Ever since his first Weet-Bix TRYathlon at the age of 11, Kiwi-born Sam Murphy wanted to be an Ironman. Now 27 with 15 Ironman events under his belt; Sam took his racing to a new level in Ironman Cairns in June this year, coming first in his age group, eighth overall and smashing his PB by more than 30 minutes. The best bit of all? The result secured him a spot in the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii next month to compete with the best in the world in one of the toughest physical challenges on the planet.
“I feel calmer this year because I know the course back to front, but it’s easy to get psyched out when you get there” – Sam Murphy
The birthplace of Ironman, Kailua-Kona in Hawaii, is known for its tough conditions; which make it the ultimate tester for the cream of the Ironman crop from all over the world. To get into the highly-coveted competition you need to either win your age category in one of Ironman’s global events, pay to go into a lottery and try your luck, or be selected through one of Ironman’s charitable programs. The ultimate display of human strength and spirit, the World Champs consists of a 3.86km open water swim in the rough bay of Kailua-Kona, a 180km bike ride across the Hawaiian Lava Desert and a 42km run along the wind-swept coast. But Sam is feeling quietly confident – for one, the climate is very similar to Townsville, and – secondly – he also has the benefit of experience after doing the race last year. But the most reassuring indicator is his current form – Sam is currently ranked number one in the world in his age group.
“If I can replicate Cairns, I’ll have a good shot at winning my age category,” Sam says, who – on top of working fulltime as an engineer – has been getting up at 4am most mornings to train a total of 25 hours a week across the three disciplines. “I feel calmer this year because I know the course back to front, but it’s easy to get psyched out when you get there – there are so many athletes in Kona and you’re looking around and everyone looks super fit. But you just need to sit back and concentrate on yourself and your own training plan.”
“I really enjoy the sense of personal achievement you get from giving your all and that’s what keeps me sane” – Sam Murphy
Sam is being coached by Top Brand Cycles’ Mike Prentice for the bike and the run (Mike was one of the first Australian Ironmen to go to the World Championships in 1986, followed by 1988 and 1990) and Dylan Viviers for the swim; which has improved his technique considerably on what is usually his weakest link (but also the most logistically daunting with 2,200 athletes fighting for a skerrick of lead in a washing-machine sea). With his training on track, in the remaining weeks to the October 11 race Sam will be focusing on his nutrition (lots of brown rice, tuna and avocados) and getting enough recovery time. Then it’s putting his body to the ultimate test for nine gruelling hours. So how does he hold it together?
“By the time I get to the run, all I tell myself is, ‘put one foot in front of the other’,” Sam says, who knows that every second he walks could cost him a position. “It sounds so non-elite, but if I tell myself that and break it down into tiny pieces then I know I’ll get to the end.”
But it’s not just that overwhelming feeling of entering the finish chute and succeeding at an Ironman that Sam relishes – it’s the hard work and dedication along the way. “It’s such a high discipline sport and the more you put in, the more you get out,” Sam tells, who begged his parents to leave high school early to become a professional Ironman (for the record, he completed high school early based on his own academic merit, then went to university and became an engineer while being a part-time Ironman). “I really enjoy the sense of personal achievement you get from giving your all and that’s what keeps me sane.”
While Ironman is at the most elite end of triathlon, Sam is keen to spread the word that – for the most part – the sport gravitates towards the other end of the scale, with the multi-discipline activity being the ideal choice for those wanting to get out with friends or family: “A lot of people doing triathlons are just out there giving it a go and creating a good healthy lifestyle. It’s about enjoying yourself and getting social, which is so easy to do here in Townsville compared to the capital cities.”
Sam heads off to Hawaii on Friday, October 3. Fellow Townsville Ironman Jarrod Owen will be joining him and competing in the 30-34 age group. We will certainly be cheering both of these legends on!
You can get into the Hawaiian spirit and support Sam by attending a fundraising dinner at the Mercure Hotel on Saturday, September 27. It’s at 6.30pm and tickets are $68 for a three-course meal and entertainment. There are lots of prizes to be won and bid on. Register here: http://freeradicalstribe.com.au/
Sam Murphy’s top Ironman training tips
Tip 1 – Get a swim coach to look at your technique
Huge efficiency gains can be made here, resulting in not only a faster swim time, but by being fresher when you get out of the water you can make great gains on the bike and run legs too.
Tip 2 – Swim with a squad
It makes training a lot easier and enjoyable.
Tip 1 – Vary your cadence in training
Lower cadence repetitions on hills can increase your strength while higher cadence repetitions on the flat can increase aerobic capacity and efficiency. When racing, maintaining an average cadence above 90 can make running the marathon a lot more bearable.
Tip 2 – Ironman racing is about smart racing on the bike
To perform at your potential you need to control your power output level throughout the ride. Minimise surges and limit peaks in power to short slower sections such as up steeper climbs and into the wind. Saving something for the run is absolutely essential.
Tip 1 – Cadence, cadence, cadence…
It improves your efficiency, your technique and reduces fatigue, especially in longer runs/races.
Tip 2 – Build up your running steadily
This is in terms of both mileage and tempo. You will bounce back after a tough race or some time off, just give it time – patience is the key.
Sam’s overall training tips
Tip 1 – Listen to your body
It will tell you when you need an easy session or an easy week, it will tell you what you are missing in your diet, and it will tell you when a session is going well.
Tip 2 – Get a coach or at least a training buddy
Regardless of your level, a coach can see things that you blindly overlook. They often can see fatigue a mile off and can keep your mind on the job rather than wondering if you have set yourself the right training program.