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Macau to New Zealand, via Dubai & Manchester... a Triathlon Journey

Updated: Feb 3, 2019

My name is David Moulder, this is my story about my journey in Triathlon. I am a 46 year old British National living in Auckland. I am a Chartered Engineer married with one 8 year old son. We have lived around 10 years overseas. I met Kate in February 2016 and she has been a godsend to me. She has transformed not only my physical condition but also my mindset towards the sport and this has translated to the way I live my life. It also translates to me passing this on to my son who despite a serious brain condition which remains in remission has run 2 kids triathlons, a 5k run, and he swims squad 3 times per week. He has also represented his school in cross country twice and competes in club swimming galas.

It all started for me around 6 years ago in 2013 whilst living in Macau a small island around 40sq km around 40km away from Hong Kong. I was working on a Mega Casino resort project at the time and my manager suggested I try Triathlon as a positive distraction at weekends. I took the plunge entering the Hong Kong Sprint Triathlon at Disneyland Hong Kong. It was an ITU event and I prepared in around 5 months, I hired a local Chinese Swimming coach (Ms Lei pictured below) and endeavoured to learn freestyle for the event. I actually ended up swimming breaststroke but it was the start of my journey in learning to swim. I had learnt to ride a bike from a young age and bought a low-priced Trek bike which I bravely rode around the Cotai Casino strip early on Saturday and Sundays (imagine riding along the Vegas strip on a bike!!). I did most of my running on an indoor treadmill with good air conditioning to keep my heart rate down in the high humidity and temperature of Macau.

I finished the Sprint Tri and enjoyed it so much I decided to embark on my age grouper mid-life career in the sport (a picture of the swim start at Hong Kong Disney below)

I completed two Olympic distance Triathlons after this, including the London ITU in Hyde Park which in just over 3 hours in 2015, before stepping up to 70.3 distance after we moved to Dubai. I worked with a fantastic swim coach (former elite swimmer Rory Buck pictured with my son William below) for around 1 year in Dubai which helped me build the foundations for my freestyle swimming which I was lacking. He also gave William the early fundamental training in swimming. My first 70.3 was Dubai International Triathlon (pictured below), it finished with a run in the desert in temperatures of around 35C. Needless to say it was a slow but never the less enjoyable Tri which I finished in around 7:45.

We left Dubai and expected to hang up our expat life in January 2016 returning to Manchester, UK which apparently provided an ideal work life balance for our family and a closer life to that we had become accustomed to being away from London since 2008. I was sorry to have left Rory behind he was and still is such an inspirational coach and life coach that he left a mark on me. Dubai can be a very tough place to live and work and I had stayed sane through a combination of the Triathlon and coaching with Rory. I had also gained an insight in how elite sports people think. Rory had narrowly missed qualifying for the 2012 London Olympics for South Africa to Chad le Clos but had gone on to re-invent himself through sports and life coaching as well as being a formidable force in CrossFit. Moving back to the UK was a major change in my mindset for work and I drew parallels with Rory’s reinvention of himself after London 2012 trials and my reverting back to the UK.

Peter Nel, a former colleague of mine when we worked in Abu Dhabi together between 2008 and 2010 had been pursuing his own Triathlon journey and had completed a full Ironman in Australia under the 10 hour mark had also become something of an inspiration to me as we were both the same age and both Engineers,.

We settled in Sale, Manchester in January 2016 and I started my new job in Salford Quays, my wife started her job in Altrincham and William joined Forest Park school. I looked around for a Tri Club and found Manchester Triathlon Club. Having learnt the importance of a coach I looked around and found Kate Offord. We met up for a coffee in Starbucks, Altrincham. Kate looked on paper to be friendly, upbeat and I saw many of the positive traits I had seen in Rory. It was to become the beginning of an amazing and enduring relationship. Kate also encouraged me to come along to some Man Tri evenings which I did, and I found them to be amazing, down to earth bunch of people and a safe place to be open to learning and competing in a positive environment. I haven’t yet managed to find such a positive group of people since.

I signed up for two 70.3 Tri s in the UK in 2016 including Cholmondeley Castle and Woburn.

David and Kate starting working together in February 2016 when David returned to the UK. This photo was taken the evening before his debut in a UK 70.3!

Through hard work and coaching I knocked around 1 hour off my Dubai 70.3 time finishing the Gauntlet in around 6:54. Woburn was not such a good race for me, it rained heavily throughout, and I had struggled for fitness having battled tonsillitis 4 weeks beforehand. The run was endless, and I was shattered before the end.

Out of the swim at Cholmondley Castle's Gauntlet

During 2016, I struggled slightly to be able to differentiate myself within the UK engineering field due to the nature and scale of projects being significantly different to what I had become accustomed to. In addition, I think we struggled somewhat with the fact that the 8 years or, so we had been overseas had changed us from a cultural perspective, we would always be ex-pat in our outlook and hence we felt a little constrained by UK life.

It was around December 2016 / January 2017 whilst in communication with an ex colleague who was in Sydney, Australia that I became aware of an opportunity with Auckland, New Zealand that seemed too good to be true. Essentially it would mean leading the Electrical Engineering design team across the whole of New Zealand for a major British multi-national engineering consultancy. I was interviewed and by March 2017 offered the role. It was a bold decision as we had purchased and completely refurbished a 3-bedroom house in October 2017 and had only moved in in the January 2017. We applied for the working Visas and they came through within 2 months with Williams taking an additional month as we had to get a medical waiver. We left the UK around 20 May 2017 for Auckland.

William became sick shortly after we arrived and within 3 days he was hospitalized facing the prospect of brain surgery to fix a blocked shunt in his brain. We couldn’t believe it, his Neurosurgeon had been about 90 percent certain that he was no longer dependent on his shunt. We were devastated, 12000 miles from home, we had no friends or family. It was like what had happened to us in Qatar 7 years earlier when William was 8 months old. The hospital was 1st class with some of the best Neurosurgeons in Australasia and by Saturday William underwent a 3 hour brain surgery which was 100 percent successful with no discernible side effect. For about 3 months after surgery there is around 8 percent risk of infection which amounts to something akin to Meningitis. Hence, it’s about 6 months post-surgery before you are out of the woods. I started my new job the Monday after Williams surgery and Yen stayed with William to help him through his convalescing.

My new company Mott Macdonald has been absolutely fantastic in terms of its support during William's sickness and ever since.

William is pictured below at 8 months after his first surgery in Dubai and last May 2017 nearly 7 years later.

Despite the setback there was no going back for us, Auckland has better coverage for Neurosurgery per capita than anywhere in the UK and we have lived with William’s capricious condition in more challenging countries such as the Middle East and Asia. And so, we put a care system in place including a private Neurosurgeon and a Neuro Ophthalmologist. We also brought William back to his swimming which it transpired turns out to be excellent for his condition. Allowing brain pressure to equalize and exercising the shunt tube reducing risk of scar tissue in later life.

As for me, I started my quest for Taupo 70.3 in December 2017. I found a 50m pool, and I used the old Ironman course in Auckland for my run and bike training at weekends. Auckland on balance has far better weather most of the year than the UK, it is surrounded by beaches and has some of the toughest weekend warriors on the planet in terms of swimmers, cyclists, and runners. The environment coupled with the ALL BLACK philosophy and great outdoors lends itself to more emphasis upon sport for children and families. This is evidenced in the Weetbix Tri they have for Children four times in Auckland with around 3000 children attending each one. Temperature and humidity make for more challenging training conditions in the summer. The Mercury is typically over 23C throughout summer months and Auckland being surrounded by water makes for high humidity. The roads are typically stone chip more than tarmac which makes cycling slower and harder. Ocean swimming though is plentiful and indoor pools are plentiful. Kiwis are amazingly good swimmers which has in part made me lift my game in swimming.

I completed Taupo 70.3 in December 2017 in over 6 hours however the swim was cancelled due to blue green algae in the lake and replaced by a 3km run start. Hence my likely time would have been around 6:30. I did the same race again in Ironman NZ in March 2018 around 20 minutes faster. It was an amazing race since I was running a 70.3 when the elites were running the full IM I found myself hitting the run with the likes of Bozzone, Joe Skipper and I even was caught in a photo shot with one of Australia’s elite Nathan Shearer as seen below

After finishing Taupo IM NZ 70.3 last March Kate and I decided it was time to step up full distance and hence after a recovery period I embarked upon a base training phase for IM NZ 2019 to be held on 2 March 2019. The initial decision didn’t sink in for several months and with around 12 months to prepare it would have been easy to get complacent but Kate encouraged me to stay focused. With the winter coming to New Zealand it became the perfect time to start to work on increasing my FTP on the bike and building my swim.

I set up my study to become my pain cave and having already spent around 2000 GBP on new 808 Firecrest tubular wheels for my TT bike my funds were depleted for purchase of a new turbo trainer (or wind trainer as it is called in NZ). And so I made do with my old trainer and used my Garmin power meter hooked up to my laptop via USB. I then downloaded Trainer Road and following Kate’s programme I tested my FTP it was around 190W, after around 6 weeks training it increased to around 235W and then 6 weeks later it increased again to 265W. My confidence went to an all-time high. The thing I have learnt about Testing FTP is that the higher you increase your FTP in this way the harder it gets to go up the curve. My goal of riding the Ironman race at 190W for 5.5 hours was looking more realistic. Subsequently I have also learnt that testing in winter has a different outcome to New Zealand summer with temperatures typically up to 25C. The effect is typically a reduction of around 10 percent, in addition with Triathlon being a balancing act when you start to work on increasing one of the other disciplines inevitably the other two slightly suffer. And so it becomes a balancing act. However I have learnt the benefit of working diligently to MAF Heart Rate and the multiple benefits it gives; fat burning, low injury risk, low sickness / overtraining, go all day ability and a solid baseline against which to judge progress.

I have backed up the training with a series of races for the individual disciplines through the year which has provided a great way of seeing and enjoying progress whilst providing interim hits of endorphins and serotonin. Races include: Auckland half marathon, Taupo around the lake 150k cycle and two 3.8k ocean swims. My half marathon time was around 20 minutes faster than the year before on the same course, for the bike race I held around 180W for 5.75 hours at just over MAF HR which was around 20 percent higher than my 70.3 best power and I managed to swim 3.8k at my previous best 1.5k pace. My Training Peaks CTRL has gone from around 55 at Taupo 70.3 in March 2018 to around 100 currently.

There is now around 7 weeks to go until Ironman New Zealand and I feel ready and very excited although slightly nervous. It feels different to a 70.3 and I know it will feel different when I finish. In conclusion with regards to the Triathlon training and with moving country it has been tough for us emotionally and somewhat economically our moving back from Dubai to Manchester and then so soon to New Zealand was a very costly one. However I wouldn’t change it for the world. My life is now complete in so many ways as is my family’s life. Triathlon has taught me to be resilient and resourceful. Every race I have had something has gone wrong, but as in life, it’s how you deal with it that matters!!

Yen and David after another PB ocean swim!

Pictured below a couple of happy memories from Williams Triathlon.



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