THE MERRELL BLOG: WHAT'S NOW. WHAT'S NEXT. LET'S GET OUTSIDE.
Q&A with Sean Mcfarlane
Every story has a beginning. When did you start competing in triathlons and why?
My first triathlon was in September 1998 in Bracknell. It was a part of corporate sports weekend with my law firm. We could only make the Sunday and the only event that possibly fitted for us was the triathlon. It was a huge step into the unknown but great fun. A year later I’d have done four and I was off for a two year spell working in New Zealand. From that point on there was no looking back!
Many people only think about the physical aspect of competing in an extreme event, but don’t take into account the mental part. Which is the more difficult aspect of preparing for the competition, the physical or the mental? Or are they equal in difficulty?
Great question!! I think probably the physical is more difficult, as least for me at this point in my racing. Having competed at a decent level now for several years, the mental side is so much about experience so the longer you compete the easier it becomes, or at least that’s the theory! But the mental side is very much something you still need to work on. Some of the most useful training sessions for me have been where things go wrong, where we get caught in bad weather or something similar and getting back home is a real relief. I wouldn’t want to have too many of those sessions though!
Are there times when you think “Why am I doing this?”
I used to but not anymore. I think I’ve been doing this for long enough now that it simply doesn’t make sense to question it. Nobody is forcing me to do it and it’s entirely my choice. I came to the conclusion a while ago that I do this because I can. It’s a celebration of my life – that I have time, and am healthy and simply able enough to do it. Lots of us aren’t. If ever it became a chore in any way, I’d have missed the whole point.
Preparation is obviously the key to success. What does your training regimen involve?
I try to mix it up, keep it fun and train with others where possible. I also try and work round the weather when I can, but my washing machine still has a tough job! I swim a bit but not enough. Pool work’s tough though open water swimming is great and frankly for me is like a different sport which I can also combine with kayak training. Biking is a big part of my training and takes up a lot of time. Ideally before my first ironman of the season, I like to have done at least four 100 milers on the road. Hill and trail running are also important and perhaps the most crucial of all my sessions are what I call “three part bricks”. I only do about three or four of these each season but they make a huge difference in the extreme long distance triathlons. They involve a ride of about 90 miles on my time trial bike, a flat two hour trail run then a hill run up and down a 2500 foot peak behind my house. These sessions normally take about nine hours and are great preparation for the bigger races. They help also with nutrition plans for race day as you’ve got to eat a lot of the correct stuff to complete them.
How does where you live and the environment around you affect your training?
Where I live is absolutely integral to my training and vice versa. I’m very lucky to live in a village called Dollar, about ten miles east of Stirling in Clackmannanshire in central Scotland. Here we have a fantastic network of quiet roads and off road tracks from my door as well as great lochs for open water swimming and paddling. But best of all I have the magnificent Ochil hills literally on my door step. Within ten minutes of pretty easy running, I can be in what feels like a total wilderness yet I’m still less than an hour away for more than half of Scotland’s population. I’ve lived in some great locations including Auckland, but give me Clackmannanshire any time!
What advice would you give to someone who wants to compete in endurance events such as triathlons but is intimidated?
There’s no doubt to me that triathlon has a branding issue. The very word instils fear but it really shouldn’t. There are so many different events that there is genuinely something for everyone. Start short and build up. Off road events are increasing greatly in popularity and tend to attract people who don’t take themselves quite as seriously as others. And don’t be put off by all the kit on show!! People like to splash the cash in triathlons but the phrase “all the gear and no idea” was never more apt.
How long do you see yourself competing?
As long as I can!! Being at a high level of fitness opens up so many opportunities for great adventures, of which big races are only a part. Age grouping adds to the fun. I think it’s also important to have some targets, which racing gives me.
Do you ever think about how you’ll spend your time when you’re done competing? Will it still involve the outdoors?
I suspect when I’m totally done competing I’ll be done for good, if you know what I mean! But certainly getting others into the sport, in its huge variety of forms, and the glorious outdoors in general is very much something I want to do more and more of. Adventures are always best shared and as far as I’m concerned it’s the more the merrier!