Different goals for Nelson triathletes

ALL-ROUNDER: Adventure racing champion Richard Ussher is also the record-holder at Challenge Wanaka.
ALL-ROUNDER: Adventure racing champion Richard Ussher is also the record-holder at Challenge Wanaka.

In the early days of triathlon, it was unusual for people from Nelson to travel away to events. Hardly anyone competed over the half ironman distance and the full ironman races were just for the fanatics.

How things have changed. Late last year, a large group travelled to Lake Hood, near Ashburton, for a half ironman.

Two weeks ago, a dozen from Nelson competed in the national championship race, the Port of Tauranga Half.

This weekend 20 individuals are making the trek from Nelson to Wanaka for either the ironman-distance Challenge Wanaka, or the Lake Wanaka Half, while three are heading to Auckland for Ironman 70.3.

The Auckland race this weekend is part of the Ironman franchise, but raced over half the distance, the 70.3 referring to the total distance in miles.

In that race, Nelson's Carol Cooper, Murray Tewnion and Andrew Tewnion will be lining up, along with Nelson College old boy Jamie Hunt, the founder of clothing company 2XU.

Down in Wanaka, Nelson athlete Richard Ussher returns after a gap of four years, during which time he's been focused on adventure racing. He's the record holder, in a time of 8:34:41, which included the fastest-ever bike time of 4:42:26 for the 180km ride.

"I've been slowly building back to full health and fitness since about this time last year - the training specifically for this race began about mid-October," says Ussher.

He's reluctant to make predictions on how he'll go against a classy field: "The main objective is to have a performance which I can be proud of and to get the most out of myself - if I can and it happens then the result will take care of itself."

For many of the Nelson competitors, the half distance is a step on the way to Ironman New Zealand in March.

Maria Voigt of Motueka is one of those. She raced the half distance in Wanaka last year. "I said last year that I wouldn't do that again but I lied and have committed to even more this year. We are a crazy bunch! I'm just hoping to finish and be happy with my efforts for the day. Try to stick to my plan and have no expectations."

Donna Shaw and Richard Bamfield are also using the Wanaka Half to prepare for Taupo.

Shaw, a tough cyclist, has been building strength on the two other disciplines: "Training starts at 5am prior to work then again at 5pm after work. Longer sessions have to be done in weekends."

Bamfield dropped from 90kg two years ago, to 75kg when he competed in Wanaka last year. "I'm lighter now at age 50 than at any time in the last 25 years," he says. This year he'll be racing with wife Debbi, whose ambition is to finish the race.

Claire Pendlebury describes herself as a 48-year-old enthusiastic amateur.

"I did my first tri just over three years ago again to "celebrate". I had just recovered from a near fatal bacterial infection resulting from a rarely rare tick bite in the US. Ended up hospitalised with multiple organ failure.

"The fact that I was fit and strong and determined is probably what saved me and it made me realise how important it is to stay that way. Of course I got hooked on the whole multisport thing and now want to keep going as long as I am able.

"This distance has been relatively manageable to train for with having a family and all of the obligations that go with that. It means a lot of early mornings and good time management. I am fortunate in that I have a wonderful supportive husband and children. When the long runs and rides get tough I remind myself how lucky I am to be healthy and alive, and how many people physically can't do it.

"I have followed a 20-week training programme specially designed for first-time half ironman people who are wanting to finish but not striving for a podium finish. My goals are, to have fun, enjoy the experience, celebrate having a body that is willing and able to do this and finish with no injuries."

In preparing this article, I had a huge response from the Nelson competitors, much of which I'll use in future stories.

For the record, those competing in Wanaka this weekend are: Challenge Wanaka, Richard Ussher, Alan Bryson, Robin Reid, Simon Bloomberg, Kim Waddell, Eileen Searle. Lake Wanaka Half: Benjamin McDowall, Gus Shirley, Nathan Chippendale, Neil Green, Mark Corlet, Paull Thornton, Richard Bamfield, Jessica Hughes, Donna Shaw, Jo Hillis, Claire Pendelbury, Jude Vincent, Maria Voigt, Debbi Bamfield. As part of team Leaky, Squeaky and Cheeky in the half, Simon Kneebone (swim), and Rob Searle (cycle).