The events are long enough that at some point they exhaust your mind. The day-to-day worries you have, they fade away, and you get in the zone. Things really slow down, and all you can think about is the leg you have to complete. I like going to that zone.
Phil O’Sullivan is a technology, media and telecommunications specialist who recently became a partner at Allens. He tells KIRRILY SCHWARZ why his next goal is his most ambitious yet.
Noosa is best known for its happy holiday memories. Located on Queensland’s gorgeous Sunshine Coast, it’s famous for surfing, brunching, boutique shopping, koala spotting, and long days at the beach. Phil O’Sullivan laughs as he admits that his recollections now include a flash of fear.
O’Sullivan, who was promoted to partner at Allens in July, was competing in the swim leg of last year’s Noosa Triathlon when he was caught in a rip. A strong cyclist and runner, he tells LSJ swimming has always been his weakest skill, but the difficulty reached an entirely new level as he watched lifeguards racing back and forth, plucking his competitors from the water and ferrying them to the sand.
“My family was watching from the beach, so there was a bit of pressure to make it through and not die,” he jokes. “I ended up floating on my back for a bit and thinking about what I was going to do. Eventually, I made my way back to shore – you can see it on my face in the pictures, it was a real moment of relief. I think I spent the first 10km of the bike leg trying to chill out and come to terms with what happened.”
Thankfully, the rest of the race was a lot less dramatic, and he was able to spend the next few days enjoying a classic Noosa holiday with his wife, Krista, and kids Charlotte, 4, and Jack, 2. Looking back, he says the experience has actually helped him, because he knows his mindset is strong enough to carry him through when he’s tested. It’s important, because he has his eye on a much bigger challenge.
Becoming an Ironman
The Ironman World Championship is the toughest triathlon in the world, held annually in Kona, Hawaii. It’s been running since 1978, requiring a combination of elite physical and mental fitness as competitors tackle a 3.8km swim, 180km cycle, and 42km run. On average, it takes 12.5 hours to complete.
For O’Sullivan, it’s the ultimate test. He’s always been athletic, but he was a latecomer to the sport, only developing an interest in triathlons when he started swimming to rehabilitate his knees. He was playing gridiron when he tore his first anterior cruciate ligament, which connects the thigh to the shin and helps stabilise the joint. After he recovered, he decided to take up field hockey, and the other one gave way.
“With the rehab, you do some swimming, then some cycling, and the holy grail is being able to jog again on an oval. When that’s taken away from you, you feel amazing to start running again,” he says. He joined a local triathlon club, signed-up for his first event, and fell in love with the challenge.
“I’d never done any competitive swimming, so I went from the lap pool, doing rehab, to the ocean, where people are swimming over you and pulling on your leg,” he says, explaining the combat-style swimming took him by surprise. “I learnt after my first triathlon to fade to the back, off to the side of the pack, and follow the trail along. There’s a bit of an art to it, finding the hip of someone about your pace and letting them tow you around the swim leg. Then I get to the bike leg, which I find comfortable.”
He’s been steadily increasing the distances and the goals ever since, working his way up to Noosa, which he hoped to follow with a half-Ironman in New Zealand next year before setting his sights on Kona. The outbreak of COVID-19 has delayed his plans, but he hopes it will be feasible before too long.
Finding the zone
Outside of triathlons, O’Sullivan is a technology, media and telecommunications specialist. He joined Allens in 2014, and works on major procurement and business transformation projects for commercial and government clients. It’s an exciting field, he says, because clients tend to be early adopters of new technologies and innovative thinking. He also maintains a strong healthcare practice, and he notes the sector is fundamentally changing the way it does business to accommodate our ageing population.
The juggle keeps him busy, and between his work life and his family life, he says it’s nice to find a sense of achievement in something that’s entirely his own. He generally trains six days a week, with two rides, three runs, and a swim – but he tries not to be too scientific. “I like having goals where I’m slightly afraid of the event, of not completing the event, which makes me get out and do regular exercise,” he says. “You can’t turn up unprepared, you’re geared toward that end point. It does get you very fit.”
Of course, reaching an elite level requires a lot of time spent cycling and running, and he tells LSJ he’s become quite creative about fitting the requisite hours into his working week. He often runs on his lunch breaks, for example, and he fits in solid sessions on his bike trainer on weekends, while his kids take afternoon naps.
“Part of the reason I like this is because it keeps your mind free. When you’re out there, you can just be yourself doing that exercise,” he explains. “The events are long enough that at some point they exhaust your mind. The day-to-day worries you have, they fade away, and you get in the zone. Things really slow down, and all you can think about is the leg you have to complete. I like going to that zone.”