Interview with Dave Cooper - endurance athlete

Some of the most inspiring adventure stories come from our own back yard and Dave Cooper (together with brother Richard) is a case in point. It's all very well if you're a full time athlete or have hours to train but what if you're holding down a full time job and have young children. Dave has shown us all that it's possible to do some amazing challenges without going abroad and with limited training time. I was keen to find out how he managed it -  so thanks to Dave for taking the time to answer my questions. Below you'll find some really sound advice borne out of experience. 


What and when was the original 'endtoend' project?

 The original Endtoendandbackagain project was dreamed up by my brother Rich, probably driven by having 2 kids, a dodgy back and a mid-life crisis. Rich wanted to attempt a 'once in a liftime' challenge and hoped to raise some serious sponsorship. I volunteered to do it with him, mainly because I had no idea what hardship I was signing up to and also because I genuinley thought Rich would never follow through with it.
We cycled from Land's End to John O'Groats and ran back, a total of 1800 miles in the space of 30 days in May 2011. Our sister's wedding was on the 3rd day of the challenge so we had to ensure we cycled from Land's End to Cheltenham in 2 days. I also had a flight booked to Amsterdam the day after we were due to finish to go to a friend's wedding. The challenge didn't go particular smoothly due to injury. (see blisters on the right) It was incredibly tough physically and psychologically, but we completed it. We cycled an average of 136miles a day on the bike for 6 and half days and I ran 30 marathons in 23 days. It was quite an amateurish effort in hindsight, both in terms of support and self-help, although we created a real buzz on Facebook and managed to raise £18,500 for a children's charity called Starlight.

You've recently completed the 'ultimate triathlon'. Where did the idea come from and what did it involve? 

The 'Ultimate Triathlon' was my idea. My knees had healed and I liked the idea of creating an ultra endurance portfolio. I had completed an Ironman in 2010 and loved it. I really fancied adding a long swim to my next challenge. I found a swim event that I thought would be a challenge and then made up the bike and run route to add on to the swim. The ultimate triathlon consisted of swimming the length of Lake Windermere, 10.1miles, (Day 1), cycling from Kendal to Chipping Campden (start of the Cotswold way), 206miles (Day 2) and then running from Chipping Campden to Bath (loosely following the Cotswold way) 84miles (over Days 3 and 4.)

How on earth do you find time to train while holding down your full time job as a paramedic?

Training for it was difficult due to shift work and childcare (Heidi is 22months now). Basically I concentrated on bike and run training at higher intensity for shorter duration and interval training, mainly due to time constraints but also to reduce risk of injury. The longest training rides I did were 140 and a 100miles - and the longest run was 19 miles. I concentrated on swim training because it was less time consuming, less strain on the knees and I was also less confident in completing this section. I also trained by running or cycling to work which helped minimise the impact on family life. The only downside to this was running either 4 miles or cycling 14 miles at 7am after a 12hr night shift is always pretty rough!

Could anyone do what you have done with enough determination?

I think the swimming in particular requires a level of technique that not everyone has and as the bike and the run were set to quite a tight schedule this event needed a certain level of physical ability - in addition to some steely determination!

What was the lowest point of the triathlon?

Each different aspect of the tri had its low points. On the swim it was mile 6-7 which seemed to take an age and was very choppy and cold.  On the bike the low point was the last 30 miles but the run was definitely the hardest of the disciplines; the accumulation of fatigue was a major factor in this. I felt very nauseous during both days of the run and found it hard to eat and drink. At 81 miles in and 3 miles short of Bath - after getting very cold and wet - I had what I can only describe as a total body shutdown which meant sitting in the support car for 40mins shaking uncontrollably, talking nonsense  until I had warmed up and refuelled. 


You have completed both challenges with your brother Richard. Are you competitive or do you help each other en route?

Rich and I are definitely competitive but on these challenges completion tends to be a big enough challenge so we do work together. On the triathlon Rich dragged me around the run. ( He was taking it easier in the support kayak though when I was swimming!)


You raised money for two charities. Can you tell us which ones and why?

We raised money for 2 charities on the triathlon; Winston's Wish and Frank Water. Frank water is a Bristol based charity who helped me gain my place in the swim event and Winston's Wish is a local Cheltenham charity helping bereaved children. As a paramedic I have seen the immediate devastation caused to children by a loss of a parent. Both charities are very worthwhile causes.


Lastly what advice would you give to someone planning their own endurance event? 

Choose a challenge and the commit yourself 100%. Make the plans with a certain amount of flexibility as this adaptability is key. The main point I have learned during this event was to be more sensible with my nutrition. I went pretty heavy on the gels in the 1st 2days and paid a nauseating price over the next 2 days. The main point I learned in training for this event is that it is key to train sensibly (not over train) and start the challenge injury free. Mental determination is more important than being extremely fit.

There you have it. Dave and Rich are still collecting sponsorship so do please offer them your support if you can and help them reach their sponsorship target by clicking here.

Or even better come up with your own mad event for a good cause!