At the beginning of 2019, after a decade of Xterra racing, Olly Shaw made the call to switch to on-road and half Ironman racing. He spoke to sports reporter David Beck about how the year panned out.
While Rotorua's Olly Shaw has plenty of experience in off-road triathlon, a change in focus to on-road, half Ironman racing in 2019 presented an exciting new challenge.
• Ironman marks end of heroic battle
• Oceania triathletes given Fast Track to 2020 Ironman World Champs in Taupō
• Hundreds tackle Ironman challenge
• Andy's got his weight beaten - he's an ironman
Shaw said every race he entered during the year was another opportunity to learn, not just about the physical aspect of completing a 2km swim, 90km bike and 21.1km run, but also the mental challenges and strategies which play a major role in the outcome.
That willingness to learn was evident in his results as he made the top 10 in all three Ironman 70.3 events he entered in 2019. He was ninth in Shanghai in a time of 3h 56m 41s, seventh in Taupō (4h 2m 47s) and 10th in Sunshine Coast (4h 3m 45s).
"It's definitely been a year of learning how to race at that distance," Shaw said.
"I put a lot of effort into trying to improve my level to get close to where I need to be and I definitely made some big strides and definitely learned a lot from those three races."
He put that learning to use at the weekend when he finished third at the Tauranga Half, his first podium at half Ironman distance and a real milestone for the 28-year-old athlete.
"It was awesome to kind of feel like the work I had put in was starting to pay off and show itself. It's been something I've been working towards for a long time and to do it at the Tauranga Half was pretty cool, being so close to home.
"I had a really good block of training between Taupō 70.3 at the start of December and this one. My lead-in was really, really good, I went in with a really good plan and executed it well with the lessons I learned from racing last year."
Tauranga Half: Course record obliterated
Bay's rising stars headline Taupō 70.3
Shaw said the biggest challenges he faced in 2019 was working out his pacing during races and how to "execute the right race on the day".
"It's a bit more tactical than Xterra racing so just learning how to race over that distance with nutrition and pacing was the biggest thing. Also just the sort of training I needed to do to get me in the right shape.
"I'm really enjoying it all, I miss parts of Xterra racing but I've definitely found a new challenge which was what I needed."
This year, Shaw has more big plans. In eight weeks he will tackle his first full Ironman race, at Ironman New Zealand in Taupō. He will do so under the guidance of a new coach.
"That's my next focus and I'm really excited to step it up to the long distance and just get some experience in racing that for the first time. It's definitely a bit of a scary challenge with how long it is but I'm really excited about it.
"Essentially it will come down to more miles - I'll have to reduce the intensity a little bit and increase the volume of training - but the whole point of doing it this year is just to go through the whole experience and see what works and what doesn't for future years.
"I'll line up and look to race as well as I can but I have to be realistic about it as well. It's definitely something I've always been interested in."
His new coach David Bowden, of Speed Theory in Cambridge, has a proven track record - one of his athletes Teresa Adam took wins at Ironman Western Australia and Ironman Cairns last year, setting new course records at both. She was also second at Ironman New Zealand.
"David has a lot of experience coaching top Ironman athletes. It's great to be working with someone with that experience, David's always been someone I really wanted to work with and the circumstances and timing were right to make the change," Shaw said.