Photo: Andrea Airey

By Kent Gray/ in Oxford
After Jared Millar had won OxMan for the second straight year in 2021, his planned debut at Ironman NZ four months later couldn’t come soon enough.

The thing was, of course, COVID 19, and the vastly disparate restrictions in the North and South Islands. Only through the risk mitigation innovation of Race Dirtector John Newsom was OxMan able to survive the pandemic relatively uninterrupted but Ironman in Taupo, with its much larger entry, public attention and closer proximity to the COVID hotspot that was Auckland, wasn’t so lucky.

Ironman’s almost inevitable postponement proved a motivation killer for Millar who had put so much work into prepping for his maiden 226km test but was left instead with nothing much to aim for. Fast-forward more than a year away from the sport, and the desire has well and truly returned.

Better still, the Timaru chippie will line up at the ANZCO Foods Ironman NZ on March 2 buoyed by a third OxMan title in four years.

Making the most of a rare off day for defending champion and pre-race favourite Tom Somerville, Millar won the North Canterbury half in 4:20:19 from Morgan Lumsden (4:27:24) and Michael Pearce (4:30:13).

Millar’s time was the slowest of his winning efforts – 4:14:50 in 2020 and 4:16:06 in 2021 – and significantly off Somerville’s outstanding 4:06:36 in the freezing cold and wet conditions last year. Put that down to the unexpected heat on the run which became easier when Somerville, aching from a sore back and a blister (more on that soon) pulled the pin about 5km into the run.

Comfortably clear of Lumsden on the gravel circuit loops, Millar used all his racer’s instinct to manage the run and win by seven minutes.

“The heat’s come out today. In previous years it’s known to be raining so a bit different this year which is good, but yeah, a bit pretty tough on the run,” Millar said of his 1:25:52 split for the 21.1km.

“Standard sort of a swim for me, decent bike, probably the best bike I’ve had here which is good, good to see some improvement there. It was sort of a battle with Tom Somerville and just managed to get him early on the run but yeah, battled home a wee bit.”

Somerville, just a week after finishing runnerup at the standard distance Tinman in Tauranga behind NZL elite James Corbett, had been second out of the water behind Josef Scott. He then lead off the bike but the close proximity of Millar told a story.

“My aerobars were slipping so I had to stop and fix them a couple of times and it wasnt coming right so I rode the whole second lap on the base bar, had to ride pretty hard to keep up with Jared and riding hard in a position I wasn’t used to…,” Somerville said.

A slick T2 saw Somerville open a significant gap on Millar but the bike problems soon caught up on the Canterbury pro.

“Off the bike, yeah, pretty sore. My back was hurting pretty bad and I got a nasty blister from racing last weekend [at Tinman] so didn’t want to make that worse, so yeah, tough decision.

“I could have got to the finish but it just wasn’t worth it. Yep, one of those days.”

Still, take nothing away from Millar’s doggedness to get the job done. It’s a confidence boost as he builds up his training ahead of the long overdue Ironman bow.

“Ironman is the main goal. I’ve got one more race before then, just another one in Canterbury here, but Ironman is the main goal at the start of March,” Millar said before being asked his goal for Taupo.

“It’s a bit unknown, I’ve never done one, so I’d like to get close to 3 hours on the run, that’s the main target, and get close to 9 hours overall. Other than that, that’s about it.”

No matter the circumstances around his victory, history will show Millar has wne three of the first five OxMan halfs. And counting…

“It’s cool, it’s close to home for me, I’m from Timaru, so I can just cruise up here the day before and, you know, it’s just country roads, pretty laid back atmosphere so it’s really good.”

2023 OxMan – Men
1. Jared Millar – 4:20:19
2. Morgan Lumsden – 4:27:24
3: Michael Pearce – 4:30:13

Full OxMan results here

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