16 April, 2014.
Following on from a back page feature in the latest edition of Runner’s World Magazine, I thought I’d post the full interview here for everyone to read. This was done after my record breaking attempt for the ascent/descent of Mt Gower on Lord Howe Island back in January. I hope you all enjoy the read!
Can you tell us a bit about the Mt Gower Challenge? Was it an invitational? And was the recent one the inaugural event organised by your dad? Sounds like it was dramatic – is the course quite exposed in sections?! What was the total elevation gain?
This year’s race was the inaugural event and a concept created by my dad. He was definitely the driving force for the organising of the event, but the whole family got involved and so did the Islands community. Lord Howe is a world heritage site and it was a hard concept to have approved by the committee on the Lord Howe Island board. Due to the danger involved with the event, we were only approved to have 5 local athletes that knew the track to attempt the record this year. The event was a huge success in bringing the community together and a great source of exposure for the Island, so the Board has shown their ongoing support to run the race as an annual or biannual event. The course is 13km in length and the Mountain 875m tall. It starts with a 1.8km run along a coastal bush track to the base of the mountain (a mix of four wheel drive track, sand and boulder hopping). It’s then almost vertical to the lower road, a section running along a 1m wide cliff with a 250m sheer drop into the ocean, which takes you into the valley between Mt Gower and Mt Lidgbird. From Erskine valley to the top it’s again almost vertical and a hard slog with many rope sections to navigate. If you have time to stop and take in the scenery, there are amazing views throughout the whole course. It’s like nothing I’ve ever competed in before and is absolute utopia once at the top and amongst some of the most unique moss beds in the world. We’d love to hold the event again and make it only by invitation. Logistically you’re somewhat limited to this anyway, as there are only a certain amount of flights and restricted numbers allowed on the island at any one time. Being a busy tourist destination, it would be impossible to get numbers on the island at any one time.
Can you tell us about your father and his association with Lord Howe Island and Mt Gower?
Much like I did, Dad had a very early introduction to sport. His father, Jimma, was a very competitive sprinter over 100 yards and was always involved with the organising of sporting events on Lord Howe Island. My father grew up on the Island playing cricket, football and participating in athletics like most children, but found basketball and running to be his favourites after receiving a sporting scholarship to college. Throughout his time studying medicine and his first 10 years as a radiologist he was involved with many college sporting teams, but it wasn’t until his early 40’s that family friend and Ironman World Champion, Greg Welch, introduced him to triathlon. Since, he’s participated in triathlon, duathlon and running events including the Hawaii Ironman World Championships, and has always remained running to keep fit around work. Like everyone who’s grown up on Lord Howe, Mt Gower is held close to his heart. It’s a landmark that dominates the island and something you see everyday from every spot on the island. You grow up hearing stories of the pig hunters and mountaineers who’ve set unofficial times for scaling it’s peak, and it just made sense that one day he’d challenge those times. Much like I’ve done. I suspect this will continue and is always going to be of significant importance to the Islands community!
(Mt Gower Challenge) How did it feel to break your father’s long-standing record?
Once out of delirium and knew I’d broken the record (because I didn’t comprehend at the time) it was a very emotional occasion for me. I’ve been all around the world as a professional triathlete, but never have I felt so honored and proud to win an event and set a new record. To break the record was living a childhood dream.
Why was competing in the Mt Gower Challenge important to you?
There’s about 350 people who live on the island and I’m sure they were all there at the finish line, most of them family and all of them friends. It was an unbelievable feeling to be greeted by everyone at the finish and see them inspired by what I achieved. The main reason I did this race was to help educate the next generation of children about the importance of maintaining their health and fitness, and to see it bring the community together like this was very special to me!
What’s your earliest running memory?
I have many fond memories of cross country and athletics events as a child, but one significant memory was my dad seeing if I could run at 3min/kms on the treadmill. I must have been about 7 or 8 and he was explaining to me how amazing it was that someone could run a marathon at that speed. He insisted on putting me on the treadmill at 20km/hr to give me a better understanding of how impressive it was. Somehow, I managed to hold it for 30 seconds or so and not get spat of the back, but it seriously makes me laugh thinking about him doing this to me.
What attracts you to triathlons?
Initially and for the first couple of years racing as a professional, it was all about my ambitions to someday win the Hawaii Ironman. I was there as a 7 year old in 1994 when Greg Welch became the first Australian to win the World Championships. Ever since it’s something I’ve always aspired too.
Triathlon can be a great lifestyle sport for an athlete, but it’s also very time consuming. So when racing at an elite level it’s easy to loose perspective on the meaning of enjoying sport. As I’ve experienced more in life and found other important passions and interests of mine, I’d now like to combine racing with other career opportunities to live a balanced, meaningful, healthy and inspiring way of life.
Describe your proudest moment in competing in triathlon. (Include event name, date, distances, time)
Your first big win is always a proud moment, so probably taking my first 70.3 Ironman title at Yeppoon in 2011 (Ironman 70.3 Yeppoon, 14/8/2011. 1.9km swim, 90km bike, 21km run 3:56:41). However, the year before was my first year racing in Europe as a professional (age 22) and came 5th at the Ironman 70.3 European Championships in Weisbaden, Germany. I beat some big names in the sport that day and the crowds are so much bigger in Europe. They had a huge awards ceremony in a cathedral and it was a pretty proud moment to be standing on stage with such class athletes.
Favourite piece of gear
Definitely my ON running shoes. I use the cloudsurfer for training and the cloudracer in races. I’m a relatively big guy for triathlon (6”3 and 80kg) and the cloud technology provides a very responsive shoe, whilst saving my legs from the pounding on pavement.
What’s your must-have post-race fuel?
I always use a recovery protein from Musashi, but next on the hit list are usually pancakes with maple syrup, ice cream and berries. I’ve recently gone gluten and dairy free though so I’m not sure what I’m going to do. Maybe I’ll have to make some exceptions…
Mind you, I’ve recently started a partnership with a local cafe in Sutherland called Left Bower, and they do amazing gluten free spiced pumpkin pancakes. If you’re ever in the area, you must check these guys out! Here’s a link to a blog I recently posted about them.
What is your number one passion/hobby outside running and triathlons?
I have lots, but fashion and music would have to be at the top of the list. I’m in the process of launching my own fashion forward sportswear and streetwear range as part of the ‘Ollie Whistler Collaboration’ (OWC), which aims to combine my passions with sport to help others realise that their dreams can also become reality with hard work and belief, and there’s a lot more to an athlete than just sport. It’s a platform to share my passions, experiences and learning’s with others and where like-minded people can work collaboratively to help turn passions and dreams into a way of life.
Do you enjoy music on the run? If so, what’s your favourite long run tune?
As mentioned above, music is a massive part of my life… I live and breathe it and always enjoy running with my pod! It’s incredibly hard to narrow it down to one song, but I do have a bit of theme song for the ‘OWC’. The presets – Its cool… and of course loud!
What’s your biggest race-day peeve?
Sorry to be a bit crude, but definitely if I don’t have a good session on the porcelain throne pre race.
Who inspires you?
I don’t really draw inspiration from particular people, but take it from the environment around me. Art, music, architecture, nature, experiences, people I meet, places I travel and from within. I’m very much a self believer.
What’s your day job?
At the moment I’m a sales manager at a bike shop in Sydney called ‘Chain Reaction Bicycles’. If I’m not there then I’m either training or working on the ‘OWC’.
I couldn’t live without…
Waking up in the morning and laughing at myself in the mirror… never take yourself too seriously and life’s no fun without a laugh! This is closely followed by a coffee. My favourite two things in the morning.
What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?
I have really bad crows feet from laughing at myself too much…
“dream something so big it scares and excites you at the same time, the harder you work at it the luckier you get, live that dream, and then lover every moment…” – Ollie Whistler
Your age – 26
Your suburb, state – Sutherland NSW.
Anything else you think we should know about you
I think you get a pretty good understanding that I don’t take life too seriously.
This link below will take you to the 7.30 Report feature we also received following the event. A great little insight into the race!