Sitting down for long periods during lockdown was not recommended, but it certainly paid dividends for one of the province’s crop of promising young triathletes.
Sixteen-year-old Gus Marfell, not one to let the grass grow beneath his feet, or in this case his wheels, decided to use the enforced stay-at-home period to sharpen his competitive edge.
Tri NZ, in conjunction with virtual training platform Zwift, created a six-week race series called the Saturday Race League, the best four races counting towards the overall results.
So, every Saturday, Gus hopped on his bike and trainer and hooked into a virtual race.
While the virtual series was initially aimed at triathletes it was open to whoever wanted to take part so attracted a huge variety of athletes. Each race attracted an average of 500-600 entrants from all over the world, with a special Anzac edition attracting 850 riders.
Six different courses were raced, distances ranging from 25-40km. This equated to between 30 and 50 minutes on the bike and Gus showed amazing consistency to finish in the top 30 in each race, his best placing being fifth in the first event.
After points were totalled he had won the under-19 category and finished fifth overall in the Elite A+ section, despite being up against illustrious names in the triathlon world.
Although he was shaded by Kiwi Hayden Wilde, a rising star on the international tri scene with a world ranking of 13, Gus managed to place ahead of senior national reps Taylor Reid and Ryan Sissons, ranked 57 and 61 respectively.
The modest Marlborough Boys’ College student decided to enter the virtual race series, as “there wasn’t much else going on during lockdown”.
Although he opted to continue his running training outdoors during the enforced break, he preferred to concentrate his cycling preparation on the indoor trainer.
Despite having previous experience on his trainer, he initially found the Saturday Race League demanding.
“It was much harder than being on the road, but a lot of fun,” said Gus.
“I thought that [the field] would back off the pace somewhere through the 30-40ks but they just seemed to hold the pace the whole time.
“In virtual racing if you drop the wheel in front that’s a good 10kph you slow down … there’s a big drafting effect and there’s no way you’ll get back on [to the bunch].
“So, you try to stay with the bunch the whole time … and you can’t really go off the front either because you lose that drafting effect and just get swallowed up again. In most races the bunch stayed close together with a sprint at the end,” he said.
Now lockdown restrictions have lifted it is back into full multisport mode for Gus, who is part of a group of young tri-ers under the guidance of local trainer Mark Grammer that is preparing in all three disciplines.
His cycling training continues, albeit back on the road, while he can be found in the swimming pool most mornings before school, working on what he considers his weakest event, covering 3.5-4km following a 5am alarm call.
Gus has his immediate sights set on the national cross-country running championships in Dunedin on August 29, where he will contest the under-19 grade, then later in the year he plans to participate in a newly-organised Triathlon NZ series, contesting triathlon and duathlon events based in the South Island.
While many sportspeople cursed COVID-19 and the ensuing lockdown, Gus saw a silver lining.
“It was tough not being able to swim or race, but I probably gained quite a bit with my cycling because I spent a lot more hours on the trainer than I usually would have,” he explained.
“But I do prefer being out in the fresh air.”