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After leading the Ironman World Championship off the bike last year, Cameron Wurf knows how good it feels to be at the front of this race—and he’s dedicated the past 12 months to holding the lead all the way to the finish line tomorrow.
The Australian former pro cyclist, whose training partners include former Tour de France champions Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas, broke the bike course record last year (with a 4:09.06 bike split), but was passed by Patrick Lange halfway through the marathon and ultimately finished ninth.
Realizing that his run needed some major work if he was going to one day win this race, he made that his focus.
“Literally a week after Kona last year, I got to work on my run, increasing the volume to the level where I feel I can be more competitive with the top guys in the sport,” he says. “There have even been a few months during the past year when I’ve barely ridden my bike because I’ve been so focused on running.”
His hard work has already proven fruitful, with victories this season at Ironman Australia and Ironman Italy, as well as a third place finish at Challenge Roth. While those results are, of course, impressive, it was his run splits at these races that really caught people’s attention.
“I clocked 2:50 marathons at Ironman Australia and Challenge Roth, and then ran a 2:45 in Italy a few weeks ago,” he says. “I’ve definitely seen a much more balanced performance running this year, so at this stage it looks like it [his run focus] has worked out pretty well.”
Wurf is certainly an athlete who likes to surround himself with excellence, and in addition to the Grand Tour riders he bikes with, he also works with Nike’s Breaking2 group. In fact, he has been following a similar training and racing schedule to Kenyan marathoner Eliud Kipchoge, who will be gunning to break the two hour barrier in Vienna, Austria, tomorrow while Wurf targets the Kona crown.
“There’s obviously not a lot of point me training with Kipchoge, but I have been following a similar schedule to him, and we have both had similar objectives this year. He raced the London Marathon and I was racing Ironman Australia that same weekend, and now he’ll be trying to break two hours while I’ll be racing here.
“Five weeks ago, I was training in Andorra and I’d just done a two hour run that I was pretty happy with. I’d run about 31K on pretty hard terrain and I sent the file through to my coach Brett Kirby. He shot me back a message with the session Eliud had done the same day: he’d run exactly two hours and covered 40.1K. It is very humbling and I really love being surrounded by so many top athletes because it doesn’t give me a second for complacency, so I feel really fortunate for the group of people I train with.
“Compared to most pro triathletes, I have a bit of an unorthodox group of people I like to train with,” he says. “I didn’t really enjoy training with cyclists when I was cycling but now that I’m doing a different sport I really enjoy being around all my old cycling mates and feeding off each other. I spend most of my time with Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas, and that’s been really good for me. We don’t really threaten each other as we obviously don’t do the same event, yet I think we’ve all had pretty good success in that time and can feed off each other. It gives us a level of accountability as a training group; we’re out there to get good results.”
Although Wurf is known for his biking prowess, it’s the run course that he’s most looking forward to tomorrow.
“Most people think I like the bike, but to be honest it’s the part I like the least,” he says. “It makes me quite nervous, it’s the one part of the race where you’re in the least control. The part I’m most excited about is the run; it’s all on you—it’s just you, your two legs, your suit and your shoes. The last 10-15K of the bike I’m very anxious to just get off and get on my own two feet and get out there to run and finish it off.”
Wurf will certainly be hoping he can hold off the hard-chasing runners such as Lange, who last year caught him halfway through the marathon.
“I knew he (Lange) would be the one to take the lead from me if I wasn’t able to hold it to the finish,” he says. “I went for it last year, I felt that a sub-eight hour race was possible here, we had the perfect conditions for it, and when Patrick came up on me I just tried to encourage him, I wanted him to be able to finish it off as I knew I wasn’t capable of doing that. He appreciated where we were both coming from and that was certainly a moment of respect between us. I was very happy to see that he was able to go on and do what I’d dreamed of doing. That was a special moment in the sport for me.”