Images courtesy Oliver

By Kent Gray/
For once, Wellington’s notorious wind proved a godsend on Monday as freshly-minted OxMan champion Anthea Oliver continued to dry – and thaw – out after conquering race day conditions so brutal they’ve earned an instant entry in Kiwi triathlon lore.

Relentless rain and biting cold, as low as eight degrees Celsius but icier still given the wind chill factor, made the Canterbury half an exercise in willpower as much as endurance racing on Sunday.

Most survived the 1900m lake swim but DNFs were commonplace during the bone-chilling, 92km back-country ride out through Oxford and back.

Oliver somehow soldiered on to complete the 21km mixed road and shingle trail run and claim the dual OxMan/Suzuki NZ Series South Island Mid-Distance Championship title in 5:09:56, topping a podium including Emma Smith (5:13:56) and Holly Weston (5:22:41).

“It was so, so, so bad,” Oliver said with a reflective giggle, thankful to be back home in sunny, breezy Porirua.

“I’m usually really smiley and happy during races but I was looking at some of the race photos and it looks like I’ve got some sort of ghost in me.”

They weren’t the toughest conditions the eight-time Ironman and former Tri NZ Age-Group representative has experienced. That was in 2017 when she won the “insane” Evergreen Endurance Triathlon in Chamonix, France where frigid temperatures greeted riders atop the Mt. Blanc passes and the run was shortened due to the original circuit being covered in yet more snow.

Oliver had “flashbacks” to Chamonix during Sunday’s Oxman which she was racing just behind hubby David (4:49:23) who finished 9th in the men’s race won by Christchurch aeronautical engineer Tom Somerville in 4:06:36.

“It was the worst conditions I’ve ever had in New Zealand,” said the 40-year-old, warm and dry and back to her bubbly self.

“The start of the swim was probably like the warmest part of the day but you got out of the water and everything in transition was wet, you’re putting on wet clothes and then heading out on the bike and it was just raining, there was just really dismal patches when the rain is in your face, and there were puddles…it was just really cold and yuk.”

In T2, Oliver was so cold she struggled to unclip her helmet.

“My hands were frozen, my feet were frozen, I couldn’t even feel them for the first couple of k’s. You’re running along thinking I hope I don’t twist an ankle because I probably wouldn’t even notice. It was just absolutely horrible.”

Spare a thought too for David who finished roughly 20 minutes ahead of his champion wife and then had to hurry up and wait.

“By the time I got to the finish line, his lips were blue and he was shivering because I had the car key in my transition bag. It was just one of those days when you’re happy to finish.”

David and Anthea Oliver…on a much warmer day!

Oliver (nee Morrison) admits she seems to attract miserable conditions wherever she races. She represented NZL at the ITU Long Course Age-Group World Championship in France in 2013 when the swim was cancelled due the snow-infused cold.

Among her eight full distance races since, her start at the last pre-COVID Ironman World Championships in Kona (2019) perhaps highlighted why she secretly loves cooler clime racing.

“It took me a while to get over the fact my race wasn’t what I thought it could be, yeah Kona is an experience and it’s just one of those ones that I finished and it was great.  I think I just got a bit too hot. I think maybe I race better in the freezing cold.

“I mean I’m used to training in Wellington right, if it’s not windy, it’s cold and rainy so that’s always going to put me above everyone else if you get those conditions that I’m kind of use to.”

Anthea and David might do Ironman New Zealand and Anthea is considering lining up in the Tauranga Half at the Fulton Hogan Mt Festival of Multisport on January 21. Racing nowadays is all about using triathlon as a good excuse to explore the country and the world.

It’s why the Tri Wellington power couple chose OxMan as their first post-pandemic triathlon.

“We just wanted to do something a bit fun, something a bit different,” Anthea said.

“Neither of us had done any triathlons since Rotorua.Suffer in 2020, you know the whole Covid shutdown. So we kind of wanted to do something a little low key, a little different, didn’t want to ride to Reporoa [the Ironman NZ bike course turnaround] and back like everyone else seems to love doing. We just wanted to support a local race and ride something different. It’s always fun to use triathlon to kind of explore New Zealand.”

Explore they did. The depths of their triathlon resolve mostly.

Of course, triathletes have an uncanny knack of blocking out the bad and painful and accentuating the positives. So it proved for Oliver who had he washing machine humming when called and was grateful for a Wellington blow to help dry out the “5kg of Canterbury rain we brought home with us”.

“I feel like now, now that I’m all dry and warm it [OxMan] would be a lovely course to do on a nice day,” she said.

“I love these races and I that’s what [Race Director] John Newsom said at the start of yesterday’s race. He’s like, at least you’re always going to remember this race because if it was a sunny race and you had a great day, you’ll remember it for a while.

“But when there are races where it’s like, your teeth are chattering and you can’t feel your fingers, you do remember it for a little longer, you’ve got some good war stories to tell.”

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