Shin splints are trying to break triathlete Brendon Vesty's stride but not enough to deny him another duathlon age-group crown in Wanaka last weekend.
Vesty clocked 4h 3m 13s in a field of 12 to win his 45-49 age category of the Suzuki Aqua Bike National Championship, which is part of the Challenge Wanaka triathlon competition, on Saturday.
"It is perhaps one of the more challenging courses in New Zealand with about 1100 metres of climbing," says the 46-year-old co-director of Stortford Auto Sales in Hastings, who found traction with the dense-chipped roads.
"A harder course is probably better because I can take quite a bit out of the other athletes."
The motivation was to prepare for the aqua bike world championship in Pontevedra, Spain, — the home of world-class athlete Francisco Javier Gómez Noya — on May 3 this year and pocketing a $2500 travel voucher, which was available to all age-group winners, to help meet the world champs cost of $5000.
Paul Sell, of Queenstown, was second in 4:10.19 and Michael Crowe, another Kiwi, was third (4:21.:16) in Vesty's age category.
"It was beautiful down there although the swim was a little bit cold so the water was about 17 degrees, although that's not too bad," he said, revealing wet suits provided adequate warmth for the 8am start.
Lake Wanaka was almost devoid of chop so that helped in a smart transition to the bike after he scrambled out 10th in the entire male and female field of 91.
"The front guy had a five-minute lead on me but I managed to pick him up at the 80km mark," he said of Adam Wilson, of Queenstown, who was the 35-39 male division winner, clocking 04:06.53 for a third overall position behind Vesty.
"When I caught him he kind of got behind my wheel," he said of Wilson who competed at Kona Ironman in Hawaii two years ago.
"It's legal to ride 10 metres behind but he was getting a little close at times to drafting so I had a quick word with him so, luckily, just up the road we came quite close so I pushed quite hard and managed to lose him in the head wind."
The two-lap, 3km swim course was staged in a sheltered part of Roy's Bay in an anti-clockwise direction, incorporating three turn buoys, in what is touted as the warmest lake in the Southern Lakes and whose "crystal-clear" water can be drunk.
The 120km bike circuit was over one lap, taking in two of the alpine lakes with an out-and-back leg to make up the distance.
It headed out of town, skirting the Lake Wanaka edge towards Mt Aspiring National Park before reaching the Hospital Flat turnaround point at the 18km mark and heading back to the township.
The duathlon was conducted within the drafting rules of Triathlon New Zealand.
Vesty is grappling with shin splints on his right leg so he has consulted medical director Dr Ruth Highet at Wellington Sports Medicine for a treatment programme this week.
Highet was the first New Zealand woman to become a sports and exercise medicine specialist and one of the first three Kiwis to obtain their specialist qualification in sports medicine in 1993.
"I used to work with her when I was in the New Zealand team in cycling so I saw her down in Wanaka where she's living now," said the bloke who was a professional rider in his heyday.
Vesty has been having issues with his leg ever since he completed the Kona Ironman in October last year when he finished 108th in a field of 291 in the 45-49 age category and 800th overall in the entire field of 2384, in an event he considers to be the Tour de France of triathlons.
He had, days before, overcome a bowel infection and shrugged off the effects of a bug on the flight to Hawaii.
Consequently the Wanaka event was a timely fillip for Vesty who will be competing at the Kelloggs Nutri-Grain Taupo Ironman in a fortnight.
Having boosted his swimming, he has had to resort to painkillers in running.
"It's not the best but the plan was to do the ironman and then take two months off to let the stress fracture heal and, in the meantime, I can take another event before the worlds so I thought it's a good opportunity to get back into running after that."
He hasn't ruled out another shot at the Kona Ironman if he can qualify.
Jina Crawford, of Christchurch, mentors Vesty.
Crawford was intending to compete at the Taupo half ironman but would now do the full version after missing the registration deadline of the former, said Vesty with a grin of the coach who has competed in 37 long-distance races and is a former professional who is a former female Kona Ironman champion.
Vesty intends to work on his swimming with coach Reece Kennedy, of Napier, at Onekawa pools after Taupo to boost his time for the 3km swim and 113km hilly bike leg at the world champs.
"I'd love to be a world champion at something so that'd be pretty cool. You know, I can do it on a good day if I can pick up my swimming to get as close as I can to the leaders in my age group."
He is delighted to have picked up sponsorship from swim apparel company Zoggs for its faith in him.
Mark Phillips, of Christchurch, won the overall Wanaka aqua bike championship in 3h 51m 48s but was "unranked" because of his status as a professional triathlete.
The 27-year-old, who is under the tutelage of John Hellemans, gave up his structural engineering job last year to purse a professional career in Europe over the New Zealand winter.
He has completed 18 professional full-event races and been on the podium 15 times.