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© | Janos Schmidt
Paul Amey interview
Posted by: John Levison
Posted on: Wednesday 22nd February 2012

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Paul Amey has been in the sport for over 20 years. A multiple ITU Duathlon World Champion with a silver at the ITU Triathlon World Championship (to the legend Simon Lessing), he's pretty much seen it all since the early nineties.

In November 2011, after finally getting to grips with persistent cramping issues which have impacted many of his previous Ironman races, Paul set a new British Ironman record at Ironman Arizona, finishing a close second to Eneko Llanos when breaking the tape in a time of 8:01:29. Paul thus jumped to the head of our newly published Fastest British Iron Men feature, and now has his sights set on joining the sub eight hour club. And he is hoping to get there before Tom Lowe does!

There have been plenty of ups and downs in his career, not least breaking his pelvis three weeks before the 2004 Athens Olympics which ended a life-long dream.

I spent some time chatting to Paul about his career, Ironman Arizona, Olympics and more including the real reason which he is racing, and with a passion, for Great Britain.

JL: Firstly, congratulations on Arizona - a fantastic result which must have pleased you no end?

PA: "Thanks for the's one of those funny things Ironman, it's a difficult sport and you don't get many opportunities if something goes wrong, or to try something different. Certainly compared to Olympic distance or even 70.3 where if you have a bad race you can rock up the following weekend at another one. Even though I have certainly been fitter for other Ironman's I've done, I've always had a lot of problems in those. A lot of people have said to me "are you disappointed with second" (having finished so close to Eneko Llanos, running almost neck-and-neck in the closing stages), but really I was just happy that I didn't have any of the problems I've had in the past.

"I didn't have a massive build up to the race, so for Kona this year - and I'm going to do Ironman Texas in May - with the extra training I should be able to do even better than I did in Arizona."

JL: What were your expectations beforehand - did you think you could perform at that level, or did the result surprise you?

"In previous Ironman races I knew I could perform well, but the problem has always been cramping; around about three hours or so into the bike I always started to get cramping problems. In 2008 when I was in Hawaii I was in the lead group coming up to Hawi and just before the turnaround I started cramping, and that was pretty much it. For Ironman France last year I was really fit - and I actually thought I would win the race - but then the same thing; massive cramping problems. With the points system for Hawaii now, that meant I needed to run hard with the cramping to get the points which ultimately ended up doing quite a lot of damage to my quads. While I qualified for Kona and Vegas 70.3, I just couldn't train properly for three months - which is why I pulled the pin on Kona and decided to train for Arizona.

"In terms of training I actually sent a text message to my manager (before the race), as he was talking about what sort of times I would do and I said to him 'swim a 48, bike 4:22 and run a 2:42'. So, the run was off by about three minutes but otherwise, spot on. I was just happy not to have the cramping problems. I think the lack of training leading into the race was why I suffered a little bit at the end... I only really had nine weeks of solid training leading in to Arizona, which is not really that much for trying to do well in an Ironman."

© | Delly CarrJL: Looking back, you've been in the sport for a long time. I can remember when Spencer Smith won the Junior World Champs in Huntsville, Canada, and one of the amazing things about that race is the athletes who raced: Spencer, Cameron Brown, Olivier Marceau, Bryan Rhodes, Normann Stadler, Stefan Vuckovic, Hunter Kemper, Jonas Colting and more... a lot of talent in that junior race 20 years ago, many of which are still racing.

PA: "I was racing there with Cameron Brown, Bryan Rhodes and the Kiwi guys and we actually won the teams section of that event. You're right, there are so many people who are either still racing or in the sport in other ways. I think our generation - guys that are my age now like Macca (Chris McCormack) and Crowie (Craig Alexander) for example - in a way we are like pioneers having gone through the whole system from non-drafting ITU races, to ITU drafting to 70.3 and Ironman. We were kind of pioneers for the sport as whole, in terms of speed, being the first guys to run close to 30mins flat off the bike in ITU races and now being the generation at or near sub-8 for Ironman. It's been a good time to be involved in the sport and I've made some pretty good friendships along the way too."

JL: It sounds like you've still got the hunger and passion - I've always thought that while as a professional you need to earn a living, there isn't that much money around and it's almost too hard to do it if you are just doing it for cash - perhaps explaining why you do see these guys 20 years later still involved?

PA: "Exactly what you said, I love doing triathlon! I love training, I love riding my bike and running. Swimming... I'm not so much of a fan of (!), but I've still got to do that. I never really enjoyed the ITU races so much (in terms of the 'circuit'). If you look at my ITU record I only really wanted to do the big races and ultimately, the Olympics. A lot of the ITU races were something of a means to an end. After breaking my pelvis in 2004, I enjoyed doing some of the half-ironman/70.3 events, but there wasn't much of a series then - and at the time I didn't want to be an Ironman - and so I was actually thinking of calling it quits. But, I gave the 70.3s a go... and that really rejuvenated my enthusiasm for the sport even more so. I love going out riding for six/seven hours and obviously that's pretty beneficial for Ironman racing. But, enjoying it makes it so much easier and is why I'm still going 20+ years later. There are plenty of good guys I know who physically could be doing well now, but they either did it for the money or maybe didn't really enjoy the training and racing, so finished a lot earlier than they could have done."

JL: You mentioned the broken pelvis - and that meant you didn't get to go to the Olympics in 2004. What was that like at the time, physically and mentally?

PA: "It was completely devastating. The Olympics were the main thing that I wanted to do or achieve in sport. I grew up as a runner, and I did triathlon as a kid. I went to the Commonwealth Games in 1990 and the Worlds in 1991/92, but after that I packed it in because I wanted to go to the Olympics...and triathlon wasn't an Olympic sport then. I loved the sport, but there was no real long-term goal. There was the World Champs, but I wanted to go to the Olympics which is really the next step up. I got back into running and in 1996 I got a couple of scholarship offers to American Universities and I was going to take them up, but some friends were doing the New Zealand Triathlon Champs and so I thought I'd give it a go, having not swam or biked for close on five years. I did a few weeks training, and because I was running so quick, ended up winning it. It was around then they said it was in the Olympics and basically eight weeks later I was on the new ITU circuit.

"It's been a dream ever since I was a kid to make the Olympics and then three weeks before Athens (2004, where Paul qualified for the Great Britain team), a week before we were going into camp, I broke my pelvis. You know, I was absolutely gutted. I was in good shape, training well, virtually on the start line...and then everything does a complete 180. I wasn't allowed out of a hospital bed for over a month and so had to watch the whole Games from a hospital bed. I was pretty upset for a long time...but eventually, you get over it and now Ironman has really rejuvenated enthusiasm with Kona the main focus and 'new Olympics'.

© | Hungarian Triathlon UnionJL: So tell us about the GB connection and how you came to race for Great Britain - you did well racing for New Zealand in the 90s, including a silver in Lausanne (1998) at the World Champs. How did the change happen?

PA: "I was seventh in 1997 (Perth), and second in 1998 (Lausanne) to Simon Lessing. He's one of those guys we talked about who I think could have carried on for at least a few more years, especially in Ironman. He had a couple of bad races in Kona but could have turned it around, but maybe didn't have that passion for the long course stuff that I talked about earlier.

"My father is English - born in Grays, Essex - and I have a lot of relatives there and always go back when I'm in the UK. So, I've always had dual citizenship. When I got back into ITU racing I was doing a lot of racing in Europe, my sponsors were European, and so outside of the ITU racing itself I was racing under the British/UK country. When the ITU changes came re-Olympics, you had to race under the same country as you would under ITU and I'd moved out of New Zealand in 1996, so it made more sense to race for Great Britain, do the European Champs and continue to race in Europe.

"So, in 2000 I decided to change countries, and a few people have asked me about it. Having got second in Lausanne, myself and Hamish Carter were the two best New Zealand triathletes at the time and we were actually on equivalent funding/support to the GB team (camps etc), so New Zealand had a lot of good funding. When I decided to change over, I had to sit out of a lot of ITU / major championship races for a year to validate the change, and through that time of course had no funding. Indeed, the only time I had the top level 'A' funding (in the UK) was the six months before the 2004 Olympics. So, it's one of those things - people are quick to judge and give their views when I changed countries (that it was for the money), without even asking me at all. That was back in 2000 and here we are in 2012 and I still race with the British flag. I'm passionate about racing for Great Britain and England, and that will never change."

JL: One of the things I noticed on the Arizona video feed was that you were racing in unbranded/non-sponsored kit, and even your bike was blacked out. What is the situation now - has that race managed to change things for you?

PA: "It's just the way it happened really, my previous manager/agent had signed off my previous deals which finished 30th June - and of course it's difficult to get new sponsors mid season - so I raced Arizona and a couple of other events unbranded, but I'm shortly finalising a lot of new sponsors for this season which I'm pretty excited about what's going to be happening. Basically it's a complete grouping of bike / kit / shoes / nutrition etc, at the final stages now, so I'm really looking forward to it. Give me a week and I'll send all the details to you!"

JL: Have you had any banter with Tom Lowe about taking the British ironman record and perhaps about who might be the first one to break the eight hour mark?!

"Well I have to say me don't I?! I don't know when Tom is racing next but I'm doing Texas so hopefully he's not doing an Ironman before that! Tom sent me a message of congratulations after Arizona and said if I can do the same thing for Kona I should have a good race there. I've obviously known Tom for a long time through the duathlons, he's such a nice guy, and I'm glad he has been so successful with Ironman. It would be great if he could improve his swimming just a little bit, to help make the bike and run easier. The swim is really important because if you come out in that front group it makes the bike so much easier. You really get a feel for the pacing whereas unfortunately for Tom because he comes out five or even seven minutes down the whole race is much harder, riding solo. Hopefully he'll be a little bit closer to the front this year because his biking and running is phenomenal. So hopefully he'll have some good races...but as long as he doesn't race before Texas, I hope to go under eight hours before him!"

JL: What's your take on men's iron-distance racing currently - 2011 saw more sub-8s (six) than we've ever had in one year, Craig Alexander broke the Kona course record - do you think that the having had the ladies smash through their own barriers in recent years headed by Chrissie, perhaps this is the men catching up and moving towards what they are capable of?

"I think there is a lot of factors - as we mentioned earlier, those 'pioneers' of the sport are now at their peak over Ironman. The guys doing well in Ironman now are the good guys who have done well in ITU/short course in previous years like McCormack & Alexander. Before that you had the likes of Peter Reid, Tim DeBoom. I think it's taken a while for the ITU guys to move up, but now with the Raelert Brothers and others, I think there are now a lot of good athletes pushing the pace at the front. Also, the Ironman points system impacts - to do well in Kona, you have really got to limit the number of Ironman races you do in a year. If you take Arizona/myself as an example, under the old system if were five slots available, I may well have taken fourth/fifth, stamped the ticket and then been able to prepare solidly for Kona. With the point system, you basically have to win the race - it drives the times down because people need the points. Now, if you get fourth or fifth you need to do another Ironman and get more points...which then impacts Kona. I think that's why there have been the sub-8s, and I expect more to follow this year because of that points impact.

"On the flip side, because everyone is racing hard all year, there will be a lot of guys who are toast come Kona. I think a perfect example is Marino (Vanhoenacker) and Andreas (Raelert). They had phenomenal performances at Austria and Roth, but at the same time I think it's a little bit late in the year to be going that quick, and then be able to recover - mentally and physically - and then build back up to the same or even higher level for Kona. Marino was done in Kona, and on paper, Raelert should beat Crowie or at least be head-to-head with him. He still had a fantastic race to come third...but, I think he could have gone head-to-head with Crowie, and then I think we would have seen the guys go under eight hours in Hawaii. Crowie went 8:03, and struggled from about six miles out with the cramping and must have lost at least three minutes due to that, so a 7:XX Kona finish is certainly possible.

"This year, hopefully Marino, Andreas, Pete Jacobs and a few others can prepare properly for it, Crowie will be at his best - hopefully I can be there to - it would be nice to see five or six guys come of the bike together and race the marathon. That way I think the 2:40 marathon barrier can go, I think that's possible, we're capable I think - but that's very easy for me to say sitting down on the couch here with a coffee! I'd love to be a part of it."

JL: Having now produced a top level Ironman performance, how has that changed your expectations for Kona - does it change things and make you believe you can do very well there, or have you always believed you can be competitive in Hawaii?

"Not really, in 2008 I thought I could have podiumed at least, certainly in terms of training. Same with Ironman France last year - I was much fitter than I was for Arizona. You need to race in order to see if things work - in my case, it's an electrolyte balance issue - and I spoke to Macca about it, he suggested a few things and that was really the only difference for Arizona. Like I said, a week before the race I knew I could go 48 swim, 4:22 bike, 2:42 run and so I know I can compete with the guys in Kona, I just hope I don't have the problems with the cramping.

"With a good race in Texas, I'll have confidence around nutrition strategy/electrolytes and I think that is the only thing limiting me in Ironman currently."

JL: Good luck with that, appreciate your time and the chance to catch up.

PA: " Not a problem mate, thank you!"

You can find out more about Paul via his Website, Facebook or Twitter on the following links.

Facebook: HERE
Twitter: @paulamey

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