Sean Conway: Facts about the action man

Sean Conway:
The Action Man

INTERVIEW: GRAEME LENNOX
Photography: Discovery Communications/Mike Hogan

Zimbabwe-born adventurer Sean Conway recently became the first person to finish the Ultimate British Triathlon, cycling, swimming and running the length of Britain. Here he speaks facts

Zimbabwe-born adventurer Sean Conway recently completed his latest mission, becoming the first person to finish the Ultimate British Triathlon, cycling, swimming and running the length of Britain - and chalking up 38 consecutive marathons on the way. Sounds tough? A beard and a penguin suit are all the 34-year-old needs to achieve the unachievable.

THE RED BULLETIN: You’re one of the few people in the world with the job title of ‘adventurer’. How did that come about?

SEAN CONWAY: Well, I was born in Harare in Zimbabwe, and had an adventurous upbringing in the Mana Pools National Park where my father, Tony, was a conservationist game ranger. I spent my early years climbing trees and chasing elephants out of our garden.

Swim Britain stats #1

Facts about the Action Man

Miles Swum: 900
Number of strokes: 3,000,000
Equivalent lengths of a pool: 56,000
Longest day: 21 miles
Shortest day: 1 mile
Average water temp: 14 degrees till Scotland then 13 degrees in Scotland
Warmest water: 16 degrees
Coldest water: 11 degrees
Jellyfish seen: 754642356
Stung by jellyfish: 10 – Face 3 times, hands 7 times.
Calories burned: Over half a million (same as eating over 400 whole freerange chickens)
Fastest tide: 10mph

But your real adventures began when you left Africa for Britain… 

Yeah, I was going to a New Year’s party with friends in London, and I lived 100 miles or so away in Cheltenham. I was going to take the train, but then I thought could I walk to London for less than the price of the train ticket. That was the start of it.

And no other occupations had a look in?

Originally I wanted to be a photographer but I got disillusioned with it so I decided to try break the world record for cycling around the world. I was on course to do it but a driver hit me in America. I carried on and did 12,000 of the 16,000 miles with a fractured spine - but I never broke the record.

Swim Britain stats #2

Facts about the Action Man

Longest session without seeing land: 4 days
Litres of salt water drunk: 20 litres
Wetsuits used: 6
Favourite wetsuit: Speedo Super Tri Elite
Goggles used: 10
Favourite goggles: Speedo Aquasphere
Average time in water each session: 5 hours
Average time between feeds: 90 mins
Calories eaten in each feed: 800kcal (need to up this)
Days off due to bad weather: 45
Biggest waves swam in: 20ft
Times swam with dolphins: 10
Times swam with seals: 25

Your beard has become a trademark. Was that a conscious thing?

It was functional first. I decided to swim the length of Britain, from Land’s End to John O’Groats, back in 2013. The start of that was the most nervous I’ve been in my entire life. Being the first person to attempt anything is fraught with mixed emotions and uncertainties. 

So was the beard a kind of comfort blanket?

In a way. When you’re at sea for 135 days you want insulation. But it was actually trying to navigate through jellyfish and inevitably getting stung in the face. That was one of the harder parts. Growing a beard shielded me from the jellyfish and then just became ‘my thing’.

Swim Britain stats #3

Facts about the Action Man

Worst experience: Losing kayak, rib and anchor within 1 week of the end and nearly having to complete the swim next year due to bad weather!  
Scariest moment: Seeing a large ‘thing’ below me and not knowing what it was. Turns out it was just a seal. 
Best experience: Swimming with millions of phosphorescence
Showers had in 4.5 months: 10
Times I’ve used soap: 4
Times I’ve thrown up: 7
Days I’ve breathed to my left: 1
Days I’ve breathed to my right: 89
Days I’ve felt ill: 30
Times I’ve wanted to quit: 1

Your other ‘thing’ is going on outlandish adventures, such as climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in a penguin outfit. Were there regrets along the way?

I enjoyed bringing smiles to people’s faces every time they saw me. I hopefully gave them some sort of hope. If a guy in a penguin suit can do it then so could they. I was practically naked underneath to start due to the heat but then put more and more layers on underneath the penguin as it got colder. 

But it must have been bloody tough?

My one continuous problem was the yellow feet that were covering my shoes. These soon got wet and muddy which meant they kept getting caught on rocks, which would make me loose balance on some pretty steep climbs. They soon looked totally tattered. This would have been a great excuse to take them off, but I had committed to wearing them the whole way and wasn’t going to back out. The final day was the hardest. The altitude was playing havoc with all our bodies and it took us seven hours to walk the last 6km. My penguin suit, however, came into its own here; with the extra layer of insulation I was actually quite warm. 

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