• Q&A With Esther O'Callaghan Ironman Triathlete

    Ironman triathlete beach open water

    Esther entered an Ironman to raise funds for Thrive Fund which provides small bursaries for disadvantaged young people to enter employment. She then went on to found Isle Of Tri with fellow Sundried ambassador and World Champion duathlete Claire Steels. She talks to Sundried about training for an Ironman from scratch and what it meant to her.

    What made you want to enter an Ironman? And why full distance rather than half?

    A team of us did it to raise money for the Thrive Fund, a fund I founded which provides small bursaries for disadvantaged young people to enter employment.  Most people opted for Tough Mudder, Bear Grylls challenges and a few bake sales and dress down days. But one team decided to do an Ironman and they signed me up for it. So it was a case of blind ignorance as I had no idea what one was.

    You say you never learnt to swim, how did you find taking lessons from scratch?

    Extremely daunting!  It turned out not only did I not know how to swim, I was also terrified of the water. There were a lot of tears, a lot of sitting at a table with my head in a bowl of water trying to learn how not to panic underwater, lots of sitting in a bath learning to submerge my head under the water. More tears. Lots of swearing. 

    If I hadn’t had a compelling reason to do this, it's highly likely I would have given up. Then I met Salim from SwimLab and that changed everything. His love of water and his way of teaching someone like me how to learn to love swimming made all the difference. I also learned that a lot of triathletes don’t like the swim, so I decided to learn how to love it. 

    My first swimming lesson was 30 October 2017. Eight months later I swam the Brighton Paddle Round the Pier (don’t be fooled by the name - it's a 2.5km open water sea swim!) and a full Ironman swim 11 months later.

    What was the toughest part about learning to ride a road bike?

    Cycling shoes! I went to Tri UK and was handed a pair of cycling shoes. I looked at the shop assistant who had the misfortune to serve me and I was like “You ATTACH your feet to the pedals? Are you insane?!”  More tears, more swearing.  You see the pattern here.

    How did you fit the hours of training for a full Ironman into your work and home life?

    This is possibly one of the most challenging aspects of an Ironman. The last 3-4 months of training I was averaging 18 hours a week.

    You have to get up earlier, work smarter, and sacrifice a lot of other things - especially weekends. It is a huge commitment for a year - but I found that everything improved; my health, fitness, strength and because I had to stop working to train, it made me work harder and faster. It was worth it.

    What was the hardest part of training for an Ironman?

    Self doubt. Having to learn to override the gnawing voice that says, "what are you doing? What were you thinking? How the hell are you going to do this?"

    In what ways did you surprise yourself over the course of your Ironman journey?

    In every way. Learning to swim, cycle, and run properly from scratch is insane now I look back at it.

    Who is your biggest inspiration?

    Rob and Hayley Roche. I met them at a Got To Tri Camp in Mallorca. They are an amazing couple who inspire me because they just train. They don’t make a big song and dance about it, but they consistently train, week in week out, they do more triathlon/multisport events than is normal and they are always encouraging and supportive of all my efforts. They keep me motivated.

    What advice would you give to others thinking of training for an Ironman for the first time?

    I’m not sure coming from total zero to a full Ironman in 11 months is the most sensible thing to do. I think it is really important to be part of a triathlon club and train regularly with them. Training on your own for prolonged periods of time is really hard.

    Get a good coach who can give you a real-world training plan – most of us aren’t pro athletes, we have jobs, lives, kids and unexpected curve balls. You have to be able to obsess slightly over training, everyone around you will be sick of you by the time the event rolls around! 

    Prioritise smart training. It's not just about time and miles; your nutrition, strength and core work and transition practice are all as essential as swimming, cycling and running. Try to make some of it fun - I think I left a part of my soul on the turbo trainer of doom by putting in three hour sessions on it. 

    Have accountability partners who won’t allow you to slide when you are struggling to find the motivation. 

    Avoid the trap of spending a small country’s GDP on equipment. It is a never-ending money pit!  You don’t need a £12k Cervelo bike - it isn’t going to make you go two hours faster - no matter how much lighter it makes your wallet. 

    Don’t train over injury; if your body is hurting and not in a good way, listen to it. Ignoring this was my biggest mistake and I paid a high price for it.

    How can people support you now that you've completed your challenge?

    Triathlon has completely changed my life. Starting Isle of Tri was all about how to inspire other women to give it a go. The best part of the journey so far has been the number of women who have got into triathlon because of me.

    If I can do it, anyone can.  I came from nothing; I have asthma, hypermobility, dyspraxia and I’m left handed - none of these things are conducive to athleticism!  But I did it anyway and it was worth it.

    Posted by Alexandra Parren
  • How To Choose A Wetsuit For Triathlon: Expert Advice And Buying Guide

    Huub wetsuit triathlon open water swim

    If the triathlon you are planning to do features an open water swim, a wetsuit is a must. In some cases they are mandatory and so you must wear one. Not only this, due to the fact they aid with buoyancy, they can be a vital part of the swim. 

    In this guide, you will find expert information about sizing, fitting, and much more so that you know exactly what to look for when investing in a wetsuit for triathlon. Whether you're renting or buying, don't do anything until you've read this guide!

    Buoyancy

    One of the most advantageous aspects of wearing a wetsuit for your open water swim is the buoyancy. However, you need a wetsuit that isn't too buoyant because it could cause back ache and make breaststroke swimming virtually impossible.

    The only way you can tell if the buoyancy in your chosen wetsuit is correct is to swim in it before you buy it. Some retailers have pools where you can try the wetsuit in the water and even be videoed to see if the buoyancy in the legs is right for you.

    Flexibility

    As a general rule, the more you pay for your wetsuit, the more flexible it will be. Flexibility increases your level of comfort, so think about how long you will be wearing your suit in each open water session. A long distance swimmer should always go for maximum flexibility, while someone who races exclusively in sprint triathlons could get away with a cheaper, less flexible wet suit. But think ahead – you may only be doing short swims this season, but if your goal for next year is an Ironman or 2 mile swim, you'll want to invest in a more expensive wetsuit.

    swimming triathlon wetsuit buying guide

    Warmth

    All wetsuits provide you with warmth and the layer of water between your skin and the wetsuit will warm up quickly once you get moving.  If you particularly suffer with the cold early or late in the season, there are wetsuits that have a special thermal lining inside to keep you warm. This feature would be particularly useful for someone planning a big challenge like swimming the Channel or doing a triathlon in a colder country.

    If you do suffer from the cold, you may also need to invest in a neoprene swim cap as well as socks and gloves. Make sure you check with race organisers first that you can wear them in an event.

    Sizing

    Unless you are a very unusual shape, there should be no need to buy a custom-made suit as there is a wide variety of sizes available to fit everyone. All wetsuit brands have size charts but they are all unique to their brand, so check the chart carefully if you are buying online. 

    Top Tip: Avoid buying a unisex suit as men and women are shaped differently.

    triathlon mass swim start wetsuit swimmers

    Fitting

    The video below is a demonstration of how to put on a wetsuit. Ensure that the seal around your neck is fitted properly and is good quality, otherwise the wetsuit will fill up with water. For maximum comfort, you will need to spend around 10-15 minutes getting the suit on and smoothing out any creases. 

    Zips

    There are a few different types of zips available. Make sure you are familiar with your zip and how it works before your event.  A breakaway zipper offers the quickest exit for triathlon but not if you are unfamiliar with its operation. More expensive suits will often have a very lightweight zip which slides up and down quickly, making getting in and out of the wetsuit quicker for more streamlined transition times.

    Warranty

    A wetsuit that is cared for properly will last you 3-4 years, but sometimes things do go wrong. An 18-month or 2 year warranty should be offered with your wetsuit purchase if you buy from a reputable dealer.

    Buying Versus Renting

    Buying online without trying it on first on can be a very costly mistake. Always ask a professional for advice before investing money in a wetsuit.  Buying a wetsuit is a big investment for most people and it's worth taking the time to do some research and travel to visit a shop where you can try before you buy.

    Not only this, it's important to make sure you are buying a swimming-specific wetsuit and not a surf or diving wetsuit. Sadly, surfing wetsuits are often sold to triathletes and swimmers but this type of suit can slow you down and restrict the movement of your arms - not what you want for a race!

    An entry-level wetsuit can start at just £120 while top-of-the-range suits could set you back up to £600. The middle mark of £300 will give you a great choice of mid-range wetsuits.

    If you are unsure about buying a wetsuit, you can hire a wetsuit for the season or just for your event. Lots of triathlon events will have a wetsuit hire facility available on the day, and all good stores will offer a rental facility. 

    About the authors: Gill and Dawn are professional triathlon swim coaches, ex-triathletes, and experts on wetsuits. Together they run Tri N Swim Well, a private swim coaching facility in Essex and wetsuit showroom.

    Read More: Triathlon Race Day Kit Checklist

    Read More: Huub Archimedes II Wetsuit Review

    Read More: Triathlon Swimming Goggle Guide

    Posted by Alexandra Parren
  • Interview With Ultimate Endurance Athlete Paul Parrish

    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

    Posted by Alexandra Parren
  • Finn Arentz Athlete Ambassador

    triathlon triathlete cycling

    Finn was inspired to take up the sport of triathlon after watching his dad complete Ironman Wales. He talks to Sundried about life as a triathlete.

    Have you always been into sport?

    To a certain degree yes. I have played football since I was 7 and I played rugby and ran a bit of cross country at school as well.

    What made you decide to enter the world of triathlon?

    I think spectating at Ironman Wales 2015; watching my dad complete it for the second time was quite inspirational. I started running a lot more after that and I got my first road bike a couple of months later and it just went from there!

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

    It has to be Ironman Wales 2016, the conditions were lovely and that feeling when I crossed the finish line was very special.

    And your proudest achievement?

    Again, I would have to say Ironman Wales 2016. To complete it in 11:28:19 only 9 months after picking up the sport and one month after my 18th birthday was something that I was extremely proud of, not to mention that I also qualified for the World Champs in Kona with that performance (I didn't however take the place due to a lack of funds at the time).

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

    No real disasters yet (touch wood) but the toughest race I've done is without a doubt Ironman Wales 2017. The conditions were shocking and that combined with the difficult course just made for a really tough day out. 

    How do you overcome setbacks?

    Injuries are part of the triathlon package, you learn to just accept that. When it does happen, I just try and stay positive and train in a way which won't aggravate the injury, knowing that eventually it will get better.

    What is the best bit of advice you wish someone had told you before you started competing?

    There are so many little things I could say, but I think the single most important thing is to make sure you don't beat yourself up if you miss a training session or if a race doesn't go well. There will always be another chance to make up for it and wallowing in self pity won't solve anything.

    What are your goals for 2018?

    My main goal is to try and qualify for the World Champs in the 18-24 age category at Ironman Wales this year. Other than that I just want to improve in all three disciplines as much as I possibly can.

    Who do you take your inspiration from?

    My dad was my original inspiration to take up the sport, and nowadays I draw a lot of it from people at the University Tri Club here in Exeter, as well as from various athletes based all over the world, often through their social media pages.

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

    I like that it is a stylish and high quality product, and I also love that it is so eco-friendly, I think that that is something that a lot of other companies should look to emulate.

    Posted by Alexandra Parren
  • James Hayward Athlete Ambassador

    James Hayward athlete amabssador

    James got into sport late in life but has made amazing progress. He talks to Sundried about life as an elite triathlete.

    Have you always been into sport?

    I was a late comer into sport and I never really enjoyed it at school until I started playing football during my teens for my local football team.  This was the start of my sporting career, however during a training match I suffered a dislocated kneecap which put me out for a year.  When I returned to action following my rehabilitation it was never the same enjoyment for me again, at which point my brother encouraged me to take up running and I joined my local running club.

    What made you decide to enter the world of triathlon?

    Having taken up running and subsequently cycling, triathlon seemed liked the next step and again I was swayed by my brother who had also taken it up recently. I had done duathlon previously and knew that I had to have a go at triathlon. During my youth I was never a keen swimmer so this was the biggest challenge facing me and one I was determined to master so I could compete in triathlon.

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

    My favourite race to date has to be the Outlaw Half Holkham in 2017. Everything including the organisation, set-up, and location was fantastic. This was also the race where I started to believe I could compete with other triathletes at this distance having started in the elite wave and finishing 23rd overall it really gave me a big confidence boost and the belief that I can do better in the future.

    And your proudest achievement?

    Again my proudest achievement to date has to be finishing 23rd at Holkham in a time of 4:35, especially as my previous attempt at this distance in 2016 I finished in 5:14.  It showed what I could achieve if I put more effort and dedication into my training and gave me renewed enthusiasm for the sport.

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

    The toughest race yet would have to be my first half ironman at Grafman in 2016 where I was underprepared from the open water swim straight through to the run.  I thought my training had gone well in the run up to the event but having never raced the distance I was in for a major shock.  The mass start of the swim was very daunting but I struggled through it, the bike was the only comfortable part of the race however I didn’t fuel myself well enough so when it came to the run it was a struggle all the way including having to walk parts of the course.

    How do you overcome setbacks?

    Having had a fair few setbacks including my knee injury playing football I have had to overcome setbacks and I always focus on the future knowing I will get back to where I was before it happened.  It also gives me focus and determination to be better in the future having overcome these setbacks.

    What is the best bit of advice you wish someone had told you before you started competing?

    The best bit of advice would have to be to always make sure to fuel yourself during a race whether it be eating whilst on the bike or taking gels on the run because as soon as your body is on empty you’re in trouble and it becomes just an achievement to finish.

    What are your goals for 2018?

    My goals for 2018 have to be to go sub 4:30 at the half ironman distance and to finish within the top 10 in that race.  I’m also hopeful of qualifying to represent GB as an age grouper at the European Middle Distance Championships in October in Spain and to qualify for the Duathlon Standard Distance Championships in 2019.

    Who do you take your inspiration from?

    My biggest inspiration comes from the Brownlee brothers who have really put triathlon on the map in the UK and raised the profile of the sport through their achievements in not only the Olympics but also through the World Triathlon tour.

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

    I really respect Sundried’s approach to ethical activewear whilst keeping the quality high and suitable for all sports.  My favourite bit of kit would have to be the grande casse running jacket suitable for all weather being lightweight and water resistant.

    Posted by Alexandra Parren