Coast athletes go to extremes in international events

Despite being small in stature, Army Bay residents Pam Morris, left, and Chris Shouksmith, are ready to compete in one of the toughest triathlons in the world. Grant Straker

Months of intensive training for Army Bay athletes, Pam Morris and Chris Shouksmith, will culminate on the starting line of the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii on October 13.

Pam, a web developer for Auckland Council, and Chris, a grandmother of five, are members of the Hibiscus Coast Harriers and Triathlon Club.

Both competed in triathlons in Australia to qualify for the Hawaiian event, and both will race in the 60 to 65 age group.

They say a big part of preparing for the world championships has been about avoiding injury so their bodies are race-ready. Being mentally prepared is also important.

“During a race you have to maintain focus and not give in when your body starts to feel fatigued,” Pam says.

The event takes place on Hawaii’s Big Island on the Kona Coast. The route is around 160km southeast of the area affected by volcanic eruptions earlier this year but lava rock dominates the landscape. Athletes will battle strong winds and high temperatures.

The course consists of a 3.8km swim, 180km bike ride and a 42km run.

The women’s record, of eight hours, 46 minutes and 46 seconds, is held by 31-year-old Daniela Ryf, of Switzerland, who has won the event for the past three years.

“We are definitely not in that league,” Pam says.

She hopes to complete the course in 12 hours, while Chris will be happy to finish within the 17-hour cut-off.

“Competing in a triathlon is a bit of a bucket list thing for some people as they get older,” Pam says. “A lot of people get to their 40s and 50s and realise they are not in the best shape and want to do something about it. Competing in triathlons is not cheap and it does require a fair time commitment, and it can become addictive.”

In the lead-up to Hawaii, Pam and Chris have stepped up their training routine from eight hours a week to around 13 to 15 hours, which includes swimming, biking and running, and some strength work at the gym.

They say good nutrition is important, but it is more about eating sensibly and avoiding takeaways rather than following a particular diet.

They have also drawn on the experience of other club members who have competed in Hawaii and online training videos.

Pam, who says she enjoys the challenge of the sport, is unsure whether or not she will continue to compete after Hawaii. On the other hand, Chris says she will be content to make this her last race.
“There’s a lot of mystique, history and hype around competing in a triathlon, and there is a lot of satisfaction in knowing that you can say you’ve done it,” they say.

Cool runnings
Arkles Bay runner Grant Straker will run a marathon across ice and snow this month, while people with guns guard the route to scare off polar bears.

The Polar Circle Marathon takes place on October 27 and 28 and Grant has been training hard as his last marathon was 10 years ago in New York.

The 53-year-old businessman has enjoyed running since he was very young, when John Walker was his hero and he went for runs with his father in the Waitakere Ranges.

He was challenged to enter the marathon by a friend and work colleague, David Sowerby. “We could have picked a ‘normal’ marathon, but this has the added appeal of extreme conditions,” Grant says.

“I’m not concerned about my time. All I care about is beating David.”

He says an added incentive to train hard has been the possibility of polar bears along the route. “There are guys with guns to scare them off, but they can run pretty fast.”

As well as fitting in runs around his busy work schedule, Grant has called upon the expertise of a specialist trainer at the Millenium Centre.

The marathon traverses a unique course in Greenland. Part of the route is on the Polar ice cap itself and the rest is on the often snow-covered gravel road that connects the ice sheet with the township of Kangerlussuaq, just north of the Polar Circle.

Grant says he experienced similar conditions during his time in the Army in northern Germany.

The terrain is hilly, and Grant is preparing for this by running around Arkles Bay and Shakespear Regional Park. Temperatures will be around  -15°C.

“I’ve been warned not to wear cotton undies, because of frostbite,” he says. “As you go, you’ll work out what clothing is best – such as whether it’s better to wear a scarf across your face, which could freeze, or just put up with the wind chill on your skin.”


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