Wanaka’s Currie was making his debut in what is frequently referred to as the toughest endurance race in the world and he now knows first-hand why it owns this title.
A puncture early on the 180km bike ride - surrounded by heat-soaking lava rock - soon after he had taken a gutsy race lead, dropped him well down the pack. After a quick repair job, Currie, who is never one to give up, set about making up the time. His hopes were smashed again, when he received a devastating 5min penalty. While desperately trying to regain lost ground, he had stayed within the draft zone (12m) of another cyclist for longer than the 25secs allowed
Currie says everything went wrong for him at about 40km into the ride.
“I was riding really well, my power was awesome and I didn’t really feel like I was working beyond myself. I was exactly where I wanted to be and then I got a flat tyre. It maybe took a couple of minutes to get the support guys there and change a wheel over and then I was cruising up the road trying to jump back on the back of the bunch, thinking that maybe not all is lost and I can still get myself back in the top 10. Then a marshal went past and held up a sign saying that I had a penalty,” Currie says.
Another race favourite Tim Reed also punctured and the race commentators guessed that the previous night’s heavy downpour may have washed debris onto the roads. Currie thought that if he could make up the five minutes lost, due to the penalty, to catch Reed they could work together on the bike and run.
“By the time I caught him I could barely hang on. I just cooked myself and that was pretty much my day. I just sunk myself way to deep trying to chase people and I just had to tick box after that to be honest,” Currie says.
Before the set-backs on the bike, the day had started positively for Currie. He had battled through the ever-changing currents of Kailua Bay in the 3.8km swim, emerging amongst the world’s best triathletes, in a time of 48mins:41secs.
“Man I had the swim of my life. I got into a really good position and I was swimming on Jan’s [Frodeno the defending World IRONMAN Champion’s] feet. I was feeling really comfortable as I I knew that I have been at altitude and I was barely breathing to keep up. I wasn’t working hard,” Currie says.
Following a quick transition, he started hunting down the leading bike pack. Currie passed Josh Amberger for the lead at the 17km mark but 30km into the race the Kiwi had dropped back 7secs on the Australian. The puncture at the 40km point then destroyed his chance of producing a top bike time.
Summoning all the mental and physical fortitude he possessed after the disastrous bike leg, Currie set off on the 42.1km run in shirt-soaking humidity.
“I would have loved to have pulled out but I just felt like it was a part of life that I had to go through. I made it to the finish. I’ll take the bright side away from it - my biking is there and my swimming is there and if I’m in the front and I’m feeling competitive then I can run. There’s always next year I guess,” Currie says.
Running through the famous lava fields of Hawaii's big island, he finished in 8hours:50mins;05secs in 30th place out of 54 pro athletes. The result will not meet the exacting standards Currie sets for himself and this Kona-based race will leave a bad taste in his mouth for a while. But Currie didn’t let the race beat him. He didn’t join the list of DNFs.
“I’ve got a race in two weeks’ time, the XTERRA Worlds and there was a lot of thoughts going through my head of maybe I just pull it and recover and start training again for that event. However, Kona is a pretty special event, it’s the pinnacle of this sport and I guess I just wanted to know what it felt like in the end. Next year hopefully I’ll be in a better spot to race in.
Currie’s race preparation had been faultless. It featured a five-month grueling swim, bike and run training programme. He spent time in Noosa, Australia and Boulder, United States, to focus on intensity and endurance. He is as fit as he has ever been. It’s simply the cruel nature of professional sport that all the best-laid groundwork can come crumbling down come race-day, when he pitted himself against the hardest endurance event on the planet.
“It’s not what I wanted and its probably a harder pill to swallow because it wasn’t my physical ability in the end which let me down. I had such a good start and I was right where I wanted to be in the race. I was feeling really good then there was a run of bad luck but that’s racing I guess.”
In just two week’s time, Currie will have put this disappointment behind him and will line up to race again in Hawaii to race the off-road XTERRA World Championships on the island of Maui.
PHOTOS CREDIT: GRAEME MURRAY.