Possibly the best example of a journeyman athlete our sport can provide is Australian Richie Cunningham, who remains completely immune to all the Happy Days jokes thrown at him as he competes week in and week out as one of the world’s premier Ironman 70.3 racers. For the last few years the Australian has been a mainstay here in North America, but he is truly an international competitor – every summer he spends time in Europe racing for a German triathlon team there.
Cunningham has finished third at all three Foster Grant Ironman 70.3 world championship races, a position he’d like to improve upon this year. Triathlon Magazine Canada editor Kevin Mackinnon caught up with Cunningham the day before the Subaru Ironman 70.3 Muskoka race.
Word is that you’ve moved from Boston to Austin this summer. What prompted that?
I moved from Boston down to Austin right after Ironman 70.3 Rhode Island. That took a lot out of me, so I ended up taking a break from racing for a while. Boston’s a great city, but riding … The roads are terrible. The drivers are terrible. The winters are terrible. But my girlfriend was living there, so that made it tolerable. She was fortunate to get a new job and she can work from home, so we decided to move to Austin. My dog hated the cold, too, so he’s happy that we moved.
Why do you race so much? And why do you race Craig Alexander so much? You’d probably be the most successful Ironman 70.3 athlete in history if it wasn’t for him.
I like racing. It’s better than training. It’s no secret that he’s (Alexander) kicked my ass a lot. Whenever I race Crowie (Alexander’s nickname) it turns into a good battle. It’s fun. I’m trying to improve my running. Hopefully by Clearwater it’ll be there. I’d rather beat every one in Clearwater than here. Crowie’s just an amazing runner. His time here in Muskoka last year was just incredible. I kind of wish they’d never change the run course because I’d like to see how long it would take for someone to beat that time.
What would it mean to finally win the Foster Grant Ironman World Championship 70.3 title?
It would mean a lot for me to win in Clearwater. In the old days people didn’t really pay attention to the 70.3 distance, but now I’d say it (the world championship 70.3) has become the second biggest race behind Kona. It’s certainly my most important race since I don’t do Kona. The people keep coming up, too. The last three years I keep beating the old course record time and I still can’t get past that third place. This year there’s some Olympic distance guys giving it a crack, Matt Reid and people like that, who will go for it. Hopefully a few of those guys will have raced too hard and they’ll be worn out and I’ll be ready for a good race.
How hard is it to maintain the tough schedule you’ve followed for so many years?
I think next year I’ll eliminate the European side of my schedule and focus on the 70.3 races over here in North America. It’s not the racing that’s so hard, it’s the travel that really takes it out of you. With all the bike fees and travel – that drains me more than the racing from week to week. I go to the airport and I’ve got anxiety – pay $150 for my bike and pay for this and pay for that – that stresses me out more than anything.
How much does it hurt when you’re racing hard against someone like Crowie?
Pretty much every race is hard, but as soon as you finish that pain goes away. Then you start thinking about what you can do different and how much fun the race was.
Is there an Ironman race in your future?
Arizona is a big possibility, the week after Clearwater. Originally I was going to do Frankfurt, but that didn’t work out. My main focus, though, is still Clearwater – the Ironman in Arizona will be an add on.
Richie Cunningham finished second to Craig Alexander at the Subaru Ironman 70.3 Muskoka race, as he did in 2008.