Saffron Walden adventurer battles breakdowns, whirlpools and tendonitis as she sets triathlon world record


Picture: LIAM MORRELL - Credit: Archant

A British adventurer who grew up in Saffron Walden is believed to have become the first woman to complete a triathlon spanning the length of Britain.

On July 10, Fiona Quinn, 31, arrived at John O’Groats having stand-up-paddleboarded from Land’s End, where she set out two-and-a-half months ago.

This journey was the third leg in Fiona’s world record attempt, which she believes makes her the first woman to complete a triathlon covering the length of Britain.

Last April, Fiona walked 993 miles from John O’Groats to Land’s End in the first of her three legs. She undertook the challenge entirely self-supported, carrying everything she needed in a 15kg pack. At the 500-mile mark she was forced to take a rest week on crutches due to tendonitis.

After her week off, Fiona then upped her daily mileage from 20 to 30 miles a day for six days straight in order to make up the time she had off, finishing in just 57 days.

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A few months later, in September, she cycled back the other way. In the bid for an even longer challenge this time – 1,200 miles - Quinn plotted a route that went via London. With constant mechanical breakdowns, she battled against the elements.

On April 21 this year, Fiona set off from Land’s End to complete the water-based element of her triathlon. She has been paddling since then, stopping only to eat, sleep, and wait for the weather.

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Fiona had only paddle-boarded on the sea three times before she left and she opted for the harder route that involved crossing the Irish Sea twice. This can be an unforgiving stretch of water, as well as being an exceptionally busy stretch in terms of cargo and passenger vessels.

On her journey, Fiona was caught out near the Corryvreckan whirlpool on the west coast of Scotland – the third largest in the world. Her support boat had left her for just 90 minutes to change crew, when Quinn found herself unable to fight the surging tide.

Fiona said she was slowly pulled towards the whirlpool, which is on record as being able to pull a person 262m down to the sea bed, before dragging them along and spitting them out down current. Luckily, her crew raced back just in time to pluck her from the waters.

Making the challenge more difficult, Fiona used an inflatable stand-up paddleboard, a design noticeably less rigid and less efficient than its non-inflatable counterpart. Fiona believes she is now the first person to have paddled the length of Britain on one of these boards.

“When you look at life as an adventure and dare to do more, anything is possible,” Fiona said. “Getting to the start line is often the hardest part. With Stand Up Paddleboarding Britain, even after I started I still didn’t have everything I needed - having not yet found a skipper, a support boat or the funds to purchase one, but I pushed on regardless. This adventure has taught me more than any other, that if you keep believing something is possible, you can make it happen.”

Quinn is flying the flag for female adventurers and hopes that more women will recognise their own potential and set out to fulfil it.

“Women are every bit as adventurous as men, but all too often adventuring is seen as exclusively for men,” Fiona said. “I’m excited to be part of a shift that is giving women the recognition they deserve. I hope more women will take on their own adventures as a result.”

For Quinn, the core of this experience seems to have been the simplicity.

She said: “While an endurance adventure is undoubtedly tough, the day-to-day routine of covering miles under my own steam is such an incredible way to explore. I feel very lucky to be able to experience all this while spending time walking, cycling and stand up paddleboarding across our country.”

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