04 Jun Athletic Dad Approaches 60 And Shows No Signs Of Stopping
For Father’s Day this year, we speak to proud dad of three strapping lads Andrew Pidden, an environmentalist, triathlete and Pilates enthusiast
Quinquagenarian Ultra runner Andrew Pidden shows no signs of stopping at 58. It seems he does it all: aside from working a full-time job as Head of Sustainable Investments, he also excels in sports, from windsurfing and cycling to alpine trekking.
Having lived in Hong Kong for most of the 1990s, he and his wife moved back to the city in 2019 after living in Australia, Singapore and the UK, their original home. Since then it’s been a joy to have Andrew and his wife Penny as regular fixtures at Flex Studio, where they train three to four times a week. We have the pleasure of speaking to Andrew this month about living his philosophy: “We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.”
Rumour has it you’re an Ironman triathlete. Is this true?!
No I am not, although I have competed in long distance adventure races for many years. I do run Ultra marathons, which is basically an excuse to run around in the hills for hours at a time. This started by running to work across Hong Kong Island 25 years ago to stay fit for our surf trips, which became a “thing” of its own. Even today, it is important to me to turn up at a serious surf break in great condition. I know I’m going to want to paddle out so I had better be fit!
What have been your most memorable events?
UTMB is the big one for Ultra runners, and this year will be my fourth. It’s a 170km loop around Mout Blanc, and comes at the end of a week of Ultra races. It’s an amazing experience. My wife Penny and I have run the Vietnam Mountain marathon a few times and also raced in China, Thailand, Spain, Scotland and West Australia.
We also cycled all three ascents of Mont Ventoux, the highest climb in France, in a day. That was tough as it was the Alps d’Huez triathlon, which is like an alpine Ironman. Mind you it didn’t help that I had broken my hand falling down Snowdon a couple of weeks earlier. And then one of the craziest events was the Action Asia Singapore Adventure Race in 2005, another the River Kwai Race in Thailand which was fantastic.
What are the biggest challenges of this lifestyle?
The biggest challenge is always going out to face waves of consequence at the point in Margaret River, Australia. When things go wrong in the ocean, it’s a different level of wrong to being on land.
What other sports do you do? How do you keep it up?
I used to play rugby… currently I still do surfing, windsurfing, paddling, rallying in historic cars, cycling and yacht racing as often as I can possibly manage. I have done a lot of yoga and HIIT over the years and enjoy that as well. I would also do cage football, although I haven’t managed to get into that in HK yet. I’m not very athletic… more of a participant than a competitor, although I will take a win whenever it’s available!
Where do you get all that energy? What’s your secret?
Well, I love being outdoors which is another way of saying I hate being indoors [laughs] but my work – which is a passion – requires it. As soon as I wake up, I want to be outside. A lot of this stuff is playtime for big people who perhaps didn’t want to grow up. It may be telling that I still have my Lego from being a kid. Great food, good coffee (how did HK go from zero to hero for coffee?) and good wine fuel the energy. “Do it now, later maybe never” is a decent motto to live by in my opinion.
How long have you been doing Pilates? How did you first get into it?
I started around 2006, so I guess it’s been 15 years. It was in Singapore and I continued to suffer from a bad lower back from an industrial accident in the 1980s and a serious neck injury from rugby in 2002. I went to an awesome physio where the owner told me to go to Pilates or face a worse future. She knew I was sceptical, so I had to sign up twice a week for three months before I was allowed to see her again. After a couple of sessions I wasn’t sure, but after three months I knew it was changing my life. I have never stopped since then.
What made you stick to it?
I couldn’t run 10km or ride 40km without tweaks or even a back spasm. Bad backs are the worst. I struggled at the gym and couldn’t do my yoga. Many people told me that at 40 years old that was natural and I should accept it was time to slow down, but I felt I hadn’t even really started.
Now, 10-kilometre hills is my daily commute from Stanley to Central, and at the age of 58 I am going longer and harder and bigger (if slower) in all my sports and loving them!
What does your weekly routine consist of?
Two or three Pilates sessions a week. Flex is such a good studio and Hong Kong is so lucky to have so many great instructors working there. I also swim in the sea most days and run across the island either to or from work. When I’m not running, I’m on my motorbike – another passion. Race boats and longer runs on weekends and windsurf or surf whenever it’s available. Fitness through play.
What are you passionate about and why?
I’m passionate about living and enjoying as much of every day as I can. I’m always grateful for my body and mind, and I feel that trying to look after them and invest in them pays a fantastic return by allowing me to do fun stuff. I love dining out and a bottle of wine as much as anyone, but I love dropping down the face of a solid wave on my surfboard as well, and I want to keep more of both forever.
As a family we are passionate about the food we eat, where it comes from and how it affects our bodies. We care about the environment and I have dedicated the past twenty years of my working life to changing big companies’ attitudes to pollution and degradation, and this has been very hard and unforgiving work. We care about social inequality and much of my work has focused on that as well, it’s all interlinked. Running an ultra is easy compared to that fight.
How do you balance all your work, training, family life…? What do you think is the winning formula to being successful in all?
It is not about being successful, there is no measure for that. It’s about being able to choose what I want to do and be able to enjoy doing it. We have three grown up sons who all surf and windsurf and sail better than me, but that’s come from all of us doing lots of stuff all the time together as a family. They have gone from being our children to our surf buddies and that’s such a great thing. The boys have guided us towards vegetarianism and that feels like a natural way to eat now. It hasn’t always been easy, I had to wait years to earn enough for my first windsurfer, but it’s always been fun and we have always been grateful for that.
Have you got any advice for men who want to sustain a high level of physical activity for life?
Health is wealth, it’s trite but so true. I’m much more interested in the return on investing in my body than my savings. I know what it’s like to be injured having broken a lot of bones over the years, and I know how debilitating bad backs, achilles tendons, knee joints and hips can be. But you get out of your body what you put in, like so much of life. And the centre of your body is your core, where all your power and balance come from. Pilates is the only practice I have found that changes that.
The better you look after your body, the more energy you have, and the more enthusiasm for life you have.
Andrew Pidden describes himself as an oxymoron, being an environmentalist with strong views on sustainability and social equality despite having worked in the finance industry for many years. To square the circle, he built the Sustainable Investment group at DWS from 2011, an environmental investment group that finances real change. Thank you to Andy for taking the time to be interviewed as a Flex dad for Father’s Day this year!