Setting the pace with Craig Kirkwood


Endurance sport has been a lifelong obsession for Craig Kirkwood; first as a successful distance runner and more recently as a triathlete. Fitness Journal’s Simone Ackermann recently caught up with Craig as he builds towards his latest challenges, the Tarawera Ultra Marathon and The Generator.

As a 14-year old teenager growing up in Timaru, Craig discovered his personality and talents were suited to distance running. Since then, that same passion has seen him enjoy a successful career as an athlete (and coach).

During his school years Craig was fascinated by the training methods of Arthur Lydiard, New Zealand’s most successful distance running coach. Using those training methods saw Craig develop into one of New Zealand’s top young middle-long distance runners and receive a scholarship to the University of Oklahoma.

UK’s High Performance coach, Alan Storey, became Craig’s coach in 1999 when he moved to London. Alan Storey, along with Kim McDonald, helped Craig prosper as an athlete. In 2001, Craig qualified for the 2002 Commonwealth Games, after finishing 13 in the Chicago Marathon in a time of 2:13.17.

Craig’s marathon training involved a demanding 200 to 220km a week, some of this consisting of work at 10km race pace.

Once back in New Zealand Craig’s success continued. In 2006 he won the World Mountain Running Championships and, in 2007, both the Rotorua and Christchurch Marathons.

He made a pact with his brother-in-law to do an Ironman if he failed to qualify for the Beijing Olympics. As a result, he went on to be the first placed age grouper at the 2009 New Zealand Ironman, qualifying for the Kona World Championships at the same time.

The change in focus also required a change in mindset. Where previously Craig was running 13 to 14 times a week, he now had to do a fraction of this (relatively speaking). Still running three to five times, he had to add swimming and biking into the mix.

Craig says he misses running every day. At the start of 2015 he challenged himself to run at least 30 minutes every day. At the time of the interview, he was 326 days deep into this challenge with 39 days to go.

Craig continues to be motivated by the challenge endurance events pose.

In February he takes on the Tarawera Ultra Marathon, a 100km off-road run between the Redwoods in Rotorua and Kawerau. With mostly single track trails through native bush or forestry tracks, only five percent of the race takes place on sealed roads.

A few weeks later he will compete in The Generator. It is a “real stunner” of a multisport event taking in the sights of South Waikato, finishing with a run around the Arapuni Powerhouse.

It will be the second year this event is held – last year’s took place in the bucketing rain.

Last year Craig was halfway down the field after the first leg, a 6km lake kayak. Through the remaining 54km of trail running, road cycling and mountain biking, he made his way through the field, finishing an impressive second.

For this year’s event, his goal remains modest:  “Not to fall out of the kayak.” It is the leg he is most unfamiliar with, having only done it a handful of times, including last year.

Craig has used his knowledge and experience as an athlete to become an equally successful coach. His training method is a hybrid of the techniques he learned from his previous coaches- bringing it back to basics.

“I love to see my athletes reach their goals.”

For someone who has been hooked on endurance sport since he was a youngster, he still maintains a perspective on sport.

To fellow endurance athletes he says, “Don’t take it too seriously…it is only sport.”

“Keep it in perspective and take it day-by-day.”

The Generator multi-sport event (April 9 2016) is around the Waikato River Trails and Waikato River.


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