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Blog | 24 October 2023

Meet the real Iron Man, Sean Conway

Sean Conway, Scouts Adventurer

Scouts Adventurer, Sean Conway, is one of the world’s greatest endurance athletes. Not content with running, swimming and cycling the length of Britain (oh, and cycling round the world), he’s recently completed an astonishing 105 Ironman triathlons in 105 days. He even once ran the London Marathon dressed as a giant Scout badge.

Sean's wearing goggles and a hat as he stands in the sun in Petra. He's stood in front of an old building and is holding his camera with his left hand as he takes a selfie.

The idea that I did 105 Ironmans in a row has only recently sunk in.

I swam 2.4 miles, cycled 112 miles and ran a marathon every day from 10 April to 21 July. For anyone who’s counting, that’s 244.8 miles of swimming, 11,424 miles of cycling and 2,672.4 miles of running.

I was really tired for the first month afterwards. I had a good base level of fitness (I did 90 hours of exercise a week for three and a half months) so I was motivated to do more stuff afterwards, but my body really said no.

This week has been the first time I’ve been out for a run when my body felt like it was getting back to normal. I had a hip issue from day 65 of the Ironman challenge that stayed to the end, but this last week it’s felt better. Fingers crossed I’m over the worst of it. For a challenge of this size, it’s definitely a head game and a body game.

Sean is sat on his bike in biking gear and a helmet on his head. He's perched next to a brick wall and is drinking from a black water bottle. The photo's taken from the side of him.

A day in the life

A typical day for me starts at 5.30am. I do half an hour of Pilates or yoga before getting my kids ready, so from then until 8.30am, it’s breakfast and the school run. 

Then, it’s training every day of the week, except for weekends. After that, I’m scribbling ‘to do’ lists, reacting to enquiries, such as requests for interviews, podcasts, fundraising or charity work. Then it’s the speaking circuit – I do keynote events. In fact, I had one this morning at 8am in Birmingham.

I go to lots of events. I ran to CarFest this year and it was great to see Chris Evans. He’s super supportive and it was great to have him on board promoting the Ironman challenge. When he gets behind someone or something, he gets really passionate. He helped us raise thousands more for charity than we would have. So far, we’ve raised £95,000 for the True Venture Foundation, which helps improve children’s lives through sport.

What 105 Ironmans in a row feel like

The challenge was an accumulation of little tough things that made it incredibly difficult. It was the fatigue, being away from my family, having to eat 8,000 calories a day, as well as managing all the little niggles that come from doing something repetitive day after day.

A little blister can turn into a 'something that means you have to quit' thing, unless you manage it. There was no off button. You couldn’t average an Ironman a day across the challenge, I had to actually do one each day.

Sean's wearing a navy, red and white necker and is stood in the Scouts badge costume he made to wear while running a marathon.

Finding the motivation

Luckily I’m quite self-motivated, so getting up at 4.29am every day was sort of a non-negotiable. I didn’t question it. It was like brushing my teeth. I set a plan and put a system in place, and stuck to it. It was non-negotiable that I got up at 4.29am, non-negotiable that I got in the pool at 5am and swam 2.4 miles. You make an agreement with yourself, really believe in it, then you just crack on. 

No plan B

The other thing was: Have no plan B. I could've celebrated the British record at 21 days, or the European record at 61. But if things got tough on day 63, then I could've said: ‘Well, I’ve got the European record, let’s call it a day.’ I didn’t want there to be any temptation to stop. 

It was easier for me to do it than not to do it. I don’t know if that’s just me. The only analogy I can think of is this: I had a terrier. When I threw a ball, he chased the ball. If I had held his collar and threw the ball, he would have gone mad. He would've been: ‘Let me chase the ball!’

In the five years I owned him, never once did he not chase the ball. I guess I’m a bit similar. If there’s ball being thrown in the shape of these world records, then I have to chase them. It’s easier for me to chase them, than not to chase them.

Sean's wearing a sports top, a cap and goggles and is running towards the camera. There are people in the background running behind him with trees in the distance.

The next challenge

As for my next big challenge, I’ve got lots of ideas, but they need to wait until 2025. I need to take some family time. I’m probably still going to do some short things like a double or triple Ironman. There’s a round Wales record that’s up for grabs, which I’m pretty interested in. But my kids want me home, so I need to focus on that for now.

Looking back

As a kid, I was adventurous, but not sporty. I didn’t do any sporting-based challenges until I was 30. It was a question of confidence. I didn’t believe I could do them. It was partly from coming from a school that was very sporty and a bit intimidating. And it was partly because I was small (and still am). Probably until I was 18, I was only 60kg, while everyone else was 80kg. 

When I was 30, I just wanted to get out of the job I had. I was a school portrait photographer, and wanted to go travelling, but I didn’t have any money. So I thought: ‘Let me break some sort of a record that has a travel element to it,’ and that set me up in my new world.

I must admit, not all of my challenges have been enjoyable. A lot of my challenges are Type 3 Fun: It’s horrible at the time, then you look back ten years later, and it’s still horrible!

Sean is riding his bike wearing cycling gear, a helmet and sunglasses. There are other bike riders around him and there are trees and houses in the background.

Advice for those new to triathlons

To someone thinking of taking on a big challenge like a triathlon, my advice is ‘just do it, but you’ve got to put in the time.’ A triathlon is three different sports you’ve got to be pretty good at. The swim is scary for a lot of people but it’s actually the easiest bit. It’s a fifth of the time. However, of course if you’re not a strong swimmer, it’s terrifying.

For the swim, my recommendation is go to the side. All the pros will want to go on the inside. If you’re not competing to win, go wide. What’s an extra 50m? If you’re going to spending 15 hours on this, what’s an extra minute or two?

Don’t overthink it, but it takes time. For the Ironman challenge, I did a full 25 hour a week training programme for nine months and even with that I only just got to the start line fit enough. Set a game plan that’s a year away and put in the time.

Why Scouts is good for you

Scouts is so good for young people because it builds confidence. It gives you practical skills of course, but one of the key elements of endurance is community, and that’s a big part of Scouts. You push each other more when you’re in a group. Doing things with a like-minded group of people you’ll stay friends with the rest of your life is super cool. I had that when I was growing up, and that gave me confidence for sure.

Find out more

Keep up to date with more of Sean’s challenges and donate to True Venture.

Read Sean’s blog on running the 2019 London marathon dressed as a giant badge.

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