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Joe Skipper: The Road To Ironman

Posted by Team Veloforte on
Joe Skipper

Veloforte ambassador Joe Skipper is an international pro triathlete, who’s racked up 14 Ironman podium finishes — including wins at Ironman UK, Ironman Florida and Ironman New Zealand — and six sub-eight-hour finishes.

We caught up with Joe recovering after he came in fourth at the Ironman African Championship 2022 in South Africa — he shared some of his story, his fuelling wisdom, and the power of finding a good club.

The African Championship, Covid and recovery

Veloforte: Hi Joe — how was South Africa? You were leading on the bike and it seemed like you were dictating everyone’s pace, but your run didn’t quite come together.

Joe Skipper: Hi. It was so frustrating, you know?

I know I've been running better this year than I ever have been. I don’t think I’ve had a single bad run off the bike in my whole training block. And then on the day it just felt like a slog right from the start of the run. For that to happen on race day and to feel like that was just so uncharacteristic. I knew something was off.

So we got back from South Africa and I tested positive for Covid. So then I’m wondering — if I did have it on race day, it wouldn’t have been very strong but even just enough to take my edge off. Just a few percent off and that’s all the difference. Just so frustrating.

VF: Definitely. It was uncharacteristic, because your run has been such a strong point. So how has Covid affected your recovery?

Joe: I’m just going to take it really easy and see how recovery goes. I know people who’ve gone in too quick, and some who’ve had symptoms for a couple of months — you definitely don’t want that!

Joe Skipper getting his veloforte ready

I’m supposed to be racing the World Championships in Utah. I was going to be heading over there today actually but I’ve had to cancel the flights. But I want to feel good and head out there for a good result. *

I’m making sure I rest up. Making sure I get lots of good nutrition and protein — mixing up lots of good stuff into my recovery shakes.

Joe’s triathlon training nutrition

VF: Speaking of shakes — what products are you normally using during training?

Before

Joe: I really like the Veloforte bars. The salted date one, Avanti, is my favourite. I’ll definitely have one on a training ride, or before a 10-15km run.

Veloforte chew

If I was, you know, going to go for a run in about 30 minutes or something like that. And I feel a bit hungry, but obviously I don't want something that's going to make me feel bloated. I’d have a bar then. Because they’re quite light but they give you enough energy to get through a 10k or 15k.

During

I like the chews on a training ride — it’s something solid and a bit different.

I like the pink Attivo hydration mix too, with electrolytes and caffeine, because that’s got 22g of carbs in too.

Veloforte product collage

After

I’ll have one of the high protein bars after swimming, on my way to the car.

When I saw that Veloforte had a load of Great Taste Awards I thought, ‘Yeah, I’ll give them a try’. And they just tasted really good. And another good thing about it was the range — there’s a whole range with gels and energy drinks, but also recovery and chews. The whole range is really good.

VF: How’s that different from race day fuelling?

Joe: On race day it’s pretty much gels and hydration. I use the Tempo gels. I’ll actually squeeze a load of gels into my bottle and mix it with a little bit of water.

From first bike to first Ironman

Joe Skipper on a bike

VF: Let’s shift gears (pun intended) for a second. How did you get into triathlon in the first place?

Joe: Basically my dad was into cycling when he was younger. He wasn’t into swimming or running though. But he said he’d get me a racing bike when I was 12. 

So I got it for my 12th birthday. Then I was off. I started doing some local rides — like, charity rides. Then I did my first 100k ride when I was 13 — it was Salisbury to Bath and back.

But I’d already been running and swimming before I got the bike. So when my dad gave me the bike he said, ‘if you like, you could do a triathlon’. So I thought, ‘yeah, why not?’

So I started doing triathlons when I was 13.

VF: Triathlons at 13? Amazing. And you’ve kept it up since then?

Joe: Not quite. There were a few years at university when I just did cycling. Triathlon wasn’t as big or popular back then. There weren’t many people to train with. But there was a group of us who would cycle.

Veloforte gels

It was great initially, but it just got so repetitive. I fancied doing triathlon again to mix things up a bit. So I Googled ‘Manchester Triathlon Club’ and found one. There were a lot of young people and it was great. I could still cycle, but there were also people to train with, running and swimming. So I started taking it more seriously then.

VF: Sounds like a good club can make a big difference?

Joe: Yeah, after university I joined my local club and they were fantastic. The coach had been there for years — they were proper old school, on the ball. He’d be like, ‘you come here — you’re in group one. You guys are group two.’ He’d know exactly what everyone was training for, what time they were going for. 

He was probably about 80 years old but he knew everything. He’d always say, ‘quick on your feet, quick on your feet.’

Joe’s triathlon mindset

VF: Joe, you’re known for your attitude and tenacity when you’re racing. What was it that first made you think, ‘I can do this. I could be a pro’?

Joe: Initially I started off in the pro races — not Ironman branded ones, but other races — just by emailing the race organiser. They weren’t big races but sometimes they’d have prize money so I’d just email and say, ‘I want to have a go, you know? 

VF: And that worked?

Joe: Yeah. There’s not many races like that anymore. Quite often they’d give you a bit of expenses towards travel so it wasn’t too much of an outlay. So I’d do that and started winning some money. Then obviously as my race results got better and better, I just kind of took it to the next level.

But it’s gradual, you know? Each time you get a bit better, the race is a bit bigger, you get a bit more prize money, and then you’re looking for some sponsorship.

Joe Skipper taking the veloforte gels

VF: How did you go about that?

Joe: Well, my first sponsor was a local tech company. I had a random connection who was part of the same cycling club. They would pay my expenses to go over to races. That was a huge help because then when I went over to races even if the prize money wasn’t great — if it was £500 say — it would be £500 profit, rather than just breaking even to race. 

Then if it was £1,500 or £2,000 in a race that’s pretty good. It helps that I was living with my parents at the time!

VF: Did you ever have moments where you thought, ‘perhaps I should just get a normal job?’

Joe: Oh, loads of them. Because it’s all a gamble isn’t it. You never know how many years you have left, or how good you’re going to get. You feel like there’s more to come, but you never really know.

VF: So what made you keep going?

Joe: I did Ironman Texas in 2015 and I managed to get second place in that. That was the biggest result of my career so far. 

[Joe’s second place performance also broke the course cycle record and was the third fastest Ironman bike segment of all time.]

VF: You said afterwards, "Thank god for that — otherwise I’d be lining up outside the job centre on Wednesday morning."

Joe: Haha, yeah. Before I was thinking, ‘how much longer do I give it?’ But I got $15,000 at Texas, which was massive, and a lot of coverage from that. Then I got another big result a couple of months later. That helped me get some sponsorship and helped me get to Kona (the Ironman World Championship). 

That first Kona was a bit of a low. I got 13th. But I didn’t blow up, and so many people blow up in their first one. But after that I had the sponsors to carry on.

It’s a rollercoaster. It’s a lot of ups and downs. You train really well and think you’ll smash it, and sometimes you don’t get the result. Or you get Covid four weeks out from the World Championship, you know?

What’s next for Joe

VF: Thank goodness, at least, that there’s two World Championships this year (the 2022 race and the postponed 2021). So you’ll be able to compete.

Joe: Yeah, I’m definitely pleased about that. If I have to miss Utah I’ll be gutted, but at least I’ll still have an opportunity. *

Kona in October is going to be big. And if I get a good result there, then nobody will care about a less than perfect result back in April or May. But yeah, Kona is on the cards, 100%. I’m already qualified.

VF: Looking forward to it, Joe! What else is on the cards for you?

Joe: At the minute I’m focusing on resting up, eating well. I’m cooking a lot. Lots of fruit and veg. Decent grains. Smoothies for breakfast. Using the Vita recovery shake.

veloforte powder

It amazes me, some people will spend £7,000 on a race bike, hundreds on running shoes, thousands on race entries, then they’re not investing in nutrition. Nutrition is one of the most important parts. If you don’t fuel right, you can’t train right.

Not every nutrition product is going to be beneficial for you. So I like having a steady supply of Veloforte nutrition. They taste good, they’re full of natural ingredients. 

VF: Amazing. Cheers Joe! Hope you recover well.

Joe: Thanks guys.

* Illness prevented Joe from competing in Utah. We’ll all be cheering him on at the 2022 World Championships in Kona!

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