Over the past five months we have been fortunate enough to travel as a family through the USA and Canada, whilst racing the National USA XTERRA circuit and some of the highest caliber Ironman 70.3 events.
I had learnt over the previous few years racing, that the key component for me to become the best was strongly centered around having the opportunity to race the best. A lot of what motivates me within racing is to beat my competition. And so playing on this truth, we made the decision early in the year to travel to the USA with the precedence set to find races that attracted the highest possible level of competition available in both on and off-road triathlon formats.
The trip started well in May, when I competed in the USA off road triathlon championships in Alabama. I’d come off the back of winning XTERRA NZ and XTERRA Asia Pacific champs, but I knew I was up for a whole new challenge racing in the USA. I managed to out-sprint Josiah Middaugh (10 time reigning champion) to take the title. This was the first time a kiwi had snaffled this victory and gave me a big boost of confidence that I had made the right decisions in following this path. I was also stoked to beat this guy as I know he has the mental stubbornness that closely resembles my own and the win really represented and reminded me of my ability to back myself.
I returned from Alabama to meet my wife and children in Denver. We had rented a house in Steamboat Springs Colorado for two months and I was looking forward to a three week block of training at high altitude (2500+metres) before the next hit out at the XTERRA USA North West Championships in Virginia. However, the high was followed by a big low. I became sicker than I have been in a long time and also realized that I had sustained an injury to my Achilles during the previous race. The sickness plagued me and the family and we were all struggling to just walk up the hill near our apartment let alone get any training in. After a few weeks of it, I decided I couldn’t handle it any more so we drove seven hours east to Moab just to drop 1000metres in altitude gain. It gave me the relief I needed and on returning back to Steamboat I was able to find a bit more capacity for training and sneak in a few quality sessions before flying to Virginia. But the injury didn’t respond to the change of altitude and so I didn’t manage any running in lead up to this race.
I came 2nd in Virginia and I was pretty gutted at the time. But I had to quickly sort it out and look at ways in which I could bridge the gap, whilst rehabbing my Achilles. It have me the opportunity to look at my bike a lot more closely. The bike had originally been my Achilles heel but I had to quickly sort that out otherwise I was looking at two Achilles heels, not just one. And so I found myself in the gym for the first time ever, following a program designed by a good friend of mine who ran a high performance training centre in California (Nakoa Fitness). The program isolated weaknesses and muscular imbalances that I didn’t know I had and I was able to work through those and build some symmetry, power and finesse into my pedal stroke.
My last USA XTERRA national series race was in Beaver Creek. I had a solid swim and ride, but was taken out by Ben Hoffman and Josiah on the final run and finished 3rd. I knew I was not performing at my best but I also knew I had about eight weeks to pull it all together. In my favour was that my Achilles had made big improvements, along with my riding. It gave the opportunity for some more reflection, and I realized a few things. A significant part of the 2015 plan in the USA was based around training at altitude. In the previous year 2014, I spent several weeks in Font Romeu in France at around 1700m and I felt like I made huge gains at this altitude. But it was a different story when I started living in Colorado at 2500m and training at heights of 3000m. My body took a long time to adjust and recover and I couldn’t train at the intensity I needed to. I got punished, is the short and sweet of it and really lost my ability to race at my normal top-end speeds. And I realized that finding somewhere still at altitude but a bit lower was going to be really important for tapping into my top end training potential.
And so we drove to Canmore, the centre of the Rockies in Alberta Canada and set amongst some of the best mountain biking that North America has to offer. With about 1000m less altitude gain and the potential of having some good mates to train with, this felt like a step in the right direction. Having come off the back of two disappointing results I felt like I needed to race more. Maybe it was a way of building my confidence back, and also I just couldn’t let go of the opportunity to race against some of the strongest global competition within Ironman 70.3 distance.
The first event we lined up was Ecuador 70.3. I had about 10 days on arriving in Canada to sharpen up the speed at lower altitude, before flying for 24 hours south and arriving the night before to race with the hope of feeling like a spring chicken. You live and learn. The race in hindsight went well. I was really proud of a 2nd place result against Tim Don (former World 70.3 champ). But after getting a flat tyre on the ride, and feeling like I had more in me, I had a burning desire to keep racing. I returned to Canmore for a day and then flew to New Hampshire for 70.3 Timberman. The start list had been released for this event and I knew that this would give me an opportunity to race in a 70.3 that had a similar depth of field to the World 70.3 champs.
No surprises; the race didn’t really go as well as I hoped. I was flat and tired, and struggled to find any power in any discipline. But I was stoked with how I went and finished 10th, just behind top NZ triathlete Dylan McNeice. I got the opportunity to race the big guys and see them in action and it fired me up to one-day focus on 70.3 with full commitment and to see what I can do.
Returning to Canmore, I felt a bit deflated as it was becoming strongly evident that my bike was still letting me down. We decided to approach a mountain bike specific coach named David Plew in hope that this would help give me the edge I needed before the XTERRA USA Champs and the World Champs. I knew he was a great coach and had just coached Anton Cooper to a winning result at the World under 23 mountain biking cross-country championships. Dave was all over it and soon whipped me into shape. I was riding 10+ hours a week more than I normally would have and the volume and balance of intensity was just what I needed to build my endurance capacity and top end speed on the bike.
After a total of eight weeks in Canada, the final challenge of the trip was upon me. This took us on another epic three-day road trip to Ogden, Utah for the XTERRA USA Championships. I had a really good lead into this race and was feeling pumped and ready to finish the season with a final win against Josiah and the XTERRA USA championship title.
Race day was stunning. The swim started off and we were swimming into the sunrise. It was new to me to lead out of the swim and I wasn’t used to having to spot the marker buoys so much. This meant for not quite as much of a gap on Josiah as I would normally have coming off the swim. But it only worked to motivate me more to smash out the best bike leg of my life, in the discipline I had put the most into over the season. To this day, that ride made me believe that the bike can be one of my weapons, rather than the thing I lose time in. I managed to extend my lead from Josiah over the first 20km and then have him pull back only 40seconds on me over the course of the whole ride. In the past I could easily find myself over two minutes down on this champ. We exited Transition 2 into the run side by side and battled it out right to the very end. Josiah ended up taking first by just under 20 seconds. It was gutting to not take that race as I had a great race, but I was stoked to walk away knowing that my bike was there and also to have had a pain-free run, which gave me optimism towards getting some speed back in the run before the World XTERRA Champs six weeks later.
Returning home to NZ was a whirlwind. I had a training day lined up for Red Bull Defiance as well as a week of filming with the Red Bull team. Both incredible opportunities that I couldn’t turn down but in hindsight probably not the best timing. But in my life, I find that no timing is ever that great.
Aligning training with filming made for a busy first few weeks. After that it was head down for my final two weeks before flying back to Maui for XTERRA Worlds. Arriving in Maui four days prior to XTERRA Worlds, things were not looking good. I had managed to pick up a cold leaving NZ and had a huge amount of congestion. Snot factor was high, which made it hard to breathe in my lead-up sets and making my taper just one big rest session.
On race day, Maui turned on another incredibly hot day, with temperatures in the mid 30degCs and 90% humidity. The swim was flat and fast and I managed to hold onto the main bunch and exit the water about where I wanted to be. It was within the first five minutes of the mountain bike, that I realized that everything I had been working on for the previous six months had paid off. I managed to catch a group of five solid riders within the first few kilometres and ride away from them on the first climb, soon catching two-time Olympian Courtney Atkinson and moving to a lead position. Around the half way point in the ride, Ruben Ruzafa (three-time World Champ) caught me at his usual furious pace. With a short descent I stayed with him, but soon decided it wasn’t going to be of any value for me to try and ride that hard and I was still backing myself to take him down on the run. Josiah Middaugh was next up. We rode together and I was confident I could stay with him, but had a bit of misfortune about 2/3rds into the ride, believing I had a flat tyre. I had to make a big call and either hit a tight corner at 40+km per hour and potentially wipe out or stop and check the tyre. I stopped quickly to check and realized that my tyre was sweet, but by this time Josiah was off up the road. I was set chasing. It was not to be and I didn’t manage to pull him back in before transition to the final 10km mountain run.
Going into the final run leg I was 40 seconds down on Josiah and I knew he would be hard to catch. I conceded to my 3rd place position as Ruben was 2.5 minutes up. I knew there was going to be a large group chasing, so I couldn’t give up and pushed as hard as I could and to my surprise I found the man I have been trying to beat for two years now; Ruben Ruzafa ‘in the box’ struggling. For a moment I felt sorry for him, and then I quickly got over it and passed him to take 2nd place. I was stoked. On the day Josiah was better than I was and over-all I felt as if I got the result I deserved and couldn’t have pushed any harder than I did. But next year I’ll continue to work hard to bring that title home. I know it’s within me.
Twenty-four hours later I flew half away around the world to Perth for the Augusta Adventure Festival. I had successfully raced and won this event for the previous three years. It was tough coming off the back of an event I put my whole year into and then having to back it up with another top performance in a multisport race. However, Augusta is an event I really enjoy and despite having not kayaked since Coast to Coast, I was confident that my other disciplines would be strong enough to counter any loss of time in the boat.
Augusta turned it on – the sun was shining and with the spectacular start line of Cape Foulwind, I was soon inspired to leave my mark on this one. I pulled out the fastest run split with a four minute lead on 2ndplace, and entered the water knowing that it would be hard for anyone to make any time on me. The swim was awesome – beautiful and clear. I went from the swim straight into the kayak. Paddling a surf-ski is something I don’t normally get to do too much of these days, so to be out on the ocean riding some waves and catching some runners was a real highlight for me.
I went into the 32km mountain bike with a 15 minute lead to 2nd place. I knew it was all about minimising risk (e.g not crashing, getting a flat or breaking my bike). The atmosphere at the finish line was epic with over 4000 athletes racing and over 900 kids in the mini race the day before. This event really is one of the world’s best multisport races. And I have to admit I was stoked to stamp my mark back on the multisport scene, having not been a part of it for the previous nine months.
Back in NZ, my team had been working hard to open some doors for me in 2016. With the idea of returning to the Coast to Coast feeling a little bit outside of my bigger focus, the thought of continuing to push my development in short distance events was starting to feel really good for me. The Coast to Coast is how I began and competing and winning the Longest day in 2013 was one of my life highlights. But it’s a huge event and right now it’s one of the only events other than Augusta that includes a kayak leg. I had an incredible season and for the first time I started to see how I could really start to get faster. Training progression is a big part of that, but so is recovery and strength. I know that if I continue to try and do everything, that I am going to head towards burn-out and injury and never really achieve what I might be capable of.
I decided to be happy with everything I have done. In the last two years I have raced in 32 events (from short distance to multi-day events) and my wife tells me I have been on the podium 87% of this time and won 41% of the time. I couldn’t be more stoked with the last few years. But now I want to crack it. I want to know that when I finish my career that I gave everything to becoming the world’s best. And the reality is that the road towards this vision is going to take sacrifice. I can’t continue to do every style of racing. And right now I have had a door open that could see me have an opportunity to represent New Zealand.
For me in life, I always have to have a good challenge in front of me to keep my motivation strong and the potential road ahead of me now offers a challenge bigger than anything I have ever faced before. For this reason I have decided to commit the next seven months towards earning enough points and proving my form within triathlon, with the first goal of Olympic selection and the second goal to be determined after the first one is ticked off. The dream of representing your country holds a sacred spot in the hearts of so many athletes, and I would forever regret having not given an opportunity like this my best possible crack.
“Reality is wrong. Dreams are for real.” – Tupac Shakur