The race in Costa Rica on Sunday (24 June, 2018) saw Tim return to triathlon competition for the first time since breaking his neck in a collision with a truck in his final cycling session before the 2017 Ironman Championships in Kona, Hawaii, last October.
The previous big milestone came when Tim made his return to racing at the Boston marathon in April. Since then, he has been in intensive training to get back to the top of elite triathlon, a journey which has taken a huge step forward with the win in Costa Rica.
Having been near the front throughout the race, Tim picked up the pace heading into the second transition to come off the bike a minute ahead of the pack. Despite a strong chase from Australia’s Ryan Fisher, Tim was not going to be caught during the run. It was clearly an emotional moment as he broke the tape in 3:49:59. We caught up with Tim after his win:
Tim, huge congrats on the victory in Costa Rica! Can you describe the emotions when you crossed the finish line?
“Crossing the line was pure relief. It was a bit surreal to be honest, the last 200m was like a dream. There were so many mixed emotions running though my head, from anger about being hit by the car, to pure joy, to sadness that my family could not be there. There was also a bit of confusion about what had just happened. I was a bit of a mess but ultimately happy and so thankful that I could race again and race OK.”
How have things been going with training in the lead-up to the race? What has the strategy been?
“I have just tried to be consistent in all three disciplines and listen to my coaches and my body. I’ve try not to get too stressed when my neck and shoulders get crazy tight and I need extra physio. Doing a race is the best benchmark of performance, so we can now look at the numbers and go from there.”
Getting back to racing triathlon again is already a huge achievement. What were you feeling on the start line of the race?
“I was very nervous. I just wanted to get the swim done, then the first 20km of the bike to see where I was with my fitness and how my neck would hold up. I defiantly got more confident as the race went on, not so much in thinking of winning, but more in my body and how I could perform.”
What was going through your mind when you transitioned to the run leg in the lead?
“My plan was to try and swim near the front and bike hard until I got to the front. Then I’d see who was around me and conserve energy as it was crazy hot and humid. I know Santiago (Ascenco) is a great athlete and Ryan (Fisher) has ITU pedigree. The bike was not crazy hard and I felt better as it went on, so I decided to put some power down with 10km to go and the gap opened up. Then, on the run, I could run my own pace and take loads of water at the aid stations. Liquid was key in the humidity, as was keeping my core temperature down.”
It looks like you’re really getting back to top form again, but are there physical challenges you’re still working on after the injury?
“Yes, every day I have to look after my neck and upper body. I still can only swim breathing to my left and I get a lot of nerve pain in my neck when I sleep as well. There is always something, then on top I am also getting the same niggles that you get with just normal training day in day out.”
There have been a lot of milestones on the road back to Kona over the past eight months. What’s next?
“For me to get back into training as quickly as possible and build up for an Ironman. If I want to go to Kona I need to do one in the next four to six weeks really, so there’s lots of work coming my way. But I am looking forward to it!”
Tim’s recovery meant spending three months with a stabilising medical frame screwed into his skull. His return to fitness following the accident is document in the short film The Man with the Halo, directed by Emmy-award-winning director Andrew Hinton. See the full movie here.