The art of triathlon


Simone Ackermann has represented New Zealand on the world triathlon stage on many occasions. However she has also endured the challenges of dealing with injury and defeat. She shares her story with Fitness Journal.

My name is Simone Ackermann; I am 25 years old, South African-born, peanut butter addict, and, most significantly for this article, a triathlete. I thought it best to get the basics done-and-dusted before settling into the more detailed account of my triathlon story.

I began triathlons in 2007. My athletics coach, Ian Babe, at the time encouraged me to get involved as he was also coaching one of New Zealand’s top triathletes, Samantha Warriner. As well as athletics, I had been competing in swimming and surf lifesaving, and triathlon seemed like a natural progression.

In Whangarei, where I grew up, there were very few people involved in sports like triathlon or cycling (in fact, they were generally the same handful of people). Most were involved in the usual mainstream sports, such as rugby or netball. Although this did not deter me, it did make it tougher, because, in hindsight, there were fewer opportunities. Regardless, over the first year I achieved enough success to keep me motivated to continue once I began university.

When I moved to Auckland to study a Bachelor of Science at Massey University, I began attending the North Habour Triathlon Club training sessions. This was a very different experience from those in Whangarei. Instead of being greeted by two or three others for 6am swim training, I would arrive at the Birkenhead pool to join 30 fellow triathletes. On a weekend, this could swell to 60 for the Saturday morning “brick” session.  I eventually went on to be coached by the club’s head coach, Stephen Farrell, for several years.

As with many athletes, I too have had my ups and downs. As an elite Under 23 triathlete, I was fortunate enough to twice win the Oceania Under 23 title and represent New Zealand at the 2011, 2012 and 2013 World Championships. However, in preparation for all three World Championships I would develop stress fractures.

As a result of my injuries occurring while building towards the World Championships, I would have to halt my run training for six to eight weeks each time. I would aqua jog as a substitute. Each year I would grow to despise aqua jogging more and more because of its tedium. However, with that being said, it worked, as I always made it to the start line.

Since 2012 I have been a member of the Triathlon New Zealand High Performance squad. At the end of 2013, there was a change in direction for the squad. A centralised programme was set up, and along with my fellow squad members, I moved to the Cambridge base. My coaching is now under the direction of one of the squad coaches, Jonathon Brown.

There is a big time commitment associated with being a competitive triathlete. Since being in Cambridge, I have been training between 26 to 30 hours per week. This roughly involves nine hours of swimming, 12 hours of biking, four and a half hours of running, and three hours of strength work each week.

To be competitive in elite triathlon, you need to race on the International Triathlon Union “circuit”. This involves racing across different levels of races- World Series (which is the top level), World Cup and Continental Cup races- to achieve results and accumulate points towards your world ranking. These races are held all over the world, and as a result, triathlon has taken me afar.

Over the New Zealand winter, the High Performance squad travels to Europe to train and compete. While we are there, we base ourselves in Banyoles, Spain. It is a Catalan town that it situated next to Lake of Banyoles and is surrounded by endless, smooth roads, which are perfect for us.

Another of our bases is Snow Farm in Wanaka. Hidden up the top of the Pisa Range, it is a unique place to train in New Zealand. We will go there for two to three weeks over summer for an altitude camp. The aim here is to increase our red blood cell volume, which basically makes us fitter.

This season counts towards Olympic qualification. To achieve selection, I will need to demonstrate my ability to finish in the top 8 of World Series races.

After a slow start this year, I have recently placed second in the Oceania Championships. Although this result is a step in the right direction, I will need to continue to improve to reach my goal of representing New Zealand at the Olympic Games.

Photos by Hannah Bayard


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