Photos: Hamish Collie
Kent Gray/Triathlon.kiwi in Mount Maunganui
For a concerning second or so, just after he’d finally hauled in long time Calley Homes Tauranga Half pacesetter Mike Phillips with a kilometre of the half marathon to run, demons danced in Jack Moody’s head.
As he accelerated past Phillips just off the Mount base track only to be surprised by the Cantabrian’s ability to answer with a late downhill surge of his own, the 30-year-old Aucklander wondered if this was a race he simply wasn’t destined to win.
Had Phillips been foxing, backing off just a little around the base track to save something for a late kick? It wasn’t like there weren’t already seeds of doubt for Moody in the form of five successive podiums without victory in Tauranga since 2019, not to mention Phillips’ pedigree as the reigning Ironman NZ champion, the victor here in 2019 and a silver medalist 12 months ago. Both of those results were achieved, if you hadn’t already guessed, just ahead of Moody.
As it transpired, Phillips was running on empty and soon relented, allowing Moody to kick on to the tape and finally bury his Tauranga Half hoodoo after runner-up finishes in 2019, 2020 and 2022 and bronze medals in 2021 and 2023.
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A swift 1:11:03 split for the 21.1km run ultimately saw PTO world No.74 Moody overcome a 3min 36s deficit to 29th-ranked Phillips out of T2.
“Yeah, I can’t bloody believe it actually,” Moody told Triathlon.kiwi after stopping the 35th Tauranga Half clock in 3:33:33, 10 seconds clear of Phillips.
That was an eye-opening 4min 47sec quicker than Braden Currie’s 2022 record and more than 8½ minutes faster than his bronze medal effort, also last year. A shortened bike course means Moody’s time won’t count as a record but his half marathon alone was more than three minutes quicker than 12 months ago, a nod to continual improvement.
“2018 was my first attempt here, maybe I was 5th, and I think I’ve been on the podium every year since then but never the top step, and to finally crack it today, it’s kind of a dream come true.”
A dream after those fleeting thoughts of a potential repeat nightmare, that was.
“Even running around that base track when I had [was] maybe 30 seconds down on Mike and I was just not making any in roads, and I was like man, is this the race I’m just destined to be the bridesmaid in forever, no matter what I do?
“… we hit the road again and I was like, I ‘ll just give it a little surge down the downhill, see how much Mike’s got left and he came with me and I thought gosh, this is going to be a proper foot race now, he’s left a little bit in reserve to see what he can do for the win.
“I was just so relieved to come up on the hip just coming off the base track and give it a few big ones to finally get that win.”
Phillips put in a trademark ride to set up a chance of repeating his 2019 triumph, his 1:52:47 for the 90km impressively more than three minutes swifter than next best Moody.
A 1:14:39 effort was the second fastest half marathon split but Phillips could only doff his cap to the noted Auckland whippet.
“I guess I tried to push it on the bike to get a bit of a lead but sort of the wheels fell off towards the end so I didn’t quite have as much as I was hoping for,” Phillips said.
“Ran fairly consistently, Jack sort of ate away at it pretty quicky but I still had a bit of a gap heading into the Mount on the last lap there and we sort of came side by side with a K to go. But Jack was still running like, it would have been under 3-minute K’s for that last K.
“I tried to kick at end but just had nothing left. [Still] pretty happy with the progress after Taupo [70.3 last month], first training block, definitely getting better.”
Phillips will get his shot at revenge over Moody at next month’s Challenge Wanaka half as he builds towards the big early season goal, the defence of his Ironman NZ title in early March. Ultimately, as it is for most other Kiwi long distance exponents, all roads lead to the crown jewel of 2024, December’s Ironman 70.3 World Championships back in Taupo.
“It’s always good to come here and see how your three disciplines are going, know what to work on for the next ones coming up. It sort of means you’re not going into the next ones blind,” Phillips said.
Moody is likewise looking forward to his Challenge Wanaka defence and the Taupo 70.3 worlds.
“It’s going to be a real busy year for me this year. I’m in the fortunate position to be able to take this a bit more fulltime now and not working 30+ hours a week anymore which is amazing, so huge shout out to my sponsors for that, Moody said.
“It means I’m going to go back to Europe to do a few more races through there, might even see me on a full distance start line this year. I’ll do Xterra, I’ll do some half marathons, I’ll keep it interesting.
“I’ll stick to who I am and why I enjoy the sport which means doing a bit of everything. But the main focus will be ensuring I’m in the best possible position to be as high up or on the podium at 70.3 Worlds at the end of the year.”
If Moody can hang on in the swim and off the bike, his run prowess will no doubt give bigger names pause for thought in Taupo.
Saturday was a good sign of things to come in that respect, a shiny new swim skin helping him out of Pilot Bay not long after Javier Gomez Noya (later DSQ’d for receiving “outside assistance” when his coach allegedly supplied mechanical assistance during the bike leg) and unheralded Argentine Valentino Angelli had set the pace.
Angerlli went on to finished 6th behind Ben Hamilton, Scott Harpham and Ultraman World Champion Simon Cockrane. The first male in the new ‘open’ category run concurrently with the pro race was Logan Rodger who was 9th in 3:52:59. “Came out of the water exactly where I needed to be,” Moody said.
“A lot of work has gone into the bike, and still work to be done for worlds at the end of the year so that I’m at the pointy end of the race. But happy with the progress.”