh, and what’s your name?”

Last February, I met Javier Gomez and I approached him like what he is: a triathlon superstar. So yes, he was very nice and friendly but I felt awkward and our conversation had no real connection.

So yes, you can say that maybe Nicola Spirig was in a good mood that day. But I am convinced that this “What’s your name?” put us both on a similar level, that it put me at ease, that it intrigued her and that it helped us a have a real conversation.

OK, back to camp now!

During this 1st swim session, we swam for 1h15: 40×50 and 5×200, something like that.

Brett Sutton is coming. Once again, he looks very natural so I am not impressed. He doesn’t ask “What’s your name?” but just tells us in which lane we swim.

We are about 10 and I must be the 5th best swimmer. I don’t remember the last camp where there were so many good swimmers around me.

Brett Sutton’s coaching style is different. His priority is not to make you improve. His priority is to make you a champion. Nuance. Your first name is secondary. When he talks about swimming, he mimics the movement and says that your arms must go “BAM, BAM, BAM”.

The session is done and I watch Nicola Spirig swimming. She’s just powerful. Her arms are about 1.5 times bigger than mine.

Brett Sutton then gives us a course about breathing. He says, “When you breathe to the right, you gotta turn your navel to the right. Don’t think about your head. Just turn your navel…hold on, there’s no lady around us? OK, I can say it. When you breathe, you gotta turn your dick to the wall!”

Beyond the fact that this advice is fundamentally sound, I realized that all of us, guys, laughed at this comparison. And you know what? I won’t ever forget it now.

This just taught me something about communication. If someone doesn’t integrate your message, doesn’t understand or apply it, then say the same thing but use different words. I’ll go back to this later.

Later, I am having breakfast with Mariana. She tells me that tennis was her first love but that she was also into kick-boxing!! She was into it so much that she made a commercial for Nike. Do you see any link between kick-boxing and triathlon? Well, I didn’t. So I asked her, “Did you learn anything in kick-boxing that you now use in triathlon?”

Without even hesitating, she said, “Yes. When I swim, each arm cycle is like a jab”, “Right jab, left jab”. As Brett Sutton would say, “BAM, BAM, BAM!”

A month ago, I dreamt that I was coming first out of the water in 18’54 and that I was European Champion. I don’t know yet what time I am worth but it is clear now that swimming just became a different sport to me.

Next on the agenda, cross-country skiing from 10am to 12pm.


I arrive at the centre at 10:03. The coach asks me, “What’s your level?”.

“Beginner +”, I say.

Coach bursts out of laughter and goes, “What the hell does beginner + mean?” 

I’ve already cross-country skied and I know I like it but I should have said “Beginner -“ because I forgot all of it. It was really fun but I felt so awkward. I was so freaking slow, last of the group but I enjoyed it. I thought it was so relaxing to forget about looking good or improving but instead just let my skis slide, make fun of me and just gaze at the beautiful countryside.

I used to say “No” to these kind of activities. I used to think that recovery was more important than acting a fool on a pair of skis.

But now, I sincerely think that “acting a fool” is a good thing. This season, I think I will add, in addition to triathlon, other activities where I suck at but where I can also have pure children-like fun and air my brains out. What about you? Is there any activity you’d like to try?

Mmm, me, I’d like to try golf or kayaking down a river, or maybe go mountain-biking in a forest.

I also think that psychologically, doing an activity you suck at makes you even more excited to go back to the activity you’re good at.

Speaking of activity I’m good at, running session at 3pm.


Just 10 short laps with fast straight lines and easy bends. Brett Sutton’s watching to evaluate my technique.

At the end, he stops me and says, “You are lovely” 🙂

He gave me an advice about my arm movement in order to slightly lengthen my stride but nothing more.

Good to know there is one area where I don’t have to worry about my technique.

Day 2

Meet-up at the pool at 6:55am. Today, 30 x 100 with paddles and pull-buoy. For Nicola Spirig and the others, it will be 60 x 100.

Before starting, Mariana, I think, dares to ask Brett Sutton, “Do we go hard?”

Coach answers, Do you know any other way?” 

BAM, BAM, BAM…here we go!

The guy in front of me is Christian. He’s Italian. Swims 1500m in 21′ and runs 10k in 36′. He’s exactly the guy one level above me. He starts 5 seconds before me and Brett screams at me, “Go get him!”

Last month, I had a meeting with my coach, Guy Hemmerlin, for a pre-season briefing where he told me that the area where I had to improve the most was mentally. Yes, I am very motivated and very focused but during a race, there’s gotta be “a war inside of me” (cf Mike Tyson’s autobiography).

When you train on your own, it’s hard to know exactly how fast or good you are. But here, with Nicola Spirig in lane 1 and Christian in front of me, going to war is easy.


New cross-country skiing session today. I arrive at the centre at 10:02am. It takes me 30 minutes of skiing to get yesterday’s slide back. The coach teaches us different “gears” and “techniques”. She describes a kind of asymmetrical step where you use your right pole, slide on the right ski, use your left pole then slide on the left ski.

Not very complicated, uh?

Maybe for you but I was completely unable to apply it.

Then she suddenly said, “This asymmetrical step is like a duck step”. And then the image just stroke in my mind and I was then able to do it the right way.

You see what I mean? If people don’t get your message. You might just need to change the words. Not the meaning. Just the words. You can use humour like Brett Sutton with “dick to the wall” or a funny picture like this “duck step”.

Day 3

Meet-up at the pool at 6:55am. You’re getting’ used to it, don’t cha?

Today, short warm-up and relays.

My 2 teammates are Lukas and Alicia. They’re both on one side of the pool while I am on the other side. The principle is easy. You go hard for 25m and then you rest while your 2 teammates are doing their 25m hard.

We did this for 40 minutes.

At the very start, Lukas and Christian are face to face.

They finish their lap at the same time. Christian gives the relay to Reiny, a 17 year old bullet who beat Nicola Spirig the day before on similar 25m sprints. Lukas gives me the relay and I go off like a bomb because I freaking wanna beat Reiny. My arms are like 2 steel pipes. They go BAM, BAM, BAM and I win. I am proud to say it because during the next 39 minutes, Reiny won them all.

Still 10 minutes of relay and Brett Sutton tells me, “When you place your hand, it’s nice, it’s smooth. When you pull the water, once again it’s nice, it’s smooth. But at the end, when you push, it’s still smooth whereas you should freaking push and it should go BAM!”

It is now time to say goodbye. Everybody leaves but since my train is only tomorrow at 12pm, my guess is I will be awake and ready tomorrow at 6:55am.


During that camp, I realized that during your sessions, at this level, you always swim hard. Yes, of course, once in a while, there are a few nice and easy 100 or 200’s. But the rest of the time, you swim hard! My coach often gives me sessions like 10 x 100 with 15” off but it bugs me because I never know how hard I should go. 90% hard? 95% hard? 100% hard? Now, I know. You go hard and tell your brain to shut up.

I also realized that when you live far away from your coach, his name doesn’t matter much. The sessions I did this week with Brett Sutton are not fundamentally different than the ones I do with my current coach (Guy Hemmerlin) or the ones I did with my 1st year coach (Benjamin Sanson). However, what matters most is the group. What matters most are training camps. What matters most is to train with athletes better than you. It’s only if you have the geographical and financial possibilities to train with such athletes that, yes, you’ve gotta go with a great coach!

In one year, I’ll be ready.

Last cross-country skiing session today. I get to the centre at 10am sharp.

We all hop in the car and get on site. We get out and the coach tells us, “Weird, it feels colder today. Did we arrive earlier?”

There, Jenni, another athlete, says, “Yes, we arrived earlier. It’s because Greg arrived on time today!” 😉 I am laughing so hard!

2 hours later, on the way back, I ask them all, “What would you like to learn?”

Charlotte says, “Well, that’s a good question. Let me think about it!”

Here, Jenni says she’d like to learn spanish.

The coach would like to learn freestyle swimming.

Martin would like to learn french.

Suddenly, Charlotte comes back to life, “I know! I’d like to be a carpenter for a week!”

Me, I’d like to learn the piano.

What about you? What would you like to learn?

Day 4.

Meet-up at what time? And where?

Yeah, you got it by now.

Today, my Christmas present is coming early since I am all alone at the pool with Brett Sutton and Nicolas Spirig. It is pitch black outside and we are only the three of us. One of the greatest triathlon coach of all time, the defending olympic champion and one boy with a heart and a dream big like a mountain.

Brett Sutton takes a note-pad, a pen and starts wiring down. 2 minutes later, he gives the paper to Nicola. This is today’s set.

I have no idea what kind of set I am going to do. Nicola’s probably going to do her own and Coach will telle to do different things. But Nicola comes to me, smiles at me and says, “Mmm, interesting session, right?”

Then Brett says, “You both get in the same lane and just go up and down your side of the lane”

Well, here is what I am going to do today – the same as the olympic champion:

1000m with band at the ankles.

1000m of drills (3 butterfly, 2 right arm catch-up, 2 left-arm catch-up for 225m and then 25m fast)

1000m with pull buoy and paddles.

1000m with 25m fast and 25 easy.

1000m with pull-buoy (this is when, after 1h30, Brett tells, “Alright, you can warm down and stop. We don’t want your arms to explode”. Then Nicola Spirig just continued with…)

1000m with a weighted belt, 25m fast and 25m easy

1500 pull buoy.

500m warm down.

To swim with her was an unreal experience. Where should I start?

When she swam 1000m, I swam 800.

Her kick is not that impressive but her arms are just like that of a machine. Her cadence is always higher than mine. Never mind the pace. When I turn my head to breathe and see her, all her movements are intense. I have no idea when she swam those 25m easy. I never saw that. It was intense all throughout.

The first 1000 went well for me. However, during the 1000m drill, I wanted to cry under the water. During the next 1000 with 25m fast and 25m easy, I wanted to vomit. Sometimes, I could feel Nicola, at my feet, and I would tell myself, “Fuck it, go hard on this one Greg! She cannot catch you back! Come on!” but then, during the next 25m easy, I would look like a raft, lost in the Pacific ocean.

My Olympic Games are in 5 years. I have 5 years to get to Nicola’s level.

Do you think it’s possible? Do I think it’s possible?

I am leaving for New-Zealand tomorrow morning and I want to tell you how much I freaking love you and how much each and every one of your messages and cheers make my day. I often visualize myself being interviewed by the French TV, the day I become olympic champion. They’ll ask me, “Who are the people who influenced you? Who helped you?” 

There you can be sure I’ll say your name. The journalist will want to interrupt me and ask another question but no, I will keep on until I mention your name.

I love you and wish you everything you freaking need so that you can lead the life you dream of, because you too, are an inspiration to me.




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