This week’s instalment of the Weekly Webstey could be called Breaking All The Rules. Last week’s interview with Luke McKenzie has been the most popular WW by far – with more than 18 ratings – so I promptly changed my style for this week’s interview with Braden Currie. There are more photos, it’s considerably longer than usual, and I quickly found myself too fascinated to try to be funny (#sworry to some of you, and you’re welcome to most).
Many of you have probably heard of Braden already. All I knew starting out was that he had won Taupo 70.3 last weekend, and that he was a Kiwi – so get your sheep farmer jokes ready, right? Well, as it turns out, Braden actually was a farmer. A farmer who taught himself to swim, and exited the water less than a minute off of superfish Dylan McNeice in Taupo. One who ran a 1:14 off a 2:08 ride, beating a field with some serious contenders involved. A small-town farm boy who’s dreaming of the Rio Olympics, merely weeks after even considering the thought.
“Impossible!”, you say? Well, that’s just what Braden wants to hear. Rio or not, I have a feeling we’ll be hearing a lot from him in 2016.
Interview with Braden Currie, Ironman 70.3 Taupo Champion
First off, congratulations on your victory at Ironman 70.3 Taupo last weekend! Thanks for taking the time to chat.
I’ll be honest – I don’t follow XTerra too closely, so my first question when I heard about Taupo was: “who the hell is Braden Currie?” After climbing out from the rock that I was apparently living under, I discovered the following:
- a 29-year-old Gemini
- hailing from small town New Zealand, you have been described as “the farm boy who came out of nowhere”
- your relatively short career has been peppered with victories in Xterra and “Multisport” (that’s the one where you have to do boating)
- 2015 was your first season doing road-based triathlons
- you decided a few weeks ago to try to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games in triathlon
Does this sound about … wait WHAT? You’re trying to qualify for Rio? We’ll get back to Taupo in a minute – let’s get right into this one, please. What made you decide to try for the NZ Olympic team? Did you come up with the idea on your own, or was it suggested by someone else? I’d love to hear how that first conversation went down, who it was with, where you were, etc.
The thought of Rio has only really been real for 1 month. My wife tried to get me an entry to a World Cup race in New Plymouth in March this year, just so I could see where I was at in terms of triathlon (having never done one) but the system ousted me well and truly on that option. Told me I had to start from the start and do Continental Cups of which there were none in either NZ, Australia or the USA or Canada where I was going. So I pretty much let it go and decided to give my last season to XTERRA. I took this goal pretty seriously and gave it my best crack ending up as the USA off-road Champion and 2nd at XTERRA Worlds.
After a 2nd at Worlds I went to Perth, where I raced a classic multisport-style race called the Augusta Adventure Festival. I had won that race 4 times in a row. Part way through the race, when my lead was over 20 minutes, I started to think that I needed a new challenge. A few weeks before Worlds I had started discussions with my wife around this prospect, and over the few weeks I was away she researched and managed to answer every possible unknown about what I needed to do. I rang her from WA and said I was keen; 2 days later when I got home I realized it was all go. She had organised TV1 – NZ’s biggest media channel – to come down and interview me, to release that I was now putting my life into Olympic selection for Rio. From that point on it has been nothing but commitment and progression towards that goal.
I have to admit the process of announcing it on NZ national television has helped get my ducks in a row. The Tri NZ team got on board pretty quickly, and with my win on the weekend I have cemented that I have a good shot. But this will be my own self-funded venture and I am giving up a lot to see if I can crack it. I can’t say that I really believed that this was possible a month or two ago but now I think it is. I have never had the ability to focus in on one style of sport, and I have always felt that if I did that I could make some huge progression. It’s great to be able to focus on one thing now. Well almost one thing – I’m still going to throw a few random things into the mix, but it will be mostly ITU triathlon. Even if I don’t succeed in this venture, I will still come out a better athlete in the end and I hope that I can offer some inspiration to all the underdogs out there in the world that maybe have a feeling something is possible, but haven’t got the balls to put it all on the line. A bit of courage goes a long way, and I am of the belief that you’re a long time retired so I might as well have some fun while I’m here.
Fascinating. You were only about 50 seconds off of McNeice in the swim, and a 1:14 half-marathon off of a 2:08 ride is no joke (neither is holding off Callum, a proven 70.3 champion). That being said – to seriously contend for an Olympic spot, you’ll probably need to swim 5 or 10 seconds faster per 100m (plus sprint like mad at the start), and run a good 30sec/km faster. How do you think your body will respond to the shorter, all-out speed of Olympic distance racing? What are you planning to change, training-wise? Do you work with a coach?
If anything, I have lacked a bit of endurance and tend to blow up a bit during the later half of each discipline in half Ironman, so I think the shorter distance will suit me. I normally set off around the 3min 15second pace on any run I do as it stands, and easily last that for 10km, but I have never had a run coach and have never had the chance to train my anaerobic system in the run. It will be fun to actually do some speed training when that time comes. Right now I am working with a physio and strength coach to iron out instabilities and work on improving form and power over time. I have always been a heel striker, but am working on adapting that to increase speed. I have had a long term coach – Tim Brazier – but have always worked by correspondence with him. I took on a mountain bike/cycling coach a few months ago and have seen 10% gains in my bike since then. I feel like we have created our own high performance team and many of them will be on the ground on and off during the next 6 months. I think that by working with these guys in person I will see huge progression. It’s nice to have a team behind me.
I come from a background where no one has ever coached me in person. I have never been coached to swim, but I know that if I train with the best then I will become as fast as them. I hope to get that opportunity in the coming months. I defiantly make big progress when I’m put in the mix with those that are better then me. I messaged Gomez a few weeks ago as I saw he was in Qtown. I thought, “shit, you got to try”, but I didn’t hear back from him. The run should come. Right now I have only run for 2 months this year really as I had an achilles injury, so I think there is lots of room for improvement there. And the bike: I’m looking forward to the unorthodox approach to the bike.
It certainly sounds like you have all of the required elements in place to make it happen. I gotta say, I’m definitely going to be watching closely to see how it goes – hopefully by next summer, Gomez and the rest of the ITU world will have taken notice.
Have you really never had a swim coach? Have you done technique work with anybody? [Braden swam 24:34 for the 1900m swim in Taupo, about a 1:18/100m pace]
Yeah nah. I have had maybe two sessions in my life with my coach standing by the pool. All the other swimming I have done has been solo, watching the black line. I am not sure why I have made good progressions so far, but I think I have a natural understanding of how to create the most productive movement patterns in the water, plus I have done a fair bit of volume over the last couple of years.
So, did you really grow up as a “farm boy”, like, you milked cows or sheared sheep or something? If so, do you think the farming mentality and work ethic have carried forward into your athletic career?
I was really passionate about farming and working hard from age 10 or younger. I took my first job milking cows on the weekends at 12 years old. I was happy to be at work at 5am and not finishing till 6pm. Definitely taught me how to work hard, and I really enjoyed working hard. I started working on harvests when I left school at 16. I started driving bailers averaging 16 hour days for weeks on end. I definitely like the intensity of harvest work and found it was a good challenge for me working for so many hours.
It sounds like your wife Sally is an important part of your career. I’m interested in that dynamic – were you already an athlete when you two met? Did she gradually become more involved, or at some point did you both decide “OK, Braden needs someone to take care of the non-training stuff”? How do you think this working relationship affects your marriage, and vice versa?
Sal and I met when I was 20 and she was 23. I was training for my first multisport race called the Coast to Coast. I had no idea what I was up to. In my fridge I had a leg of ham, some white bread and some canned spaghetti. I cleaned toilets in the camping ground to pay my rent and begged, borrowed and stole what I need for my first race. I didn’t have a training program, and pretty much just smashed myself as much as possible. Sally was probably a bit shocked at my approach to training.
Anyway, we jumped right into a pretty intense relationship where we managed an outdoor course for 20 teenagers, living with them and mentoring them. We had our first child Tarn (when I was 21 and Sal was 24) and then we moved to Australia and bought a mountain biking business. This was pretty random and we had to scrape together every dollar we had to pull it off, which included selling my bike and every other piece of sports equipment we both owned. We worked really hard to get the business of the ground for 2 years, and then we sold it and cashed up. We developed a cycling business then, and I could afford to buy a bike again.
We moved back to NZ a year after that and I wanted to do the 1 day coast to coast. Richard Usher, who was at the top of his game on a world level within multisport, offered me the opportunity to race with him in some China adventure races where cash was in surplus. Sal decided around then that if I was going to do this then I was going to do it well. She secured us a house in Wanaka to rent, and we moved home. Since then we have always worked together. It was a pretty natural evolution to still have her as part of my career and what I do. She is definitely a huge part of what I do and it probably wouldn’t be possible without all the work she puts in. At times it can be pretty challenging. We sometimes notice ourselves only being able to talk about work, as it’s such a big part of our lives. But at the same time, it’s great to be able to share the successes and the challenges together. We both share the mentality that there is no point wasting time and there is no point sitting there wondering. We have two children now and we travel the world together so I can race. It’s a sweet life and it won’t last forever, so we make the most of it.
Finally,the most serious question of all: who do you think is more dominant in their respective sport: Javier Gomez, or the All Blacks?
The All Blacks have been so dominant in their field for so long, but Javier Gomez always amazes me with his ability to race so much across so many different disciplines and be the world’s best across all of them. He also never seems to stop, racing constantly – World 70.3 champs and sprint distance world series races week after week. He must love racing, which I can relate to. I also think he must have some incredible mental toughness: watching him race Mola this year in the ITU World Series final and watching them both just push each other right through the 10k run, definitely suggests that he doesn’t know how to give up.
At this point, feel free to mention any sponsors, without whom your meteoric rise to victory would have been impossible.
The main ones who have made everything possible are Red Bull. They picked me up early and backed me. Also Specialized, for giving me the best chance on the bike with the world’s best bikes. Flight Centre Active Travel for getting us around the world to race for the last two years. Being able to race the world’s best is key to becoming the world’s best. We are now supported by 2XU, Rhino rack and Subaru. It’s the first time in my career where we have enough support to make my racing career sustainable. So thankful and so stoked to be representing such legendary brands that want to back me to achieve what should be considered impossible.
Thank you so much for your time, Braden. Your story so far is kind of unbelievable, and I know I’ll be rooting for you on the ITU start lines next year. As a former (horrible) ITU racer myself, I would encourage you to reach out to as many athletes, coaches, and officials as you can – as GI Joe used to say, “knowing is half the battle” when navigating the waters of ITU, Olympic qualifications, and national federations.