It’s the week between Christmas and New Year’s day – even if you don’t observe The Holidays in a religious sense, you’re deep into the mind-numbing lull of late December. Maybe you’re enduring a week-long festival of family traditions and spousal disappointment. Or you’re relishing the ability to work in peace, without Steve From Accounting mouth-breathing over your shoulder and assuming you like football and/or his favourite sitcom. Either way, I’ve saved a great interview for the final Weekly Webstey of the year – Sam Warriner.
This recently-retired Kiwi was the 2008 ITU World Cup champion, went to 2 Olympic games, and won a Commonwealth Games silver and an ITU World Championships (old, single-day format) bronze. Sam came 4th – at 44 years old – in her final 70.3 in Taupo on December 12th, and was gracious enough to grant this long-time fan an interview. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
First off, congratulations on a very solid 4th place in Taupo last weekend. Looks like you were right in the mix until the run, when as you put it your “44-year-old legs let you down”.
Thanks! It was a fun day, especially since we moved here to Taupo last summer. We bought a house here at the beginning of winter and our daughter is settled into Kindy now, and a lot of her friends and their parents came out to cheer me on which was special! Running along the waterfront seeing Lola and her mate Harry wearing red plastic fireman hats and both cheering ‘Go mummy’ was cool.
44yr old legs let me down on the run – but went out the way I'd like to be remembered, not content to sit in & wait. pic.twitter.com/EcETWlMFlP
— sam warriner (@samwarriner) December 11, 2015
At this point in the interview, some might say “you had a pretty solid day for a 44-year-old mum with a full-time job”. But for you, entering your final race as a pro – did those kinds of thoughts even enter your mind? Were you just as hungry for the victory as you would be at any other race – or maybe even more knowing it was your final crack at it?
I’ve never gone to a race where I didn’t train to win – it’s just the racer in me. You talk all the social media bullshit these days, you hear the kids all the time, “Oh I’ve had a heavy week I’m just training through this one”. That’s crap – I always turn up to win. The day before the race, Ironman asked me to do their Pro Panel down in the domain, the past few years I’ve actually run it and done the interviewing as I haven’t raced Ironman. But with racing this year they asked me to be a part of it. The afternoon dragged on, as Stephen (my husband) got roped into volunteering for the kids race, so we were down there longer than expected. When it came to the panel and it was running like 30 minutes late, I just said to Stephen, “get me out of here I came to race not bloody talk”. That’s just who I am, and I don’t apologize for it.
How special was it for you to have your final race take place on home turf in NZL? Did you have a ton of friends and family there?
I coach a good team of athletes through my business Sweat7 -we’re well known in New Zealand. We’ve kinda called this move our Sweat7 HQ, because we have a ton of athletes staying ALL the time, and we love that. We have 2 houses, the family house and then the rental next door where the athletes stay. The night before the race was supposed to be a quiet one, but so many of my athletes were racing, they all came by and started drinking wine -it was hilarious! I went off to bed around 9 as I always do, but I think a few of them sabotaged their own races that night! Ha ha. But on the day, it was fabulous – we have very distinctive team kit, it’s fluoro pink and green so it wasn’t difficult to see each other on the course. It seemed like half of Taupo had come out to support us with lots of cheering and shouting, which was so cool. I’ll always remember this as my last biggie.
Speaking of NZL, Rhodesy showed did a haka in Kona for us. While impressive to us North Americans, Kiwis have since called the footage everything from “awful” to “yep, that’s awful”. This, of course, begs the hypothetical question: who could do a better haka, you or Bevan Docherty? (For some reason I picture Hamish being too shy to even attempt one.)
Personally I feel the Haka should be left to the All Blacks overseas. It’s all about the chest and shoulders for me – it’s a challenge after all, and seeing as my AA chest is still bigger than Bevan and Hamish’s I’d say neither of them would be particularly intimidating. Rhodesy would be only marginally more so. That Spanish boy Javier has nice shoulders and I’ve heard he’s smitten with another pretty Kiwi girl, so maybe we’ll get to see him do the Haka one day … I know a few of my athletes would pay to see that. (I hope I’m not coming across as a dirty old cougar! LOL)
After retirement, elite athletes often have one or more “Oh yeah, now I can do X!” moments. You know, like “Oh, now I can stay up late on Saturday night!”, or “Oh, now I can take cough medicine that actually works!”, or “Oh, now I can play Tuesday night Netball!” (if only! Damn your sexism, INF). Have you had any of these yet? What are you looking forward to most (other than not feeling half-dead all the time from training)?
I’ve had none of that yet, just spending more time with our daughter Lola. She’s getting to the age where she’s getting into everything – she did her very first ‘triathlon’ last week at the club event. They had a nippers race to celebrate the last event before Christmas, where the kids ran 100m, cycled 200m, and then ran another 100m. Lola was on her balance bike so she wasn’t happy when everyone pedalled off and left her! But she’s written a nice letter to Santa and been a good girl this year, so maybe he’ll leave her a new pedal bike this Friday …we’ll see.
Other than that I still plan on running some races. Swimming in the pool just isn’t doing it for me at the moment – I used to easily swim 20-25km a week, but now it bores the frickin life out of me. Swimming in the lake is my solace at the moment, I actually love it and get down there most days still.
I’ll enter some triathlons still, just in the age groups as we go to races as a team and create a real vibe when all the Sweat7 athletes are on the course. We usually go to one destination race per year too – the guys want to go back to Rarotonga again in 2016. It’s a race I won this year overall, beating all the men. One of our guys was second and I think he wants a chance to knock me off the top this coming year – so that will be fun to do.
You’re a coach now, working with the next generation of triathlon stars no doubt. What kind of athletes are you coaching – are you focused mainly on high performance, age-groupers, or is it a mixed bag? How does the challenge of guiding and motivating others compare to the challenge of getting yourself out the door on those long, tough training days?
I coach a range of athletes. We have around 20 age group athletes racing events like Ironman NZ, 70.3’s etc, and they’re all really neat people. I would open up my home up to any of them and we do most weekends! We’ve had some plonkers on the team over the years, but my husband usually figures them out pretty quickly. He has a saying ‘FIFO’ which he uses – it’s pretty important to have athletes who are positive toward each other, respectful, and add to the dynamic of the team not take away. If anyone brings negative energy in, they’re usually given the opportunity to recognize what they’re doing that is affecting their performance and others’. If it continues and they don’t ‘Fit In’ – well you get what the rest of FIFO means I’m sure. Right now we have an awesome bunch, but we can be selective. We’re not an outfit that will just take anyone on, and we do turn people away fairly regularly. That’s not being elitist, as I get a lot of joy from the first timer’s journey, but I don’t believe in generic planning or the whole press print mentality. If an athlete is going to commit to a goal, they deserve a coach that is committed to their journey. To do that I can’t have more than around 18 – 22 age group athletes otherwise it gets too busy.
With my aspiring elites I have 7 very good young athletes who we support in different ways – whether that be coaching them for free, having them come stay for extended periods of time, or perhaps supporting them financially on trips etc. We do things like hosting the largest Aid Station on the course at Ironman NZ – I bring heaps of people in via Facebook etc, and we man it for the day. Ironman then makes a donation to us, which I can pass on to youngsters. Last year we paid for two athletes to go over to ITU Long Distance Worlds and one came back with a World Title, so that was hugely satisfying.
I coach 2 juniors in the National Programme, and I also coach World paratriathlon champion Lauren Steadman from Great Britain. She is unbeaten this year, a real fierce racer – that girl has the switch believe me. I spent 4 months in the UK working with her this past summer, and we’ve been working together since she switched from Paraswimming to triathlon back in 2012. In 2014 we had 4 World Champions coached by Sweat7, 2 Age group and 2 Elite.
Your daughter, Lola, is fast approaching school-age. You were a swimmer as a kid – do you think you’ll get Lola onto a swim team at a young age? This is a selfish question, as I have a couple of 4-year-old boys who love the pool, and am interested in other parents’ approach to swimming. Will you start her as early as possible, later on, or not at all? How do you find the line between “encouragement” and “parental pressure”, on the inevitable “down” days in the pool? How many questions can I fit into one “question”?
I have to be honest here: Lola started swim lessons a couple of months ago and I filled the form in and took her along, and sat by the side of the pool like all the other mums. All the swim teachers looked kinda sheepish at the end, and then one came over and duly informed me I’d put her in the wrong class. Because she wouldn’t put her head under water, let alone float on her back, she was being demoted from the Seahorses to the Starfish class?! Haha, I felt such a plonker! But she loves it, she goes every week and splashes around. She’s getting better now and goes under water … but 2 months on and she’s still a Starfish!
Sorry for asking you to solve my parenting problems. I should probably be reading books about this stuff, but I find it easier to just ask pro triathletes what they would do in any given situation. Thank you for helping to shape my children’s lives!
Final question. If you could re-live one racing experience – like, exact same outcome, but you get to experience it all over again – which would you choose: your Commonwealth Games silver, World Champs bronze, the World Cup overall victory at the final race of 2008, or one of your two Olympic Games races?
The funny thing is I talked about this recently with Stephen. We’ve had many nights on the wine deconstructing my career and reflecting on experiences etc. The thing is, when you’re “in it” you just don’t appreciate it for what it is. I got so wrapped up in those ITU days – they used to pay for our hotels, flights, everything was looked after. When they started the WTS, they had this thing called ‘The Golden Group” – I think it was maybe the top 5 – and if you wanted to go to a race they’d pay you to be there and all your expenses. It was ridiculous! But you just didn’t appreciate it at the time – on reflection I wish I’d slowed down a bit and actually smelled the roses! I met some amazing people along the way, and I wish I’d spent more time getting to know them as people too. But as I say, you get so caught up in your own bullshit you lose sight that it’s not real. I trained with people like Bevan and Hamish, Rinny, Leanda, Brett’s crew … I wish I’d spent more time getting to know them as people instead of worrying about my training. I spent 2 seasons under Siri Lindley, and she is the most passionate, enthusiastic person I have ever met and I have the upmost respect for that woman – but I wish I’d spent a bit of time asking ‘what makes you tick’ instead of worrying so much about trying to win races. But that’s the life of an elite athlete I guess – it’s given me some amazing experiences, taken me around the world and I’ve lived a life that a lot of athletes can only dream of.
In terms of what experience I would live again – I’d have to say going back to Borrego with Siri after the 2008 Olympics. I was absolute rock bottom, a broken person. I’d podiumed in every ITU World Cup I’d raced in 2008, I’d won 2 of them, and was a favourite going into Beijing. But I just felt flat on the day – some you get right, and some you don’t. When you walk up to the Olympic venue you’re a bloody hero, people can’t do enough for you. 2 hours later I was literally being pushed off the road as I was walking back to the hotel by IOC vehicles – I was a nobody. From hero to zero in 2 hours straight.
Siri picked me back up, instilled confidence back in my broken body, and got me running amazingly quick again. Those two months in the San Diego desert were something special, I went on to win the final ITU World Cup of the year and won the series overall. Rinny won 70.3 worlds out of that training in the desert too – it was a special time.
If you could add too, my husband and I started up a new race series this last weekend, he’s been planning it all year and it’s his little baby. We had 100 of the best Junior and Youth triathletes here in Taupo for a Festival weekend. Here’s a link to the Facebook page:
Essentially, they raced an Aquathlon Friday evening, open water swim in the lake Saturday AM, 1,500m track Saturday PM, and then a Grand Final Triathlon Sunday AM. All races gained points toward the overall. And then a teams race after the final. It was an absolutley awesome weekend, and Tri NZ have already asked we do it again next year, they used it as their National Talent Festival.
The kids haven’t had their own races for years here in New Zealand, and unfortunately we’re seeing the implications of that at the moment in our results on the world stage. But we’re committed to giving them a race series they can aspire to, and getting us back winning, so next year there will be 3 of these Festivals which we’ll deliver.
Thank you again so much, Sam. I really appreciate your time, and wish you all the best in the next phase of your life. I’m willing to bet you’ll continue to impress us all.
— sam warriner (@samwarriner) December 11, 2015