Aussie Levi Maxwell won the M25-29 category at the 2014 GoPro Ironman World Championships in Kona with a 8:52:14 time, but it was not an easy path to the Big Island for this talented young athlete. He was plagued by illnesses in 2013 and 2014 and even thought at one point that he might not race again, but we are glad that is not so and when it was all said and done he made a big splash in Kona. Finishing second age grouper behind Dan Stubleski (24th overall) and 26th place overall - thus sandwiching last year's age group overall champion Kyle Buckingham who was 25th overall.
Slowtwitch: Levi, thank you for your time.
Levi Maxwell: No problems, Thank you for taking the time to get to know me.
ST: Age Group Ironman World Champion certainly has a nice ring, and I guess you can still hear Mike Reilly say it.
Levi: It’s a dream come true! I have wanted to hear those words for three years now! And even though I have put it behind me and am focused on getting back into training, it’s a moment I will cherish forever and I still get goose bumps thinking about it.
ST: Your path to Kona however wasn’t so smooth.
Levi: My training block for Kona was very good but before that I was very unwell and wasn’t sure I would be doing an IM for a long time. It was only in December 2013 that I knew I might have a chance to qualify at Melbourne.
ST: In 2012 you tried to qualify for Kona in Busselton. But your second place in 18-24 was not sufficient to get the slot. Were you very disappointed or knowing being so young that more opportunities would arise?
Levi: Both. A part of me was very angry as there were people going who had raced much slower than me in other age groups. However as disappointing as it was at the time, I think it was a blessing in disguise, as I don’t think I was ready for Kona. I was just young and a touch arrogant. The extra year of training age and lower levels of pressure to perform were far more valuable than the experience of racing at the big island. As it turned out I wouldn’t have been able to race anyway as I became very ill after Busselton.
ST: Who won that slot in Busselton and how did he then do in Kona?
Levi: Justin Brewer, I believe he didn’t go too well. But the big story was fellow Enduranceteam athlete Amos Gollach who finished behind me at Busselton went on that year to qualify, win and set a course record at IM Cairns. He then continued on to win the world champs. I was happy for him, but disappointed as I knew that could’ve been me.
ST: Did you also attempt to qualify in 2013?
Levi: I had planned to try again at IM Cairns but I was still very unwell. 2013 was a write off for me and a dark time in my life.
ST: What happened?
Levi: I had the flu something fierce and was bed ridden for about a month then I started to feel better and got a chest infection that hung around for a few weeks then after all of that cleared up I just felt crap. The doctors thought maybe chronic fatigue or post viral fatigue. I wasn’t sure if I would ever race again, and the thought of this and feeling crap all the time left me in a very bad head space. I am very lucky to have my girl friend, housemates, coach Jarrod Evans and my supporters in my life at that time and kept me going through this stage. In the end it wasn’t chronic fatigue, the doctors think it was likely glandular fever and post viral fatigue. Then it was a long, slow road back into training.
ST: Word has it that you also got sick as you trained for Melbourne in 2014.
Levi: I am not 100% sure; I think it was food poisoning or gastro. We had just come back from a training camp and raced the Olympic Distance Gatorade triathlon. The night before the race we went out for dinner. In the morning of the race I was a little quezish with a little bit of the runs but I just thought I was nervous. I raced and finished 3rd in the open category. Shortly after I finished my stomach was killing me, but I just thought nothing of it and went and got lunch. I then knew I was in trouble, as quick as lunch went down, it came back up and out both ends if you know what I mean. Latter on that day I wasn’t getting any better and I had no energy to even walk to the toilet to vomit so my girlfriend rushed me to the hospital where I was on countless drips and had a temp of 40.
ST: And what did the docs say?
Levi: The doctors said that it was likely gastro but it could have been food poisoning but there is no way to know for sure unless I had some of the food that I ate.
ST: But you recovered in time and smacked one out of the park in Melbourne. Course record and Kona slot. Could it have gone any better?
Levi: LOL Thanks for the comment! I think in every race or prep you will find something you could have improved on or done better, otherwise you would never improve. At Melbourne I had a limited prep and I was only back training for the race in December and I had a week off in there when I fell sick. I felt I was less developed on the bike at Melbourne, which I think could have cost me a better run time than I did.
ST: With the Kona slot in hand, what did you do to get ready for the race?
Levi: After every IM I have some down time for up to 6 weeks and nothing changed there. For this IM prep I trained just as hard and with same volume as my IM Melbourne prep but was right on top of the 1%ers. I was stretching and foam rolling everyday and getting regular massages and this made a massive difference. I also bought myself a power meter which meant my coach could give me specific power targets each week – whether it was used to limit power (recovery sessions) or something to reach for.
ST: What bike do you race on and what kind of power meter did you decide on?
Levi: I have always ridden a Giant Trinity. I love that bike and am very comfortable on it. I decided on Stages power meter mostly for its ease of use and price.
ST: I assume you had the title in mind when you came to Hawaii, and not just being there.
Levi: You are spot on there! I always have a plan A and plan B. My plan A (which is achievable if everything goes well on the day) was to win my AG and be close to the overall AG title. Plan B was to just finish at all costs. I really learnt a lot about the difference of racing IM world champs compared to any other IM. The competition and conditions are brutal.
ST: With whom had you been training leading up to the race and what advice were you given?
Levi: I am an Enduranceteam athlete and early in the prep I trained with the squad in Geelong but when things became more specific and individual I began to ride and run on my own. While I was racing in Queensland during Aug/Sept I swam with Kingy’s Ironman Academy squad on the Sunshine Coast. My house mate was also training for Kona and he had been a few times before so I got plenty of advice about the race from him which was invaluable.
ST: Who is your house mate?
Levi: Brett Dunstan who finished 5th in his AG. Big congrats to him on his best finish on the Big Island.
ST: Did you race in Kona go as you imagined?
Levi: Like I said earlier I always make a plan A that is what I expect to do if the conditions are good and things go well. The overall time was pretty close to what I had planned. My plan was to swim and ride a little faster but I quickly learned how rough the conditions were and how aggressive the swim was, I have never been so badly bashed! I rode slightly slower but the winds were up so I expected that. So overall I am very pleased and given the conditions I would say I was on par.
ST: What was the low point for you?
Levi: The swim. I had anticipated being back in the field out of the swim but it was a real eye opener. There is a big difference in this race as an age grouper if you are a faster swimmer. It allows you to gain some space in the water and on the bike. It’s so congested when you are an average swimmer like I am.
ST: At any point did you think that the title might not be in the cards?
Levi: No. I would never write myself off in an Ironman as too much can change quickly. Especially as the run is my strongest leg, a lot of ground can be made up and it’s never over till it’s over. Even so, after the swim and start of the bike I thought I was going to be in for a hard day and long chase.
ST: Do you consider yourself a patient person?
Levi: In racing, yes. I have to be as my weak swim leg forces me back in the field early in the race, so I have to be patient to make things happen. In everyday life, no.
ST: I believe you caught the leading M25-29 age grouper on the run. Did you also know where the overall top age grouper was? And did you care?
Levi: That’s correct, I was in the AG lead on Ali’I Dr. I roughly knew I was 2nd overall AG but didn’t know by how much. I definitely cared but my main focus was my AG. But that didn’t mean that if I was in for a chance I wasn’t going to try. I knew he was close in the energy lab, but I just couldn’t bridge the gap. So well done to him, great race!
ST: Those last few miles of the run as you came back into town, what went through your mind?
Levi: I knew I was winning my AG comfortably. And people were like “soak it up its in the bag” But I was thinking where’s 1st overall? I thought I could see him off in the distance so I made a break for it and dug deep, unfortunately it wasn’t good enough. So then I knew I was going to finish second overall which I was still stoked with in my first time at the big island.
ST: A 2:54:17 run is certainly nothing to sneeze at.
Levi: It was a PB for me. And I think I can go faster. I think as I was in the lead early in the run it allowed me to relax and enjoy it. I was surprised to hear that it was the fastest AG marathon. I knew there were some great runners in the field so that just means the ride and run conditions were very challenging.
ST: What kind of time might be possible for you?
Levi: I would like to break 2:50 one day. And I think I can do it.
ST: Who was the first person you spoke to after you were across the line?
Levi: I thanked the volunteers who presented me with lays and helped me to the athlete area and then did a thank you on camera to the volunteers. Then I was whisked away to drug testing before I had a chance to see my family and as it was my first one I didn’t know I could go see them so it was a new experience. But when I was out I saw my girlfriend, housemate and sponsor and it was very emotional as we were all over the moon. We all believed I could do it but there was a lot that could have gone wrong. They have all been there and experienced the dark times with me so it was great to have a bright time.
ST: What kind of drug testing was done and had you been tested before?
Levi: It was my first ever drug test. And it was good to see them being done on age groupers to ensure the sport stays clean and fair. It was a urine test. The worst part of the drug test was the waiting room was freezing! Maybe it was a tactic to speed the process along.
ST: Did you have some time to relax after the race?
Levi: For sure. My girlfriend and I spent a week in Kona and a week in Waikiki holidaying and sightseeing. It was much needed quality time together as she puts up with a lot to support me so I always make sure I look after her after a big race.
ST: So what is next?
Levi: Kona next year to try and defend my title and move up the ranks overall to first place. Before that I am still unsure and not thinking about it too much right now but It might be similar to this year.
ST: Is there anything else we should know?
Levi: I am very thankful for you taking the time to interview me and for the people who are close to me.