How They Did It: Dr. Hannah Wells

The formidable Kiwi has been quietly dominating the middle-distance tri scene in Australasia. Here, the fleet-footed 30-year-old shares two killer run workouts.


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Every month we’ll talk to a pro with a big breakthrough performance, learn about their story, and then dive into what they did to get there. This month, members will get an exclusive look at two run sessions from speedy Challenge Wanaka winner, Hannah Wells. We’ll share her workouts below and offer up commentary from the athlete herself on why these are important sessions and how she feels as she does them. With some modifications, these workouts can also be done at home as a part of a balanced training program.

Dr. Hannah Wells hasn’t raced a triathlon outside of her home continent… yet. But when she does unleash her redoubtable swim, bike, and run talent on the rest of the triathlon world, it will be forced to sit up and take notice.

So far, the résumé of the 30-year-old Kiwi pro more resembles a line of binary code than it does race results. In 2019, it simply read: 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, and 1, and with a commanding victory at her favourite hunting ground of Challenge Wanaka on Feb. 20, Wells hasn’t been off the podium in three years.

Despite not focusing on swimming, cycling, or running growing up on New Zealand’s North Island, it’s also hard to find a chink in her armor. “I was very active and played a lot of team sports,” she said. “If there was any opportunity for me to go out and do any sort of crazy exercise—even if it was just climbing trees—I was doing it. When I moved into endurance sport, I took to it pretty quickly.”

The evidence is compelling. On the swim, Wells is now emerging on the feet of former ITU front-pack performer Rebecca Clarke. On the bike, she’s duking it out with renowned Ironman pedal-pusher Teresa Adam. And the run remains perhaps her strongest suit, although don’t put too much weight on recent splits. When competing on the lumpy, off-road terrain of New Zealand, and shutting it down with a 10 min lead, the clock fails to tell the whole tale.

But there’s plenty more to come. Until the end of 2019, Wells was still traveling the globe as a postdoctoral researcher in the medical biotech industry. It’s only since the start of 2020 she’s devoted herself fulltime to tri.

“It took a bit of encouragement from my fiancé, Nick, and my coach, Bevan McKinnon, to take that step, but it was definitely a good choice to make,” she explained. “I can put more into my training and recovery. The numbers I’m seeing now compared to last year show I’ve improved so much again. When things start to open up, I’ll be able to see the big steps forward I’ve made.”

The season ahead may be shrouded in uncertainty, but Wells is chomping at the bit to make her mark on the international scene—a debut that was originally planned for the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in France back in 2019. That trip was aborted after she was stricken with flu, although she managed to recover enough to head to Australia and win the Sunshine Coast 70.3. Which races will she target from here? “Them all. I want to go to them ALL! I don’t know where to start,” she said.

First though is Ironman New Zealand, a debut outing over the full distance, pushed back three weeks due to a COVID outbreak. Despite her novice status, Wells will again start as a favorite. Her race goal? A sub three-hour marathon. “That’s the aim, but it’ll require a lot of things to fall into place,” she said. “I’m going to have to race smart and be cautious too, and stay on top of my nutrition. Not knowing what’s going to hit me, it’s ambitious.”

(Ed. Note: Wells went on to win IMNZ with a time of 9:01:50)

At least she’s covered the marathon distance before. Despite a busy racing schedule, she managed to squeeze in the Auckland marathon in 2019, showing her footspeed once more to clock 2:50:47 and, yes, you guessed it, win again. What makes this up-and-coming Kiwi so fleet of foot? Workouts like the two below:

 

Hannah Wells on the bike at the 2019 Challenge Wanaka triathlon. Photo: Neil Kerr/Getty Images

Overview

Both of these sessions include faster-paced running that Hannah only tapps into in a race build. “Some triathletes include speed whether racing or not,” she explained. “But I return to running endurance only.” Because of the injury risk of higher intensity running, the sessions should be completed purposely at the right time in your schedule and adjusted for pace depending on how you feel.

Wells’ Session 1

Brick Ride Into Long Run Intervals

Total time: 3h10m

Bike: 2 hours (moderate intensity with 4-5 short efforts to introduce some fatigue on to the run)
Run straight-off-the-bike: 2-3 min. at target 70.3 pace
Recover: 10 min. easy jog
Main set: 3(or 4) x 10 min. (with 5 min. recovery jog between each effort)

1st effort: Just above target 70.3 pace
2nd effort: Target 70.3 pace
3rd effort: Just below target 70.3 pace
4th effort: Optional, on feel, at sustainable level of intensity

Cool-down: 10 min. easy jog

Hannah said: “Ideally, you have the chance to swim first, so the training day is completed as a swim, bike, and run. The first 2-3 minutes on the run give you a chance to ingrain the feeling of what running straight off a 2-hour bike feels like—uncomfortable to begin with. Then the 10-minute intervals are a chance to get comfortable at around 70.3 pace. It’s short enough to allow intensity, but long enough to focus on run form, and you need to be efficient to last the set. It’s tough, but I find running faster paces means that when it comes to a race, I can hold the pace I want and still be relaxed.”

Wells’ Session 2

6 x 1 km Interval Session

Total time: 1h15m-1h30m

Warm-up: 15-20 min. easy pace
Main set: 6 x 1km at 5km race pace (5 min. easy jog between reps)
Cooldown: 10 min.

Hannah said: “When I went to watch the Ironman World Championship in Kona in 2019, I did this session as part of my build up to the Auckland marathon and had fun using the old airport runway in Kona. It’s performed at a faster pace to the session, above, and would only be done when fresh. The rest period between sets allows each rep to be performed with quality. However, be adaptable. The pace is more of a range, better guided by perceived effort on the day, rather than having to hit a specific time for each split.”