With less than 36 hours to the 2019 IRONMAN World Championship in Kailua-Kona on the island of Hawaii, it is time for the predictions and talk to end and for athletes to put performances on the course in the toughest of IRONMAN events on the globe.
In total New Zealand will have 50 athletes flying the flag, primarily throughout age group racing, but will also have two men lining up in the pro field in Christchurch’s Mike Phillips and Methvens Braden Currie, with both every chance of mixing it with the best field the race has ever assembled.
Nutri-Grain IRONMAN New Zealand champion Mike Phillips has quietly gone about his work, flying under the radar as he approaches his second appearance on the big island, following on from his 16th place finish on debut last year.
The Cantabrian went on to enjoy a stellar race at IRONMAN New Zealand in March, overcoming a nasty crash to win in Taupo, giving him further confidence that he can foot it with the world’s best.
“For Hawaii everyone prepares a little bit more and trains a little bit harder and that puts a strain on your body and that can result in people getting injured, it can be hard to get that balance right, but I am all good, no injuries and feeling rested and good.”
Last year’s perfect day saw the race record smashed, but forecasters are suggesting the feared Kona wind will play a role in 2019.
“In past weeks it has been really windy, a few of the guys have been getting off and waiting for cars to bring them back down the hill. I rode down there the other day and my bike was almost horizontal with me leaning into the wind. I don’t think it is meant to be quite as bad on race day, but I think it will be a bit windier than last year when we had perfect conditions. That was my first year, so I don’t really know anything other than that.”
Phillips big learning from that impressive effort was to follow his own race plan and not race everyone else, especially on the bike.
“Last year I was a bit to reactive to everyone else and not following my own pace, early on the bike I had too many surges following other people. I didn’t stick to my plan and that resulted in me having a quite a bad patch late on the bike and early on the run. If I can keep it a bit more steady like IRONMAN New Zealand when I did my own thing after those bike incidents it worked out well, I need to pace myself a bit better here and hopefully that pays off on the run.”
That incident saw Phillips crash into a barrier in the town centre and fracturing his wrist.
“I had a cast for two or three weeks and then got back training, I actually raced a couple of weeks after getting the cast off and it was fine.”
It is a strong pro field this year, arguably one of the strongest in the history of the event with defending champion Patrick Lange (Germany), two-time winner Jan Frodeno (Germany) and debutant Alistair Brownlee (Great Britain) amongst many big names.
“Definitely it is a strong field this year, I think there are about 13 Germans and all are good athletes which is unreal. The pro field is stacked with 60 guys at the top of their game, so it is going to be super competitive.”
Fellow Kiwi Braden Currie featured strongly in that incredible race last year, finishing fifth and in the process posting the sixth fastest time in the history of the event. Making his third visit to Kailua-Kona, Currie cuts a relaxed figure in the lead up to race day.
“I guess I am a little wiser and know a little more about this event and how to get the most out of myself on the day. I am much calmer about things and we know where to stay, where to eat and how to avoid some of the distractions that this race and location can put in your way, so year, I am feeling reasonably relaxed and looking forward to getting into the race.”
Currie was no wiser than anyone else around Kailua-Kona in trying to pick a winner, with the depth in the field perhaps the best that it has ever been.
“Yeah, I think it would be, you look at the guys sitting here but it is not just these guys, it is the 50 others at home with their feet up. There is some real depth out there and some real unknowns. There are some curve balls to be thrown and they will be. It will e a day of covering it and making sure you are in there at the end for the last bit of the fight.”
Currie has not lost sight if his small-town upbringing either, the 33-year-old harked back to his days growing up in Methven as he contemplated sitting amongst the world’s best IRONMAN athletes.
“It is an honour to be sitting here surrounded by these guys, I wasn’t into triathlon as a kid, it is something I found when I was 24. I grew up in a small town and pretty much at school discovered that I loved trail and mountain running and that is where endurance sport started for me.”
Images: Braden Currie