• Neil Cooper Athlete Ambassador

    Sundried triathlon ambassador

    Neil discovered triathlon after injury ended his rugby career. He talks to Sundried about training and racing.

    Have you always been into sport?

    Yes, sport has always been a big part of my life. My first sport was swimming and I had the honour of racing in the Olympic pool at Munich in a European final for NATO military children at the age of about 10. Breaststroke and butterfly were my strokes. As a teenager my main sport was athletics. I was a 100m, 200m, and 400m runner. I came 3rd in the English schools at 100m and was in the same training group as Roger Black, Kris Akabusi, Ewan Thomas and Todd Bennett. After a series of hamstring injuries I concentrated on rugby for the next 15 years. In 1991 I started coaching sport and have now been involved in coaching sports ever since, but the main focus is now triathlon.

    What made you decide to enter the world of triathlon?

    After breaking my arm playing rugby I was told I wouldn't be able to play again. I then started to get unfit and needed something to motivate me. Our village outdoor swim pool organised a mini triathlon to raise money so a few friends and myself entered. I was awful, having not swum for years and using a borrowed bike that was far too big for me. However, I loved it and soon started dreaming of doing an Ironman.

    What’s been your favourite race to date and why?

    I think my favourite race has to be the Lakesman in 2016. It was the first Lakesman and is local to me so I had so much support. A few of my friends were doing it as well, including some who had done the first triathlon with me. The banter, rivalry, atmosphere and the event itself were all fantastic. It was great to then coach the winner of the race in 2019.

    And your proudest achievement?

    That's a tough one. I think from an athletic point of view it is probably to have completed an Ironman. I don't think many 100m sprinters go on to complete one because physiologically we are adept at short distance but not long distance. Having spent years racing Ewan Thomas on the track, and then raced him twice at the London Marathon, I think it shows how we have both gone from being focused on winning to then just focused on finishing. My proudest coaching moment was coaching the winner of the European Long course championship in Madrid.

    Have you ever had any racing disasters/your toughest race yet?

    Helvelyn triathlon in 2014 was one of those races I hated. I did it shortly after doing my first Ironman. Since the Ironman I had been away and hadn't trained or eaten well. The race is one of the toughest in Europe and it was a hot day. Half way through the swim I realised I hadn't recovered from the Ironman and the whole day was just a massive struggle. Sometimes, having the ability to finish the race when you have such a tough day are the most rewarding as it showed I had the mental strength to keep going. When I got home I told my wife I was never doing another long event again. She then informed me that she had entered me into another Ironman for my birthday!

    How do you overcome setbacks?

    That's very relevant for me now. I have just had surgery on my shoulder due to old rugby damage which was affecting my swimming. I have taken it as an opportunity to refocus my short term goals. I have spent the time focusing on improving my power, range of movement and strength. I think that after any setback you need to reflect on why it happened and work on making sure it doesn't happen again. There is a saying that athletes are masters of failure because we turn failure into positives by constantly learning lessons and improving.

    What advice do you wish you'd been given before you started competing?

    I think the best advice would have been to get the balance right. There needs to be a balance between life and sport. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in sport we let other things fall by the wayside. I think having someone to look over what you do to make sure you are getting that balance and making sure you rest, eat well and keep everything in perspective is important. Whether that is a coach, friend or family member, I believe it helps your performance and happiness. It is something I try to do with all my athletes.

    What are your goals?

    For me the goal is to recover from the surgery and to become a stronger and more flexible athlete for 2021. In some ways the cancelling of races might be a blessing as it will be an opportunity to work on more long term goals.

    Who do you take your inspiration from?

    My father was a great athlete and had abilities across lots of sports. I definitely got my passion and determination for sport from him. From a coaching perspective I was lucky to have had some great coaches in Tony Fern and the great late Mike Smith. Both were really approachable, friendly, knowledgable and created a successful but enjoyable culture. It is hard not to have been inspired by the achievements, personality and drive of Chrissie Wellington. She is an amazing character. I met her before my first Ironman and she was so encouraging.

    What do you like about Sundried and what’s your favourite bit of our kit?

    Firstly, the kit has to be top quality and it is. The kit is top spec kit but at an affordable price. In addition, the company has a great ethical approach and is environmentally responsible. For me the trisuit is brilliant. I have so many suits but the Sundried suit is the best of the lot for the advanced design and comfort.

    Posted by Alexandra Parren
  • Michael Gaskell Athlete Ambassador

    cyclist cycling athlete Sundried activewear

    Michael is a triathlete who fits training around his family life. He talks to Sundried about training and racing.

    Have you always been into sport?

    Yes, pretty much. I played Rugby Union at a decent level and also close to having a trial for Bristol before dislocating both shoulders badly. I then got into cycling and played Ultimate Frisbee for a while too, competing for University, it’s a surprisingly explosive sport!

    What made you decide to enter the world of triathlon?

    That was mainly down to some friends who were entering a few at the time, I got bored of watching them and wanted to join in.

    What’s been your favourite race to date and why?

    Abersoch in 2019. The weather was great and we entered as a mixed team. We ended up winning the Olympic distance race.

    And your proudest achievement?

    Probably when my daughters ask if they can join in too. Hoping to enter some Duathlons with them when things get back to normal.

    Have you ever had any racing disasters/your toughest race yet?

    Not my disaster but entered a race where road works interrupted the ride leg, the ride is my strongest leg so it really impacted on my rhythm. 2 laps stopped just before the traffic light change twice.

    How do you overcome setbacks?

    I have a little vent and then forget about it. There’s probably always something worse that can happen, unless your frame snaps.

    What advice do you wish you'd been given before you started competing?

    Don’t sit down during T1, I’m not a natural swimmer and was exhausted. Didn’t want to get up again!

    What are your goals?

    I was hoping to do some Ultra rides this year, but that’s all in limbo at the moment, that said I did manage a 241-mile indoor trainer ride in one day, and also have a 210-mile ride pencilled in for August. Also planning on a few Duathlons if possible.

    Who do you take your inspiration from?

    Mainly my friends. We’re a group of 40+ dads cramming exercise in when we can. Riding, running and swimming with a group of mates tends to keep me going!

    What do you like about Sundried and what’s your favourite bit of our kit?

    I really like the innovative use of coffee in some of your products, think it’s a great use of waste products. I love the Men’s Eco-Top for that very reason.

    Posted by Alexandra Parren
  • Ed Stivala Athlete Ambassador

    sundried athlete ambassador triathlon triathlete

    Ed was overweight and unfit but that didn't stop him from working hard and becoming a triathlete. He talks to Sundried about training and racing.

    Have you always been into sport?

    No! I took a break from sport after a crushing defeat in the Egg and Spoon Race at age six and did nothing until I was in my late forties and starting to see the big 50 on the horizon. But at nearly twenty stone and with years of inactivity behind me, I suppose most people assumed getting fit would never happen… let alone competing in Age Group Triathlon.

    What made you decide to enter the world of triathlon?

    I joined a local multi-sport club for some motivation and encouragement around running (which was still quite new to me and I think I could run about 5k at that time… enough to do a Parkrun). But the people in the triathlon group seemed to be having a lot more fun! So in complete naivety, I decided to get involved and they were incredibly welcoming. They were also all training for the Long Course Mallorca event, I had no idea really what that would entail, but in my innocence, signed up for the long distance event on the basis that my friends were dong it.

    What’s been your favourite race to date and why?

    I think it would have to be Castle Triathlon’s race at Chateaux Chantilly. It’s a stunning location with a superb bike and run course. The logistics from the UK are quite easy and it’s just a really relaxing location to spend some time at. Even though the race isn’t closed roads, locally everyone is so bike friendly it is virtually as good as a closed road event. And very fast surfaces. I’m certainly looking forward to being able to race there again, hopefully 2021.

    And your proudest achievement?

    Without a doubt finishing the marathon at the Mallorca Long Course race which was exactly 12 months after I finished my very first 10k charity run!

    For those that might not be familiar with it, the event is a full distance triathlon race but held over three days. Swim Friday, Bike Saturday and Run Sunday. It’s a different challenge to a ‘regular’ Iron distance race in that you obviously get overnight rest, but you also have three start lines and the challenge of getting yourself loosened up each morning as well as figuring out your nutrition. Ironman is a long time to stay focused and race and a massive physical challenge. This was a different challenge in that you are starting Friday morning and in your head you know you are not done until sometime on Sunday. Even between the three events you are not really relaxing, so it has a different psychological aspect to it.

    It stands out for me as something that I’m really proud of as I did it in my first year in triathlon and exactly one year from managing to just about complete a 10k charity run!

    Have you ever had any racing disasters/your toughest race yet?

    Every race feels tough at the time! And similarly I have had too many disasters to list them all. But one that stands out was a local 70.3 race. In the preceding race I had not used any sunblock and ended up with really bad sunburn. So at this particular race I decided to not make the same mistake twice and made sure I used plenty just before the start of the race. Swimming out to the start my googles fogged up so I took them off and tried to clean them, only to get sun cream from my fingers all over the inside of the lenses. It was pretty hard to see, and then realised that the first part of the swim was into the rising sunlight… And I could see absolutely NOTHING and goggles were leaking.

    It was a complete disaster and I was immediately dropped from the main group and could hardly even see the turn markers. I was so far out of the race by half way through the swim I was very close to just pulling out and calling it a day. Luckily I had a word with myself and decided that if nothing else I may as well use it as a training session and do the swim and bike.

    That turned out to be a good call. I made up a lot of ground on the bike leg as the course really suited me and others were struggling. Had an OK run too and it ended up being an OK result. That taught me that 70.3 is a long race and you have no idea early on how it will play out for others. So you might feel like you are having a nightmare, but you don’t know how bad a day others might be having or what might happen. Keep going, do your best and cross the finish line, because you just never know!

    How do you overcome setbacks?

    For me it’s all about knowing there will be set backs and it’s very rare for a plan to work out exactly how you envisaged. Therefore I don’t worry about the things I can’t control and make sure that I make the best choices with the things that I can control. There is always a way through a setback, so no point letting it frustrate me, just keep moving forward.

    What advice do you wish you'd been given before you started competing?

    You spend a LOT of time training, so enjoy the training and the process of getting ready as much as the race itself, else it will feel like a long road to the start line! Every race I have learned something, the result might not have always been what I wanted, but I have always gone home with something to help me race better next time.

    What are your goals?

    2020 has obviously been a difficult year for people all over the world because of the Pandemic and of course the real challenges have been for people that have lost loved ones. So naturally not being able to race fades into insignificance against that. But like many in the sport, I have used the time away from racing to work on base fitness and some technique points that have never been quite good enough. My focus has shifted to 2021 and my goals for when we can race again will be to see what I can do with Duathlon at the Middle Distance.

    I have two Triathlons on my bucket list; Challenge Roth and Tri Alp D’Huez. I would love to experience the atmosphere of racing Roth, particularly on the bike leg. As for Tri Alpe D’Huez… It’s just a really tough race and I would love the challenge of it. Although I hate cold water, so the swim will not be my finest hour!

    Who do you take your inspiration from?

    There are just so many people that inspire me! But they are never on a podium or looking confident and composed on a start line. I find huge inspiration from those that have never seen themselves as athletic or sporty, but find the tenacity to keep showing up to exercise and knowing that if they do that they will eventually improve and become the version of themselves they want to be. They have self belief and huge inner strength - thats what I find inspirational.

    What do you like about Sundried and what’s your favourite bit of our kit?

    There is a lot to like about SunDried in terms of ethics and sustainability. But Im afraid I am a bit more superficial than that… It just looks great! Putting on great looking kit makes you feel good even before you step out the door. Favourite bit of kit would be Snowdon Mens Ultra Cool T-Shirt- simple, comfy and yes… It looks good!

    Posted by Alexandra Parren
  • Jacob Kemp Athlete Ambassador

    triathlete running triathlon

    Jacob is a young triathlete who has his sights set on the GB Age Group team. He talks to Sundried about training and racing.

    Have you always been into sport?

    Yes from a young age I did many different sports; tennis, football, rugby, badminton, cycling and running.

    What made you decide to enter the world of triathlon?

    I wanted to pursue my running more and my mum pointed me in the direction of a local triathlon club, as she wanted me to have all-round fitness.

    What’s been your favourite race to date and why?

    My favourite race was probably in 2018 when I competed in my first adult triathlon race, I came first in my age category and it was one of my best performances to date.

    And your proudest achievement?

    Coming third in a duathlon race, which was a Yorkshire Series event at the Brownlee Centre and that meant a lot to me as I was definitely not one of the favourites, and there were a lot of very well known athletes there, so it was definitely a confidence boost for me.

    Have you ever had any racing disasters/your toughest race yet?

    Once in a cross country race, in the regionals, I was running comfortably in the top five, but then I slipped going round a corner, lost my rhythm and momentum and not to mention a few places and I only went backwards from there so came a disappointing 21st in the end, not even good enough to qualify for the next round.

    How do you overcome setbacks?

    My philosophy is generally, if I don't get the result I want or don't feel particularly great during a training set, I cure that by training harder each time, until I'm comfortable with my own fitness. If the setback is an injury though, you have to wait until all the niggles are gone before you start training hard again, otherwise it could become a lasting problem.

    What advice do you wish you'd been given before you started competing?

    Never just settle for second place, as in my first few races, I let the top few athletes break away and form a leading group and I didn't even try to follow them, and I was left wondering what if?

    What are your goals for 2020?

    To qualify for Team GB, to run my first ever sub 18-minute 5km and to improve my sprint distance triathlon time by five minutes on last year's PB.

    Who do you take your inspiration from?

    My coaches, my friends, my family, the professionals and mostly, my own drive to be the best.

    What do you like about Sundried and what’s your favourite bit of our kit?

    I love the fact that Sundried clothing is so comfortable and lightweight and looks good when racing. My favourite item of the Sundried range is probably the Dom 2.0 running vest as it looks good on and feels just like I'm wearing a second skin.

    Posted by Alexandra Parren
  • Grace Fleming Athlete Ambassador

    cross country running

    Grace is an athlete who never let setbacks get in her way. She talks to Sundried about training and racing.

    Have you always been into sport?

    I have always absolutely loved sport. When I was younger I tried as many different sports as I could. Hockey, netball, rounders, tennis, gymnastics, swimming, horse riding, rowing and athletics. I gave them all a try and then later into secondary school, I found my love of triathlon. Sport has been a big part of my life thus far.

    What made you decide to enter the world of triathlon?

    What first gave me the idea of trying triathlon was when I was watching the Brownlee brothers race in a World Series race and I was in awe of them. I knew from that point, that’s what I wanted to do. I had always been into swimming and running, I just hadn’t had much experience cycling up until then.

    What’s been your favourite race to date and why?

    Hever Castle triathlon in 2016 because that was the race that really gave me the bug for the sport and I loved every minute of it!

    And your proudest achievement?

    Racing cross-country for Kent at the Inter-Counties and English schools championships.

    Have you ever had any racing disasters/your toughest race yet?

    In my first ever triathlon, my bike broke (and had to get picked up off the bike course by a van) and at my second triathlon I took a wrong turn on the bike course (and got disqualified because of that). I’m pleased I kept sticking at triathlon after those two experiences!

    How do you overcome setbacks?

    Injury has been a big part of my life over the last two years and I’ve just had to keep on persevering. I have such a great love of the sport and my blog has kept me going and not allowed me to ever give up.

    What advice do you wish you'd been given before you started competing?

    Have fun with it!

    What are your goals?

    Keep training hard, see what I can do next season and go from there.

    Who do you take your inspiration from?

    Vicky Holland I think is amazing and I aspire to be like her!

    The Brownlee brothers have also had a huge influence on me for getting me into the sport in the first place!

    What do you like about Sundried and what’s your favourite bit of our kit?

    I love the cycling kit, looks so smart and is so comfy!

    Posted by Alexandra Parren