Campbell from SquareOne talks to Brad Brown from the Kona Edge podcast about his experiences of racing in the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii 2018. Listen to Campbell talk about his journey and what it takes to qualify and compete at the Hawaiian Ironman while juggling a busy family and work life. We talk injury, disappointment and what it takes to fight back and compete at the pointy end of the race.
Full Podcast Transcript
BRAD BROWN: Welcome onto this edition of The Kona Edge, my name is Brad Brown, it’s good to be with you and thank you so much for downloading and listening to this podcast, we get to share another fantastic Ironman Kona journey today and we head to Sydney in Australia to catch up with Campbell Hanson. Campbell, welcome onto the podcast.
CAMPBELL: Yeah, cheers Brad, thanks for having me and pleasure to chat.
BRAD BROWN: Campbell your story is, I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to someone who has had a catastrophic failure in Kona and then gone on to some sort of redemption and I really want to dig into that. Obviously you had a DNF a couple of years ago and I want to dig into how hard that must be. I’ve had a mechanical on a bike at an Ironman 10km in and that was my race done and dusted and I know how tough that was, but you picked up an injury, a pretty big knee injury, but we’ll talk about that in a moment. Let’s touch on you, Sydney; you’re originally from New Zealand, been in Aus for just over a decade?
CAMPBELL: Yeah, been here for just over, I think 12 years. My wife is from Sydney, so I did the go to uni thing and then went to London and worked over there, I lived overseas for about six years, had no, I’ve kind of had two stages to my triathlon career, one was as a junior, I actually qualified for a couple of Junior World Champs back when the juniors were under 20 to race the Olympic distance. This is a long, long time ago, before any high performance programs. I actually didn’t go to both of the World Champs, I was at university studying physiotherapy down in Dunedin, which is probably the worst place in New Zealand to be an endurance athlete, perpetually cold and crap weather and all your mates are at the pub. That kind of, didn’t go too well but lived overseas and then came back to Sydney and it’s pretty hard here not to be involved in some sort of sport. Everyone is really active; the weather is fantastic, the open water swimming is amazing.
Started working, was pretty busy with that and thought I’d better do something to keep myself sane, so picked up a bit of running, a bit of cycling and then one thing led to another and yeah, before I knew it, I was back into the triathlon fold and probably enjoying it more than I had round one.
BRAD BROWN: You spoke about as a junior racing Olympic distance, the move into the longer stuff, how that did that come about? Was it a natural progression? Did you just feel you were better with longer stuff?
CAMPBELL: I think as a junior, I was never going to run, I went through the same age group as Bevan Docherty and Kris Gemmell and used to knock around at the races with them. I’ve caught up with Bevan in his later years when he was racing long course and I was never going to run like they could. I think I could have probably swum and rode to their level and so that was all the short course stuff. Then the first race I did coming back was actually a half Ironman. One of my mates I used to race with as a junior lived up in Singapore and said, “Do you want to come up and do the Singapore half Ironman?” I had 10 weeks to get ready for it, so I got in touch with John Newsom who is a mate of mine from way back and said, “Mate, I’ve got 10 weeks to do this half Ironman in Singapore, what does it all involve?”
John threw a programme together and went up there and did that and really enjoyed it and then one thing led to another, did a couple of halves and then I picked up a spot to go to Vegas for the 70.3 Worlds, we had a five month old baby at that point, so we shot over there and did the race and did a bit of travel, had a holiday. Came back and thought, I’d better do an Ironman, seems a long way but I’ll give it a crack. Did Melbourne in 2013 and the race was actually shortened due to weather but I did okay. I think I ran 3:11 off the bike on my first Ironman, which I was pretty happy with and rode under five hours.
That got me to Kona, went over there 2013 and I went 9:18 my first crack over there. I think I ran 3:14 over there, so I was pretty happy with that. Then we had another baby and then 2016 I did New Zealand, picked up a Kona spot and then went back to Kona for the second time and I had a large meniscal tear in my knee 17 days before the race. I did everything I could to get it right before, I had my long runs under my belt, so I thought I’d be okay. I had fluid drained off my knee, I had a cortisone, I was walking around pain-free up and down stairs the week before the race.
I could swim and ride absolutely fine and then I think I came off the bike second in my age group and 7km into the run, within about 500m I went from not really feeling it to basically hobbling on it and walked back along Alii Drive and my knee was the size of a basketball by the time I got back to the finish. That was the end of that, it was disappointing but yeah.
BRAD BROWN: Let’s talk about that, not everything goes according to plan in an Ironman, obviously going into one with an injury is always a risk, as a physiotherapist you would know. How do you deal with that disappointment, where you’ve done the hard work, where you’re probably in the best shape of your life at that point and something like that happens? Talk to me what goes on in your mind?
CAMPBELL: I think being in the medical field, being a medical practitioner, you’ve got really good insight to what’s going on, so you can make informed decisions. You actually make informed decisions every day, like get out of bed at the moment, 42 years old, my Achilles will be a little bit sore, there’s always something niggling, but you know what’s serious and what’s not and it takes the worry out of it. I think that was good, I was obviously highly disappointed going in, but you can rationalize it and it takes, knowledge is power, so it takes the worry out of it.
Then obviously going well in a race and then not finishing is a totally different kettle of fish. I think any serious Kona build, you put so much into it physically and emotionally that the cork pops, when you finish, if you had a good race and if you had a bad race or you don’t finish it can be worse. I think it was, yeah, it was highly disappointing and I think the biggest thing is all you really want to do as an athlete is you want to test yourself. When the going gets really tough you’re going to have that moment and you’re going to think, this is it, can I measure up in that moment and that could be early in the run, it could be in the last 5km.
If you’re having a good race it’s probably going to be in the back third of the run and to put all the work in and all the people that support you and not be able to go out there and deliver on the day is probably what really hurts, not to be able to push yourself and not to be able to do justice to all the hard work, the sacrifices and the support that the people around you put in. My wife, in Ironman build, she’ll sacrifice a lot of her exercise time, we’re both really busy with work and two young kids, so to not be able to deliver, I think that’s where the big disappointment is.
I think also, having a busy life outside of triathlon is a benefit and that’s where kids help rationalize things, a couple of hours later all they want is to go for a swim with dad and have an ice-cream. You’re kind of like, it’s disappointing and it hurts, but big picture, probably doesn’t matter a huge amount in some ways.
BRAD BROWN: In the greater scheme of things. Bouncing back from that injury must be pretty tough as well. Like you said, it was a major meniscus tear, if you have a smallish one, the road to recovery is tough, it’s not that bad, but you ended up going for surgery as well I believe?
CAMPBELL: Yeah, I saw one of the orthopaedic surgeons that we work with closely here and we did the usual thinking to try and avoid surgery and taking any meniscal material out these days to try and prolong the natural life of the joint. We tried that and then after two or three weeks I was still walking around and limping around on a [** 0.09.16] knee. We didn’t have too many options and when he got in there and tidied up the meniscus, he had to take out more than he was expecting, so I probably tore further during the race compared to the initial MRI.
I had some things in my favor and one of them was that the joint surfaces above and below were essentially pristine, so no cartilage wear. It would have been a very different scenario if I’d had a crappy joint surface, with it being grumbling away for a few years. I did everything right, I basically did a lot of strength work and built the running up very, very slowly over six months and touch wood, it’s been really good with no problems, so can’t complain.
BRAD BROWN: We always joke that mechanics cars are always broken and doctor’s kids are always sick, is that the case with physio? Have you always got some sort of niggle that never comes right?
CAMPBELL: I think that’s probably more age related than anything else. I’m pretty good, like with the kind of build last year, I had a bunch of little bits and pieces going on, some that were related to the knee. I actually came off my bike eight weeks before Ironman WA at the end of 2017 and put a small fracture on the outside of my hip where I hit the ground and so had a few things going on. I did an hour of strength work, an hour of Pilates a week most of last year going in and since Kona last year where I cut the training volume back. I’ve had a good hour in the gym most weeks, lifting pretty heavy. All those sorts of things, I’ll do one to two half hour sessions a week of yoga at home, [triggering?] and rolling and stretching and yoga based stuff for the flexibility. I think yeah, you know how to look after it, but you also know what’s an issue and what’s not. Even though things keep crumbling at times, then you can push on.
BRAD BROWN: Talk to me about life outside of triathlon, Campbell, you mentioned you’re married, you’ve got two youngish kids, plus work-wise you were telling me before we started recording, you’ve just opened a third practice, so things are hectic. Obviously you’re not in a big build session at the moment for Kona, but there’s got to be some sort of balance and particularly leading up to Kona, it’s often you feel really out of kilter, how do you handle that juggle?
CAMPBELL: We’re super organized; we’ve got a lot of support. My wife’s family live in the next street over, so they’re fantastic with helping looking after the kids and picking them up after school and that sort of thing. My parents come over from New Zealand, they’ve come to Kona for each trip, which is super helpful and it’s being organized. Holly my wife is pretty amazing, she runs the show at home but you’ve just, the pendulum swings a bit far one way, going into an Ironman and then afterwards you’ve got to try and be around home a bit more, give a bit more time back. We’ve got a busy work life, as you said, we opened a third physio location, SquareOne Physio in Sydney, we opened on Monday morning, we’ve got other locations, so that’s growing a lot.
I think last year we went from 12 to 20 physios, that keeps us busy as well. There’s flexibility there but ultimately anyone who owns a business will know that at the end of the day it comes down to you and things aren’t going to get done if you don’t drive them or you’re not steering the ship in the right direction. There’s flexibility and I definitely couldn’t do it if I had to be at a desk in the city 8:00 until 6:00, I think that would be really tough but we work when we’re away on holiday and when we’re in Kona we’re there to race but you’re always sort of doing a little bit of work on the side. It’s just having that balance and accepting it, I think. There’s no point in fighting it. You take on the responsibility as an employer or a business owner and that’s what comes with it, so you’ve just got to accept it and be at ease with it as well, I think.
BRAD BROWN: I think you make an important point about the being out of balance in both directions so that in a build up to a big race you’re obviously taking a lot more and I think a cool way to look at it, it’s almost like a bank account, you’ve got to put deposits in in order to withdraw and at some stage if you just keep withdrawing out of the Ironman one, or out of the family one for an Ironman, the other ones are going to empty up and before you know it, you don’t have any bank accounts!
CAMPBELL: Exactly, sure, I think my wife Holly might have a different take on it sometimes to what I do! We do our best and we’re always working at it, but it’s a work in progress. I think it’s important, we want the kids involved as well, they come away to the races, they’re asking when we’re going to go back to Kona, I told them to ask their mother that question! There’s definitely healthy aspects of it, healthy role model, can see parents doing exercise. We’re all having kids a lot older these days right, so the days of kids spending time down at the footy club with their parents on the weekend, if mom and dad are mid to late 20s, we’re probably 10 years older in some ways. Our kids don’t see us playing a lot of sport, so I think there’s definite positive role model things that kids can pick up out of their parents being active and that’s diet, it’s a routine. Like people say to me where does it come from, where’s the drive to train come from?
I remember my dad used to get up and go for a run every morning before work, at 6:00 and it would probably only be for 20 minutes and he was never competitive, but he did that Monday to Friday for as long as I can remember, when I was six/seven/eight years old I started going out with him and I just thought that was normal, that’s what your parents do, they get up in the morning and your dad goes for a run. I probably had some of those values ingrained fairly early and that’s all part of it I think.
BRAD BROWN: Absolutely, let’s talk, I don’t know if I should use the word ‘redemption’ because I think you feel there’s still unfinished business on the Big Island but you went back again a couple of years later and you had a fairly decent race, you did a PB, you obviously didn’t get the position you were hoping for, things didn’t go quite according to plan on the run, but you must be chaffed that you managed to have that performance after such a big injury and surgery, to come back last year and put in the performance that you did, top 15, just outside the top 10, which is pretty decent.
CAMPBELL: Yeah, the goal posts are always moving. The plan was always to go back if I could, I didn’t know for the first six months after surgery whether I’d ever actually be able to run again and then once that, the motivation was always there to go back. Once the body was agreeing, then just went through the steps, did WA, had the hip fracture before that, there was no swim in WA due to the sharks, so it ended up being a long bike and run and we all rode too hard and blew to pieces. That probably didn’t go as well as I expected.
Then last year, put a good year together, had a really good sunny, did a lot of work on my running, efficiency and run technique. Did a lot of work on all three disciplines really and six weeks before, did the Sunny Coast 70.3 and I had a really good run. I ran 77:09 off the bike which is the fastest half I’ve run off the bike. The course was slightly short because I think Tim Reed and Crowie ran 70 and 71 minutes. I think I averaged 3:47 per km, so I was really happy with that. I went to Kona knowing my run was in good shape and it was a super-fast day as everyone has seen. It was almost like the age group racing had gone to another level. I swam just under 55 minutes, just under 56 minutes, rode 4:37, which is 18 minutes quicker than I’d ridden there twice before and it was almost like if you went there expecting to ride high 4:40, low 4:50s, by the time you got to [Hawi?] the race was gone because it was just a fast day.
I knew I had to push on the bike and the last hour I felt fantastic. My Power numbers were below where I wanted them to be. I wasn’t getting that real mental fade and feeling you get sort of 140—150km onwards where it can become a real grovel. I was having to hold myself back, so I got off the bike feeling fantastic. I’d run up to, I think about 7-8km into the mountain, I’d run up to third in my age group and I was probably about 30-35th overall in the age group race. I could just feel myself getting hotter and hotter and the last km before the bottom of Pulani I knew, I just felt like my head was going to pop and pretty much had to slow down and walk up Pulani. That was competitive race done really. I had two big walks, one coming out of the Energy Lab and in between I got back to running some good 4:20 to 4:25km pace but just blew out in the marathon big time. Did a PB but the performance wasn’t quite where I wanted it to be.
BRAD BROWN: More unfinished business? I’m going to ask you this question, but I think you might give me the same answer you give your kids, when are you going back?
CAMPBELL: I’m not sure, there’s a few things here that as I said, we’ve had a really busy last six months with work, so that needs to settle down. I’d love to go to Germany and do Challenge Roth at some point and I still haven’t done a sub nine hour Ironman and that’s always been a goal as a 40 year old to go sub nine and WA and should have been Kona last year and hasn’t happened yet. We’ll see what happens. I wouldn’t close the door on it, but just got to get through the next few months first.
BRAD BROWN: Absolutely, as far as what it takes to, not just qualify but to be competitive on the Big Island, what’s the secret, what’s the key?
CAMPBELL: Look, I was looking at this the other day and before we had this chat. I looked at my last 16 weeks, I went through training peaks and averaged up my numbers for the last 17 weeks going in and I think I averaged 17 hours a week training and that included a week taper into, sort of tapering into Sunny Coast and a small recovery period coming out. So 17 hours a week, 16 weeks, I think my training, my average Training Stress Score, my TSS on average was 790. Dan Plews talks about 1,000 TSS a week as being entry level to being an elite, a podium age grouper in Kona. I think some of my swim baselines are probably a bit low, so it’s probably a little bit higher than 790, I might sit around 850. [** 0.22.21] he obviously had an amazing performance out there. He swam a minute quicker than me, he rode five minutes quicker, but that run at 2:50, 5th fastest run on the day is just unbelievable. I think he averaged 1,070 Training Stress Scores per week.
To average that, I think it was 21 weeks or something he talked about, that’s another level. By the time you have any tapering weeks or recovery weeks, if you have an easy day in there, you’re looking at 140-170 Training Stress Units a day. That’s probably what it takes to go out there and win or really nail that top performance. I probably don’t have the time resources to quite tap into that, I’d have to change a few things. I think recovery is an area, is something, I always say as an age grouper, it’s probably pretty hard to over train because you don’t really have the time to do it, but it’s very easy to get under recovered. The challenges are getting enough sleep, I think with work and family, the kids have a bad night, that sort of thing, the lack of recovery probably affects your training. I’ve probably spent some large periods of last year where I’m under recovered and that’s going to affect the adaptation and the gains that you can make.
I think the flexibility you don’t have as an age grouper of being able to, okay, I need to sleep I’m going to sleep, then I’m going to swim at 8:00 in the morning instead of getting up at 4:30, you can change your week around to allow yourself to catch up and recover. I think those are the big things that you need to be able to do. You look at the guys who are winning out there and they’re racing as age groupers but realistically, it’s not always an even playing field. All credit to them, maybe they don’t have kids or they’ve got part time jobs or they’ve taken six months off work. It comes down to what you’re prepared to put in. I think to really nail it, there’s a few things I’d need to change. By the end of the day the satisfaction and the enjoyment comes from, for me comes from getting the most out of myself with the resources that I’ve got whilst still having a balanced, normal life outside of triathlon. It depends what you determine as success really, but it would be a good feeling to go out there and really nail it, that’s for sure.
BRAD BROWN: Looking at those numbers that you shared of Dan’s, looking at those numbers and knowing the amount of work it would take to hit those numbers, does that fire you up or does it frustrate you?
CAMPBELL: I look at it and I think what can I do better. It definitely motivates me. I’ve done six Ironman’s, three of them being Kona, the enjoyment for me is I love the process of training and I think to be a triathlete, an endurance athlete, especially a long course triathlete, you’ve got to enjoy the training. If you don’t enjoy the training, then you’re going to be in it for a short time. I enjoy the process, I enjoy the work, I enjoy the structure it brings to my life and I’m an organized structured person so I work well in that environment. I think looking at that, it definitely motivates me but it’s a big sacrifice, it’s a big commitment. I think the closer you get to the pointy end of the field, then the more work you’ve got to put in for the smaller margins that you need to make to really break through or crack the top of the podium or the podium or whatever you’re looking at. It definitely motivates. Dan has published some pretty interesting numbers and data and it’s awesome that he’s so open with it. I think my biggest week, when I did a training camp up in [Noosa?], a mini camp was a 1,150 training units and he’s probably getting close to that every week.
BRAD BROWN: It’s crazy. You talk about those small gains, I think a lot of those come by analyzing the individual disciplines and that’s what we’re going to chat about, but I think we’ll save that for next time, we’ll talk about your swim. Campbell, it’s been great catching up, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it and we look forward to talking about how you get some of those smaller gains on the various disciplines in the next few editions.