Meet The Endurance Athlete: Sean Conway

Life//People

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Sean Conway is one of those amazing individuals who is both incredibly charismatic and charming, with a little hint of crazy thrown in there for fun. An endurance athlete, motivational speaker and writer, Sean has achieved more in 33 years than most have by the time they retire.

He is the first and only man in history to swim the length of Britain, that's a whopping 900 miles. He has also cycled the length of Britain (1300 miles) and is now on his way to finish his Great British Triathlon by running the length of Britain. That's right. Running. Sean starts his run on Saturday 9th August 2014 and we join him while he prepares for the longest run, possibly in British history.

Hello Sean! Thank you for taking some time out before your incredible challenge to speak to us. We are certainly in awe of you and what you have achieved and we loved your video by the way!(This can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Unf-QJYZw40)

So, how has training been for this mammoth run?

If I’m honest I haven’t done enough training. I've been quite busy but also I want to show people you don’t need to be an Olympian to run 40 marathons in a row. Anyone can do it as long as you stretch, eat properly and slow your pace down a bit. Speed kills, not the distance.

That's something that we need to keep in mind then on our next run! How are you feeling about this challenge in particular?

I can’t wait. It is my first major challenge that's more on the exploration side of things rather than endurance. I’ll still like to push myself and have big days (that's my oxygen) but I’m looking forward to exploring the great British countryside.

Nothing better than the British countryside it has to be said! How do you prepare your body and especially your feet for running such a distance? Are you worried about nipple rash?

I tend to be able to deal with small things like rashes and blisters. I've experienced worse so can mentally deal with it. I'm more worried about knees and hips and long-term injury. The plan is to run into the challenge. I'll start slowly at about five miles per hour and slowly build up the mileage. At the end I'd like to be able to have said I did a few double marathons but we’ll see.

Double marathons? That is incredibly impressive! Does this adventure differ from how you usually prepare for your challenges?

Yes, as it's more of an exploration one rather than endurance. I'm looking forward to being able to spend more time meeting people.

What a great opportunity to not only explore Britain but also meet people. We look forward to following you on your website (www.runseanrun.com).
You were brought up in Zimbabwe, tell us a bit about your childhood.

It was amazing. My father is a pretty well-known rhino conservationist and I grew up in game reserves. It was an incredible experience that certainly fuelled my adventurous life. I was never going to be an accountant was I?

Were you adventurous by nature, or do you think living in Zimbabwe helped?

A bit of both but chasing elephants out your garden so you can go to school certainly make life interesting as a kid.

When you were only 15 you took part in the Midmar Mile, we hear you are competing again this year. Tell us a bit about it.

I was young, I guess, but not nearly the youngest. South Africa is such a sporting nation and so doing the Midmar Mile at 15 wasn’t all that impressive. This year however I did all eight races and without having done one mile training I found it hard. I still hadn’t quite recovered from swimming Britain yet so I did struggle. At least the water was really warm though, it was about 25 degrees. Heaven!

So, you then moved to Cambridge, how did this compare to Zimbabwe?

I loved Cambridge. My family took the ferry from Britain to the colonies 100 years ago so I grew up with romantic idealistic ideas of Britain and being in Cambridge certainly lived up to my idea of historic Britain. I'm glad I didn’t move to Slough though; I would have been very disappointed I think.

You were a freelance photographer, do you still dabble?

I fell out of love with it because for too many years I chased the money instead of choosing creative clients that gave me fun jobs. I hated it. I am getting into video now though and am going to film my entire run on my phone and edit it with the iMovies app too. Sharing my adventures visually certainly helps me think about something when the times are tough.

It's also very motivational and inspirational for other people to watch, we can't wait! You started by cycling across the world, 180 miles a day, how did this fair?

That was hard. I was training 40 hours a week for six months and then hit the ground running. To do 180 miles per day, every day, you get up at 3.20am and cycle till around 10pm. I was on the bike pedalling for 15 to16 hours although it was tough, I did love it. I wasn’t much of a cyclist and starting from nothing and six months later being able to smash out big miles gave me a lot of confidence.

 

Only six months? What bike were you using?

I used a Thorn Mercury with rohloff hub. She was called Maid Marian. I love her.

You were hit by a car in America and decided to come back to London for the Olympics to raise money, moving from 180 to 140 miles per day. We read that out of the 16,000 miles you cycled, 12,000 were done with a fractured spine. How is that possible? Has it impeded your cycling since?

A lot of pain killers! It was tough both physically and mentally knowing I couldn’t break the record any more. I started with a neck brace but that didn’t really work but I was still quite fit and doctors said I wouldn’t do any more damage, it was just going to hurt. I learned to deal with that and it doesn't really effect my cycling now. Sometimes on the hills when I’m pulling hard down on the bar my back will hurt but I mainly get pain sitting at a computer. So it's a good excuse never to get a real job!

What were the best places you visited when cycling?

170 miles per day through the Atacama Desert. I love deserts because they are challenging, scary, hot in the day, cold at night and barren. That was my favourite place.

What did you find toughest?

Managing sleep deprivation doing 180 miles per day and only having five hours sleep was hard to deal with. I love the hill so that wasn’t too hard and I quite like the heat too. Sleep and being chased by tornadoes in Oklahoma was quite hard.

We can imagine! We still can't get over the fact you were pushing 180 miles per day! You must eat a lot to keep up with all the sport and training, what is your average meal plan?

Eat what you can stomach I say. Ideally, high fat but certainly third of your diet should be carbs, third fat, third protein. Lasagne is ideal and in America I'd buy four Italian BMT footlongs from Subway. I'd eat one and put one in each back pocket. Winner!

So you were responsible for most of Subway's profits that year? Moving onto the swimming section of your GB triathlon, what was the most difficult part of it?

EVERYTHING!!! The cold, the logistics, finding crew and funding, the route; the list goes on. When I cycled around the world I had loads of people to ask what and what not to do. I had no-one to ask for the swim and generally didn’t get a lot of positive feedback. Many thought it was a publicity stunt or that it wasn’t possible. I guess one main thing was getting stung in the face by jelly fish, that was about as fun as sliding down razor blades.

You are also a writer and a public speaker, how do you fit it all in?

I sleep seven hours a day and I leave 17 hours to do other stuff. That's a lot of time.

We can't help but notice your fantastic beard, do you have any beard maintenance tips for our readers?

For an amazing beard I have one tip and it is the only maintenance I do: Don’t Shave!

What is it like training with such a full beard, it must get hot?

I like the heat but honestly I don’t notice it at all nowadays.

You have also done many other events and adventures, what has to be the best one?

Too hard to choose but climbing Kilimanjaro dressed as a penguin was a favourite one of mine. It was the start of it all I think.

What are some of your future plans? Your ultimate dream adventure or challenge?

I want to run the length of Africa, Cairo to Cape Town. That's my next big challenge and it's a marathon a day for 300 days.

We love little flying cow, does he really go with you everywhere?

Yes, everywhere! He even has his own twitter account, he hates me though and wishes he was at home. He’s quite funny.

And to round it off, tell us something fascinating about yourself!

I can speak Zulu! Does that count?

It sure does!

Thank you so much to Sean for his time and great answers, especially just before his mammoth task of running the length of Britain. If you want to follow Sean on his task and see where he is, you can visit his twitter, @Conway_Sean or his website to track him. And remember, if you see a tall ginger man with a magnificent beard running by, give him a wave, or ask him how he and little flying cow are doing!

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