While training for the Ironman World Championships our next guest held a fundraising campaign to raise money for UNICEF. Born and raised in South Africa, this IT guy turned triathlete: Ladies & Gentlemen welcome: Simon Finch
KK: Please tell us a little about yourself. Where did you grow up?
SF: I was born in Johannesburg South Africa but was brought up in Durban. I moved to France in 1999 to race triathlon professionally for a few years before taking up university studies with the Open University, UK. I moved to the UK in 2006 to be closer to my now wife Kate and also to start my career in the IT industry. We, Kate and I, have now moved to Sydney, Australia.
KK: What was your athletic background as a youth?
SF: To be perfectly honest I was not much of a sporty youngster and catching up with past school mates on the internet, they can't believe I do Ironman! I only started getting involved in sport (running) after leaving school and when I moved from Durban to Johannesburg. I decided then that it might be a good way of meeting people by joining one of the local running clubs. The rest as they say, is history!
KK: What is your academic background?
SF: I finished High school in Durban, South Africa and completed an Honors degree in Information Technology and Computing through the Open University, UK in 2006. I have a couple of Microsoft certifications. I am such a nerd outside of triathlon!
KK: When did you get started in the sport of triathlon?
SF: I was 20yrs old when I joined the running club in Johannesburg. A friend at the club was a triathlete and invited me along to one of the local events. I always remember my first ever swim training session. It was at Ellis Park 50m swimming pool. I thought I would get in some practice before the 'big' race. I could swim but I had never done any swimming training as such. I saw the local club members thrashing out the laps and thought I would just jump in a do the same. Well, I swam and swam and swam till I could go no more and I had to stop. I had made it across to the middle of the pool! I swam to the side and got out. That was it. lol
KK: What was your very first triathlon?
SF: It was a sprint triathlon race in the Johannesburg region. I managed to beat my mate from the club, despite coming out of the water almost last, and after that, I was hooked.
KK: What kind of bike did you ride in your very first race?
SF: Thinking back, I think it was an Alan aluminum-frame bike that I had picked up second hand. It was actually a pretty nice bike but it was a 62cm which, considering I ride a 56cm now, was just a little big!
KK: Simon you have raced all over the world, what is your favorite race? Why?
SF: There are so many fantastic races out there and I have fond memories from most of them but having taken up Ironman last year, I have to say that Ironman races are absolutely amazing and if I had to pick one then I would probably pick Ironman South Africa. Perhaps because it was my first Ironman (you never forget your first) and perhaps because it was back in South Africa (I had not been back for some 10years) but it really is a great event with great weather, great people and a great course.
KK: What is it like training and racing in South Africa?
SF: Well, when I was back there it was still a small sport but the weather and race venues made it very exciting. You were pretty isolated from the international circuit though but it has changed a lot and now there is a world cup event there and an Ironman as well as a half-ironman so I think it is a lot different now.
KK: Tell us about your Ironman World Championship experience. What was it like to be part of Kona?
SF: It was almost surreal. I had watched my first video of the race way back when I first started competing in triathlon and was in total awe of the guys (Greg Welch, Mark Allen, Dave Scott, etc) and actually being there some 10-15years and bumping into those same guys was just amazing. The race itself was ok for me (I finished in 10h) but coming from a frosty UK a week before the event, you are always going to battle. To do well there I think you really need to train in those conditions, they are just so brutal.
KK: I see that you were raising money for Unicef, what is your involvement with Unicef?
SF: The World Championships in Hawaii is just such an amazing festival of what the human body is capable of and I find it a privilege to be part of such an event. I do realize just how fortunate I am to be able to do what I do and that there are so many that don't get much of a choice in life. UNICEF do a lot of fantastic work around the world for children and I thought I would try use the race to help promote UNICEF and raise money for the organization, albeit small. I managed to raise just over 500 pounds in the end.
KK: Can you tell us what Unicef is? Who do they help?
SF: In brief, UNICEF works in over 150 countries and territories to promote and protect the rights of children. UNICEF contributes to their well-being through programs that help them survive and thrive to adulthood, providing essential medicines, vaccines, educational, health and emergency supplies. UNICEF also uses its global influence to advocate for the long-term needs of children and women around the world.
KK: How can our readers get involved and/or learn more about Unicef?
SF: They have a fantastic website where you can learn, in more depth, about the programs that UNICEF are running and get involved, go to: www.unicef.org
KK: I read some where that you are getting into coaching. Have you started your coaching business yet? If so how is it going?
SF: I haven't as yet no. I have been so busy with the move over to Australia, my marriage and the preparation for Ironman Australia. But now that I am getting settled in Australia, I will be launching the service in the very near future. I was a coach out in France for a number of years training a club that had kids from age 7-8 right up to senior veterans and I have over 15years involvement in the sport from amateur to professional. At present I am competing in Ironman with relative success whilst holding a full-time (40hrs/week) job, so I think I have a fair understanding of all levels of triathlon competition and would love to use what I have learnt to help others achieve their goals whether it be Kona or just a local sprint triathlon. Keep an eye on www.finchi.com for details shortly.
KK: What advice would you give to someone just getting into the sport of triathlon?
SF: Join a club and learn from others. Or better yet, get a coach; even if it just for short while to learn the basics, it will save a lot of frustration. There are many pitfalls out there that so many fall into and a good coach or club will help you achieve what you want to achieve quicker and with a lot less pain!
KK: What do you have planed for 2009?
SF: I am just recovering from Ironman Australia where I finished 25th overall in 9h13. I had my best marathon there with a 3h10 which I was surprised about over such a tough course. Next race is Quelle Challenge Roth in Germany where I hope to break 9hrs. The Australian season then picks up, so I hope to compete in the national half-ironman series here and I will finish the year off with Ironman Western Australia where I hope to put in a fast time. I decided not to take my slot for Hawaii at Ironman Australia as I will concentrate on putting in a good performance at Ironman Western Australia in December instead.
KK: Is there anything else that you would like our readers to know about you?
SF: Catch up with my happenings at www.finchi.com
Wine: Alto Rouge (South African red wine, oh so nice!)
Race: Ironman races in general (with a slight bias for Ironman South Africa)
Sports to watch: not many I don't watch except those that aren't really sport (eg. darts, snooker). Any activity you can do whilst drinking alcohol is not really a sport in my mind.
Car: Don't care too much about cars but wouldn't say no to a Ferrari F430 spider if someone were to offer me one!
Music: Listening to Kings of Leon as I write this.
Vacation Spot: Cape Town, South Africa
Person you would like to meet: Nelson Mandela
1999 All African Elite triathlon champion
32nd - 2002 World ITU Long distance championships (France)
2000 Team captain of professional triathlon team ESMGO, France
1999, 2000, 2002 Team selection for Elite South African triathlon team
Winner 2007 BTF Mazda National 30-34 Age-group Rankings (3rd overall)
2008 Ironman Hawaii World Championships finisher - 10hr00min35sec