Andrew Kefford - Athlete Ambassador
How did you first get into triathlon?
As kids we always would get up early and watch Transworld Sport on Channel 4. There were some bizarre sports on there plus every so often triathlon would feature and me and my brother were in awe of Ironman and doing the three disciplines back to back. Triathlon was then embedded deep in our minds however it took until after university and joining a running club for my first triathlon. Some of the club were already doing triathlon however I couldn’t swim a length of front crawl so I almost dismissed it however every morning before work I would go to the local swimming pool and go up and down trying to “perfect” my front crawl. I would watch other people and try to understand what they were doing and I wasn’t.
After swallowing a considerable amount of water I became confident enough to complete a Sprint triathlon in Southwold, Notts, with a 400m swim and absolutely loved it. From that point I was racing almost every weekend in the summer and enjoying the social aspect of training.
What has been your favourite race to date and why?
I’ve loved almost every race I’ve done. Maybe not always at the time but the buzz you get afterwards and for crossing the finishing line. My favourite race so far was the Marathon des Sables (MdS) in 2003. A 250 km race across the Sahara desert where you carry all your own equipment (apart from water than a “tent”) over six stages. The longest stage is generally over 80 km.
Training for the MdS was hard work and involved a lot of time on my own but there were also memorable training events including a 60 km endurance race with my friend Billy in the Brecon Beacons. I also used to train on a static bike in my local gym in their sauna. I completed the MdS with Paul, my brother, and agreed that we would stick together knowing that you would have low points or struggles along the way. On Day 2 I suffered heat stroke and can barely remember getting to the finish line but Paul stayed just in front of me keeping an eye on me to make sure I was ok. Then on the marathon stage, Paul struggled and I returned the favour. It was a fantastic event and one I look back on now with great fondness.
Ironman Switzerland was a very close second. And Midnight sun run in Tromso, Norway where I went with my brother and sister. And Race the train in Wales. Great camping weekend away with my running club. So many to mention… I have done some great races and looking forward to doing many more.
What is your proudest achievement?
My proudest sporting achievement was completing the MdS with my brother knowing that we could spend so much time with each other and not fall out. This was summed up by a discussion while checking in for the flight home and discussing what we should do next, this was when the idea of Ironman was agreed on. Knowing I could hit such a low on Day 2 (Heat stroke) and still pick myself back up, quieten the voices in my head telling me that I’d made a huge mistake, and go again.
Have you ever had any racing disasters?
Yes two come to mind straight away.
The Excalibur Sword walk when I was in Scouts. The details are a little vague after almost 30 years however the feeling is not. From memory this was a 40 mile endurance walk and after 30 miles I decided to quit even though my team mates pleaded with me not to. I had completely justified it in my head and my mind was made up. After stopping I was lying on my sleeping bag in a village hall thinking to myself, you’re not that knackered, you could’ve gone on. At that point I committed to myself that I wouldn’t quit again.
The second one is the London Marathon in 2001. At the time I was running twice a week and considered myself “pretty fit”. I also had a new job where I would work longer hours because that’s what everyone did and you stood out negatively by leaving on time. I could run 10 miles comfortably and considered myself “ready” for the marathon and everyone was being over cautious training so much. On race day, everything was going so well until 18 miles. Guess what?! The wheels fell off big time however I consoled myself that I only had 6 miles left and I could cover that in two hours in a worst case scenario… I was so fatigued that it was only at mile 20 that I realised that I then had 6 miles left. This was a devastating blow but I sucked it up to teach myself a lesson to make sure I properly prepared before a race in the future. In the end I finished in 4:44:03. At the time, I was disappointed with my time but knew deep down it was a time I had trained for and deserved. I can honestly say, I didn’t necessarily learn enough from this as I’ve winged quite a few races since!
How do you overcome setbacks?
Setbacks have come in various different shapes and forms. Physical set backs have included injuries including getting knocked off my bike when someone opened their car door on me in 2003 or simple muscle strains/tears. The first thing I do is sulk! This time period can very from minutes to hours however when I got knocked off my bike this lasted for a few days as I couldn’t train at all after the operation. Now I look at what I can do rather than what I can’t do. I make a plan. This may involve anything from as simple as google/YouTube and a foam roller to seeing physio. As I’m getting older I spend more time stretching and on mobility than I’ve ever done before.
The hardest set backs I have experienced are mental and I don’t just mean the voices telling you that you’re tired and it’s ok to cut the session short or skip it all together. The mental set back I’m referring to is from the environment around you and the people you surround yourself by. I was consistently told I wasn’t good enough and I was useless, a failure and after a while you start believing this and questioning your own values. This has been the hardest set back to overcome and I’m still overcoming it today.
In 2016, I signed up for the long-distance course triathlon at Alpe d’Huez in 2017. This would be a huge challenge after doing nothing for nine years, but I had almost one year to get ready for a triathlon. How hard could it be? Long story short, I didn’t make it to the triathlon that year, or the next. Or the next. It turns out ‘finding yourself’ is not as easy as it sounds. The mental challenge has been way harder than the physical. Doubting my ability, lacking motivation, making excuses. In fact, it’s only this year that I am ready. I KNOW I can do it. This year I know I can do it and am working to a training plan that will let me enjoy it on the day.
What advice do you wish you'd been given when you first started out?
Be kind to yourself and don’t compare yourself to others. Yes, it’s great to pick someone to race against and use that to motivate yourself however the only person you should be really racing is yourself. This isn’t about setting yourself low expectations but more about self-improvement.
Be present in your training, in your racing and enjoy the moment. Enjoy the hard parts, enjoy the easy parts and laugh. Laugh lots. Make friends, share experiences and laugh some more.
Oh yeah, and stretch more and use a foam roller.
What are your goals?
To be better than I was yesterday and inspire my children. I’m not expecting all my kids to follow me into doing triathlon but to understand you can achieve what you want to do with dedication. I also want them to know it’s okay to fail but it’s not okay never to try. Failure should be an opportunity to learn.
I want to increase awareness around mental health and understand how I can assist (I’ve not figured this part out). I want people to understand that being in an abusive relationship is not right and not a sign of weakness. It’s not you at fault but the other person and life can and will get better. I’m working on this too.
Who inspires you?
This is a tricky one to answer. My parents inspire me. Knowing the sacrifices they made when we were growing up to give us as much as they could afford but more importantly they always gave us their time. I want to be that role model for my kids. When I’m with them (I see them every other weekend) I am present, we have experiences and life can be lived beyond a screen.
At the moment there isn’t a single person who inspires me. I listen to a lot of TED talks, Audible books and podcasts. There are lots of truly inspirational people however I’m now looking to myself to be my own inspiration. That might sound stupid however I want to be proud of what I have achieved. This isn’t just about racing but the journey to the race.
Why work with Sundried?
Sustainability and Wellbeing are two of my passions and the Sundried ethos and product range embody that.
The focus on using recycled material and reducing plastic pollution is fantastic and something I look for in products that I buy. I also love the EHOH approach in your offices. We have a huge focus on wellbeing at work and it’s great to see other organisations embracing this. I really believe that movement/exercise not only helps with physical health but also with mental health.
I want to utilise this relationship to help spread my message about mental health and sustainability and feel there is perfect alignment in our values.
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