Headlining the men’s professional field at the inaugural Laguna Lang Co Triathlon in Vietnam this weekend is Chris “Macca” McCormack. We chatted with Macca in advance of the race to learn what he’s been up to lately and what he’s looking forward to about his trip to Asia.
Triathlete.com: First off, happy birthday! You recently celebrated your big day with a group of friends in Las Vegas–perhaps not the traditional way to kick off the triathlon season, but then you’re not known as being a traditional guy. Talk a little about why it’s important to you to balance training with fun and time with family and friends–and how your birthday bash set you on the path toward an awesome season ahead.
McCormack: It wasn’t just any other birthday–it was my 40th. So it was my friends’ idea really. Originally we were going to go a resort island in Australia, about eight of us, and just chill out. But I have friends in Vegas that I’ve known for many years now that own one of the casinos and they said, “How about we throw the party for you?” All my friends in Australia were like, “Wow! That sounds cool! Let’s do a Vegas trip.” For a lot of my friends it was their first time there, so it was fun.
I think as you get older you start to appreciate the friendships you form in your life and the friendships you form in the sport much more. You know, when you’re young it’s all about “seek and destroy” and “must win races” and it’s a very selfish existence. But as I’ve gotten older I’ve started to look at things in a different way. The sport has been a vehicle for so many great friendships, but a lot of the landmark things that have happened in my life I’ve sort of skipped and missed because I’ve been so forward thinking, always chasing races. As you get a bit older and your sponsors give you the freedom to have a little more selection of your races, you start to think: Well I don’t want to miss this. I don’t want to miss all these things. I don’t ever want to miss my kids’ birthdays again, things like that. So I’m just slowing it down a little bit, not taking the early season as seriously as I used to. After Kona 2010 I just figured: You know what? From now on every decision I make in this sport won’t be a selfish one. It will be a decision we make as a family. When you’re chasing titles all the time–and athletes get caught up in that–it’s such a selfish existence. It’s: Me, me, me, me, me! And the people in your life fit around you and what you need. I promised my wife, my kids, my friends and my dad that if I won Kona again, that would change. I would still exist in the sport and race, but I’d keep them actively involved on that level and I would try and make things work more openly. Where before it was just like: I’m doing it this way. I know what I need to do. It has to be done like this. I can’t take a holiday. I know it’s your birthday, darling, but it’s a terrible time of year for me. The last few years I’ve really tried not to be that way. And I think as a family and as an athlete I’m happier for it. I’m not winning every single race, but I’m still wining the key races I want to win in a season. You know, I look at some of the younger guys now, and I envy them to some degree. I mean to win the big races like Kona you have to revert to some degree into that really selfish existence. But it’s a decision I make with the family now.
Triathlete.com: That sounds like a great perspective to have. Plus I imagine it will extend the longevity of your career, if you’re happy doing what you’re doing and your family is happy too.
McCormack: I think sometimes when you step back and you look at it from a different perspective you see in other people what you were. You take a step back, and it’s not that you love the sport any less, you just do it differently. I think as a young pro, regardless of how good you are, you feel like a slave to others–be it your sponsors or your own selfish expectations of winning races–and you’re so self-obsessed–which is great and brings results–and you’re so fearful of losing that sponsor or of not pleasing someone that it’s all-encompassing. A lot of the time it’s the people the closest to you that you neglect the most. You don’t mean to in a harsh way, it just happens that way. The reality check for me was after I’d won Kona. We came back and I had to do the whole tour after the race and I was writing my book at the time, and my daughter reminded me that I’d missed her last three birthdays. I was like: Man! I’ve been away! You know? She said, “Daddy, are you ever going to come to one of my birthdays?” That was really the thing that made me say to myself: What is wrong with me? It was really the reality check I needed. She was wholly responsible for that shift–after that I said I’m never missing a birthday again and I’m never missing a school production, because I can’t get that back. And athletically I’m content. I’ve won everything I want to win, so everything now is icing. Now, my pursuits are about making sure that I can be as good at being a father as I was in my sport.
Triathlete.com: Let’s talk about the Laguna Lang Co Triathlon coming up in Vietnam. What inspired you to travel to such a far-flung and fascinating destination to race?
CM: Coming from Australia, it’s quite easy to go to Asia. It’s a big holiday destination. A lot of my friends at home have gone to Vietnam and said it’s the greatest place they’ve ever been in their life. They’ve always said, “You have to go there!” And after going to the Laguna Phuket [Thailand] event last year and being at the resort I had such a great experience. They told me they were doing a new event in Vietnam, and since I had such a great experience in Phuket I knew I wanted to be a part of that. I looked at it and said, “I’m going!” I’m excited to experience something I haven’t experienced before. That’s one of the great things about triathlon, going to these great destinations. And I’m excited to experience a new event. It’s probably the race of the year that I’m most excited about, because it’s somewhere I’ve never been. It’s going to be really cool! Going back to why I did triathlon in the first place, it was always this sport that took you to unique destinations. And I think for a lot of people in the States, Vietnam is unique. I think if the organizers can build up the race like they did in Phuket, and draw a lot of the expats in Shanghai and Hong Kong, they’re going to have a very successful race. The sport is booming in Asia!
Triathlete.com: Although this will be your first trip to Vietnam, you have a fair amount of experience racing in Asia. What are some of your favorite things about racing in that part of the world, and how does it differ from the U.S. or Australia?
CM: When you’re looking at races in Australia and the U.S., our cultures are so similar they can feel very vanilla after a while. But when you go to Asia, the different culture is in your face. It’s so different. You’re riding through these little towns and rice paddies and it’s really culturally unique. That’s what I love about Asian races. People tend to block all of Asia together as a similar sort of place, but each country is so different, and you see that–it’s in your face. I love that about the events. And it’s always hot and humid. Asia has that heavy heat and it can be grubby and grotty in places, but also it can be spectacularly beautiful. You get a bit of everything. So for athletes that are looking for something that’s different, Asian racing’s great. And if you’re a bit apprehensive, racing in Singapore is like a westernized Asia–it’s an easier Asia access. But if you’re a little more adventurous, then Vietnam and races in Bintan and Phuket–those places are in your face Asia. They’re really cool places and really cool races.
Triathlete.com: I heard that you broke your hand in Abu Dhabi. How’s it healing up?
McCormack: Yeah, I’ve just started back swimming. My friends at home are calling it osteoporosis because I’m so old! I think it just took the perfect hit. I broke the knuckle and the pinkie, so my mates are saying, “You broke your pinkie! You didn’t even break your hand!” But technically I did break my hand–it was above the finger and I had to get a new hinge put on the knuckle because I shattered it and they put some pins through my pinkie. I was actually quite shocked when I saw all that was wrong with it. I’m glad they did all that to fix it because it looked a bit odd; my finger was sticking out at a really strange angle! But it’s on the mend. I’ve only swum about 5000 yards in five weeks. I should be all right for the race, though. It will probably hurt but I’ll put a little splint on it.
Triathlete.com: Will you take some time after the race to enjoy Vietnam? What’s next on your schedule?
CM: Actually on the Monday after I’m doing a bike ride 100-kilometers north of where we’re staying. I’m going to stay there for four days. We’re doing a little mini training camp–one of the guys is from up that way. I mean the best way to explore a place as a triathlete is on your bike! Then I’ll fly from Vietnam to Bangkok for a triathlon seminar and then home. Then I’m doing Challenge Barcelona on May 19 and Challenge Rimini on May 26. I have to race Javier Gomez in Barcelona. He’s making his long course debut, which is scary for me! But I’m really excited about that. He’s the next wave. He’s amazing. So to be able to race against him in his first ever long course event–I love that! And then I’ll do Ironman Cairns on June 9.
Triathlete.com: Sounds like you definitely have some great adventures ahead! I’ll look forward to seeing you race in Vietnam.
McCormack: Thanks, I’ll see you there!
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