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If you think completing just one Ironman triathlon is tough, and we certainly think it is, what about attempting 6 of them, in 6 consecutive days, across 6 counties?

That’s exactly the challenge of a lifetime three novice triathletes have set themselves this May to help raise funds and awareness for the Abel Foundation charity. A total of 843.6 miles comprising of 14.4 miles swimming, 672 miles on the bike and 57.2 miles running!! The 666 Ironman Challenge.

In between their huge amount of training we caught up with the team of Rob Sutherland (RS), Jonathan Lynch (JL) and Matthew Jenkins (MJ) to find out how things are going on this long journey to the finish line.

Who came up with the idea for this epic challenge?

RS. Me, having done crazy endurance events in the past for The Abel Foundation charity, I knew I had to up the anti on this one. Inspired by Francis Benali’s, Iron Fran challenge, and my evolving passion for triathlons, I had to give something similar ago. My wife Rachael came up with the idea of the 666 as it is one hell of a challenge and it evolved from there.

JL. To my knowledge, I believe it was Rob’s initial idea which matured and evolved through discussions with his wife and Matt.

MJ. That would be Rob, he pitched me the idea around about April / May last year and not one for shying away from a challenging I was all up for it. Maybe on reflection I should have thought more before saying yes, however rarely in life do you get these opportunities, so yes why not. Understandably the ethos from the get go was "we are average joes, not athletes" the whole idea after a couple of conversations was this is a test of the "everyman's" endurance, the guys who have normal life pressures all trying to do what will be a huge feat of endurance but in a time where resilience and fighting on when things aren't quite right seemed the perfect time to do it. 

 

What sort of triathlon experience do you already have as individuals?

RS. Before coming up with this crazy event I had only done 1 sprint distance triathlon, which nearly killed me! Since the conception of the 666, we have been lucky enough to take on the Winchester Sprint triathlon courtesy of Rees Leisure and the Thruxton Mass attack duathlon courtesy of Challenging events. Both of which I have thoroughly enjoyed and given me the tri bug even more.

JL I have zero triathlon experience when I agreed to this epic challenge, however since then I have completed x1 Sprint Tri, x1 Duathlon and I have a few other events scheduled before the challenge, all of which are increasing in distance.

MJ. I have competed in a fair few triathlon, starting out doing sprint distances which introduced me into the sport, shortly followed by the occasional Olympic and a-half ironman distance (which didn't go quite to plan) the lads would probably agree that I'm built for the shorter races as I have no "go slow" button so moving up into Ironman and beyond with make me learn more about pacing than ever before. 

 

What has been the biggest challenge so far?

RS. Training! It’s an area that I am still trying to consistently improve and work on. Trying to fit 10+ hours a week training in when you have full time work and family commitments is really tough as you don’t want to neglect either. Admittedly I still have a way to go to get the right balance, however I am very lucky to have an amazing wife and team that keep me focussed when things start getting tough.

JL. The biggest challenge so far is training. I don't think I realised how time consuming it is and how difficult it is some days to be motivated and get your session done. We try to help each other when one of us is flagging (usually Rob lol) but ultimately, we have to dig deep ourselves. I am lucky to have great support from my coach Scott Hill at Triwolfcoaching and my other half Michelle. 

MJ. I mean COVID-19 aside, which is the easy answer as it stopped us training together however beyond that I would say understanding training volumes as there isn't a training plan for 6 ironman's back-to-back, so there is a lot of guess work, questions being asked to ultra-endurance athletes and professionals, but still I'm forever thinking have I done enough, do I need to do more and how will I feel when I'm on day 2 ...etc. The logistics have been tough, as we are doing this ourselves there isn't a right and a wrong answer but we have to make it work. The added pressure does give a nice break from thinking about interval training and hill reps though.

 

How has your training been affected by lockdown restrictions and COVID-19?

RS. As I have played team sports a lot of my life it’s been difficult training alone and not able to meet up with the lads for group rides and running sessions. However, it’s given me a chance to engage in training apps and tools that normally I wouldn’t have used such as Zwift and my Tacx turbo trainer. Swimming has taken an obvious set back however I am confident once the pools open, I will be able to make up for lost time.

JL. The only impact COVID has had on my training is the ability to use the pools as they are currently closed. Swimming has been put on a back burner, but everything else is the same. 

MJ. I built a gym in the garage to allow me to train more frequently and it fits in with my work life balance, utilising the likes of Zwift and Garmin training apps it's been "ok" although I am very much an outside person and prefer being on the roads cycling. Thinking sensibly over the winter months it's better to stay inside away from icy/ slippery roads and use this time to build time in the saddle and on the treadmill, it's not the most fun thing in the world but it’s making sure that I'm keeping injury free and training well. 

 

Have you experienced any weird nutritional cravings to combat all the training?

RS. Luckily no cravings as I tend to eat like a horse anyway, but I have definitely have had more of a sweet tooth since my training has started. Having Clif as a sponsor certainly helps when the cravings kick in though. The lads will probably say I have had more takeaways since this has begun though!

JL. As for cravings, not massively. I suppose I am a savoury man but my desire for a toffee Belgian waffle with ice cream has enhanced lol!

MJ. Having a sponsor onboard like Clif bars it's hard to not take this opportunity to rave about their bars especially the peanut butter one, absolutely unreal!! I find myself nibbling on them when I go for a walk with the family, no other reason than they feel like a treat, I also love their mint protein bars for after exercise. Those closest to me would say cereal and milk and lots of it, as I eat late in the day I tend to have dinner at around 4pm which times perfectly with a 7.30pm /8pm training session but when I come in from the pain cave, it's a pint of milk or recovery drink (depending on the type of session) followed by a bowl of cereal, my current favourite is sultana bran or Frosties with nuts thrown in. 

 

Which is your favourite and least-favourite of the three disciplines?

Cycling is my favourite as I have done previous cycling events and have the legs for the bike however running is definitely becoming my new love. Swimming is my least favourite at the moment as I always believed I was a good swimmer, since working with my coach it turns out brute force isn’t always the answer so my ego has taken a bit of a hit.

JP. My least favourite is cycling because it is my weakest discipline and I am working hard to improve it (although I do enjoy it now). My favourite is probably the running, but only just. It’s my strongest event out the three and all though I am not fast, I can just keep going quite steadily without any issues. 

MJ. The cycle hands down, I feel when I hang up my tri shoes the bike will live with me forever. I think it's the explorer in me that loves the simplicity of it. I get told off though for sprinting off up hills. 

 

If you could share one bit of information you’ve learnt along the way so far what would it be?

RS. Trust the process and leave the ego at the door. It’s taken me a while to realise that my ego needs to take a back burner and to build slowly but it’s worth it!

JP. The advice that has been invaluable to me is, go slow to go faster and lose your ego when you are training (and a beginner like me). 

MJ. Nutrition for me is king, I’ve always struggled with my weight so eating enough is paramount. I have no excuses so trial and error on long rides are helping me understand more about it. Bad days at the office are ok, I used to beat myself up if I had a slow run or clunky cycle etc but it's all part of growing and getting better, train hard to race easy is the order of business.

 

Do any of you have a mantra to keep you going and motivated through the dark training sessions?

RS. “Shut up legs” for when it gets really tough, I taught this to my 7yr old son when he was learning to ride his bike so it works on two levels. I also have an Abel Foundation teddy next to the bike in the pain cave which reminds me of why I am doing this and how much raising the £10,000 will mean to them.

JP. Not really, I am quite self-motivated and disciplined. I just think of why I am doing it and bang on some tunes. I think the fear failure, letting the lads and The Able Foundation down spurs me on.

MJ. "nothing good comes easy" - not mine originally but I heard it recently and started using it on tough days and it works. I also use "you can because you couldn't before" which is a nod back to my heavier days.

 

What is your favourite bit of kit?

RS. Tough question as we have been fortunate enough to be sponsored by both HUUB and Garmin. My HUUB Core cycling kit and Garmin edge 1030 plus have made a huge difference to my cycle training.  

JL. My turbo trainer! It has been invaluable. I am lucky enough to have a smart direct driver trainer, which has been the main reasons why my cycling has improved.

MJ. I love data so my Garmin's are in constant use, however my new Orro Venturi bike has to be top of the pile, it's my first aero carbon bike and I love it!!  

 

How do you combine all the training with your normal lives – work and family?

RS. Good question, it’s been a massive balancing act and I am still not sure I have got it right. On top of everything else I am also buying a house which has added extra pressure. I am still learning to get up early during the week, but a lot of my long training sessions are done early on the weekends so that they don’t impact too much on my family life. I have been very lucky to have the support of my amazing wife Rachael though who has kept everything else at home under control so I can stay focussed and train.

JP. With great difficulty!! I am a Logistics Officer in the Royal Air Force, which has great facilities to train ie. Gyms etc. In the week I am working away from home, so I have the time to train in the evenings with minimal impact on the family. However, the longer rides and runs are usually done at weekends which means sacrifices have to be made. I just try my best to limit the damage to family time at weekends, which usually means I get up at 4/5am or go out late in the evenings. Michelle has been really supportive and my daughters think it is cool, so it is not been too bad. There is still a long way to go though!

MJ. With great difficulty, getting a balance is hard as like the other guys I have a family and a full-time job however having an amazingly supportive wife helps, she has been incredible "still thinks I'm crazy" but soon saw my dedication to this event and puts up with me being in the garage for hours on end or disappearing for the odd day to do a long cycle or training event at weekends. 

It has been hard on us all but being open with when I need to train and for how long has helped and now it's getting to the point where she is telling me to train which I need occasionally. I tend to find the perfect time for me is in the evening on weekdays after the kids are in bed and weekend mornings / evenings so I build my plan around then. 

 

For each of you – in three words sum up this challenge.

RS. Worthwhile, mental, legendry

JP. Epic, scary, worthwhile.

MJ. Insane, formidable, life-changing

 

You can follow the guys training and send some words of encouragement over on their Facebook and Instagram channels @The666Ironmanchallenge or visit their Just Giving page.