Interview with Sean Conway- Britain’s Wildest Adventurer

Sean Conway, the first and only guy in the world to swim, cycle and run the length of Britain, completing the world’s longest triathlon.

 

The Zimbabwean ginger-bearded adventurer has journeyed from Land’s End to John O’Groats via bike, running and swimming. Being the first ever person to swim the length of Britain, in 2016 Sean also completed a 4200-mile triathlon of Great Britain’s coast in just 85 days. Not only is Sean an epic adventurer he is also a motivational speaker and author of many adventurous and captivating books.

 

I caught up with Sean just a few days after he printed his books with us and before he headed off to Portugal in an attempt to break the world record for the fastest crossing of Europe by bicycle, to get an insight in why he does what he does. 

 

Why do you do what you do?

Well, I do it because I’m good at it. Turns out I’m quite good at being cold, wet, miserable, hungry and tired.

Is there anyone that influenced you to do this?

All the people that have done Land’s End to John O’Groats records. Like Mimi Anderson who holds the female record, that’s pretty cool. Gethin Butler who has the cycling record. A friend of mine skateboarded it, another guy who hit a golf ball, a girl who pushed her bed. All these people inspire me. The people that just go out and have a crack at it.

How do you prepare yourself physically and mentally for your adventureS?

With adventures, I try not to think about the bigger picture. I try and just think of the next stage or the next place I am going to get to or the next town or hill and then eventually you get to the end.

How did you have the motivation to keep going?

Well, I failed already the year before to try and run it and I think the second time round I just didn’t want to have that feeling again because I knew what I needed to do and I just knew that if I failed a second time round it would be that feeling ten times worse. Remembering that feeling I think is what kept me going.

You met some really awesome people along the way. Do you think they helped keep you going as well?

Yes definitely. You can kind of get caught up in your own little head space when you do solo things. Actually, people coming to share the experience even for a short while was amazing, especially Julien the french guy. He hitchhiked all the way from France which was completely crazy.

Has there ever been a time when you thought, that’s it I’m gonna die here?

On the swim yes, that’s where I got caught out at Cape Wrath. When I cycled around the world I got followed by some drug dealers and some gangsters, who I think wanted to rob me. I think that was probably one of the more scary moments where I thought this is quite dangerous. So yeah there’s been a few.

Is there anything that scares/frightens you?

You know what I’m not really scared of anything. The big stuff doesn’t scare me. I think not finishing kind of scares me. The idea of having to quit and give up that scares me a lot. I try not to think about things that could scare me because once you open up that doubt that’s when you tend to struggle. It’s better to just ignore them.

Do you think you’ve changed as a person since you began your adventures?

Oh of course, yeah. Everyone would. You know I have learnt to be more resilient, I have learnt to deal with my own thoughts better. I’ve been more resourceful in all other aspects of my life. I have learnt how to deal with pressure much better now and in other aspects of my life.

Out of all your adventures you have done, which has been the most challenging?

Well, the swim as a whole because there was no one else that had ever done it and it was miserable. But running I struggled with because I just get injured. I got injured the first time, so I struggled to do the run without getting injured. But I think swimming Britain was the hardest one as a whole.

Which one did you prefer and is there one that you would consider doing professionally?

Cycling. Cycling is fun, you go fast, you can go further, you can detour without too much effort. So yeah cycling is the most fun.

Do you think you will ever stop trying to do these crazy adventures?

While I can I will. I would love to do it forever but with any sport, there’s going to be a time when my body won’t be able to compete with my brain. My brain will want to do some big stuff and my body will just be too old. Don’t get me wrong that won’t be for quite some time, I’m 37 I’ve still got probably another 10 years before the graph starts bending downwards again. Then who knows.

You say there are 2 key things you need in life, Certainty and Uncertainty. How do you get the balance right?

It’s a difficult one because if you choose something that’s too unrealistic and you have no grasp on it, then there is no point in pursuing it. Like there’s no way I could be a sumo wrestler for example. There has to be a certain element of achievability, but it shouldn’t be easy. I think that’s all it is. I know that I can probably run a 3-hour marathon, I know that it is within my grasp, but I am not certain that I can achieve it. I think that would be a good balance for me. It’s knowing what you can do but it may not be achievable right now. I think that’s quite nice, that there is an option for you but you’re going to have to work for it.

You say the lake district is your most favourite part of Britain. What’s your most favourite part of the world?

Oh wow. That’s hard. I don’t know. Landscape-wise I would have to go Namibia, the deserts are amazing. People wise I would probably go Tibet, it was just a very fascinating part of the world because of the people. Food wise I quite liked India. I like India generally for everything because you have the mountains and things. It’s difficult to choose but the Lake District is probably one of my most favourite parts of the world, it’s just amazing.

You seem to have had a pretty amazing childhood in Africa. Would you ever go back?

I do go back quite a lot, but I don’t know whether I would live in Africa. I think Britain has so much opportunity. If you want to go run the length of the country you can do it and feel pretty safe doing so, without having to worry too much about going places. I love that about Britain. There is just so much opportunity for so many things here. I enjoy Africa obviously I love it. I would like to do more adventures in Africa, maybe run the length of Africa one day, I think that’s on my bucket list.

Talking about Bucket Lists. In your opinion what is the one thing that everyone should have on their bucket list, or as you call it f**k it list?

Oh wow. Jeese. I think everyone in Britain should try and do Land’s End to John O’Groats, in some way, shape or form in their lives. Running it is amazing but obviously, that takes some time. Cycling, most people will be able to cycle it with some training and a few weeks. Or even driving it, just driving it would be a nice way of seeing the country. Yeah, I think everyone should try and do the Land’s End to John O’Groats.

You said you wanted a more adventurous life. What advice would you give to someone looking for more adventure?

Adventure doesn’t have to be rowing an ocean or climbing mountains or running countries. Adventure is just a way of thinking. You just have to think a little differently. Choose a different restaurant or go eat out or choose a different way to work. I think it won’t take a lot to add a little spice. Alastair Humphreys famously said, “We all have a 9-5 but you’ve actually also got 5 o’clock in the evening until 9 o’clock the next morning which is a long time to go off and do stuff.” I think we need to make the most of that time outside of work.

Is there anything out of adventure that you like doing?

I love writing if I had to do one thing out of adventure it would definitely be writing. So I would like to start writing my first novel, maybe a kids series as well. I just had a dream of always having, well originally it was a dream of having 10 books out but I am actually on number 5 already so it might happen sooner than later. So maybe I will have to up that to 30 books.

Talking about your books, my favourite part of your most recent book was the high five moment with the cyclist. What is your most favourite part of the book?

Oh I know it was brilliant! It was like the most nerve-wracking moment of my life, I thought I was going to kill the guy, but we nailed it! There was loads, that sunset, that double rainbow. That was pretty special, for sure. You know you don’t often see a full double rainbow, ground to ground. Yeah, I loved the scenery. There was so much that was memorable. Giving the cyclist a high five and the double rainbow are one of the two.

How do you keep track of everything that has happened on your adventurers to write your books?

Well, I did the video diaries, I also do voice recordings on my phone. And then I also write things down on my notepad, in my notes on my phone as well. At the end of each day, I will write where I started, where I stopped, who I met, try to remember their names, things that happened that were interesting. So I did all of that but then after I finished the book I went back and I drove the whole route. I drove back up to John O’Groats and I drove all the way down to Land’s End, following most of the route, obviously, I ran along a lot of canals and the trails but at least I would be able to get an idea of where I was and to jog my memory a little bit. So those are the ways I managed to remember everything.

What’s your writing process like?

I take baby steps. I just write a bit every day. I don’t actually write chronologically either, I write bits that I like, that I remember and that I want to write. Then I stitch them all together at the end. I only write about 500 words or so and then after that I stitch it all together later.

What do you look forward to most in the book process?

All of it! I love it all. I love the writing bit, I love the editing bit, I love the designing of the cover, I love the publishing bit. Yeah, I love it all. For me, it’s all quite interesting, which is why I enjoy it the most.

What advice would you give aspiring writers?

Just start writing. Well, actually two things. One, start reading a lot of books. And two, you need to go out and experience the world. You know no one is stuck in their bedroom or on their iPhones or watching tele their whole lives. To be able to write a good book you need to go and meet people and explore the world. Get out there, go and adventure because that’s the only way you’re going to be able to keep people entertained in the form of words. Once you’ve got out there start writing. You don’t need to write a lot, just a couple hundred words a day, 500 words a day. Soon or a later you will have finished the book.

Who do you turn to for a good read?

There’s loads. My favourite book is The Power Of One by Bryce Courtenay. Every travel writer in the world pretends he wants to be Bill Bryson, so I do enjoy Bill Bryson like every other travel writer. I also like in general reading all the other adventure books. People who have climbed Everest and various other people who have done Land’s End to John O’Groats and cycled around the world and Africa. Anyone who has gone off and done an adventure I try and read their books to.

What is the most valuable thing you have learnt?

Resilience and level-headedness, those two things are super important. Even in writing the book, you need to be resilient, you need to keep going at it and you need to put the words down, they’re not going to write themselves. When you get thrown a difficult bit just keep going. Then level-headedness. When things are going bad keep a level head, when things are going well you need to not celebrate. It’s like in the book I would write one chapter that would be amazing and I would think this is brilliant, this is the best chapter ever. And then you take the foot off the gas and the next chapter is rubbish. It’s because you’ve over-celebrated, so you’ve got to keep a good level about things. It definitely helps.

Finally, why should people read your books?

Why should they read my books? Well, no one else in the world has swum, cycled and run Land’s End to John O’Groats. So I would like to say that my book shows an insight into the things that no one else on the planet has ever done. It also gives you an insight into what it’s like. I think you’ll find it interesting and funny all at the same time.

All photos were taken from Sean Conway’s Facebook Page with his permission. 

Check out the magazine feature I did on Sean Conway’s Interview here.

Also, share the interview with your fellow adventurers.

 

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