Earlier this year, Alistair Souch was crowned the winner of the Yellow Jersey University Triathlon Scholarship 2019. The judges were impressed by his evident passion for the sport and his creative plans for boosting participation both at the Cardiff University Tri Club and the local community, working with everyone from schoolchildren to uni staff. We caught up to find out more about Ali and what his plans are for this season.
How did you get into triathlon?
I was lucky enough to watch the triathlon in person and see the Brownlee brothers race when the Olympic games came to London in 2012. The wave of positive publicity following the race sparked my interest in triathlon and I followed the ITU series for the rest of the year. The following year I decided to stop just watching and give it a go myself, so I did my first super sprint in the summer.
I swam breaststroke, rode a bike borrowed from my dad’s mate and stopped with a stitch on the run! But despite all of that I loved the experience and was quickly searching for the next event I could enter.
Which is your favourite discipline?
Definitely running, it always has been. Partly because it’s my strongest, so I can make up the time I’ve lost on the bike and the swim! It’s also the easiest to do as there’s no barriers. Wherever I am in the world I can just enjoy the complete freedom of throwing on my trainers and heading out.
You’ve raced everything from sprint distance to Ironman – what’s your favourite?
Middle distance. It has the least weight on swim which is my weakest discipline but it’s still long enough that it’s a real challenge.
What’s been your favourite event to date?
I ran the San Francisco park run… and won it! The view of the Golden Gate Bridge was just spectacular.
What would be your dream race?
Kona would be amazing, I think it’s on every triathlete’s bucket list, however wishful! At the moment I really like the concept of the more adventurous events like the Norseman or Patagonman. With the incredibly scenery and rugged environment, the back to basics nature of them really appeals, it would be a bit like a fight for survival!
How do you spend your time outside of triathlon?
Working full time towards my PhD in psychology means I don’t have a lot of free time left over after training! I enjoy going home to visit my family or going to watch a Man City match with dad and brother.
Have you made a start on benefiting from the scholarship yet?
Yes, I’ve already received my Kitbrix bag and am in contact with Precision Hydration for my personalised plan for the upcoming year. This will really help with my personal goals for races over the summer.
As for putting the funds to use, I’ll be able to put on another Go Tri event which is planned for the week after university exams end in June. This should be a fun way for students to blow off steam and try out triathlon and get a taste, so hopefully we’ll see a lot of familiar faces when term starts again after the summer.
How will your role in the club benefit from your scholarship win?
I’m a Level 1 BTF coach and the main barrier for getting my Level 2 qualification has been the cost, so now with the funding I’ll be able to pay for that. This will help me have a better understanding of myself, and how I train, and I can then put this into the training plans and structure for the club. We have athletes of all levels in our club so a broader knowledge from this new qualification will mean I can keep structuring the plans accordingly to make sure everyone is progressing.
I also coach a local junior club. For the younger group, some of whom are as young as 8, it’s about getting them active and engaged with lots of fun and games. With the older group who are about 13+, we can focus a bit more on training and they’re progressing a lot – some are speedier than me in the pool!
To inspire the club, you recently arranged a visit from Lucy Gossage. What was that like?
Lucy was every bit as interesting and inspiring as we expected. She’s someone a lot of people can learn from, always racing with a smile on her face and this enthusiasm really comes across when she speaks.
As students, it was particularly interesting to hear from her because she took up triathlon as a student as well, and has raced at such a high level alongside working for a PhD and a full time job in an incredibly demanding field. So for those of us who are really driven, she’s proof that you can do both if you are focussed and engaged.
She also gave a really great takeaway: “You choose to suffer, so enjoy it.” Lucy reminded us how privileged we are to be able to voluntarily push ourselves this hard; a lot of people are too unwell to exercise at all. It’s a good thing to remember next time the cold and the rain means you’re reluctant to head out to training.
You mentioned in your application the importance of sport on mental health, and it’s a topic that was mentioned in a lot of the applications we received. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
We’re hosting a Go Tri event this weekend in partnership with National Centre for Mental Health, a research centre at the uni. In the run up to it we’ve been speaking to participants to get their personal stories about how exercise has benefited them. Post event we’ll be publishing these to raise awareness to students about the the benefits of exercise on mental health. The student population is obviously quite prone to stress but what we want to say is regardless of what sport you do, regardless of what level, it will benefit you mentally as well as physically. The other thing about joining a club such a triathlon is that there’s the emotional well being from the community spirit – we all look out for each other and we’re trying to make the club as inclusive as possible as it benefits everyone involved.
- £1000 cash and annual Ultimate bicycle insurance from Yellow Jersey
- A place at the Leeds triathlon from British Triathlon
- A year’s supply of hydration products and personalised support from Precision Hydration
- An annual subscription to Training Peaks Premium
- A triathlon transition bag from Kitbrix