Ed. Note—on Tuesday we recapped Heather Jackson and Joe Gambles' podium finishes at Steelhead 70.3, which kicked off championship season for real. Today we check in with Wattie Ink. pro Josh Amberger, who punched his Kona ticket back in June by winning Ironman Cairns (only his third attempt at the distance). We sat down with Amberger to talk about his choice of ITU Long Distance World Championships over 70.3 Worlds, his prep for Kona, and more.
WI: Why this World Champs? You could have gone to 70.3 Worlds, but your race schedule lists this race and Kona as the two big races between now and November. What draws you to this event?
JA: I chose ITU Long Distance because I think it's a championship that plays more to my strengths than 70.3 Worlds. Partially because I think I'm better suited to a distance longer than 70.3, which I've discovered this year with a breakout Ironman performance, and partially because I'm just burnt out from 70.3 and the dynamic of that race. My opinion is that there's too many starts given in the elite race for 70.3 Worlds. There's just too much filler, which has made the race uninteresting to me. With almost always around 55 men racing, it negates my strong swim/bike advantage as long pacelines form early into the bike, favoring ultra quick runners. Unless we see a return to a Zell Am See style course, then I wouldn't consider myself a podium contender at a 70.3 Worlds. That's why I'm going to skip Chattanooga and focus on ITU Worlds & Kona.
WI: Have you and your coach approached this race any differently? It's an odd, hybrid distance (ed.: 3k swim, 120k bike, 30k run). Anything you're focusing on that's different from your usual prep for a full IM or a 70.3?
JA: We haven't really done anything different. We are just racing it for a five-to-six hour event seven weeks out from Hawaii. It's not overly calculated—it's just a good distance at a good time not too close to Kona, with the incentive of a World Title. So we're training with Kona as the focus, and I'll turn up next week and see what I can produce.
WI: Have you researched the race course? Any particular areas of the course that stand out to you?
JA: I actually haven't looked at the course in depth. I can recall there's some good climbs on the bike, but not much apart from that. That's something pertinent to think about as we approach race week I guess!
WI: Is this race part of your preparation for Kona, or a completely isolated goal? If it is part of your preparation, what aspects carry over?
JA: It's a piece of the puzzle for sure, but not necessarily a goal in itself. I will go there with intentions for a best possible result, though without forgetting the bigger picture at the same time. Having only finished 2 Ironman races, both of which in 2017, it's just another good exposure to the longer distance. As I mentioned though, it's not something totally calculated. In theory, the dates work well and it will give me good training adaptation for additional Kona preparation.
WI: Tell me the story of other ITU LD Worlds races you've done before.
JA: My first ITU LD was 2 years ago in Motala, Sweden. I totally cooked it. I'm not even able to recall my finish result! I think it was either top 20 or 30—far from what my expectations were. 2015 was a really difficult season for me, my spark plugs were dirty and the engine needed an oil change. I moved on quickly from that experience. Similarly, I had intentions to race Oklahoma last year too, but withdrew myself one week before the start in what remains as the only race withdrawal of my career. By late September when Oklahoma was scheduled, I was well tired and super fatigued. Overall, 2016 was a great season, but I'd burnt the candle at both ends and needed some time off. 2017 has been an unreal season thus far, and maybe it will be 3rd time lucky. Who dares, wins!