Images courtesy Hamish Collie / Mount Festival of Multisport.
By Kent Gray/Triathlon.kiwi
When Father Time is coming for you, the only thing to do is to run a little faster to keep the old fogey, and all those equally pesky young pretenders, at bay. Cue another Braden Currie masterclass in the Mount.
Fueled by the frustration of a Kona DNF three months ago that served only to amplify the elite career clock ticking in his subconscious, Currie sensationally smashed 1:56 off Kyle Smith’s 2021 course record en route to a fourth Tauranga Half title on Saturday.
The Wanaka 36-year-old’s scintillating 3:37:47 included a 1:13:40 split for the 21km run which saw him win the Fulton Hogan Mount Festival of Multisport showpiece going away from Cantabrian Mike Phillips (3:40:37) .
Currie led from gun to tape, finishing 2:50 ahead of Phillips while Aucklander Jack Moody (3:42:25) was a further 1:48 adrift, extending his nearly-man status in Tauranga to now two bronze and three silver medals in the past five editions of the iconic race.
The disappointment of being forced out of October’s Ironman World Championships with a virus 50km into the bike leg in Kona partly ignited Currie’s lighting fast defense of the coveted Mount title. More pertinently, the Kiwi No.1 knows time waits for no man and especially so in long-distance triathlons where the big race champions are getting younger and their winning times ridiculously fast.
If Currie is to contend at this year’s Ironman Worlds in Nice and perhaps have one last crack at winning in fabled Kona in 2024, he knows the only option is to get faster. On Saturday, he gave credence to that possibility.
“I think where I want to race on the world stage, it needs to be faster, really, so it’s good to test myself on this course and see that I’m improving still,” Currie told Triathlon.kiwi.
To put that progression into context, knowing that Currie not only slashed nearly two minutes off Smith’s old mark but also shaved 2:26 off his own winning time from a year ago. Even more impressive is the fact that Currie’s win was 14:39 faster than when he first triumphed in Tauranga back in 2016.
“Yeah, really happy,” Currie said of the new record. “I missed out on it last year by 30 seconds or something so it was good to get that one.
“That was a good race, felt good most of the day really considering it hasn’t been a huge training block.”
While there are much bigger races on the horizon, Currie quickly dismissed suggestions he’d used the Tauranga Half as little more than a training blowout. With PTO points on the line and the growing caliber of Kiwi contenders, that’s not possible in the current era.
“I tapered fairly well and I had a fairly good build through before Christmas so I was pretty keen to start with a good race and see where everything is at early season,” Currie said.
“Really it was to do a half to test the body and make a bit of a plan for the year off of this race, to see if it is worth me chasing some of the faster halfs.”
On the evidence of Saturday, we’re picking Currie might be adding a few more half-distance races to a schedule that will next feature the defense of the pro Ironman New Zealand title in Taupo in March as well as PTO dates beyond.
Currie led out of the water by 45s from Phillips and while the Cantabrian produced the fasted 90k bike spilt of 1:58:48 of the leading trio ( 00:28 and 3:28 faster than Currie and Moody respectively), Currie’s run was irrepressible .
“Mike [Phillips] had a great race really, he swam hard and I thought he was going to stick on my feet but I managed to just get away around one of the far buoys which gave me a little bit of a buffer onto the bike and just meant I could pace myself rather than me and him having a ding-dong from the start,” Currie said.
“In the end I had a pretty quick, solid run and I just didn’t feel like I was pushing too hard, I was in control the whole time so… it makes it a little bit easier when you’ve got a buffer on the other boys to pace yourself a bit better.”
For a measure of Currie’s supremacy, consider that Phillips looked backwards, rather than up to the winner, to contextualize his impressive race. And why not – he reversed the 7:50 winning margin Moody put on him at December’s Ironman 70.3 Taupo, the pleasing outcome of some consistent training after shaking off an illness picked up racing cycling’s Tour of Southland in November.
“I’m happy mainly because it’s quite a bit of progress since Taupo, it’s only been three or four weeks of training so…Taupo I was like seven minutes behind Jack, so a couple minutes in front [1:48 to be pedantic] is quite good for a month. Hopefully, in another month it’s another step up,” Phillips said.
Next month is a reference to the March 4 Ironman New Zealand where defending champion Currie, 2019 winner Phillips and Moody will resume their fascinating rivalry once more.
For Moody, Saturday was an eye-opener given the confidence (and refreshing willingness to express it) he had taken into Tauranga.
“I definitely put myself in a position to win, had a decent swim, came out in the group [after Currie and Phillips] but I was quite surprised when we got the first split on each other when can came around the bike turnaround…with Mike up there I knew all of a sudden it was a bit of a danger game with Mike and Braden up the front together.”
Moody had a scary moment on the bike when a ute driver somehow found their way onto the supposedly closed course and then stopped at a roundabout, forcing the 29-year-old to take evasive action at around 45kmh.
“I haven’t had to brake like that in a long time, I just about high-sided the bike and landed in the tray of the ute…yeah, price check on undies for sure.”
Thankfully, the Auckland Grammar School old boy escaped unscathed and now has an even higher marker to aspire to.
“Oh man, it’s just another year, third again,” Moody said in the immediate aftermath before putting things in context.
“Absolutely over the moon to be the podium with such classy guys in New Zealand. Would have loved to have won but at the end of the day I did everything I could possibly do.”