Image courtesy @dr_hannah_wells

By Kent Gray/Tri NZ
A momentous fifth successive podium at the Mooloolaba half has Dr. Hannah Berry trending nicely as she eyes the defence of her IRONMAN New Zealand title in March.

The 31-year-old Triathlon Tauranga Club star finished second in Sunday’s IRONMAN 70.3 Sunshine Coast in a time of 4h 01mins 52s, just over 90s adrift of Dutchwoman Lotte Wilms (4:00:19) who successfully defended her title.

Fellow Kiwi Mike Phillips, a serial 70.3 podium placer, was sixth in the men’s race in 3:35:01, 5mins 55s behind Aussie Max Neumann who won in a slick 03:29:46. It was Phillips’ first race since January after an injury lay off. Fellow Cantabrian Laura Wood, meanwhile, was frustratingly forced to withdraw on the eve of the race, posting on social media that “I had planned to line up for Sunshine Coast 70.3 tomorrow but my immune system had other ideas in the build-up.”

Berry (nee Wells) has raced every Sunshine Coast half since her pro debut at the race in 2017 and has podiumed each time, including claiming victory in 2019. Her finish Sunday means Berry now owns a second Sunshine silver to go with a pair of bronze medals in an encouraging return to form after a challenging start to 2022.

“I got a bit of an injury, I got COVID like everyone else and then I got married [in March] so the start of the year wasn’t super-fast,” Berry told Tri NZ.

“I’ve just been trying to work my way back to fitness so overall today was pretty good.

“I spent a bit of time in the U.S. earlier this year and every race I’m just trying to improve a little. I’m definitely not at peak fitness yet but I’m definitely heading that way.”

Berry finished fourth at IRONMAN 70.3 Oregon in Salem in July after a training block in nearby Bend and snared silver at IRONMAN 70.3 Boulder in Colorado last month after a four-week stint of altitude training in the Rocky Mountains. In between times there was a 21st placing at PTO Edmonton – a significant step up in field depth and distance – to 100km.

Her next full will be the defence of her IRONMAN NZ title in Taupo in March after Berry, then running with the name Wells on her bib but with hubby-in-waiting Nick Berry as her No.1 support crew, won the 2021 race in an impressive 9:01:49. That was a whisker under 14 minutes clear of runner-up Rebecca Clarke in what was a thoroughly impressive debut in the distance.

“This year I’m focusing on the half distance as I try to get back to fitness. I’ve got Melbourne 70.3 in November and Taupo 70.3 in December but the goal is IRONMAN New Zealand. I want to do my next full in March in Taupo [after the 2022 edition was cancelled due to the pandemic],” said Berry who is a post-doctoral research fellow in the field of biotech engineering at Massey University.

Berry described her 1.9km swim split of 26:18 on Sunday as “reasonable” but gave Wilms a two-minute head start on the bike. Thereafter, she all but matched the Dutchwoman on the 90km cycle (2:09:22 to Wilms’ 2:09:08) before closing the gap further with a 21.1km run split of 1:23:21, 31 seconds faster than the eventual victor.

“I made up a minute on the first lap of the bike but then we got swamped by the age-group men coming through which disrupted things a little,” Berry explained.

“The run was definitely a step up again on the races earlier this year but I’m happy with that. Overall it was pretty good.”

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