“WINNING IS EVERYTHING” – THE IRONMAN EVOLUTION 

The Ironman Asia Pacific champs is 3 weeks away. This is your Second Ironman of the 2018/19 qualification season and your only Ironman event remaining on your calendar for the 2019 Kona qualifying season. You came 3rd at Ironman New Zealand (IMNZ), just missing out on Kona qualification. It appears that you are putting all your eggs in the one basket at this next event, which always attracts a strong pro field.

WHY CHOOSE THE BIGGEST EVENT IN THE REGION WITH THE STRONGEST FIELD AS YOUR QUALIFICATION EVENT?
The new Kona qualification system encourages you to either choose a race that doesn’t have a good pro field, or maybe a championship event that has 1 more qualification spot than other events. You need to bag one at some point and the closer you get to Kona, the more desperate pros can get, which will likely be reflected in the depth of the field at the later season events in June through to August.

Like anything, there’s pros and cons to the new qualifying structure. Previously you were rewarded for your performance at Kona the year before, and then following up with a few consistent performances across IM and 70.3 racing.

Now just one race can get you over the line, and effectively the job is done until Kona. Many pros will still choose to race a lot, but I think 3 Ironman’s in a year is a solid amount of racing. This year I will race 4 full distance and that’s about my max. So, if you have a bad race, or you get on the run and you don’t feel great, the new system encourages you to pull out and save yourself for another race. Rather than finishing as strong as you can and still earning points towards Kona. You can easily end up chasing event after event, waiting for a good one. Or you will end up injured or sick if you just keep racing.  I don’t like the fact that the new system doesn’t encourage you to finish. But that’s always been something that comes up when you are a pro racing Ironman.

In some ways I don’t want to buy into the new system too much. I simply want to race the events that I want to race. I also like racing a strong field of athletes, which is why I am choosing Ironman Asia Pacific champs. I believe that if I prepare well, then I’ll qualify. It will be bad luck if something goes wrong for me in that race, and I might have to think about racing again to qualify. I’d prefer to put it all on the line, as that’s what I believe racing is defined by.

YOU WON THE 2018 IRONMAN ASIA PACIFIC CHAMPS FOR THE FIRST-TIME LAST YEAR AND BROKE THE RECORD. HOW DOES IT FEEL GOING INTO THIS EVENT FOR YOU COMPARED TO LAST YEAR? 
Things are feeling really good. It’s been a good consistent build up. I didn’t take much time off after IMNZ this year and have managed to roll through two really good training blocks with one break in between. Everything is on track for race week and I’m looking forward to getting over there and getting warm. Last year I only trained for 4-5 weeks in the lead up, which retrospectively doesn’t seem like a lot. Every year my tolerance increases and mentally and physically I am capable of more. Last year I was still pretty fresh. I feel like this year will be a good year for me.

YOU TOOK AN OFF-SEASON BREAK POST KONA 2018, FOR THE FIRST TIME IN YOUR RACING CAREER (10 WEEKS). DO YOU BELIEVE THIS IMPACTED YOUR FIRST RACE BACK IN 2019 AT IRONMAN NZ IN MARCH? 
IMNZ is a tough one, because I didn’t have a bad race, its not the result I wanted, so I see that as being bad but the actual race itself wasn’t that bad. I rode really well, I swam at the front and I also ran a 2:45. Even though this is not my best time (I ran 6 minutes faster at Cairns). Mike Phillips had an amazing race, so I was early. For me training wise – I’d only had six weeks training leading up to that race after quite a substantial block off after Kona and then I also raced Challenge Wanaka.  Whilst I always believe I can mix it up with different events I think sometimes it does take that top end, maybe 1-2% off my racing ability. I thought that I had enough in the tank but by the time I hit that 20-30 km mark in that marathon I was pretty flat.

YOUR PROGRESSION THROUGH IRONMAN HAS BEEN RAPID (TWO YEARS) AND NOW YOUR DOWN TO THE POINTY END OF THE STICK WITH EFFECTIVELY A 1% MARGIN TO BE THE BEST IN THE WORLD. WHAT DOES THAT 1% TAKE?
It’s a hard question, I think all of us who are in that top sector of racing – we give it everything – we’re dedicated to the cause and we’re all trying to do our absolute best whether that’s nutrition or strength or any other element. But you know, sometimes, it just takes a good day too! To be honest, I think you just need things to align for you and have a good race so that’s what I’m hoping for. I also believe you need to determine your own sense of balance in life during the training year, where you can get the most out of your training without getting sick or injured. It’s a hard line to balance on, when you are trying to push out your limits. I feel like I have found a solid place within my training and I feel really good about the year so far.

IS THERE ANYTHING DIFFERENT IN THE WAY YOUR APPROACHING THIS YEAR COMPARED TO PREVIOUS YEARS?
You always have to evolve, if you don’t you will easily become stagnant and I’m not at the top yet so I see lots of things I need to change and improve on.  Over the last 6-8 years of racing I’ve always had the endurance as my draw card. But my one real limiting factor is my top end ability to tolerate big powerful surges. This was highlighted in 70.3 worlds – I couldn’t handle that kind of power at the start of the ride. That’s actually something I’ve been working on a lot; combining short power efforts with strength and conditioning work and really seeing the gains in my numbers both in short intervals but also seeing that roll over into my longer sustained riding to be able to hold a higher FTP.

SO YOU THINK HAVING THE ABILITY TO SUSTAIN THOSE HIGHER POWER EFFORTS IS STILL SOMETHING THAT BENEFITS YOU IN IRONMAN COMPARED TO 70.3? 
It depends which philosophy you look at within your training. If you feel you already have the endurance to go that distance – it’s a question of how you lift your power up to go faster over that distance.  I believe I was missing the ability to ride at a higher wattage and absorb the bigger surges that some people may throw down to blow the race apart. Me being me, I’m not good at letting people go, I want to be at the pointy end, I want to race, so its nice to know that my tolerance for the surges has improved and I have a pretty solid idea of what I can handle these days on the ride and I know I am tracking positively towards my riding goals at Kona 2019.

HOW IMPORTANT DO YOU THINK THE SWIM IS? KONA LAST YEAR YOU DIDN’T HAVE A GREAT STRATEGIC WIN BUT YOU HAD THE SWIM POTENTIAL TO BE AT THE FRONT OF THE RACE. THIS LEFT YOU 1:50 DOWN ON THE LEAD GROUP AND THEN YOU HAD TO WORK REALLY HARD ON THE BIKE – DID IT REMIND YOU OR REINFORCE HOW IMPORTANT THE SWIM IS IN IRONMAN DISTANCE?
In some ways, it also reminded me that the days not over. If I had swum with that front group like I was hoping, I would have been further up the road and may not have had to do as much work early on in the bike, but at the same time I was still well in the mix of the race and I couldn’t give up. The swim is definitely a key part of Ironman and can set you up into a position where you can execute bike and run the way you hope to strategically.

YOUR BEST MARATHON TIME IS 2;39:39 AT CAIRNS LAST YEAR. HOW DID YOU FEEL ABOUT THE LEAD INTO THE EVENT IN TERMS OF YOUR RUN AND DO YOU BELIEVE ITS AT THE TOP END OF WHAT YOU CAN DO?
I do think that that’s near the top end of what I can do and there’s not many people that can run faster than that which is good. I haven’t got it in my mind that I can run faster than that at Kona, but I do have the believe that I can consistently run that time and that’s my real goal. I had a bad day at IMNZ and still ran 2:45 – if I’m running well and comfortably, I can run a 2:40 everyday I race Ironman so that’s my goal.

My coach however believes I am achieving better run numbers than I ever have right now, off the back off a lot more volume than I have even consistently put down.  The one thing everyone knows about my marathon run is that it isn’t ever consistent and surging is common play. It could be that if I throw out a consistent run at my threshold that I can crack my previous PB of 2:39:29, ideally when it counts.

WHAT ARE THE KEY COMPONENTS FOR YOU ON THE RUN THAT WILL MAKE THE DIFFERENCE TO CONSISTENCY ON YOUR RUN PERFORMANCE? 
The big thing I was lacking at IMNZ was nutrition. I had a slump the 20 km mark and I know I missed nutrition towards the end of my ride. This definitely affected me. I’ve been working a lot more with higher miles – doing bigger run-weeks – I think that volume will cross over to my ability for a consistent run that about the low 2:40’s/2:39’s.

WHAT IS A KEY SESSION YOU’VE BEEN BUILDING ON WITH REGARD TO YOUR RUN TRAINING?
A good solid warm up (30-45 mins): some stretches, mobility wok and then into 4-5 x 3 km sessions at about that 3:20 pace. I’m getting comfortable running that pace and that’s something I’ve seen some really big improvements from.

WHAT’S YOUR GOAL FOR THE 2019 SEASON?
Being a kiwi, we are not brought up to say we want to win. But that is what I want to do. Why else would I have become a professional athlete?