All Images Credit To On Photos
It couldn’t have been a better day at Ironman New Zealand. The crowds were at full capacity and the field was as strong as it has ever been. It was also Cameron Brown’s last race as a pro after 25 years of racing. He finished the race strong and there’s no doubt he will continue to be regarded as New Zealand’s greatest Ironman athlete.
I felt like I had a pretty good race overall. Mike Phillips and I managed to break away from the main group in the swim with a gap of 2:23 to the main chase going into T1.
At 25kms the main group of Matt Kerr, Simon Cochrane, Jan Van Burkle, Matt Burton, and Sebastian Kienle had made 20 seconds on Phillips and I and brought the gap back to 2 minutes.
We continued to ride strong and steady on the bike and keep the group away. It was great to have the race ranger involved in Ironman distance racing for the first time. It gave us all trust that no one was getting a free ride and that the ride was fair from start to finish. I hope it becomes the status quo at all events in the future. It might have also contributed to the chase group breaking up rather than riding together.
At the 160km mark, Phillips and I had 3-4 minutes on Matt Burton who was in 3rd place. I went down to get some nutrition and saw Phillips surge past me. I should have predicted that he would make a move, but I wasn’t expecting it. I dropped the nutrition and started to stand up out of my seat and push hard, but I had missed the moment in time to go with him, and I was on the back foot. I had to make a decision on whether to try to keep pushing the rivet to stay with him or ride my own race for the last 20 km and feel comfortable that I could make that time up on the run. In retrospect, I should have predicted his move.
Phillips put close to 3 minutes on me in the last 20 km and told me later that he had to take the chance and see how much time he could make before we started the run battle. He didn’t know if his legs would pull up for the run after the effort, he put in to build the gap, but he thought it was worth the risk. The risk paid off for him in this race.
The course was a 4-lap course this year. I managed to pull back most of the time in lap 1 and felt comfortable pace-wise when I caught Phillips at around 22 km. Phillips ran behind me for quite a while. At about 10 km to go, I started to break away. Philips holds the run record on this course, and I know when he is having a good day he is hard to beat. So I knew it wasn’t over until it was over and there could be a few battles yet but I felt like I might have cracked him.
About 1km later and 8km from the finish line, a cramp hit my left hamstring. It’s the first time I have had cramps in an Ironman. I tried to run through it. But it soon stopped me in my tracks and the only option left was to stretch it out. I tried to get back to pace and recover the time, but I had lost 90 seconds. I then did what I could to find something extra, but I knew the cramp was only just being kept at bay. I managed to keep going at a solid pace, but Phillips had a good lead on me by then. I was in a position where the most important thing at this point of the race was to achieve my main goal of securing my qualification at the Ironman World Champs in Nice in September this year. I was lucky my body let me finish without another cramping episode until the finish line and that I was able to make 2nd place and secure my qualification.
Mike Phillips raced well and Taupo and Ironman put on a great event. It was awesome to have internationals back racing and there was a great vibe around the event amongst the spectators, locals, and competitors. I wanted to win. I always want to win. It’s a long time between drinks in this sport and you get few chances to fight for redemption. My last race was Kona in October 2022 when I was sick as a dog. I was looking forward to coming back from that with a win in Taupo. I have accepted the result and it is still gutting when you know you had done the work and were in a position to take the win.
My coach Ben Reszel had come out from Germany for the race. We took the opportunity in the lead-in to gather as much information as we could on where I am at, and I know that I am in a good position to build from as I head into the back end of the year. Ben was also kicking shit around after the race, as he was more gutted than I was. We had a good debrief and we felt that we were 99% on it, but it was the 1%ers that let us down. The 1 %ers are everything in this sport. They are the difference between winning and sometimes a 5th or 10th place. We all had a slap in the face that we cannot be complacent about any level of detail. Everything counts. If you miss something you will lose time. The sport is as competitive as it’s ever been. Everyone is hungry to win and perform at their best and there is a whole new field of athletes that has emerged since Covid.
In some ways, I feel like one of the few old guys still battling. I am 36 which 3-4 years ago was the average age of those winning the race. Now guys are starting the sport in their 20s and they are performing. But what we did reflect upon post-race is that we have had 6-7 years of experience to draw. If we use what we have learned, we are in a better position than anyone. I am lucky to have had a successful healthy, injury-free career and my performance has improved year after year. I am in the best position to move forward now. Covid is done and I can race anywhere in the world. But my focus remains on Ironman World Champs. There are plenty of other things to divert my focus at this stage with the PTO offering a lucrative PTO tour of races that I have qualified for. But I feel as though you can’t spread your focus and your vision too thin and that by doing so, you will compromise yourself. I have had one goal for the last 6 years. That goal hasn’t changed, and I want to make sure I am ready for it when September comes around.