While elite triathletes around the world deal with lockdown life due to the COVID-19 pandemic, professionals in New Zealand carry on in relative normality.
The country closed its borders early, locked down hard and almost eradicated the virus. This has allowed professional triathletes to train without restriction, and events like the recent PTO-supported Rotorua Suffer half-distance to go ahead as planned.
Hannah Wells, currently #29 in the PTO World Rankings, is one athlete who has been able to race when many others cannot. She joined us on Instagram to discuss life in New Zealand, her introduction to triathlon, studying for a PhD and her hopes for 2021 – including the dream of a Collins Cup appearance.
Life is normal
The 30-year-old, sitting in the comfort of her training camp accommodation in Taupō, was keen to emphasise how fortunate she and her fellow New Zealand triathletes are right now.
“We are really lucky in New Zealand at the moment, we’ve got a season.
“That’s really cool for us, but we feel for all the other athletes around the world who are struggling and can’t even get out to train – there’s a lot of people who have that to deal with at the moment.
“Here in New Zealand, it is life as normal, but at the same time in the back of our minds we know that there is a lot of people out there in a lot harder situation.
“We just have to stay strong and stay positive and I am sure we’ll all be mixing and mingling and racing soon.”
With Hannah hoping to contest her first full-distance race in March, the opportunity to train unrestricted has been crucial in ensuring she has the optimal preparation.
“I’m lucky, we have got a good few events here in New Zealand, so I am learning a lot with every race and it feels like I am still progressing even though I can’t travel around the world like I would like to.”
Not only is Hannah a world-class triathlete, she is also the owner of a PhD in Engineering and explained that balancing her studies with her triathlon training was not a burden. In fact, she found it a real positive as training gave her a welcome break and the opportunity to refresh her mind.
“I actually found that a good way to balance that quite disbound life I was living at that time, so I think it was definitely beneficial for my PhD. Although at times I had to compromise training a bit but that’s just life, you’ve got work and family to balance to, so you must compromise at times and that’s okay.
“At that point I wasn’t super-serious, I was still very much learning and building, so my training hours weren’t like they are now.
“I think it takes a few years to build up to the 20-hour training mark or even higher if you train more, so I think that helped doing a PhD because you do spend a lot of time in front of a computer, sitting down.
“I would spend the morning out training, then I would recover by sitting at my desk doing my PhD and then at the end of the day go out for another training session.”
One of the best tri rivalries in recent months has been that between Wells and fellow New Zealander Teresa Adam, currently #3 in the PTO World Rankings.
Hannah outpaced Teresa during the PTO-supported Rotorua Suffer half-distance race in December 2020, beating her compatriot by more than a minute.
Teresa though got her revenge at the Tauranga Half in January, denying Hannah a third consecutive title and setting a course record in the process.
“Obviously, we are big rivals when the gun goes off and I think that is only healthy,” said Hannah.
“Every time I line up against her, I am going to try and beat her and she’s going to be trying to beat me.”
“I think if you take a step back from over-competitive thoughts, we are actually very lucky to have each other to race against to help us get better over the season.
“While I always desperately want to beat her, it’s also very nice that I have her there to race against.
“The next couple of races I will be trying to come back as she bested me at Tauranga – training hard now to get one over her next time.”
The pair could face off again in the coming weeks, with Hannah currently preparing for CHALLENGEWANAKA (February 20), followed by that full-distance debut at IRONMAN New Zealand (March 6).
“I’ve had a good little build-up this season. I am about to take the full distance on for the first time in March, so still got new things for me to do as we have got three main half-distance races and then the full distance, so it is a good build-up.
“The build-up to the full distance is going pretty well so far, at this stage the distance still seems pretty daunting to me having never done it before. But I think that’s probably how I should feel before a first full-distance race.”
Collins Cup Dream
Also very much on Hannah’s wish list for 2021 is the inaugural Collins Cup, which will now take place in Šamorín in August.
The ‘Ryder Cup of Triathlon’ pits Team USA, Team Europe and Team Internationals against each other in a spectacular festival. Hannah for one is desperate to make the cut.
“It’s definitely a big goal of mine to try and get to the Collins Cup. At this stage my ranking is out of the automatic picks, but I’ll be working hard to get my ranking up and be there, because it will be something we haven’t seen in the sport. It is going to be an epic festival of triathlon.
“All professionals will be trying to get there, and it is going to be one hell of a race when we get there, and I think it is a good call to move it to August to give people more opportunities to race and hopefully I can get there.”