Putting in the hard yards. Rain or shine.
10 months into the COVID pandemic, Heather keeps her training load -and motivation, intact. During these -yeah I'm going to say it again; |unprecedented times|, she's relocated cities, started her career as a Veterinarian and became a Zwift addict -what else were we suppose to do?
Heather is a top triathlete in stealth mode with a simple goal: to enjoy the sport. As simple at it sounds, it might well be the best recipe to maintain a robust training routine, one that -perhaps unintentionally, keeps making her just a bit faster than yesterday.
We are fortunate to have her riding our wheels and bringing our story to life, a story that is as much ours as it is hers.
We jumped on a Google Meet video call (you gotta love video call tech) on Monday just as she finished work, and spoke a little about triathlon. Let us introduce you to one of our own.
// About your triathlon journey
NS: Let's start with an almost mandatory question; COVID19, how has it affected you, your training and your goals?
HN: Not much. With closed swimming pools, lockdowns and cancelled events, I've done quite a few open water swims up until July and lots of Zwift training/racing -it's addicting and fun collecting all those points and tracking your progress in real time! Particularly interesting is being able to see my power output, I don't use power meters and that was quite new to me.
The biggest change for me personally in the past months has been relocating to a new city and starting my new job. I've started training with people (I used to train alone mostly) -which has been awesome, and was able to train more than usual for a few months when transitioning to the new job.
I race by feel, and focus on staying hydrated. Old fashion, face to face time, me and the bike.
NS: That's an interesting one -training alone versus training with friends. What's the difference?
HN: It's great, it helps with your motivation and training discipline. It also helps to push harder -you know, when you have that friend that is faster and you're thinking 'nah can't let this happen', and you find that extra boost to get a little closer and/or keep up.
I've also recently done some team racing (cycling) which has been a very interesting new experience to me, specially from a tactical point of view.
NS: Agreed, nothing better than surrounding yourself with people that inspire you to get out there and make it happen. You've mentioned you don't carry a power meter on your bike, what's your tactic at finding the right pace in the cycling leg without one?
HN: I race by feel, and focus on staying hydrated. Old fashion, face to face time, me and the bike. Picking targets, passing them, keeping on pushing.
For my first Triathlon I had two options as for which bike to use, my 'commuter' mountain bike I had owned since I was 12, or my dad's road bike from when he was 12
NS: Love it! There is a blurry line between racing to the plan and racing to your absolute potential, a power meter might be holding you off from being your fastest, and no strict pacing could mean depleted legs for the run. You have to risk it to see where the line stands.
Let's just backtrack for a moment and talk about your first encounter with Triathlon. Why this sport?
HN: I had been running just for general fitness since midway through my first year at University and in the fourth year I was living a bit further away from campus so I thought a bike might be a worthwhile investment for commuting.
Then, I was coming back from Christchurch for Christmas and saw a women's only, 'have a go' triathlon advertised. It was a very short distance but I thought it would give me a purpose for my running for the summer. I was very nervous but actually enjoyed it more than I thought I would. Uni started again, I joined the Manawatu Tri club, bought a road bike of my own and from then on I was hooked!
NS: Your first ever Tri race.
HN: First, I had to decide on which bike to use. I had two options, my 'commuter' mountain bike I had owned since I was 12, or my dad's road bike from when he was 12... I decided on my dad's road bike -what an experience.
I turned up at least an hour before anyone else, it was pouring with rain and I didn't have anyone supporting me. I somehow still had a good time though!
Fun fact: I remember coming out of the swim and standing in transition for a good minute at least, watching everyone put their shoes on for biking and wondering whether I was allowed to go out on my bike yet or if I should wait for someone else!
I remember feeling such a sense of self achievement when I finished.
Below it's me once I made sure everyone had safely completed their swim and was ready for the bike segment :)
It is okay to be scared or nervous to race or to try something new, but don't let that stop you, just go out there, race your own race and make sure you enjoy yourself.
// About racing and a look ahead
NS: Tinman 2020 was your first race in some time, how did it go?
HN: My goal was to just do it and enjoy it. Had a good swim and loved the cycling, I love the bike segment in the Mount, very flat and fast. Then onto the run I passed a few female athletes but really had no clue in which place I was standing.
My sister came from Auckland to support me and watch the race. When I finished I asked if she had any idea how I placed, and she said she hadn't seen any other females apart from the Elites -I thought she might have missed them, however it turned out she was right, I was the first non-Elite athlete, 6th overall, 1st in my Age Group!
It was unexpected and an awesome feeling, I was so happy.
It was also the opening of the Triathlon racing season in NZ, and pretty much everyone was there, it was great to (re)connect with so many.
NS: Indeed, what a race! We were stoked to see you coming in 6th. Proof of the hard work you've been putting in. So hey, what's the plan from here?
HN: I think I still have some gains I can capture without necessarily having to get a coach just yet. I'd be able to unlock additional gains if I start transitioning from 'hard' training to 'smart' training, better tailored to what I'm after, better addressing my main areas of improvement -for example, my swimming.
For now the plan is to be at the pointy end of AG, however, becoming Elite at some stage would be awesome.
An athlete you look up to: If I had to choose one off the top of my head I would say Sophie Pascoe, because of her determination, drive and passion to do what she loves despite her setbacks.
NS: 'Race for you, don't compare to others'. We like that motto of yours. Why is this important?
HN: When I started triathlon, my only real goal was just to complete the race. When I finished my first race, the feeling of happiness and self-accomplishment was completely unreal just because I had achieved exactly what I had set out to do. If you race your own race and set your own mini goals, you will always have fun and achieve something each time!
At the end of the day, I think it is most important to just do what you enjoy and do what you want so you can get the most out of each experience, and shape yourself as an athlete!
NS: What is...
Your favorite discipline HN: It'd honestly have to be the bike. I remember I used to take a long and complex route home from Uni just because I wasn't confident enough in my bike handling abilities to indicate a right hand turn. How much has changed since then! I love how you can become one with the bike and work to convert all your power into speed, love the exhilaration of a technical course, the grind that comes with cycling uphill and the relief when you get tuck up and fly down the other side.
The race you dream winning HN: Ultimately, Ironman WC in Kona. More realistically though, taking the win at 70.3 WC or Challenge Middle Distance Champs at Samorin.
An athlete you look up to HN: very hard question. If I had to choose one off the top of my head I would say Sophie Pascoe, because of her determination, drive and passion to do what she loves despite her setbacks. She has been so successful and yet still comes across as a modest, lovely and genuine person.
The advice you'll give to younger generations of triathletes HN: It is okay to be scared or nervous to race or to try something new, but don't let that stop you, just go out there, race your own race and make sure you enjoy yourself. Remember at the end of the day, different things work better for different people so you'll probably develop your own preferences over time as you get more experienced. And lastly, set yourself a small goal for your race independent of your finish place (e.g. a good transition or a swim to go to plan). Celebrate every success, no matter how small.
Sustainability should be front of mind, it'd be great to be aware of and minimize the impact of carbon wheel production and use in the environment.
Insights on cycling and carbon wheels
Your average cycling training HN: It depends as I need to balance other things in my life, nevertheless an average week would include a longer ride (> 90kms) plus 2-3 shorter sessions (1-1.5 hrs) with usually specific focus (e.g. indoor interval training).
A game changer in cycling HN: Confidence. Throughout increasing your experience (e.g. practicing technical turns and downhills) and getting to know how your body works. Having the confidence to push or to pace yourself and save your legs.
Mental or Physical strength HN: The hard part is the mental part. Growing physical strength is not an easy job but more straight forward, if you do the work you'll become stronger. Mental strength is having the grit to keep pushing when your body tells you to stop, the determination to keep training throughout the winter, 5am mornings, not giving up when you're not winning. Mental strength is a lot harder to train.
Why carbon wheels HN: Aero is everything! deeper and lighter wheels translate to free speed.
The future of carbon wheels and how nscarbon can take it to the next level: I think having the ability to 'try before you buy' is essential. We triathletes spend quite a bit of money on upgrades and bike maintenance and to have the option of checking whether something is actually worthwhile investing in before purchasing it it's great for us. Another feature I think is customization; having enough design options to suit everyone's tastes, and last but not least, sustainability should be front of mind, it'd be great to be aware and minimize the impact of carbon wheel production and use in the environment.
// Heather on joining NS
'Negative split carbon provides a quality product, which is affordable and is from a local business. I love how they are so supportive, and inclusive and stand up for the ‘underdogs’, which is a group I can relate to! There are plenty of big brands out there, but not every company is actually out there, watching their wheels race at local events, talking to the athletes, constantly testing and improving their products to suit the customers, and getting involved in the local community, and I think this is what attracted me to Negative split carbon and what sets them aside from others'
Heather rides 60/88mm deep section clincher only coupled with Continental GP 4000. Usually rolling with high pressure 100-110 PSI front and back. If in wet conditions, she will have a slightly lower pressure to help getting a bit more traction.
Unconfirmed next races:
Run section of Rotorua Suffer (team relay) (half ironman distance)
Tauranga Half (half ironman distance)
70.3 Ironman NZ
Follow heather on Instagram for more: @heather.neill96