Summer season approaches

As I write this, sitting here in Rotorua, I know that I should be thousands of kilometres away getting ready for the Xterra World Champs in Hawaii. Unfortunately I won't be competing this year, in what would have been my 9th go at the brutal race in Maui, after having to change my plans...

As those close to me know, I'm not one to sit around and 'hope' to one day be the best in the world. I enjoy training, pushing myself in each session to be faster, fitter and stronger. I love being outdoors, swimming, biking and running and that sometimes leads me to overdoing it as I seek those improvements. I'll be the first to admit I've made a few mistakes this year that have led to a few below par races and frustration with myself that I'm not able to compete at the level I know I am able to.

The most frustrating part is that the year started off really well, giving me confidence that I had a great year of racing ahead. Despite not being in great shape, Sam Shaw and myself managed to sneak onto the podium at the Red Bull Defiance in 3rd. A month later I was 3rd at the Coppermine, won the Ruapehu Express half marathon in a time of 1:12:37 and then won my first Xterra World Tour race at Motatapu. Leading into Xterra NZ I was in the best form of my life, confident that I was in a position to challenge for the title, but that's where it started to go wrong. I had a very average race at Xterra NZ (4th), and followed it up with a slightly better, but still below par race at the Asia Pacific Champs (6th). When I headed to Xterra Malaysia after that I was completely cooked and struggled to an 8th place finish.

I then had over a month away from any training and got back into light sessions in June. I had a good build up to the Coromandel Classic and New Caledonia Xdeva Cross Triathlon, winning both and gaining confidence towards my last block in preparation for the Xterra Worlds and ITU Cross Tri Worlds. I felt I recovered well from those races but through the next block my body didn't respond how I was anticipating and I could tell I was going through the early signs of overdoing it again. 

Knowing this I chose to back off and let my body rest, giving myself the chance to bounce back for the ITU Cross Tri World Champs and then have a real crack at both Taupo 70.3 and Tauranga Half Ironman. I love those races and really want to make them a priority over summer, something I have never done despite racing both of them twice previously. 

So right now I'm just getting back into it, incorporating the lessons I have learnt over the past year and building smartly towards what will be a cracker summer. I'm disappointed to be missing the Xterra World Champs, but after racing there eight times previously, I know what it takes to be successful there and will be back in the future targeting the podium!

Thanks to my family, supporters and sponsors for the continued support! I'm looking forward to righting a few wrongs over the next few months.

Xdeva Cross Triathlon - New Caledonia

A couple of months ago I was lucky enough to be invited over to New Caledonia to race the Xdeva Cross Triathlon. I was debating about whether to race Xterra Japan, which was on the same weekend, but thought this might be a better option due to the shorter travel time and with the Xterra World Champs coming up it was also important for me to get in a good race in the heat.

This was going to be a short trip, heading over there on the Friday, racing on the Saturday and then heading back to Rotorua on the Monday. The weekend before I raced the Coromandel Classic which had a decent amount of tough running (close to 50km over two days on steep and technical trails) so I was interested to see how my body would bounce back from that in a hot, shorter high intensity race.

The trip over went smoothly and was incredibly well organised which is crucial if you are travelling so close to a race. There is nothing worse than missing connections or being delayed for your stress levels! We got there just before dinner time on the Friday, so all there was time for was a quick jog on the beach, have dinner, unpack my bike and get all my gear ready, and then get to bed.

I felt pretty good on race morning and felt that I had recovered well from the week before, so I was pretty excited to race. The race was pretty short – 900m swim, 22km bike and then an 8km run which meant that it would be full on from the start. The swim reminded me of Xterra Saipan – a lot of dolphin diving in shallow water! I love these sorts of swims and had a good start, leading out to the first buoy, before sitting on the feet of a couple of others until the end. I was pretty happy with the swim, coming out with the leaders and in a good position to dictate things on the bike.

After a quick transition I was onto the bike in first and pushing hard with no idea what was coming up! I built a good lead early on and for the rest of the ride just focused on riding my own tempo, and making sure I was doing what I needed to. The mountain bike course was pretty fun and reminded me a lot of what the ITU Cross triathlon course in Lake Crackenback, Australia is like: mostly undulating tight, twisty singletrack with a few short steep pinches thrown in there. These types of courses mean minimal recovery and you’re riding at your limit the whole way. Luckily for me the bike course was incredibly well marked (as I had no idea where I was going) and I arrived in T2 with a couple of minute lead on 2nd.

Out onto the run and I could feel the temperature was heating up. This was exactly what I came over here for and it was good to get used to what it feels like in a race situation again. 1km into the run, with my lead estimated to be about three minutes, I had a moment of panic. The run course started following the mountain bike course, before heading straight up the side of a mountain, and some of the tape that was meant to guide us had been ripped and was down across the track. I didn’t know where to go, so ran back hoping to find a turn I may have missed. Luckily as I was doing this, one of the race organisers noticed this as he was driving past and sprinted up to me to show me where to go. This small mistake cost me a minute but could have been far worse if it hadn’t been for the quick help!

The run was definitely the hardest part of the race, with no flat running (other than the usual beach finish at the end), and steep up and downhills. To be honest I wasn’t feeling to great early on in the run, and could see David Esposito only a couple of minutes behind on the climbs. I made sure not to let him close the gap though and was pretty happy to reach the highest point of the run after 5km and start the steep downhill back to the finish. After another small navigational error right at the end of the run I was down onto the beach to cross the line in first. Job done!

I was pretty happy with how my race played out and am feeling fit and fresh leading into the last block of training in the build to the Xterra World Champs! A huge thanks must go out to Lake Adventures for the invitation to race and organising the whole trip, as well as the Xdeva crew for putting the race on, and Monique, Sam and Lydia for an awesome weekend!

Coromandel Classic

It’s been a while since I have had any races to report on. Since Xterra Malaysia earlier this year I have battled a few viruses and other health issues and used it as a good opportunity to take a decent break away from triathlon and enjoy a few other things outside of the sport. It was a much needed break and I’m sure I am going to be much better for it over the next few years as my career progresses.

I’ve been back training for a couple of months now as I build up for the Xterra World Champs and ITU Cross Triathlon World Champs later in the year. Being in New Zealand over the winter meant I could get a decent block of uninterrupted training in and also do a couple of events I have always wanted to do. The Coromandel Classic is one of those events, and after having not fit into my plans over the past few years, it looked like it would fit nicely into my build this time.

The race is a classic two day Multisport race that starts and finishes in Thames. I entered the duathlon which meant I didn’t have to paddle, but had to add a few more km’s into each ride. The first stage was an 18km gravel road mountain bike ride from Thames to the start of the Pinnacles track. The stage was relatively uneventful with two riders going off the front after a fast start. The goal of the weekend for me was to race at a comfortable pace and use the weekend as a big weekend of training, so I let them go and focused on working with a group of eight to ten other riders who were chasing. After about eight kilometres it was pretty evident that only a few of us wanted to do any work at the front, so I let a couple slip off the front and then sat up to see if anyone else wanted to chase them. They didn’t so once the two off the front had around a hundred metre gap I quickly went across hoping to work well with these guys. Funnily enough the guys behind didn’t want to let me get away so they chased me until they bridged back up. I knew they would have had to work a bit harder then they wanted to though, so when we got to the next pinch I put in a small burst and the three of us were able to get away for the rest of the stage. At the end of the first stage we came in right behind the two who had broken away very early on. Perfect. All the riders I was with were teams and the next individual competitors were in the group behind, giving me a couple of minutes lead heading into the epic 27km run over the Pinnacles track.

I have never done the pinnacles track before but I’d heard a bit about it and was looking forward to going over it. The first 45 minutes was generally uphill rock stair cases which meant for slow and tough going. During this time I moved past the other teams and was joint leader at the top with James Keugler from one of the teams. I felt comfortable, walking the steep stuff and running where I could, and was loving being back in the technical bush. All of a sudden things changed though as we reached the first peak and headed into a ridiculously steep and technical descent down to a river crossing. It had been raining for a couple of days before the race which meant the track we were running down turned into a stream, and combined with Coromandel’s clay surface and rocks, made for a sketchy downhill. I was pretty cautious through this and James pulled away. I lost a bit more time at the bottom as I searched for the track following a river crossing and made sure I was going the right way as I didn’t want to end up lost in the middle of nowhere! The next climb was much like the descent, super slippery, technical and steep. I got to the top and heard I was around two minutes down on James, but knew I must have a reasonable gap over the next individual. It seemed to flatten out for a while at the top as we moved into what seemed like endless swamps. It was very slow going and when I glanced at my Garmin and saw I had only covered 14km in around an hour fourty, I knew I was in for a long run! At the end of the swamps I lost a bit more time to James as I reached an intersection which wasn’t marked and had no idea where to go. I could see about a kilometre each way and had to wait until I could see him in the distance so I could follow. I had no idea if he was going the right way but thought if he hadn’t waited for me, he must do (turns out he has been over the Pinnacles around eight times…). The rest of the run was on gravel roads, first a relatively long steady downhill into a valley which we then followed for around seven to eight kilometres until the finish of the run at Coroglen. This was mentally the hardest part of the run, just ticking off the km’s, and hoping to see the transition soon. I held onto second individual and came in pretty happy to get onto the road bike.

The third stage was a 50km ride from Coroglen to Tairua via an out and back to Fairy Landing by Cooks Beach. Due to extremely windy conditions, the kayak had been shortened, which meant the duathlon had to add on an extra couple of kilometres to the out and back section. I felt good early on, with a strong tail wind to the turn off down to Cooks Beach. The plan was to ride solid until I could see the gap I had, and then back off if I could. Coming back from the turn I took a split over the next guy that was around 15-16 minutes which meant I could pull my effort back and ride easier to the finish with another big day to come. That’s how it went for about 10km but then as I took the turn to head to Tairua, things started to unravel. I started to feel really bloated and could tell I was starting to fade which wasn’t great considering I still had a solid climb up and over ‘Pumpkin Hill’ and down to Tairua. I managed to grovel up the climb and then didn’t pedal for the descent down into Tairua. I was pretty happy/relieved to make it to the finish and cross the line in first, and also put a tough day of racing behind me.

Day Two started with a 40km ride from Tairua over to Whangamata. There was only a small bunch competing in the duathlon, and early on the ride was pretty settled until we hit the main climb. Myself and a team rider managed to get a small gap on the rest of the field up the climb and we extended our lead throughout the stage. He was pretty happy to set a fast pace at the front and I was happy to tuck onto his wheel and save a bit of energy leading into the 21km run stage through the Wentworth Valley.

Onto the run and straight away I knew it was going to be a battle. I felt OK on the flat, good on the uphill, but when the road or track went downhill, I could barely run it. The run over the Pinnacles the day before had left my legs pretty fatigued and while my energy levels were really good, my legs felt terrible. I ran steady through the first five kilometres until we hit the track. At first it is a nice steady uphill on a really nice smooth gravel track, but the longer it went, the harder it got. As I reached the top I was still in the lead and feeling pretty good but with the stage finishing with seven kilometres of steep downhill, I knew I could be in trouble. I battled down, running very slowly as my legs took more pounding and was pretty relieved to get to the bike still in first place.

The last ride was a pretty flat 30km cycle back into Thames. After fading a bit at the end of the first day, I wanted to make sure I rode this a bit easier and also just enjoy finishing a couple of long days. The wind was playing ball which meant for a warm and calm ride into town, and I was pretty happy when Monique drove past me after ten kilometres giving me a five minute split back to the next runner who was in a team. I was really able to enjoy the ride after that and crossed the line, after nine hours of racing over the two days, in first place. It was an awesome feeling to be back racing and an even better feeling to have raced in control over an incredible course.

Finally I have ticked off the Coromandel Classic and I can see why it's a must do on the race calender for any multisporter!

 

Xterra Asia Pacific Champs

After the disappointment of Xterra New Zealand the week before I was pretty determined to make the Asia-Pacific Champs a good one, although I was still unsure if the good form I had before Xterra NZ would turn up. I went over to Callala Beach early this year which gave me a good chance to relax and recover at the beach before another hard battle. It was a great week over there and things got even better when the bad weather rolled in on the Friday. There were a few heavy downpours, not enough to make much of a difference to the mountain bike course, with the biggest factors being a flooded pro transition rack and a rough swim!

The swim turned out to be the biggest factor for me in this race as with the rough ocean, the time gaps were quite a bit larger than usual. I came out with a lot of other kiwis (Aiden Dunster, Cam Paul and Keiran McPherson) which made things interesting early on in the bike. I didn’t want to provide a free ride to any of these guys, but on a flat course I didn’t want to push too hard early on as I knew this would result in a very slow run.

Myself and Aiden managed to get a small gap through one of the huge puddles out on the course and once we hit the single track 10 kilometres I was slowly able to open a gap on Aiden. I felt better than at Xterra NZ and with Brad Weiss in my sights just ahead I had plenty of motivation to work hard. I rode strong until around the 20km mark when my left knee (which I had slightly injured after making a little mistake pre riding on the Friday) flared up. I eased off not to aggravate it anymore, knowing that it was likely to be worse on the run. I did manage to pull back Courtney Atkinson with a few kilometres left to go on the bike but as it turned it wouldn’t quite be enough at the finish!

I came off the bike in 5th and immediately had Brad in my sights. I could see I was moving slightly faster than him and after the long beach section I had nearly closed the gap. My knee seemed to be holding together pretty well and the pain had gone away.

Four kilometres in and Courtney came past. A minute later I moved up to Brad. We both weren’t able to match Courtney’s speed and he established a 50m gap quickly. That gap remained around 50m for the next few k’s as Brad had increased the pace. I felt comfortable running with Brad until around the seven kilometer mark where we went into a series of ‘rollers’. Kind of like trying to run on a BMX track. Brad was better at establishing his rhythm here and managed to build a small lead. That would be the difference at the end of the day. He managed to get a 10 second gap and no matter how hard I tried I wasn’t quite able to close it, eventually finishing eight seconds down in 6th.

6th wasn’t what I was looking for in the build up to this race but I was happy to put out a better performance than I had in Rotorua. Looking back at the splits it shows my bike and run were competitive but my swim needs to be fixed. I know there is still so much more that I am capable of and I am looking forward to focusing on my weaknesses leading into the bigger races towards the end of the year.

Next up is Xterra Malaysia on the 7th of May. It’s going to be a hot and humid race with another great field turning up. I’ve enjoyed the close battles over the past couple of weeks and although I haven’t come out on the side I would have wanted, I have two more races to go to finish my early Xterra season on a high!

Thanks for the support. 

Xterra New Zealand

What more can I say about this one. Xterra NZ is hands down my favourite race on the calendar. Obviously I am a bit biased as I have grown up in Rotorua, but this race has it all: amazing course, convenient location, and an atmosphere that is second to none in Xterra. This is the race that got me into triathlon and for the past eight years I have been trying to improve to one day stand at the top of the podium.

I thought this year that I had got all of the pieces of the puzzle right to put out a performance that would be capable of winning. But professional sport and racing doesn’t always run to script and I learnt the hard way this year.

Lining up on the start line I was confident in my ability to deliver on the day. I had been training really well leading into race week and was hoping the taper would have me fizzing. I lined up far left, next to the good swimmers. After a bit of a random start with a few athletes jumping the gun we were into it. I had a rough start getting pounded by a few athletes who started early but at the first buoy I managed to move my way through the pack and come out of the water towards the front of the main pack.

Onto the bike and I just didn’t have the power that I felt I was capable of. I battled back and forth with Brad the entire ride. He would drop me on the hills but I would come back past him on the descents. Fortunately for me the bike finished with a longer downhill so I was able to catch Brad and put the better part of a minute into him down Eagle vs Shark and the Feeder track before T2. I hadn’t pulled anytime back on Sam and Braden so I knew it would be a tough ask to run them down as they are both great runners.

My own run has been improving though and I knew I was capable of running 1-2 minutes faster than last year. It wasn’t to be though as the flat feeling that I had on the bike continued onto the run.

I kept trying to hold onto 3rd though but Brad was running well and came past me with just over two kilometers to go. Crossing the line in 4th was pretty gutting to be honest, but I was more disappointed with my performance. I feel that I am capable of so much more on that course, especially with how I had been tracking in training in the build up. Lessons will be learnt from this one though and I will be back hungrier than ever in 2017, in what will be my 10th straight Xterra NZ!

Red Bull Defiance

It's been just over a week since myself and Sam Shaw crossed the line to finish the Red Bull Defiance. I usually would have posted a blog update earlier but I have been so shattered from the race that it has been hard to think about writing about it. Time heals everything they say and I can now look back fondly on what was a tough weekend, filled with incredible scenery and laughs, but also closely fought racing. 

Going into the Red Bull Defiance I wasn't to sure what to expect. On a personal note I hadn't raced since mid November and had only really just got back into full training. I was pretty unsure how I was tracking form-wise going into the weekend but eager to see. On a team level I had never raced with Sam before in something like this, and as none of us had kayaked in a LONG time, I was apprehensive about how much time we might lose in the two stages on the water. I was confident though that we would be a strong pair on the bike and a solid team through the run stages, which would hopefully give us a shot at being on the podium against some very strong racers. 

We had an early morning in store for day one, having to bus around to the far side of Lake Wanaka before hoping on a barge for a short 45 minute trip across to the race start. This would have to be the most spectacular thing I have ever done to get to a race start before. You could also feel the tension build the closer we got to the other side of the lake, with everyone nervous about the course and competition. Day one was a 40km mountain bike, 11km trail run with abseil, 5km kayak and then a 14km run to finish. If the course for Defiance looks brutal on paper, trust me when I say it is harder in real life...

The first few kilometres of the bike were much harder than I had anticipated. The aussie team of Jared Kohlar and James Pretto were drilling it and it was causing a few splits to happen in the bunch behind us. Myself and Sam tried to ride conservatively knowing that we had a long day ahead but that was proving to be difficult with the short and steep climbs. Eight kilometres in and the decisive break finally happened. We hit a short steep climb that went into a few hundred metres of grass false flat uphill. It was enough to blow everyone apart and for four teams to ride away. Sam and myself made the split and then only a few kilometres later whittled it down to just two pairs, being joined by Dan Jones and Alex Hunt in riding away from the field. We rode together for just over half of the mtb before hitting the stages major climb. At the bottom I managed to wrap a stick through my rear dérailleur which cost us about 30 seconds. It turned out to probably be a good thing though as Dan and Alex were drilling this hill. We rode steadier to the top and then set a solid tempo for the rest of the stage, coming off 2nd, a few minutes down on Dan and Alex but with a good gap back to 3rd. 

Sam had been cruising the ride while I had been the one struggling.  The roles reversed on the run though. I felt great but straight away Sam seemed to struggle with camp in his quads. Not good when the 11km stage has nearly 500m of climbing! We walked/ran the climb, going as fast as Sam could handle but losing a lot of time to the leaders and those chasing. After 8km we hit the abseil and at that point got caught by a huge bunch of teams. We were one of the first teams to go down though and finished the stage still tied in 2nd. We were both pretty happy to get to the kayak where Sam could get all the nutrition and fluids he could handle. Surprisingly we were able to hold onto the wash of the two teams we were with, making for the most enjoyable and easiest kayak I have ever done in a race! It was nice that it was only 5km to, after the 17km stage we were meant to do was reduced because of the wind conditions on the lake. Out of the kayak and onto the 14km run I was still feeling good. Sam's cramp had gone and for the first 5km we set a solid tempo, pulling away from the teams behind. We went through a bit of a flat spot in the middle of the stage, and dropped to 3rd, but regained our composure to repass with a couple of kilometres left and cross the line in 2nd. A solid day had just been finished but we still had another one to...

We found out later that night that although we crossed the line in 2nd, when they took into account the time we had taken in the 'dead zone' on the abseil, we were moved down to 3rd, just under a minute now behind Sam Manson and Hamish Fleming in 2nd. We weren't worried though as we knew we had an approximate seven hour day to pull that back. 

The second day consisted of a 20km kayak on Lake Wanaka and down the Clutha river, a 30km mountain bike over the Pisa range before the 'queen' stage, a 30km run over the Skyline track and back to Wanaka. We had a bit of a messy start to the second day, getting hit off the wash of a boat which we were hoping to hold onto. The kayaks there were easy to paddle for us if we could hold onto the wash of another boat, but as soon as we dropped off, we weren't strong enough to paddle back on. This cost us to lose the first main group and kayak mainly by ourselves. We ended up losing four minutes to the fastest teams. Still not to bad compared to what I thought we would lose going into the race. 

Onto the bike and we both felt pretty good. I was held up for a minute after getting some fence wire wrapped around my front hub but after that we made some solid progress through the field. We managed to move into 4th by the top of the long climb (took me one hour and 15 minutes to ride) and then made up some good ground on the slippery and rocky descent into transition coming in 2nd with the other teams hot on our tail.

We had ridden the bike really conservatively, knowing that the key would be the last run and were happy with how we felt early on. We slowly pulled away from Sam and Hamish and built a minute lead. The main climb took close to two hours and was mainly walking, only jogging when it flattened out every few hundred metres. Towards the top I started to feel pretty average and went through a bad patch, losing 2nd as Sam and Hamish came by. They came by really hard though and I knew that if I came right we were still a chance to get the time we needed. After reaching the highest peak at Mount Roy we had a short descent and only one short climb until it was all downhill to the finish. I immediately felt better when we got to the first short descend and we were able to bridge back up to Sam and Hamish.

Going into the LONG descent back to the edge of Lake Wanaka (6km) myself and Sam Shaw knew it was time to put the foot down and get a gap. I knew that if we could get away on the descent we could hold it to the finish with only 5km remaining from the bottom. We quickly got a gap and at the bottom of the downhill things were looking good. We had just over the minute we needed and I was feeling great. The only problem was that Sam was beginning to suffer. After one kilometre of running along the lake edge, Sam collapsed, obviously struggling from dehydration on what was turning into a hot day. We had slipped back to 3rd and it was pretty obvious that with Sam's condition the best we could hope for was to make it to the finish (still 4km away) and hold onto 3rd. After a couple of kilometres of walking and getting in around four bottles of fluid, countless gels and chomps, Sam managed to run the last two kilometres and we crossed the line in 3rd. I was pretty relieved to get to the finish and although I was stoked to get on the podium, I was prouder to have raced with my cousin and seen his determination to get across the line. 

A week on and I have finally just recovered and feeling back to normal. That race takes a lot out of the body, and although it was brutally hard, I know we will be back next year. I have already given Sam a years notice so we will definitely be back on the start line next year, looking to go a couple of steps higher!

A huge thanks to my sponsor GU Energy for making this weekend happen and Red Bull and Braden Currie for dreaming up this race. It is races like these that are going to grow our sport with the coverage, professionalism and prize money. I hope we continue to see more of this down in our awesome country!

Photo credit to Graeme Murray