Why Do World-Class Athletes Train in a Humble Yorkshire Shed?

From the outside, it looks like a rustic two-car garage next to a cricket ground. Inside, it’s no more glamorous, but it contains one critical tool in the training arsenal that aims to put 2012 Olympic gold and bronze medalists back on the podium for 2016.

The tool is the Endless Pool, and for British triathletes Alistair and Jonny Brownlee, it’s their second. The first pool helped Alistair recover from a torn Achilles tendon in time to win gold at the London Games; his brother Jonny took bronze, and the dual victories turned the pair into national icons overnight.

Since then, their entire squad has been training in that pool, which is located in “a tiny garden you can only access by walking through our kitchen,” according to Alec Duffield, Vice President of Brownlee Brothers Ltd. A childhood friend of the Brownlees, he’s also their housemate, and he saw firsthand that the garden pool situation was getting out of hand.

swimming butterfly stroke in the Endless Pool owned by Olympic triathletes Jonny and Alistair Brownlee
There’s barely room to move outside the pool, but dip in and the training ground is Endless. For Olympic gold medalist Alistair Brownlee, 26, and his world-champion brother Jonny, 24, this Elite Endless Pool delivers convenient and critical opportunities to swim and run in place. When they’re not training in it, a host of other professional teams and swimmers will make the pilgrimage for an in-place swim.

One other concern: the first pool was purchased specifically for the underwater treadmill, so the Brownlees chose a model with a swim current that – though challenging for most of us – could be easily overtaken by Olympians in their prime. So with pool #2, they upgraded to the Elite model, with Endless Pools’ fastest current; it tops out at a 0:56/100-metre pace (or 0:51/100 yards on this side of the pond).

The Elite “made a big difference in terms of usefulness,” Duffield observes. Like their first pool, their Elite also has an integrated treadmill, but now it features a swim current that’s “too fast for even Alistair.” Duffield sees “limitless” potential to allow them to build endurance and “improve the finer points of their stroke.”

So why is this state-of-the-art pool for world-class athletic talent in what appears to be a small barn? Well, that little structure is part of the New Rover Cricket Club, which is conveniently located in their community and, more importantly, shares their hard-driving ethos.

“Anyplace with sport and heritage is good,” Alec attests. “We’re about sport being a way of life.” And with its time-honored tradition of weekend-long matches, “that’s what cricket is about” too.

They’re selectively inviting elite sports clubs to dip in too. They’ve already garnered interest from other Yorkshire cricket clubs, professional rugby teams, and Leeds United A.F.C. One squad member will use it for one-on-one swim training, and they’re in talks with Oceans Seven swimmer Adam Walker and five-time Paralympic medalist Stephanie Millward.

And the Brownlee’s first pool? That’s being moved to their training center in Benidorm, a coastal town near Valencia, Spain. After this year’s brutal Yorkshire winter, they’re opting for occasional warm-weather training as they continue the current triathlon season in Kitzbühel, Glasgow, and beyond. Of course, they’re also keeping their sights firmly on the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

Despite their high-profile schedules, their unlikely training facility will remain a humble, unmarked shed on the Yorkshire countryside. A grand opening event is on hold, as Alec puts it, “because the lads keep buggering off to Spain!” So for now, he and the Brownlees are settling for a “soft launch,” with no fanfare, just steady traffic from people for whom sport is a way of life.

UPDATE: On July 24, 2014, Alistair and Jonny Brownlee took the gold and silver medals, respectively, at the Commonwealth Games. They completed the swim with a 30-second lead over South Africa's Richard Murray, who went on to take the bronze. Alistair has previously achieved Olympic, world, and European titles in triathlon.

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