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The year of the Fox?

On the eve of his first race back after his breakthrough performance at Ironman Australia, we catch up with Michael "Foxy" Fox.

What makes "Foxy's" Ironman result even more impressive is that just a few short months earlier he was thinking long and hard about his future in the sport. 

We started by asking about life as a "working pro".

Transitions: As a working pro, your work life can impact greatly on your sporting performance, so since we've spoken last you've changed your working arrangements, how's that panning out for you so far?

Foxy: I have a new teaching contract for this year. It's part time and I'm sharing with somebody else who is on maternity leave. I'm doing 3 days and she's doing 2 days so that works out well. It gives me a bit of financial stability and if I win a bit of prize money, that just becomes the icing on the cake. Then if I have some more expenses, be it for  bike stuff or for travel then I can usually pick up another days work on a Friday to get a bit of extra money. I try to stick to 3 or 4 days maximum depending on what the training load is like.

In the lead up to Iron Man with the heavier training load I was pretty much sticking to 3 days a week. In the lead up to Husky and times like winter I'll try and work 4 days a week and get the extra money in the bank.

It can be hard at times, it affects your recovery. Even though some may think teaching isn't the hardest job in the world it is still time you are spending on your feet which affects your recovery.

But that's my life at the moment and until I start winning some big races and getting some big prize money I just gotta make the best of it.

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Transitions: So you started off working with a new coach this year. Those from Transitions know Matt Koorey (MJK), you have been with him since January, how's that working out so far?

Foxy: I was a bit apprehensive at the start. People were telling me that Matt was a bit old school and I wasn't sure how that was going to work with me.  He is a bit authoritarian and I haven't had that for a long time. Up until now my coaching has been a little bit more independent and I've had a lot more input, so I wasn't quite sure how it would go with me just being told what to do all the time.

But as it turns out that's one of the things I really liked about it. Matt is very pedantic about a lot of things. He's very strict on pacing and intensity and often it seems like he's trying to hold me back a little so I don't hurt myself.

Matt seems to be a bit of an over thinker which is what I was doing as well so now I can leave him to do the overthinking. That works well for me with this year being busy at work. If I ask Matt a question I usually get a very, very quick response. To me that is a sign that everything I could think of, every issue or possible problem he has already thought of and thought through.

While he's an authoritarian with his planning it fits very well with me so I don't really have a problem with following any plan he gives me.

Even when things pop-up be it at work or sickness he's pretty quick to change it. He might get a bit grumpy about changing it but he does it. (Laughs)  In a few hours he usually has another idea.

I mean I had a small injury a week before Port which wasn't ideal and we had to spend that week working around that problem. It wasn't the typical taper he was imagining but we managed to get around it ok.

Matt focuses greatly on the aerobic aspects of training which fits well with me. I've always struggled with the higher end stuff. If I do too much of that it breaks me down a bit. Part of it is about understanding I'm not as young as I used to be and where I used to go and do a track session and really rip in and try and back up now I'm still working hard but I'm not trashing myself and that really helps with my consistency.

Matt has been really good at picking up on how much intensity I can and can't handle which enables me to continue to back up to keep the consistency. That consistency enables me to continue to back up and do 23 to 25 hour weeks. And even up to a few 28 hour weeks when Ironman was coming around. And that's fitting all that in around work.

I think my average from January to Ironman including taper is about 21-22 hours a week.That includes Husky, Goondiwindi and Ironman so there's a bit of tapering and recovery in there so it was a pretty solid average.

One of the big changes working with Matt has ben getting used to the fact that he works on training hours whereas being from a surf background I was more used to working in k's. While the training load may not change, with training hours I find it a lot easier to compare now. It has also enabled me to get my head around my training load a little bit more and put it in perspective. If I'm working 3 days at 7 hours a day that's 21 hours and if I have to train for 21 hours as well then that is like another part time job and so I have to give it the time and respect it deserves as if it were a job. It is also easier now to get the people around me to understand what I do. When you talk in kilometres a lot of people can't get their head around it, so when you talk in hours and you explain to them that it is like a job then it makes it easier for them to understand the commitment. And likewise if I don't give it the respect it deserves I don't get the income, and then I suppose technically it's not a job if I don't get any money. (Laughs) 

Transitions: When you started with Matt, was Ironman always going to be the focus?

Foxy: I wanted it to be but I definitely had my doubts. I had been through a tough time around September /October with coming home from overseas, my Nan passing away, no job and all those sorts of pressures. I was wondering whether I still wanted to do triathlon, whether I was getting what I wanted from the sport. That threw a lot of challenges at us, but in the back of my mind I wanted to do Ironman. But I was unfit and unmotivated at the time and wasn’t sure if I could turn it around by Port. But when I started with Matt he was pretty confident we could do it. But we put it to the back and just started getting back in shape. First race was Goondiwindi in January and that was more for me as I was keen to race and a bit more motivated. From Matt’s point of view he may have been slightly nervous that we might not have done enough work yet. It worked out OK, I got 2nd there and a few dollars to help out. From that point Husky was the next focus then Ironman. This was going to be my 2nd Iron distance having done Wanaka previously and I feel like the distance really suits me. At Wanaka I was a bit raw and inexperienced going a bit hard from the start and paid for it a bit but still came in in 9.02 or 9.03. I enjoyed it and learnt a few lessons along the way especially around pacing and nutrition.

Transitions: So onto Port, you actually went into the race with a bit of an injury?

Foxy: Yeah, I rolled my ankle a week out from race day. Luckily my partner is a Physio so I was getting plenty of treatment but I felt sorry for her, after getting home from work and then having to treat me. I think I did 2 40 minute runs in the weeks prior to Ironman and it blow up bth times, so I knew I was going to be in for a tough time. So that week consisted of acupuncture, massage, anti-inflammatories, sleeping with it elevated just trying everything. I just had to take the mental attitude that I assumed everyone else was probably dealing with something, after a long Ironman prep not everyone is feeling 100%. Crowie and Matt had just drummed into me that I should just get through race day and out up with the pain and not worry about Monday, Monday isn’t pay day. With that in mind I didn’t really get it looked at for over a week and it turned out I had two calf tears as well, they may have been from Ironman who knows.

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Transitions: You had a pretty good swim, you must have been happy with that.

Foxy: Yeah relatively happy, I was at the front of the second group. We had spoken about the possibility of swimming with the front group but Matt wanted me to be careful about not using up too many heartbeats too early in the race and keep it for the run. When Amberger and Fettell surged, I realised it was a bit hard for my liking so I just held my pace. They never got too far away and it is a long day and I don’t know what their race plans are. Matt and Crowie had been onto me about sticking to my plan and my pacing and not to extend myself too early knowing the more I can keep for the run the better. We were hoping for a sub 3 hour run. Brad (Khalafeldt) was the only one I thought I may have trouble running with and in the end he was there but the records now shoe Reedy has his run together. But based on previous results I was pretty sure could run with everyone there provided I didn’t stuff it up early in the day.

Transitions: The bike was an interesting one with Fettell going out hard?

Foxy: Yeah the bike was funny. I was surprised when Josh came back to us. I thought he would have stayed up front fr longer. I was just making sure I didn’t spike my power on the hills, I knew I could ride by myself if I had to rather than get caught up in the pace of the bunch as surging isn’t a strong point for me. So I sat back ff the group quite a bit where I could just see them up in the distance but not get sucked into the surging. I managed to join back in when they caught up with Josh then the surging started again so I dropped off the back again. Then at the turnaround I saw the Ambrose and Reed were catching us so I decided I needed to be around the pack when they all came together as I didn’t want to be out the back by myself when there is 7 guys up front going hard. After about the 110km mark is when the attacks started and that’s when I had to be smart. I think I did the last 60km solo but it worked out better for me as going with them could have burnt me up too much. Tim Reed is renowned for having a great 20 min power from when he wasn’t such a good swimmer to catch the lead pack so I needed to be mindful of the fact that he still might have had one or two surges left in the tank. As it was it turned out to be a pretty eventful back end of the ride with Josh Amberger getting his penalty. Funnily enough I didn’t even see Josh in the penalty box as I rode past. I wasn’t till he ran past me on the run that I thought, “Where the hell did you come from?” It was good though, because as Josh ran past Matt Koorey was there on the sidelines yelling at me to “think”.

Transitions: Was the injury playing on your mind at any stage?

Foxy: It hadn’t affected me in the swim or on the bike all week, it had only affected me on the run. I had done a few things in the lead up to try and do all I could. I had gone out and got some longer socks with a bit of compression. But other than that I didn’t really have much time to think about it.

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Transitions: So you hit the run, and Josh appears from nowhere, how are you feeling at this stage?

Foxy: The legs felt pretty good from the start. It wasn’t really until the third lap that they started to feel a bit ordinary. But I think by then everyone is a little bit buggered, you get to 28-30ks and that is just how it is. I think I paced it pretty well, maybe a little quick out fo transition but feeling like I was running within myself. As I said Josh went past me just as I passed Dave Dellow. I think Dave was going through a rough patch just before I caught him. Then Josh put about 15 seconds into me then jumped into a porta-loo which turned into 40 seconds the other way then that was the last I saw Josh and only found out later of his DQ. After that Dave seemed to get stronger again and got away from me and I was set in 4th. The leg was starting to hurt a little then and I was nearly cramping on the downhills near Town Beach. I knew Dougal Allan wasn’t too far behind and he is a strong finisher but I had just enough gap that I could afford to lose a few seconds on the hills to manage the leg and keep the cramps at bay. I had a few friends giving me plenty of advice from the sidelines thinking I was a chance at running for third, but I was dealing with enough issues as it was. It would have been nice to get on the podium but it wasn’t to be.

Transitions: Unfortunately for you, one of your best finishes went almost unnoticed as you managed to cross the line just as the podium was being announced and it was bucketing down rain.

Foxy: Yeah I think most people didn’t notice I had crossed the line, but from my point of view that didn’t really matter. I didn’t know what to expect going in but was ecstatic at 4th. 8.26 was a pretty handy time as well. While time isn’t always a good indicator with the different races and conditions most people have a fair bit of respect for a time like that at Port, and a time like that in the last 3 or 4 years would have made the podium. So from that point of view given the competition a podium would hve been nice for a better pay day but being in the mix with the athletes that were there on the day gives me plenty of confidence going forward.

Transitions: So this race was a bit of a breakthrough for you. Coming 4th in great company, getting a sub 8.30 finish time and running sub 3 which one of those things excites you the most?

Foxy: Probably the overall time. I thought I was a chance of getting top 5 if I had a good day, and we thought I was capable of running sub 3, even though I just scraped it in but I think we expected my ride to be about 10 minutes slower. When I saw the time getting off the bike, I thought I may have had to reassess the sub 3 run. So given that and the “niggle” I am still proud of the sub 3 run. I mean in professional racing time is not all that important it’s all about placings but yeah, still very happy with the time. Top 3 would look better on the CV or to sell myself to sponsors, but it wasn’t a soft field and I was 4th behind an impressive top 3, so yeah still very stoked with the result.

Transitions: So what does Matt have lined up for you next?

Foxy: Bintan is next for me. It’s generally a hot race and I tend to race well in the heat. I raced Putrajaya a few years back and even though I as underdone I think I fared better than a lot of others in the heat and I made the podium at Challenge Melbourne on a day when it was 42 degrees so I tend to not mind the heat. It also plays to my run strength a little as those who like to smash the bike still have to run in the heat and they can struggle a bit. With those types of races you just have to know it’s going to be hot, and going to be hot for a long time and do what you can to get through it as best you can.
After that the next Ironman is looking like being IMWA which works well with my job, being term 4 at school the workload is a bit less so I should be able to ramp up the training load for that.

Transitions: So with a great result at Port I assume sponsors have been knocking down our door?

Foxy: Yeah the sponsors are happy so far. All of mine are product based no financial sponsors…..yet! That is still a work in progress. I think I am showing some real potential and getting them to take a bit more notice whereas last year I was a bit more inconsistent, but equally my sponsors stuck by me last year when I wasn’t quite as consistent. Hopefully if I can back up Ironman with a few good results in a few halves and be a bit more consistent then hopefully the rewards may come from that. These sort of results do tend to open a few more doors that previously were closed. For now though it is lucky I still have a real job.

We wish "Foxy" the best of luck at Bintan, an hope the rest of the season is a huge success. 

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