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April « 2011 « Jodie Swallow's Blog


Archive for April, 2011

My interview with James Cunnama

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

James Cunnama (Cun-na-mar).  Triathlon commentators should take note – it’s likely that in the coming years they will be saying that name a lot.  At 27, James is step by step becoming a big stage, podium regular- securing his first Ironman win in Florida back in October.  2011 has already kicked off with 2nd at South Africa 70.3, 2nd at Singapore 70.3 and 3rd at home in Ironman South Africa.   I pose questions to James about his ambitions, his progression and his motivations…I’m interested in his answers but also grateful to sit and admire his beautiful little face for a while ;)

Seriously though, James is a golden person and I love him to death, he is also a very wise person and whilst these answers will be enlightening, the questions are constructed to make his life difficult ;)

Hi James, you look handsome today.

Thanks. But you’re just saying that… ;)

  • Do you ever feel like a plastic bag?

Haha! Never. But sometimes I feel like a house of cards, one blow from caving in…

  • Do you ever wonder if there is more to life than being ridiculously good looking?

What?! That’s absurd!

To establish the mode of this interview I need to ask one question.  Your answer will decide if I’m gonna kick some interview arse or give you a cuddle and stroke your ego so…….

  • We are in Hawaii (not sure of the year but we are both there fit and ready), You have had a phenomenal swim and first half of bike so have got 5mins on me at 90KM ;) You’re in the front group of three guys.  I’m on the side of the road having blown off two gases, leading the womens’ race.  Would you throw me a gas? Would you throw the girl who’s riding with me your gas ;) ?

Firstly, if I have only 5mins on you halfway through the bike, neither my swim nor my first 90km were phenomenal! (just sayin’). And I doubt I would even see you, racing hard as I always do. But assuming the hypothetical situation: I would probably throw you a CO2, but only if I could get it out with minimal time loss to myself. If I didn’t throw you one, I would be distracted the rest of the race worrying about how I would reason my failure to help you out, and it may cost me the race anyway. And of course, it would be fantastically cool if we both won Kona on the same day… :)

And no, I certainly wouldn’t help your competitors… unless they were a team-mate… Too many factors to consider in that scenario…  (At this point I would have handed James option 2 but he decided to answer the most awkward questions anyway.  Superstar.)

Option One…….I’ll give you five of the worst questions a pro triathlete has to answer…

  • Can you give us an outline of your typical week and how it changes during the training cycle? How many hours do you do? How much swimming, cycling, running?

Awesome question! So glad you asked. Grrr… Can’t give away the secrets, of course. I train many hours, like a full-time job, which it is. But rest is part of training too, so vegging in front of TV is also on my program regularly. Tough job. Someone’s gotta do it…

  • Do you think you can win Hawaii, who are your major competitors for gold, do you think any of them are on drugs?

Yes, of course. Which year remains more uncertain. And the major competitors will change over the years. Doesn’t matter who shows up – when I am ready and put together a perfect day, it won’t make a difference! Haha. Drugs are a worry, and just the thought of them is enough to cause me despair. However, the testing is improving (although it still could be drastically improved, particularly the number of athletes in Out of Comp testing pools) and I like to think triathlon is, for the most part anyway, fairly clean.

  • I have a sore Achilles could you recommend some exercise and drills I can do to help me?

 No. Go soak it in hot water 3 times per day. And don’t stretch it!

  • How much money do you earn a year?

That has been changing every year, and it is a lot more now than it was 3 years ago… Of course that says more about what I wasn’t earning as a wannabe pro 3 years ago than what I am earning now! Still, the vast majority of what I earn goes back into travelling around to races anyway. If you want to make money, triathlon isn’t where it’s at! Play golf. Or tennis.

  • What do you think about women and men getting/not getting equal prize money at various races around the world…do you think that men’s performances deserve more than womens?

Ah, a loaded question. Nice. Having discussed this recently I am somewhat torn. On one hand, the women do the same distance, and put in the same effort to win a race, so should get the same winner’s cheque. On the other hand, in any race (take IMSA recently for example, 34 men vs 14 ladies) there are less than half the women competing. So while first place (Chrissie in this case) certainly earned their equal prize, 8th place certainly did not. But at the same time, deeper prize purses are, I believe, the answer to growth in the Pro ranks – the more Pro’s squeezing out a living at the base of the pyramid, the higher the pyramid will reach. So I would hesitate to cut the women’s 8th place prize (meagre as it is already!). My answer – prize money the same at the top, and pays to a depth relative to the depth of the field. Twice as many men as women, twice as many men get paid.

Option Two…..I’ll give you the brilliant questions posed by TeamTBB followers on the forum as I am supposed to ;) As you know I have a problem being told what to do ;)


Questions About Training


  • What has been the breakthrough in the last 2 years – apart from joining TBB?

There was only one breakthrough, and you just said ‘apart from that’ so not sure how to answer… Joining the team, meeting Doc and beginning to train full-time. They all were the breakthrough and all are linked.

  • Where is your favourite training location in the world, in South Africa and in the rest of the world?

I love training in PE, but honestly haven’t spent much time training elsewhere. Franschhoek looks like it would be great too. Outside of SA, I love Leysin. I could (and might) live there! Although I am not sure my SA blood could handle a Swiss winter…

  • Where is your favourite bike route?

The 80km loop from Leysin, over two passes. I could ride that every day and not get tired of it, I think.

  • Who is your favourite training partner? (Apart from me- because that wouldn’t be fair on Scott ;) )

Haha. Depends on the session. Scott has been a dependable side-kick for 2 years now, so couldn’t just ditch him cos some newbie who thinks they’re hot stuff rolls into camp… ;) …. (Um-THINKS they are hot stuff????!! ….;))

  • Have you matured since your first training camp?  , this is from ‘The Wongster’…that’s a weird question James – please elaborate…..

Haha. No telling anecdote or anything attached to that. But yes, when I went to first camp in Phillippines in late 2008, I was not the same person I am now. I was a more immature person, but more importantly a far less mature athlete! Much growing up has been done in 2 years. Ironman requires a mature, level head for success.

  • Being a big lad… (Ok these aren’t my questions!! HAHA! Shucks…) Do you have to watch your diet? Does training load naturally keep things in check for you or are you a calorie counter?

I do count calories. I will regularly compare two products to see which has more calories… and then take the one with more! Training keeps my weight in check, and it doesn’t fluctuate, even if I take time off and eat like a pig. But I do tend to eat pretty healthily, simply because I crave healthy options often… but KFC and McD’s fit in a healthy balanced diet too, contrary to popular belief.

  • What are your approximate bike power & watts/kg at threshold?… (I considered putting this question under Option One)

Yeah, belongs in Q1… You may not believe it, but I have absolutely no idea. I don’t even know what my bike HR is (I use HR on the run sessions occasionally only)! Never used a power meter. Would be interesting to test though I guess… Maybe SRM is reading this and they’ll send me a power-meter… hint hint…

  • Are there any essential training or race products that you pay retail for, or perhaps that you would still pay retail for if the company didn’t sponsor you?

There are many products I would pay retail for if I didn’t get them for free – I use products I need and trust, not because they are free. I often buy nutrition products at expos before races.

  • What or who would your dream sponsor be?

Not fussy. I’ll sell my soul to the highest bidder. But be warned, the reserve price isn’t cheap…

Questions About Racing

  • What’s your favourite race and why?

Ironman SA. Home town. Hundreds of familiar faces, and my parents on the finish line. And one of the best atmospheres of any race I have been to.

  • Has anything changed for you in the race now you’re no longer off the radar, do you have to adopt different tactics?

Definitely. Until recently, racing was a case of doing the best I could over the distance and seeing where I end up – there were no other gears to change, or surges to throw! Now, tactics plays a more and more important role. There were definitely advantages to being ‘under the radar’.

  • If you were passing a Raelert in Kona to take 2nd, knowing you couldn’t get first place and he offered you $100K to come 3rd so they could take the K-Swiss $1M prize, would you take it knowing that you could have made 2nd but $100K is $100K or fight for 2nd?
    (It amazes me that you would be able to discuss this at 25 miles into the marathon ;) )

I doubt I would be able to discuss it actually. But if I did, there is no friggin’ way! I might tell him I’ll take third so he relaxes, then fly past him in the final meters for 2nd (although, the way I am beginning to feel about 2nd, I might just give it to him for nothing!!! …No, not really). I am not in it for the money, and my Avias are faster than their K-Swiss anyway… we all know that! ;)


  • What issues have you faced to this point in getting a successful nutrition strategy, Does it still need to be tweaked? It has been reported u eat a high Carb intake/concentration compared to the ‘norm’, why is this?

I have had plenty of nutrition issues in the past. And it is still not perfect. Every race I try something new and tweak the plan a little here and there. It is an evolution. And it is very unique. I did what everyone loves to do when I started – found other people’s plans and copied them. None worked. So I figured out my own. Everyone’s body works differently under pressure. Some need more fluid, some less, some more carb, some more protein, some solid, some liquid only. The best thing is to race with options, and then eat and drink what you feel like. Soon you will know what you always feel like, and that becomes your plan.

  • Where does your mind go too during the IM run; what ‘one thing’ helps keep you on track when things get knarly?

My motivation comes from many places. Necessarily. No one motivational point is gonna get you through the tough times. I generally go back to the hard training sessions – the ones that hurt but felt good (if that makes sense). Ironically, in training when it’s hard, I go to the race course in my head!

Questions about your personal life…I have nothing to do with these..Your public wanna know ;)

  • If you were to date a triathlete, would u date an Age Grouper or a (gorgeous, intelligent, sexy) Pro? 

Is the AG’er also gorgeous, intelligent and sexy–? …(No, James they are not).  Would be good to have a groupie or two… I didn’t see this question posted on the forum… Who’s writing these Q’s?!… (Ur homeboy wrote this one! But as someone with a few groupies myself, James- I’d say it’s overrated ;-) .)

  • What are your pet peeves and what ‘geeks you out’?

Noisy bikes (after the answer to the last question-I will continue to fail to fix my rattle). Bad drivers. Stupidity. I don’t know what ‘geeks you out’ means? I’m pretty neat, and even when I am not I know where everything is – A place for everything and everything in its place.          

Yeah – me too….;)                                  

  • At the age of 27-how are you so wise? You’re like an owl (Ok that’s not a question)

I don’t know… I am baffled by that question. Maybe I’ll know when I am old… like 28…

  • What’s the worst interview question you have ever been asked?

“What’s the worst interview question you have ever been asked?”

There we go meet Mr Cunnama (Coon-ar-mar)-sorry, but that’s for a few loaded answers golden boy ;)   I learnt a lot, I hope you enjoyed the interview and thank you for James for managing to stay awake and answer these straight after an Ironman.  You’re a better champ than I could ever be

J x

Bursting My Bubble

Saturday, April 9th, 2011

In the last few months the news seems to have contained an awful amount of conflict kicking off around the world.  I spend much of my life living in cultures that I am alien to and whilst it helps my perception on life I am regularly shocked to recognise how naive I can be about the atrocities that have, and still, occur across the world.

It was whilst staying with James that I began to learn the smidgiest bit about African politics and the issues that Africa faces in trying to become a developed nation.  I don’t profess to know much, but I now understand, that beneath BBC News 24 and free speech there is also a priority spectrum where our own media emphasises preferred issues and skirts around events that seem far removed from our old colonies and economic ties.  As I travel, I have decided to become less blinkered by my preference of the fluffy, and inane news I like to read in ‘OK’ and ‘Heat’ and educate myself about the hard facts about the world that are easier to ignore.

When I was younger I remember my mum telling me about a book ‘The Monkey House’ by John Fullerton.  She said I should read it when I am a little older.  I have just read it.  I wish I had read it then. I wish I could have understood how desperation, chaos and panic can influence a people into bloodshed, murder and atrocities.  It is a shocking story, occurring in our lifetimes.  I was too busy crying over being 0.1 secs outside my PB at a swim meet to follow the war back then.

The reason I talk about the Bosnian Genocide now – as disturbing as it is- is because still I find myself obsessing over poor weather, or a sore foot, or a closed pool when the people around me in Krabi have just had the bottom floor of their homes flooded out.  There is so much in my life to be grateful for and so much to learn from these Thai people who smile whilst their homes are ravished.  It’s about perspective and we lose it sometimes. 

So I pledge to get a little more aware, and a little less selfish.  We should know about the Rwandan genocide, Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, The Ivory Coast War, the uprisings in the Middle East – not only to understand and sympathise- but to allow us to grow as people. I’m not going to live blinkered to the world -where once I thought my life was tough trying to win an Ironman- I kind of see I got an easy ride here.

In 1995, I was 14.  I won ASA National Age Group Best Girl, National Schools’ Cross Country Champs, All England Cross Country Champs and National Schools Track Champs……meanwhile in Bosnia…..

A 15-year-old girl said she and other women were raped by 19 Bosnian Serb soldiers. She escaped through a window and ran more than four miles through the woods to Bosnian government lines. Her brother’s nose and ears were cut off when he refused to rape their mother, the girl told aid workers. (from article)

I feel somewhat ashamed.

Other facts about the Bosnian Genocide :

  • The term Bosnian Genocide refers to the genocide committed by Bosnian Serb forces in Srebrenica in 1995 and the ethnic cleansing campaign that took place throughout areas controlled by the Bosnian Serb Army during 1992-1995.
  • In March 1992, Bosnia-Hercegovina declared its independence from the former Yugoslav federation. The Serbs who lived in this ethnically diverse area feared the idea of being controlled by the Muslim Slavs who formed the majority of the population. The Serbs soon armed themselves and began to fight the Muslims.
  • All roads leading in and out of Sarajevo were blockaded, and the airport was shut down. 400,000 residents were trapped in the siege.   Thousands of civilians were killed and wounded, and every imaginable offense against human rights was committed ranging from ethnic cleansing and rape, to mass executions and starvation.
  • The events in Srebrenica in 1995 included the killing of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims.

  • There was also mass expulsion of another 25,000–30,000 Bosnians Muslims, in and around the town of Srebrenica in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
  • Ethnic cleansing included unlawful confinement, murder, rape, sexual assault, torture, beating, robbery and inhumane treatment of civilians; the targeting of political leaders, intellectuals and professionals; the unlawful deportation and transfer of civilians; the unlawful shelling of civilians; the unlawful appropriation and plunder of real and personal property; the destruction of homes and businesses; and the destruction of places of worship.
  • During the Bosnian War the existence of deliberately created “rape camps” was reported. The aim of these camps was to impregnate the Bosniak and Croatian women held captive. Often women were kept in confinement until the late stage of their pregnancy. This occurred in the context of a patrilineal society, in which children inherit their father’s ethnicity, hence the “rape camps” aimed at the birth of a new generation of Serb children.

  • Most of the present rape allegations are against Bosnian Serbs, but all sides in the conflict claim women and girls were sexually abused.
  • 30,000 Muslim women were thought to be sexually assaulted.
  • Fighting was ongoing for four years without ceasefire.
  • On February 29, 1996, the Bosnian government declared that the siege of Sarajevo was over.
  • The most recent research places the number of killed people at around 100,000–110,000 and the number displaced at over 2.2 million, making it the most devastating conflict in Europe since the end of World War.

The cold, hard facts – despite the troubles of today, a bad race, a bad session, an injury at least hopefully we can sleep safe tonight.  This blog is dedicated to ‘George’, a Serbian tennis player I met at a in Latvia at the World Schools’ Cross Country Champs in 1998.  He was just a guy playing tennis, like I was running – same dreams, slightly different circumstances.  No wonder he liked being on tour.

J x

‘Walking gets too boring when you learn how to fly’

Friday, April 8th, 2011

One of my favourite things as a kid was to look through my family photo albums.  We had hundreds and hundreds of pictures.  I used to get up at 4am at the weekends- presumably because I was unhinged- go in the lounge and pile the albums up whilst watching some inappropriate (Rated 15) film in the background.

 I loved the smell of photos, I loved the layout of the album and I loved the wait to collect the films and see if any of the 24 pictures I had taken rendered useful at all.  Remember those times when the film got exposed and it cost £4 to process 24 black films hihi

Nowadays digital cameras allow for a multitude of sins….if its shite-delete it, if you don’t like it delete it, if it evokes bad memories -delete it.  The digital camera is to photography is what email is to letters.  There’s no romance anymore.

I loved calligraphy as a kid too.  I am a total geek, I know.  Now I only hold a pen to sign a cheque.  I’d ask for a Parker fountain pen on every Christmas list I ever wrote.  These were the days when losing a pen was a big trauma.  The days when you had to carry ink cartridges that splattered all over your bag.  Days that have been lost with the shitty Biro.

The reason I sparked off reminiscing as I just gave Brett a playlist CD as he is driving all the way to Phuket – this time without ‘Team Hop Along’ (Nicola and I).  It reminded me of the days when boys used to give you mix tapes when they fancied you.  A love letter in music J  I guess we can make playlists and CD’s now but there’s no room for those sweet moments when the tape runs out mid song or there is slightly too long a pause between songs where the boy lost concentration.  There’s no room for perfecting that emergency stop -just before the DJ begins to chatter on the Top 40 rundown.

We should remember these lost art forms because it was art.  Memories, love and effort –pure emotions that just can’t exist in the same form anymore.  And we should be careful to replace them with a matching amount of time, thought and effort. 

In an effort to live a happier life I make these promises to myself;

  • To run without an iPod occasionally
  • To wear an old cotton t-shirt from time to time when I run and feel the hotness and heaviness as it gets sweatier
  • To print digital photos out and put them in an album for people to flick through
  • To drink real Ribena and not feel guilty about the e numbers in it
  • To suck the salt off crisps and put the crisps in the bin
  • To write my loved ones letters instead of emails from time to time
  • To always to send real Christmas cards
  • To make playlists for people and spend time thinking about them
  • To write a log book -not type it
  • To keep my race numbers like I used to
  • Not to answer my Skype/msn/phone/facebook when I am having a conversation/watching a film/having a massage/warming up/making love…..seriously let’s get a grip here ;)

I feel happier already

J x