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Interview With Ultimate Endurance Athlete Paul Parrish

by Alexandra Parren
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endurance athlete Paul Parrish interview Sundried

Paul is one of only a handful of endurance athletes who has done some of the toughest, most gruelling events in the world, including the diabolical triple Ironman. You think one Ironman is tough? Try doing three in one go! Sundried had the pleasure of finding out more about this incredible athlete.

All photos credited to Neil Hall of Reuters who accompanied Paul on his Arch To Arc triathlon journey.

I have used endurance events to raise over £56,000 for charity.

I’m Paul, father of three children and a director of marketing and fundraising for the spinal injury charity Aspire. I have spent the past 15 years specialising in endurance events and have completed some wonderful challenges. In November 2000, after twenty years of alcoholic drinking, I got sober and began a process of change that has been the most incredible journey. I am now a great advocate of using sport as part of a gateway to a more fulfilling life. And, having started from such a low base, I believe that anyone can achieve amazing things should they so wish.

What inspired you to enter the Arch To Arc triathlon?

I had managed to complete a triple Iron distance event in 2011 and had been surprised that I had handled it relatively well both physically and mentally. It was at that point that I began to wonder what I might really be capable of and I was aware of the Arch to Arc. It was an event that I wouldn’t have dared look at a year earlier, but we lay foundations for the future by what we achieve in the present. The triple gave me that impetus to enter the event.

Paul Parrish arch to arc triathlon english swim channel

You are the oldest person to have completed this epic challenge, do you feel like age played a part for you?

Age and experience has made me more humble and endurance events need to be approached with humility. I sometimes still see alpha behaviour out on long distance courses and you can guarantee that alpha approaches will only end up in very long, miserable days out.

I am now no longer the oldest to have completed the Arch To Arc triathlon. Grantley Bridge, a truly old git, is now the holder of that title.

arch to arc triathlon triathlete

What was the hardest part of the challenge (your lowest moment) and how did you get through it?

The last two hours in the Channel were crucifying. I was lost and thought that I had blown it. I had told my support team to give me no references to time or place (for psychological reasons that is often recommended in Channel Swimming). It was dark and I had no idea where I was. I had decided that I had missed the coast and had been taken by the tide and wouldn’t finish. At this point, I made the decision not to call the event myself but to swim until someone ordered me to get out of the water. The order never came and at 5.24 a.m., Sept 14th 2014, my right hand brushed the sand of France; I had swum the Channel.

arch to arc triathlon English Channel swim

You have also done some amazing Ironman events including the elusive Triple. How do those types of events compare to the Arch To Arc?

Both of them have components that are the crux of the event and are terrifying in their enormity. The triple has the 336 miles on a bike.  No normal person knows what will happen on a bike over that distance. Similarly, the Arch to Arc has the Channel Swim at its heart. If you complete the swim or the cycle, you know you have a good chance of finishing, providing you can make the cut off time. It’s funny, but I when I did the triple and was close to finishing the bike I began to think that an 87 mile run would actually be okay….it wasn’t… 

running arch to arc triathlon kent dover endurance athlete

What gets you through these types of events mentally?

These events make you understand how small you are in time and space; that is pretty frightening but can be worked with. Chunk up each section into manageable amounts and just add section to section like building blocks. Understand that time will pass between the start of the event and the next time that you go into work. You can choose to fill that gap in time and space anyway that you like, but it will pass and you will pass through it and be delivered out the other side. So you could sit on a sofa eating pies or you could choose to walk quietly into work knowing that you have completed a life-defining event. Knowing I am choosing something special and life-enhancing helps carry me through. I also know that everything passes. Discomfort is replaced by euphoria is replaced by anguish and back to euphoria. I know that any feeling I have will change over the course of an event, so I may as well keep going.

English channel swim endurance athlete Paul Parrish

Have you always been into endurance sports?

No, I use to drink myself to death, so this is a better option. My first Ironman was 2007, my first ultra run was 2010 and my first double Ironman was 2010.

sleeping car arch to arc triathlon

Do you follow a specific nutrition plan? If so, what/when do you eat?

I am now 90% vegan and eat clean food. I have never felt so damn good and so full of energy.

What does a typical training week look like for you?

I fit training around my life. Why drive into work when you can run or cycle? Weekdays will be a mix of Paul-powered commutes and CrossFit sessions. The weekend is reserved for a long run/cycle. I also work at a place that has a swimming pool so I tend to swim at lunchtimes.

cycling Paris triathlon arch to arc

Are there any other epic challenges on the horizon for you now?

I have just come back from cycling from London to Armenia and Azerbaijan.  That was so totally awesome it will never leave me – just like the Arch to Arc. I am lucky that I have a library of memories that I love.

What advice would you give someone thinking of doing a similar challenge?

Approach the event with humility. Scare yourself. Be audacious. Choose something impossible. Then plan what events/training will get you closer to impossible. Everything is a progression. Raise money when you do a big event for a cause that you care about. Even if you fail you will still have a sense of fulfilment about what you have done. Visualise what it will feel like to have achieved the impossible and what that first cup of tea/curry/cake will taste like.  It is bliss!

arch to arc triathlon finish arc de triomphe

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