Heading into this Sunday’s (Aug. 12) Rev3 Wisconsin triathlon, Richie Cunningham sits atop the Rev3 Series Leaderboard. He’s also ranked thirdon the WTC 70.3 rankings, behind former world champion Michael Raelert and reigning world champion Craig Alexander, and ahead of 405 other professional men.
A contender at multiple distances for years, Richie is becoming a half-iron distance favorite in 2012 with wins at Rev3 Quassy and Rev3 Portland as well as podium finishes in four 70.3s. The 39-year old Aussie-born resident of Boulder, Colo. is having the best season of his already consistent 15-year professional career.
That career did not start at childhood swim meets, as we have come to expect of top pros. Richie had always been a runner, but his teenage years were also spent working on a ranch and riding Andalucian dressage horses on the Gold Coast of Australia.
After a four-year stint in the army, Richie wanted to get back into good running shape. “There’s this cool new sport,” his brother told him, referring to triathlon. “Let’s go try it.” Richie was Australia’s 20-24 year old national champion that year, and turned pro two years later.
What has propelled him up the podium steps? Richie is obviously talented. He’s also displayed his share of tenacity, both in dealing with injury and in race tactics. Both of these have helped him have such a strong year.
But one thing that really stands out in Richie’s story is his life balance. For example, he’s spent the last several months doing home improvements on his property in Boulder, with a typical day involving a morning swim, long ride, five hours of digging a hole or working on his new outdoor staircase, then a late evening run.
“I go to bed smashed, and it’s not just from training!” he says. “But I come good every day. I think it’s because I have a distraction other than training.”
“Although I don’t necessarily like it,” he continues, laughing. “I’d rather sit on my ass, but it’s my cross-training, it’s good for me.”
Likewise, relocating to Boulder in 2011 has also proven good for Richie, especially in terms of training partners. There are enough top pro’s in Boulder that athletes have the luxury of choosing what schedules and personalities they mesh with best, unlike other towns with smaller athlete populations.
Fellow Aussie and Boulder resident Joe Gambles has become Richie’s training partner of choice, and the relationship has proven a beneficial one for both of them because Gambles has also had a podium-filled season.
“Joe has the ability to race,” says Richie, “which is a gift in itself, not everyone has that psychological ability.” Both athletes share that strength, and a winning mindset.
But part of what makes the partnership work is their differences. “He’s young and motivated and intelligent in the sport, he trains with power on the bike and it’s not necessarily my way but at the same time it helps my training.” Richie has also started getting regular massage and bodywork for the first time in his career thanks to Joe’s influence.
“I bring things to the table for Joe too,” Richie continues. Namely: a relaxed confidence. “We have a training structure but it’s flexible. We don’t get up at six every day to finish everything at two, people who do that tend to burn out. We get our key workouts done, but if we want to go for a coffee (or five) then we do it.”
A final quality that factors into Richie’s success is his often fiery integrity. In the past members of the media have seized on his outspoken attachment to fairness in the sport. What’s probably more important though is that he applies those standards to himself. For example, this year he’s been plagued by breathing troubles in the swim. A lung doctor suggested it was exercise-induced asthma and prescribed asthma medications. But Richie’s not convinced. “I can run fine, so how is it an asthma attack?” he says. “So, I won’t use the inhaler. I’m not going to go that route, using a breathing aid just because.”
The rest of Richie’s 2012 season includes five Rev3 races and the 70.3 World Championships. If you look on the “About” section of Richie’s website, you’ll see he lists his career highlights as a win in the Team Relay World Championships, two third place finishes and two fifth place finishes at the 70.3 World Championships. It’s looking like those highlights will deserve to be updated by year’s end.