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21 May 2020 • General

Born to be Wilde

International triathlete Hayden Wilde has made quite an impact with his hugely impressive running ability in 2020. Steve Landells chats to the uber-talented 22 year old to find out more about his athletics journey.

Pick your leading New Zealand distance runner of the 2020 summer campaign and for many, it is hard to see past Hayden Wilde.  The 22 year old Tauranga-based athlete shattered his 5000m PB by almost 33 seconds, to run a time of 13:47.37 at the Sir Graeme Douglas International in Auckland in February. He followed it up with the 5000m national title in Christchurch in March.

Since then, Hayden has continued his blistering form with an eye-popping time of 13:21, securing him victory in the Athletics NZ Virtual 5km Champs in April, a mark in which only eight Kiwis have surpassed on the track, for the twelve-and-a-half lap distance. And yet his main Olympic goal lies in the triathlon, although, and whisper it quietly, he has not ruled out one day having a crack at making a major track championship.

Raised the youngest of three brothers in Whakatane, Hayden played representative age-group soccer and hockey before moving into running at the age of 16 to boost his fitness.

“Before then, I’d only ever finished 40th in local cross country races, but once I started running, I got a bit fitter and started to break school records for the 1500m and 3000m,” Hayden explains.

He entered half-marathons, being good enough to run a 1:14 time for the 21.1km distance at the age of 17, but quickly moved into multisport racing. Hayden proved an outstanding talent, winning three age-group World Championships at ITU XC Triathlon and Xterra as well as the two-day Coast to Coast World Championships.

“I loved doing the six hour adventure racing and orienteering with my mates in teams of four, I enjoyed the challenge, and being outdoors and in nature appealed to me.”

However, perhaps wisely becoming increasingly aware he was perhaps overdoing the mileage, he changed his sporting path at the age of 19.

Hayden explains “It was a couple of months after Rio (2016 Summer Olympics) and my dream was always to compete at an Olympics. I knew I wasn’t going to compete at an Olympics in endurance racing so that is when I switched to triathlon determined to make the 2020 Olympics.”

To focus 100 percent on his sporting pursuits, he opted against studying at the University of Waikato and moved to Tauranga to be coached by Craig Kirkwood – a former New Zealand marathon representative at the Commonwealth Games and ironman triathlete. Craig has taken over the reins of his cycling and running coaching with Liz van Welie in swimming and it has not been a move he has regretted, as he established himself on the international triathlon scene, highlighted by a podium spot at last year’s Tokyo Test Event.

“What appealed most about joining Craig (in 2016) was that he’s been there and done it,” explains Hayden. “He’s been to the Commonwealth Games, ran in big races and been a fantastic runner himself. Craig collaborated well with Liz and somehow the stars aligned.”

His training load between the three triathlon disciplines is intense. Hayden, a former Trident High School Deputy Head Boy, cycles 20-24 hours a week, runs between five and six times a week, and has just returned to swimming once again, after nearly two months away because of the lockdown. Interestingly, however, an average weekly running mileage of around 80km a week, which includes one long run of 20-25km and two tempo sessions either on the track or road, is a much lighter training load than many of his running rivals.

Yet even back in 2018, he started to make an impact on the domestic running scene, winning a bronze medal at the National Road Race Championships in Hamilton. Hayden placed just five seconds behind gold medallist Oli Chignell and only three seconds shy of his good friend Aaron Pulford. Working as a landscape architect with Pulford at the time, it was a confidence-boosting performance for the man who had celebrated his 21st birthday the previous day.

“It was very windy, a shocking day and I didn’t really know what to expect,” he says. “I was pretty stoked to grab a bronze. I’d only been with Craig a year-and-a-half then and it was great seeing the work I’d done with Craig was paying off.”

Triathlon was the major goal in 2019, as he emerged as a serious international force, finishing fourth in the ITU Triathlon in Edmonton and then claiming third in the Tokyo Test Event. Yet he and his coach plumped for a slightly different racing strategy for the 2019/20 domestic track and field season.

“I wanted to have some fun in the New Zealand summer and to get involved in some good quality racing, I know we have some quality athletes in New Zealand, so I thought why not take it to the track?”

At the Night of 5s meet in Auckland in December, he sliced more than five-and-a-half seconds from his 5000m PB to record 14:19.24 for fourth. Hayden then backed this up by scalping more than eight seconds from his previous 3000m best, to run 8:20.04 in Tauranga on New Year’s Day.  Yet his most eye-catching performance of the summer came at the Sir Graeme Douglas International in Auckland, when Hayden destroyed his 5000m PB by more than half a minute, with a 13:47.37 performance, to top the New Zealand 2020 outdoor 5000m rankings.

“I knew the fitness was there and the speed was good, and I think Craig knew I had it in me, but I didn’t know what I could run so it was a surprise. I was up against some fantastic Japanese athletes, I just kept on running as hard as I could and got myself a PB.”

While the Sir Graeme Douglas International was a test of Hayden’s speed, the Jennian Homes New Zealand Track & Field Championships in Christchurch was more an examination of his tactical ability. Not running at the same sizzling pace as he did in Auckland, however, both his patience and racing craft were revealed, by kicking clear of 2019 5000m champion Matt Baxter to glory, in a time of 14:13.86.

“It was pretty awesome, especially to beat a guy like Matt Baxter, who only a few weeks earlier had set a New Zealand 5000m indoor record (of 13:27.61),” Hayden says. “I knew he would come at it pretty hard and there were some other top runners like Cam Graves. I’ve done a lot of track this year and for me, it has felt normal to be racing the runners. In some ways, I don’t feel like a triathlete, which, for me, is pretty cool.”

Given the fact he only runs in spikes a handful of times a year, and ahead of both the Sir Graeme Douglas meet and New Zealand Championships he had completed a two-and-a-half-hour training ride that morning, suggests he has massive scope for running gains.

One week later he moved on to compete in Mooloolaba, Australia, where despite suffering a serious bike crash the day before, he managed to place second at the ITU World Cup event. On his return home, COVID-19 took a grip and he spent four weeks in lockdown with his family in Whakatane, before moving back to Tauranga during the Alert Level 3 period to be nearer his coach. Unable to swim during this period, he cycled and ran more casually than he would if in full training. But during the Athletics NZ Virtual 5km Champs, he revealed he has not lost any of his speed, by winning in a staggering time of 13:21.

“I ran a little 1.2km loop in Tauranga where we carry out our Saturday sessions,” he explains of the blistering run. “That day there was not a breath of wind and I just went for it. I went through the first 1km in around 2:40 and then I had a couple of sub 2:40 kms. I then just tried to hold on for as long as I could, just waiting for the 5km mark. When I looked down at my watch and I saw 13:21 it was pretty unbelievable. At the time I felt pretty good, but it must have been the adrenaline because for the next few days I was in pain!”

Fully accepting of the decision to postpone the Olympics until 2021, his primary focus remains success as a triathlete in Tokyo. But would Hayden consider in the future, given his hugely exciting running ability, a crack at major track championship?

“I’d be tempted to do some more running and if I looked at track racing I’m quite capable over 5000m and 10,000m. Alistair Brownlee (double Olympic triathlon champion) once tried to qualify for both the triathlon and 10,000m at a Commonwealth Games and it would be quite nice to create a bit of history myself. One day I’d love to run a Diamond League and see how long I could hold on to the Ethiopian and Kenyan express.“

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