Taking flight with Larisa Marsh

Kiwi Larisa Marsh is a speedy age grouper and an engineer in the aerospace industry. She is currently getting ready for the 30th edition of Ironman New Zealand and we had a chat with her about racing, training and working.

Slowtwitch: Thank you for your time.

Larisa Marsh: Thank you. It’s great to be able to chat. I’m a keen follower of Slowtwitch and love reading the athlete interviews, so it’s awesome to be able to speak with you.

ST We accidentally bumped into you in Kona a few days before the race and it is good that we finally get to connect on purpose.

Larisa: Yes definitely. I think you captured me mid-run in a final tune-up session a few days out from race day. The triathlon community is an awesome bunch of people and it was great to meet you and so many other new people at Kona this year.

ST: As we were going through the shots of that day and we came upon your pictures we suspected that you might be a Pro.

Larisa: Thanks, I’ll take that as a compliment!

ST: You were 6th in your age group in Kona and I believe you finished in a similar spot the previous two years, albeit in a different age group in 2011. But you steadily improved your time. Catherine Faux is kind of an outlier, but is everybody else just stepping up their game too?

Larisa: Yes for sure. She had an outstanding day and is a fantastic athlete, it’s very inspiring. I think the whole age group field is stepping up their game. Athletes seem to be committing a lot more time to training and to small performance improvements than ever before. I have improved my Kona time by 45min over the past 2 years but I know I haven’t raced to my potential yet.

ST: Somehow though I think you expected more and not just this time.

Larisa: I always expect more! All in all 2013 was a bit of a mixed year for me with a lot of changes. I spent 3 months in the US leading into Kona rather than coming directly from New Zealand and my employer was good enough to let me keep working remotely through that time. What was a great idea at the beginning turned into quite a stressful time and a less than ideal build up for Kona. I went into the race not as fit or as confident as I have been in the past but I was still determined to have a great day. It’s easy to forget that this is the World Championships and you are incredibly privileged to be racing with the best athletes in the world in a fantastically stunning place.

ST: What made that time stressful?

Larisa: Without going into too much detail, we were nearing completion of a big work project with several deadlines for reports that needed to be completed. Working remotely was painfully slow and it made simple tasks quite frustrating. I was taking Skype calls late at night, generally not getting a lot of sleep and stressing about it all too much! I’m not one to complain though - it’s all part of it. I just had to get on with it and get the work done and am grateful for the opportunity to still be employed and have a job to return home to.

ST: I believe you work in the aerospace world. Can you tell us what you do exactly?

Larisa: Sure. I work for a company called Altitude Aerospace Interiors. Altitude is an aerospace interiors completion centre and a subsidiary of Air New Zealand – that’s a bit of a mouthful but basically we design and manufacture custom aircraft interiors for commercial airlines and private aircraft. I work in the stress engineering team and my job is to make sure that our products meet the relevant structural requirements. That involves a lot of structural analysis using various engineering simulation software packages (FEA for the engineers reading this) and a lot of hand calculations and excel spreadsheets! I enjoy what I do and it’s always exciting to see the finished products flying around the world. Working with composite structures also has a lot of relevance within the bicycle industry and I am fortunate to have been involved with a couple of projects within the industry.

ST: Your bike split has improved quite nicely. Is that what you have pursued in training the hardest?

Larisa: Not specifically. I think I just love riding my bike! I have a passion for all things bike related and consequently cycling has always been my strength. I try to keep the training fairly evenly split between swim, bike, run but I definitely enjoy riding the most.

ST: Walk us through your race if you could. What worked and what did not?

Larisa: I felt pretty good on race morning and set out to just enjoy the day. I felt a lot of pressure leading into the race but tried to not let it affect me and was excited to be racing in Kona again. I had my family here supporting me and was looking forward to the day ahead.

I started the swim a couple of rows back, not at the front like I usually would. I’m usually a pretty confident swimmer and would normally push for the front row. I think subconsciously I seeded myself further back, probably because confidence was a bit low leading into the race. Looking back now, I realize it was silly and rather than getting off to a good clean start I got bashed around in the swim more than I expected. Other than the start, I felt pretty good in the swim and kept a fairly good rhythm for most of the day. The final 500m of the swim is always really exciting when you can start to hear the crowd and it gets you buzzing!

I shot through T1 and headed out on the bike. I had done a lot of riding on the Kona course and had a fair idea what to expect. I got to work early on and it felt great to really push it hard. You can’t help but smile, riding through the ‘hot corner.’ What I didn’t expect was to come crashing down at the first aid station! I didn’t need anything from the first aid station so I stayed to the left. Unfortunately the guy in front of me dropped a bottle to his left and my front wheel struck the bottle square on and I hit the road, boom! It all happened so quickly that I didn’t have time to react or think! I gathered my scattered bottles thanks to the kind lady at the aid station who came running over with my all-important fuelling bottle, put the chain back on and got going again. I remember thinking at the time if Mary Beth Ellis can race after a broken collarbone then a bit of lost skin won’t hurt me! It’s funny because at that moment I almost felt like the pressure lifted a little. I rode pretty well the rest of the day, kept really focused and determined to make up the time I lost on the ground, but without overdoing it. A lot of athletes were kind enough to ask if I was ok throughout the day – they could see the grazing on the back of my shoulder that I couldn’t! Last year the final 65km was a bit of a grovel into the headwind home but this year I was ready for it and made good progress in the last section of the ride, passing a lot of others who may have pushed it too hard early on!

I set out on the run at a comfortable pace and just went about ticking off each kilometer. The first 16km section along Alii Drive went by pretty quickly and before I knew it I was climbing back up Palani again. I knew a lot more people in Kona this year so the support out there on the course was awesome. I kept a really consistent pace and kept focused on getting the nutrition in and moving forward. I passed another girl in my age group at the energy lab turnaround to move into 6th place and just put my head down and pushed it through the last 12km for a 10.01 finish – damn that 1 minute! The last 10km hurt a lot but it was an awesome feeling to finish knowing that I had pushed harder than I thought I could.

ST: As you were on course did you have an idea where you were in your age group?

Larisa: I had some idea although it’s always quite hard to know exactly where you are. I try to stay focused on my own race and not spend any extra energy on who is ahead or behind me but I knew that I was within the top 10 for most of the day.

ST: Did you know the other competitors in your age group who were ahead of you?

Larisa: I knew a few of the names but didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. I just had to stay focused on my own race.

ST: Once the race was over, did you have some time to relax or was work calling you back to New Zealand?

Larisa: We had a couple of days to relax but work was definitely calling. Having been away from NZ for 3.5 months, I was actually really looking forward to getting home and back to regular routine, and the New Zealand summer!

ST: Looking back at the 2013 season, in what terms would you describe it and what do you consider your proudest moment?

Larisa: Like I said earlier, 2013 was a bit of a mixed year for me with a lot of ups and downs. There were a few stressful times but I really enjoyed a bit of travelling and feel incredibly fortunate to have met a lot of fantastic people. My proudest moment was crossing the finish in Kona knowing that I had given my all in front of family and friends there to support me.

ST: What is on target for 2014?

Larisa: I raced the Challenge Wanaka Half on 19th January here in NZ and had a great day to take out the overall female win. It was a great honest race on a tough but incredibly stunning course and a good confidence boost for the rest of the season. The next race for me is Ironman New Zealand in Taupo on March 1st. This will be my fourth time racing IM NZ. I love the event and I am quite looking forward to racing again. It will be my last race of the NZ season and then I will have a bit of a break before rebuilding through the NZ winter for some racing at the end of the year and the beginning of the 2014/2015 season. There is plenty to be excited about for this year!

ST: All well with Simon?

Larisa: Yes he is great. He is also building towards Ironman NZ and is on track for a great day there too.

ST: Is there anything else we should know?

Larisa: During my time at university I worked as a bike mechanic at the local bike shop. I’m a really practical person and really enjoy building and fixing bikes. I do all my own bike maintenance and love this side of the sport. I have just signed a sponsorship contract with Specialized NZ and will be working with the team to put my engineering/mechanic/general bike geek-ness into good use promoting the brand within the triathlon and women’s cycling scene here in New Zealand. I love this stuff!

ST: Do you work on Simon’s bike too?

Larisa: Yes I do. Only if he does the dishes though!

ST: Good luck to both of you at Ironman New Zealand.

Larisa: Thanks very much. It’s the 30th anniversary of the race and should be a fantastic event. The hard work has all been done and I’m looking forward to a great day out there!