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Sean Conway

Extreme adventurer

Published in Sports Management 2015 issue 3
Read on turning pages | Download PDF of this issue
Sean Conway, extreme adventurer
Sean Conway, extreme adventurer

“ I’m just the guy from the pub. If I can do it, anyone can,” says Sean Conway, the first person to have cycled, swum and run the length of Great Britain. An unlikely endurance athlete in lots of ways, Conway isn’t ex-military or a former athlete and had never run a marathon nor had any experience of sea swimming prior to starting his challenges.

Now 34 years old, he admits he spent most of his 20s being inactive and has a penchant for whisky and ale. He says what makes him able to complete his adventures is a talent for being cold, wet, hungry and miserable.

“I was new to each discipline when I started the Great Britain challenge, but with each one I wasn’t breaking any records, so I knew I could afford to get fit on the adventure itself,” he says. “I have learnt, however, that adventures are way more enjoyable when you’re really fit!”

Conway cycled the length of the UK in 2008 because he thought it would be a cheap holiday and an efficient way to see the country. Other challenges followed – he swam from John O’Groats to Land’s End in 2013 and completed a seven-week run – the subject of a Discovery Channel documentary – across Britain (which took two attempts) on 4 May this year.

Previously a school photographer, in 2011 Conway decided he had had enough of chasing the money, sold his share of the business to his partner for £1 and became a full time adventurer, financing his simplified lifestyle with talks and writing books about his experiences. Conway believes the route to contentment is not through accumulating “stuff” but through undertaking challenges which are testing both mentally and physically.

“We’re all a lot more physically and mentally capable than we think we are,” he says. “Exercise cures most of life’s minor little niggles. It offers perspective. If you’re running a marathon and hit mile 23, the colour you painted your living room, which wasn’t quite right, doesn’t matter anymore. Being outdoors and undertaking a mental and physical challenge can solve many of life’s problems.

“I do appreciate we live in a country where it’s not always easy being outdoors, but no great adventure started on a fine, sunny day. There’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes.”

Even though he did it, Conway claims you don’t need to give up the day job to find adventure, but just look for the adventure in everyday life. For example, instead of taking the train to London, from Cheltenham, for a New Year’s Eve party, he decided to walk. And rather than fly to Geneva and get a bus to the Alps, he cycled, sleeping in a bivi on the way. “Adventure in its purest form is just a way of thinking,” he says. “My mate, Al Humphries, always says that you might have to work nine to five, but you’ve still got the five to nine. There are so many things you can do to challenge yourself on a weekend, to live life more adventurously without sacrificing your personal life.”

“If you have an idea for a challenge, make it harder and you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to get there. If you’re thinking you can’t run a 5k race, sign up for a 10k. Once the bar is set up there you take it more seriously.”

Conway’s next adventure is in September. Still under wraps, it will involve swimming, cycling and running. However, he also likes the idea of organising his own extreme Iron Man: “The sort of race where you’d need to train for six months solid. But, if I can do it, then anyone can. Because I’m not anything special.”

Sean’s adventures

• Cycled London to Paris in 24 hours
• Cycled London to the Alps in mid-winter, sleeping rough under a bivi
• Cycled around the world (getting hit by a truck in America)
• Kayaked the River Thames
• Climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, dressed as a penguin
• Three Peaks Cycle
• Strongman Run
• Arctic Ironman

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