Samantha Warriner On Her Heart Condition And Her First Ironman Win

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  • Published Mar 25, 2011

New Zealand’s Samantha Warriner chatted with Inside Triathlon senior editor Jennifer Purdie about her first Ironman victory in New Zealand, her early-season heart surgery, her efforts to help earthquake-ravaged Christchurch and her plans for the rest of 2011. Congrats on winning Ironman New Zealand. The weather was less than ideal. How did you deal with the conditions?

Warriner earned her first Ironman title in her Ironman debut. Photo: Delly Carr

Warriner: The weather was pretty tough and not at all what I’d prepared for. We knew from about seven days out there was a high likelihood it would rain, but no one thought quite that much.

I do like tough conditions if I’m being honest; I like anything that’s likely to get inside the other girls’ heads. Back in 2008 we raced the ITU World Championships in Vancouver—the temperature was about 8 degrees Celcius and the water was bitter. Back then it was all about being mentally tough and Taupo, New Zealand was no different.

My big concern leading into the race was my choice of tires. I’d slowly introduced more and more aero gear throughout the simulations we’d done on the Ironman course, but they’d all been done in near perfect conditions. So when the heavens opened I had to decide whether I would go all out for speed or take things conservatively on the bike and opted for heavier tires. In the end we figured the Bontrager tires were going to be fast enough to justify using them. If I punctured one of them, I knew I could change one in 3 to 4 minutes max, but I knew from the simulations I’d done on the course that they were worth more than that in time gained. You went to Taupo several times before the race. What other strategies did you use in your Ironman training?

Warriner: Power was the real key to my Ironman preparation. I’ve never really used a power meter before so we spent a lot of time figuring out exactly what power I could ride at on the course and still run.

I did seven sessions on the course to figure out what my race strategy would be–but to be honest, I did race above what I’d wanted to for the final 45K, by about 15 watts, and that’s what led to me suffering on the run. I wouldn’t say I fell to pieces, but it sure as hell wasn’t pretty and if you’ve seen me running in an ITU race you’d wonder where that stride had gone in Taupo.

When I turned at the 135K mark, I saw the other girls at about 19 minutes back, but in with the age-group guys. I didn’t want to concede any time and in hindsight I pushed too hard over that last 45K and blew my chances of running at the pace we’d practiced. In short, I reacted to the other girls and that’s my one big learning curve from the whole event. You just can’t react to anyone; it’s all about racing your own race, or as my coach says “playing in your own sandpit.” In 2010 you were dealing with a heart condition in which your heart beat 230 beats per minute on a regular basis; you had heart surgery in December. Obviously you are doing well enough physically to race. How long were out of

Warriner struggled with her heart condition in 2010. Photo: Rev3

Warriner: Yeah I’ve had the condition since I was a kid to be honest; they really didn’t know what caused it back then. Racing ITU it would come on maybe once every six months but it was very manageable in that I knew the triggers and could avoid them, and I knew how to slow it down when it went off.

But last year for some reason it just started going off more and more. At first I thought it was a fitness thing or maybe nutrition. I’d finish races absolutely white in the face. The scenario was usually the same. I’d lead the bike by maybe three or four minutes and then out onto the run I’d lose my advantage. If I weren’t a runner, I could accept it, but running has always been my strength in ITU–I’ve run quite a few 33-minute 10Ks off the bike in World Cups.

By October it had gotten pretty bad and was affecting every race I entered. I flew home mid-October and had four weeks totally off training. That’s the longest break I’ve had in eight years of being a professional triathlete. But within days of starting back training, it was going off every training session, usually around the 20-minute mark, and it would rocket to around 230 beats per minute.

I had a lot of tests done and was lucky that they diagnosed it very quickly. Although we didn’t have health insurance due to an oversight on our own part, I managed to get a slot on the operating table the very next week for the procedure.

So on December 1, 2010, I went under anesthetic and had a successful ablation for SVT. Ironically our National Federation, Triathlon NZ, decided to officially de-card me (carding is the mechanism in New Zealand in which a national federation supports its athletes for things like massage, doctors, specialists, etc.) at the precise date and time I was on the operating table. I still look at the email from time to time and wonder.

The operation took place on a Wednesday and I was back swimming in Lake Rotorua by the Saturday. By the following Tuesday, Ironman prep started in earnest, and I haven’t looked back since. Are there any physical or emotional setbacks you are still dealing with from the heart condition?

Warriner focused on ITU before making the jump up to the 70.3 and Ironman distances. Photo:

Warriner: I rang my heart specialist back in January to check up on something. I said when Rob picked up the phone, “Hey Rob I just wanted to talk to you about my heart condition.” Rob’s response was succinct and matter of fact. He said, “Sam I’ll stop you there. You no longer have a heart condition, yours is the same heart as any other elite athlete.”

I haven’t given it a second thought since then.

I get no heart rate spiking, and to be honest, I just can’t describe the feeling that I have. It’s like my chest, and in fact my whole being, is just a whole lot calmer for want of a better word. These have been a tough couple of years, so what keeps you motivated?

Warriner: Triathlon, plain and simple. I love it. Whether it’s training, competing, commentating at events, helping run the kids races at local tri club or coaching my Sweat7 girls, I just love inspiring and helping others. You are competing on Saturday in a swim-only event (2.6km Sand to Surf). What other races are on your schedule in your bid to qualify for Kona?

Warriner: This Saturday is just a training session with the added bonus the organizers paid for a hotel for a few nights for me and my husband, Stephen. I head over to the U.S. next week so the incentive of a weekend away in a nice hotel couldn’t be overlooked.

Once I’m in the U.S., I’ll be basing myself out of Los Angeles, as usual. Terenzo Bozzone will be there, too and we’re doing a very similar race schedule, as Jon Ackland runs both of our programs.

I’ll be at Kemlah for the T3 Olympic race next weekend, but this is just a warm up for Galveston and the Texas 70.3. After that Stephen will join me and we’ll head up to Wildflower for some serious camping. We both love camping and spent the first three simulations in Taupo camped out next to the Hilton where they put up all the top athletes.

I plan on racing New Orleans, too and Eagleman—both races I won last year. And then after that it will all be about Ironman Switzerland where I hope to learn a little more about the Ironman.

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