For the second consecutive year, Braden Currie is about to embark on a race against the world’s best endurance athletes, in one of the world’s most unforgiving external environments. The race begins on Sunday morning (NZ time) and will be broadcast live from 5.35 AM NZ time.
The 2018 Ironman World Championships on the island of Hawaii in Kailua-Kona (or Kona as this ruthless race is often known as), is one of the globe’s most celebrated tests of physical toughness and mental strength.
It starts with a 3.86km ocean swim course that begins and ends at Kailua Pier. The athletes are not required to wear wetsuits, which can favour the stronger swimmers, like Currie.
Next up is a 180.2km road bike ride which has 1772m of elevation and is most-often described by one word – brutal. This is courtesy of the searing heat, sweat-inducing humidity that hovers around 90 percent and buffeting cross-winds, which on sections of the course can reach up to 100kmh. The riders travel north on the Kona Coast through scorching lava fields and then along the Kohala Coast to the small village of Hawi, returning along the same route to transition. Currie’s average speed will sit around 42-46km/hr.
Braden training in Kona this year © Korupt Vision
The marathon course (42.2km) travels through Kailua-Kona and on to the same highway, the Queen Ka`ahumanu, used for the bike course. Athletes then run back into Kailua-Kona, coming down Ali`i Drive to the cheers of thousands of spectators and arriving utterly spent at the finish line.
Currie sets high standards for himself and after his debut there last year, when a puncture put an end to his desire to finish at the pointy end of the field, he has a score to settle in Kona.
“I think overcoming last year’s Kona, has been a really big challenge for me. I didn’t have the race I wanted and it left me frustrated. Not because of the result, but because of my inability to race. I have since realised, that there is so much more to overcome within this race. It is tougher and more gruelling than I considered, and the brutally hot external environment makes it that much harder to race how I normally race. The athletes you are competing against, are absolutely the best in the world and that also makes it that much harder mentally to keep racing with the confidence that you need to race competitively against a field like this. So for me, this year’s race is for now my ultimate challenge. Where it really is that that full mix of pushing your physical and mental limits, because there is so much that I have to mentally overcome to achieve this race.”
Braden battling on the bike at last’s year Kona © Graeme Murray
Mental preparation is vital in this sport where an exhausted body will keep racing hard because the mind wills it to do so. Currie stares down the barrel of the challenges he is going to face and tries to get himself “into a really good positive head space to believe that I have the potential to race with the best in the world,” he says.
“It is about not going into the race feeling like the under-dog. A few years ago you would have caught me saying that I liked to be thought of as the under-dog because in my own mind, that reduced the amount of expectation anyone had on me. But it’s a different game now. I know that my results previously will put me in some of the limelight and I need to believe that I have the ability to race the best.”
Currie has proved he is a force to be reckoned with since he moved across from multisport and off-road triathlon to the Ironman distance. He won Ironman New Zealand on debut last year and grabbed the winner’s sash at the finish line of the Asia-Pacific Ironman Championships at Cairns in June. In doing so he beat one of the favourites to win this year’s Kona crown, Olympic triathlon medallist Javier Gomez.
Javier Gomez and Braden Currie racing at Ironman Cairns last June © Korupt Vision
A lot of Currie’s 2018 focus has been committed to Kona. “I have realised that Ironman and especially Kona is a sport that requires the ultimate level of dedication. The athletes that you get to race in this environment are so talented, but also so dedicated and focused. In my eyes it has gone that step further. You discover more and more, the deeper you become involved in it, about just how dedicated people are. For me I love competing in sport, because of the challenge of testing the notion of what’s possible. For me, I think it is that physical and mental challenge that you got to overcome when you are competing especially in a very competitive environment, that I love, that I strive for and that pushes me beyond what I think my personal limits are. It definitely brings out the best in me whether it is as an athlete or as a person in life.”
Usually Wanaka-based, Currie has avoided the South Island town’s cold winter and lived with his family in Noosa, Australia, where the climate is more training-friendly. He left there for Kona at the end of September and his plan was to have just over two weeks of training in the heat and acclimatising to the conditions there.
Braden Currie training in his second home Noosa © Graeme Murray
“I have been working a lot on my swim, with my swim coach JR (John Rogers). Swimming has just been an evolution for me and I have made huge gains especially in the last few months. People often ask me how I have become a swimmer, with little to no swim background. For me it’s just been about hard work. Lots of time in the pool and thinking strategically about what I am doing in the water, water movement, flow and finding the best ways to catch the water and move through it steadily and as smooth as possible. I also believe confidence has had a lot to do with it. Just having that kind of belief that I can swim with the best and putting myself in the situations where I am swimming with the best. That seems to work for me.”
Besides that I have been focusing as much as I can on my bike and keeping the same strategy with my running. I’m really happy with where my running is at right now. The track sessions have helped me focus in on the little things and improve my efficiency. I’ve also learnt how to keep my body in good physical condition for running. Running is often the sport that can incur injury and I think everyone needs to reflect on what works and doesn’t work for them in regards to achieving run progression. I feel confident I can have a run that’s as good, as or better than my winning performance in Cairns in early June at Ironman Asia Pacific Champs (2:39:59).
For Currie, the top three most challenging parts of racing an Ironman triathlon provide an insight into what his world is like.
Braden Currie getting in another run session in Kona © Korupt Vision
Number one is simply getting to the start line.
“It takes huge amount of focus and commitment to get your body ready and prepared for an event such as Kona. It’s really common to see pro and age group athletes have something happen in the last few months of a build towards a championship race. I think the additional emotional stress that a big race can have on you, can be the part that pushes people over the edge.”
The next biggest challenge for him is knowing how to access what athletes describe as ‘the dark side’ and be comfortable racing there.
“Racing at this level hurts and I’m not sure how other athletes approach racing, but I believe that there are many athletes who don’t ever get into the deepest dark box that they are capable of going into. I believe in what my body is capable of and I am prepared to race at that limit, with the belief that my body will tolerate it. Even if it’s well outside of what my training stats tell me that I’m capable of. I believe the guys winning these big races are pushing the limits well beyond what anyone would believe is possible.”
Open water session last weekend in Kona © Korupt Vision
The third and final hurdle to overcome is controlling his destiny.
“There are many moments in a race, where there is potential for your nervous system to go through the roof as you let the stress, anxiety and fear completely take over your body. Ironman is about conservation of energy in many ways. You are working at the highest level you are a capable of but you need to be able to do that right up until you cross the line. In long distance racing, frequent surges of adrenaline will have an impact, and have the potential of being detrimental to your race. You will burn more energy than you need to. It’s important for me to stay calm and relaxed no matter what is going on around me and I believe the only way to do this is to maintain belief in myself.”
Currie starts with the other 50 professional, elite men’s field at 6.35am on Saturday, October 13, which in New Zealand is 7.35am on Sunday, October 14. Live race coverage will be available on ironman.com and via Ironman Now on Facebook Watch