mahabis ambassadors // how this ironman triathlete duo choose to relax
original photo: christophe guiard for triathlete magazine
“Swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, run 26.2 miles. Brag for the rest of your life”- John Collins, IRONMAN co-founder.
This 140.6 mile endurance test was originally designed as a challenge for a group of Navy SEALS. It is now an annual event held in Kona, Hawaii and renowned for being one of the world’s most challenging trials.
Claire and Duncan Shea-Simonds have both conquered the Ironman Triathlon surviving hours of endurance, hot temperatures and battling winds.
But when their training shoes are kicked off, they both slip on their mahabis to help unwind. We can’t think of many people who deserve to relax more than these two. So we spoke to this uber-active husband and wife about the mental and physical toil of their triathlons, and whether they ever have time to relax!
photo: duncan and claire shea-simonds
Give us a bit of background on the paths you’ve both taken to where you are today.
Claire: I was a very sporty kid, my local swimming and athletics clubs were the centre of my universe! My dad was a real sports nut too, once he’d got over the disappointment of not having a rugby playing son (joke!), he was keen to encourage both his daughters into sporty pursuits. I shared his natural competitiveness and lapped up all the sporting challenges that came my way.
I was probably destined to be a multi sport athlete, I never really excelled in any of the sports I tried but showed a certain amount of aptitude for them all. I dabbled in tetrathlon and pentathlon, with a good level of success to a national level but it was triathlon that really fired my imagination. I remember quite distinctly watching the World Ironman Championships in Kona, Hawaii at the age of 14 on satellite telly with my Dad, as Dad explained the distances in terms I understood (basically the number of times I’d need to go ‘there and back’ to my Granny Dot’s house (Leicester to Warwick)) I was astounded and instantly captivated. I vowed there and then I’d like to do that someday — I wasn’t your average 14 year old!
It was a few years later that I entered my first triathlon (1997), I finished 4th overall and was instantly hooked. In my second ever triathlon and first attempt at the Olympic distance (1500m sea swim, 40k bike, 10k run) I went 2hrs 28mins (I go a good bit faster than that these days but it was a respectable debut at the distance) and qualified to represent Great Britain at the World Age Group Championships in Lausanne Switzerland and there began my triathlon career.
I always had my eye on the longer distances and I had a crack at the Ironman distance (3.8k swim, 180k bike and 42.2k run) for the first time in 2005 in Canada. I was woefully under prepared, I’d never ridden more than about 60miles on my bike and the ironman is almost twice that… plus I’d never ran a marathon! The bike course takes in the infamous Ricketer Pass and the marathon course saw temperatures of around 35 degrees… suffice to say it was the hardest day of my life… but I LOVED it. I also didn’t do as badly as you might expect (clocking 11hrs 52) from my poor preparation and so began my obsession with getting faster over the Ironman distance!
Duncan: Throughout my school days, Sport meant Football, rugby or Cricket and, sadly, I was pretty rubbish at all three! I lived for the yearly cross country race where I’d do ok and I quickly learned that there were other sports that rewarded hard work, training, fitness and (thankfully) not a huge amount of hand eye co-ordination! I swam a bit and like most kids back then, rode my bike a lot!
In 1989 a triathlon club started in my home town and it sounded right up my street. After my first event on an old touring bike and a pair of tennis shoes I was completely bitten by the bug and have not missed a triathlon season since!
Throughout my University days at Loughborough I took things reasonably seriously before moving up to the challenge of longer distance races. After Uni I moved to Leicester where I met Claire though the local Triathlon Club and so began our joint triathlon adventure.
Congratulations on your joint win last weekend! What races have you got planned for the season ahead?
Duncan: Thanks, Yes I won the Vet race and was 4th overall against some speedy young guys! It was a bit of a shock to the system, not only because of the wind and rain but also because my last race was Ironman Wales. Ironman is a long (10 hr) controlled effort whereas last weekend’s race was a sprint where you just go full bore for around an hour.
This year I will be focussing on some shorter races in the early season. Including both English Sprint and Olympic Distance Age-Group Championships. I have a few “half” Ironman competitions and then “the big one” in Kona in early October.
Claire: Thank you, it wasn’t my best performance but I was pleased to secure an Age Group win in my season opener. Last weekend I ran a half marathon (clocking a personal best time of 1:26;27) and I have been struggling with tired and sore legs all week, so hopefully there is much more to come from me later in the season.
I am shortly off to Mallorca for 2 weeks warm weather training preceding my triathlon season. Like Duncan, the early season will be focused on the shorter distances and defense of my Triathlon England National Age Group title over the Olympic before I switch focus to the longer distances. I have two half ironman distance races and an ironman race (The Outlaw in Nottingham) this summer all building to the World Ironman Championships in Kona, Hawaii in October.
What are your most significant achievements to date?
Claire: I would have to say my Kona qualifications in both 2013 and 2014 and participation in the World Ironman Championships in 2013. Kona qualification is the pinnacle and an aspiration of most amateur ironman triathletes and I am very proud to have achieved this twice. Additionally I have achieved two top 10 finishes overall (including the professional athletes!) in international ironman events and was the fastest British amateur at both Challenge Roth 2011 and Ironman Lanzarote in 2013.
Aside from that it would have to be my consecutive Triathlon England National Age Group titles in 2013 and 2014 over the Olympic distance, I’d love to make it a third in 2015!
Duncan: I’d say qualifying for the Age-Group Ironman World Championships in Kona ranks as the pinnacle of my sporting career to date, if only because it has taken a good many years to achieve. My first few attempts at the Ironman distance saw me off the pace for qualification by hours — not minutes. But year after year I got closer. In 2013 I missed out by a few minutes at Ironman Lanzarote and then missed again at Ironman Wales having suffered 2 punctures on the bike. So to finally pull it all together back at Ironman Wales in 2014 was pretty special — and for Claire to qualify as well was the icing on the cake!
We read your Kona diaries Claire, and needless to say, it sounds like an incredibly tough ordeal! How do you both motivate yourselves through grueling training periods?
Claire: Mentally and physically, Ironman pushes you to your limits and more than once I have questioned my sanity in putting myself through so much in pursuit of my hobby… I do after all have a day job too! Collapse at the finish line and extended spells in the medical tent in both Lanzarote and Kona in 2013 perhaps point to the fact this can’t surely be good for me??
photo: ironman 2005- by deborah carson
All joking aside, my enjoyment of the sport comes from my performance and good performances demand a good ability to suffer and to hurt, something I happen to be very good at! It certainly makes it easier having a ‘live in’ training partner (aka husband) in Duncan, it’s safe to say the ‘baton of motivation’ is passed between the two of us and we do a good job in encouraging one another.
Duncan: In all honesty, I don’t have a huge problem with motivation. I just love to race and race well and to race well I know I have to do the training. For the most part I genuinely enjoy the training. I don’t think I could have been in the sport, for as long as I have, if I didn’t. Sure I have my moments when I’d rather hit snooze and go back to sleep — but that’s when I can always turn to Claire to drag me out. We help each other like that.
Tell us a bit more about your training regimes. Talk us through a typical Shea-Simonds day!
Claire: We both work fulltime so a ‘typical’ day will begin with a 60–90min swim before work, we’ll both then have breakfast at our desks and start our working day at 8:30am. We’ll use our lunch hours to train too, this will either be a weights session at the gym or run on Leicester’s waterways, easily accessed from our city centre offices, followed by lunch (at our desks again!). We’ll both be home around 5:30–6pm and then it will be time for evening training, this will typically be indoor cycling on our Wattbikes at home during the winter months or a run session on the track. We’ll then eat and fall into bed soon after to begin the whole thing again the following day. Our long sessions, bike and run have to be completed at the weekends and these can be up to 5–6hrs on the bike and 2hr+ runs. In the summer months we’ll also get an open water swim in at our local lake.
Duncan: We tend to use a treadmill for our run sessions and Wattbikes (indoor bike trainers) for our bike sessions. This allows us to carry out the exact session our coach sets us without the variables of weather, or traffic getting in the way. During the week it’s really about being as efficient with our time as possible.
Duncan, we checked out your post on a Shea-Simonds style summer holiday… a two week “relaxing” break in the French Alps… packed with training and culminating in the Alp D’Huez Long Course Triathlon! As your races take place around the world, do you ever schedule in some more ‘conventional’ holiday time when you’re abroad? Was there any chance for island time in Hawaii?
Duncan: I don’t actually think there has ever been a time we haven’t been on holiday with our bikes, trainers or a wetsuit (and usually all 3!) and to be honest, for us, there is no better way to explore new places than on your bike or on foot. We have countless examples of where our ‘exploration’ has turned a 40minute run into a 2hr+ epic where the draw of ‘what is around the next corner?’ has just proved too tempting. Most of our European adventures are in our VW T5 camper (complete with bike carrier on the back) and we’ll typically try to include a race somewhere in our holiday itinerary.
We are typically ‘shoe-string’ travellers but realising a dream to compete in Kona together has seen us book a beautiful condo with ocean views in Hawaii in October and we have earmarked some special experiences for our time on the big island including a trip to a live volcano and a night dive with Manta Rays. There are also the legendary Kona ‘after parties’ to look forward too… I think we will have earnt a few mai tais!
photo: ironman florida, by gary geiger
You both train together, you’ve got the same coach and you race together (not to mention your matching mahabis)! Does it ever get competitive between you both?
Duncan: Ha ha! Yes you could say that! Most people who know us, know that we are fiercely competitive. Our swim speed is very closely matched and neither of us are prepared to give an inch in the pool or in races. That said — we’ll compete at just about anything. Even yoga!
Claire: I agree with Dunc, it is in the water that we are most competitive, often separated by seconds in our races and, being naturally competitive individuals, we’ll compete at pretty much anything including who can smash themselves hardest in training or eat the biggest post training meal. Luckily, we now both have awesome Mahabis slippers so we no longer need to compete at best slipper ownership… although mine do have yellow soles which I’d argue make mine slightly better than Dunc’s…
You’ve both blogged about the difficulties of qualifying and training for Kona, the ‘Kona itch’ I think you called it Duncan- the obsession to train, but also the need for self-sacrifice. How often do you set aside time for yourselves and commit to relaxing?
Claire: There is unquestionably a lot of self-sacrifice necessary when trying to qualify for / train for Kona but luckily we are mutually supportive of each other’s goals and share something of a selfish lifestyle. That said, we don’t have children to consider or a non-athlete partner to placate in pursuit of selfish goals… but neither do we have anyone to pick up the slack when we are too exhausted for anything outside of working and training. Suffice to say our garden is like a jungle and I don’t remember the last time I got the ironing board out.
Duncan: In recent years, while trying to qualify for Kona, rest and recovery has become as important as training as that is when the adaptation to the training takes place. Naturally I’m a pretty busy person. I love DIY, tinkering with my van etc and find it really hard to just sit down and do nothing. But that’s what you have to do. I think that is one aspect of being a full time athlete that I do envy. I work a 40 hour week, train between 15–20 hours and recover when I can. Sadly that leaves precious little time for anything else.
What are your post-race rituals?
Duncan: Post race is just the best time ever. It normally involves not doing a great deal of anything apart from eating and sleeping, particularly after an Ironman. Ironman competitions are pretty grueling and the body takes a bit of a battering. The last thing on your mind is getting on a bike or pulling on a pair of trainers. So we tend to just chill out and let the body recover.
Claire: I’d love to paint the picture of rock and roll triathletes who hit the post race parties hard but rock stars we ain’t… Typically post race (or training) rituals are about comfort. We are usually desperate to get in our PJs, hoodies and don our mahabis… after an Ironman triathlon it is the feet that crave comfort the most!
How would you describe your ultimate downtime- the way you would each choose relax.
Claire: This is possibly the biggest challenge to the amateur triathlete, finding time for sufficient rest and recovery! Even when we do find time to bond with our sofa the guilt over the jungle like garden and ironing pile tends to consume you.
Duncan: Claire and I both love to cook so I’d say our ultimate downtime would include a home cooked meal with our often neglected friends. Likely steak, a glass or two of red followed by one of Claire’s amazing cheesecakes. We’d probably chill on the sofa (in our mahabis of course!) and watch a movie.
If you had a 25th hour in the day, how would you each choose to spend it?
Claire: Unquestionably it would be more time for relaxing and recovery, we seem to have no trouble finding extra time to train but essential recovery time frequently gets clipped. Mind you, a truly great pair of slippers is a good way to encourage more R&R time!
Duncan: Rather unimaginatively, I’d probably spend it sleeping! Or maybe I’d save those extra hours up so I could finish my bathroom project — or tidy the garden… Life in the fast lane eh!
photo: feet up with the shea-simonds'