The spirited Josh Amberger

Josh Amberger is one of several outstanding Australian ITU triathletes on the rise and is well known for a fast swim and very aggressive cycling. He spent time with slowtwitch to talk about racing, training, family and the terrible Queensland flood.

Slowtwitch: Josh thanks for your time.

Josh: I must say this is a bit humbling, I've been a long time lurker on Slowtwitch.

ST: No need to feel humbled. We wouldn’t talk to you if we didn’t feel you deserved it. Plus we chatted with your mate Jimmy Seear a few months back, so it is time to have a few words with you.

Josh: It’s funny because I was actually a bit envious of Jimmy’s Slowtwitch interview. Getting one of these interviews is like attaining a cult status in the triathlon world, but Jimmy mentioned my name a few times in his interview, so that made me feel better about it!

ST: Have people called you Josh Hamburger?

Josh: In school I would always get people asking if I wanted fries with that, but the ‘hamburger’ thing never really comes up. When I was 12 years old, I started swimming with the legendary John Rogers (JR), who now coaches at Toronto University. JR is the oldest, grittiest, toughest, and you could say funniest coach around, so when he starts a nickname it sticks. Burgerman isn’t so different to Hamburger though. I’m still an ailment, after all.

ST: You are actually injured currently. What exactly is wrong and how much longer have you to deal with it?

Josh: I’ve got a pesky problem with my left Achilles. I’ve never been injured before, and when it came on in mid-December I had no idea what it was, so I kept training through it until I actually couldn’t run anymore. You could say I’m one of those guys who is that dedicated they refuse to acknowledge they have an injury. As you could imagine, this attitude was quite counterproductive, and I haven’t run now in 6 weeks. It’s not so bad though, I’ve still been riding, and swimming is almost back to career best. I would anticipate a few more weeks of non-running, then I can start back to walk-runs etc. Of course I am missing out on crucial base miles, but I’m looking at this positively. This time last year, I would have already logged 5 weeks of training at national camps. National camps down under are pretty cutthroat, and my competitiveness usually gets the best of me. All this early intensity probably hampered the longevity of my 2010 season because I actually had my last race in August, which is way too early to end the season. I might just last a bit longer this year.

ST: When you see all the destruction around you caused by the floods, does that bring all things like injury back into perspective?

Josh: It certainly does. For those who didn’t know, my state of Queensland has been a disaster zone for almost the better part of a month, and last week my city of Brisbane also fell victim as the waters from inland moved towards the East coast. All of a sudden calls were being made to batten down the hatches because the floods are coming to us! I’m out in the suburbs so I personally wasn’t affected, but it was quite surreal to see it happening. Instead of waking up, having a bite to eat and heading off for a ride or swim, I would turn on the TV and just watch in amazement at all the things underwater, or about to go underwater. Training, and certainly my injury fell second in respect for service to my fellow Brisneylanders, and my immediate thoughts were ‘what can I do’ and ‘how can I help’. So definitely, the floods put my injury back into perspective in the face of thousands and thousands of displaced Queenslanders, with a projected two year and multi-billion dollar economic recovery, and unprecedented social bereavement and recovery.

ST: How have friends and family of yours been impacted by the floods?

Josh: I actually don’t have any family in Australia - all my family is either across the ditch in New Zealand or in the Netherlands. Otherwise, I only really had acquaintances affected by the floods. I don’t think there isn’t someone who doesn’t know anybody affected. Not having any family or friends affected didn’t stop me, or stop the Aussie spirit of getting amongst it and helping out total strangers. It’s all over the news about the diaspora of volunteers simply arriving at affected areas to help out.

ST: You mentioned something about helping out the AIS Triathlon Nutritionist this weekend. Who is all involved?

Josh: Greg Cox is suspect you’re mentioning, he is triathlete himself with a 2009 ITU age group World Champs win and a few Kona finishes. His house was courted by the floods, and unfortunately succumbed. Shaun Stephens the AIS Head Coach actually put out the call as soon as it happened, so we’re banding up this Saturday after the insurers pay a hopefully benevolent visit to his home. I’m not sure who will turn up, but I assume the triathlon community will play a big role in getting Greg and his family back to their daily routine.

ST: Explain the family in New Zealand and Netherlands to us.

Josh: I was born in Australia, but both my parents are Kiwis. While I have my mum, dad and sister here in Australia with me, we're always alone when it comes to celebrating Christmas. My Mum moved over here at an early age to start a career in teaching whilst my Dad spent most of his time in the New Zealand military, only moving over to Australia to eventually marry Mum and to start a new life. My Mum was one of four children to the first Dutch immigrants in New Zealand after the Second World War, so I have a rich network of family in the Netherlands too. I also have a Dutch passport, which is handy.

ST: How about your training?

Josh: My training hasn’t really been affected - I think it would be selfish to say that it has been affected. Sure a lot of my running territory was underwater for over a week, but I’m not running anyway so it’s not of concern. A lot of mountain areas that I ride have been affected by landslides so a few climbs are out of action, but there are plenty of others around so it’s not too bad.

ST: Looking back at 2010, what would you consider your season highlight?

Josh: 2010 was a mixed year for me. I had a Continental Cup win in Korea which you could say was my best result, but I had won two Continental Cups in 2009 so I wouldn’t really consider it a highlight. I raced in three World Cups in 2010, and goal was to get a podium in a World Cup race, which didn’t eventuate. Alternatively, I can say that the highlight for my 2010 season was the fact that in all three of these World Cup races, I played a lead in role in swim/bike breakaways, being the first on the run course in all three. While I didn’t have the legs to get the goal of a podium finish, I had the courage and tenacity to put myself in a position to win in each race by dedicating 100% to being ahead of the field by the run leg. This is how I like to race, and I believe it will soon pay off.

ST: What is on your schedule for 2011?

Josh: I’ve tentatively scrapped the Australian domestic series to focus on getting my Achilles to 100%, but I would like to be on the start line for another World Cup at Mooloolaba. If this doesn‘t eventuate, my first race will be the 5150 race at St. Anthony’s. I’ve decided this year I should play to my strengths, and try my hand at this new series. Obviously qualifying for Des Moines will be the main goal aside from Des Moines itself. For qualifying, I’m hoping to do Washington DC and Provo on top of St. Anthony’s, but this will depend on my studies as I’m in the last year of my degree at university. I will then either choose between Boulder 5150 and Edmonton World Cup, which are on the same weekend. If I can perform well in these races, chances for a spot in the Australian U23 ITU team for Worlds at Beijing would be high, and I would love to have a corker there on a course that would play to my strengths. Later in the year, I will focus on the Noosa Triathlon, and a few smaller races like Hamilton Island and Bintan Triathlon in the guise of getting back to grassroots and competing alongside the amateurs. I think this is something a lot of elite athletes neglect.

ST: Talk about your training.

Josh: My training is actually undergoing restructure as I recently left my coach of five years. I guess you could say the closest thing I have to a coach at the moment would be Courtney Atkinson who I train with weekly. I’m pretty much plagiarizing his workouts, so I guess you could say I’m in good hands. Part of the reason for my change was because I felt I my training was too competitive in the squad, and I was obsessive about being number one every session. I eventually found out that this is not sustainable so I’ve toned things down quite a bit. I’m also completing my level one coaching course to make things more official for myself, and maybe I can branch out with some online work in the future. Otherwise, a typical training week for this time of the year would be a lot of work on the bike, with a focus on aerobic hill work of 20minute+ climbs, and in general, a lot of time in the saddle. I’ve been swimming all my life, and I find if I’m swimming well, then I’m overall in really good shape, so some high end swim sessions are always in order. I’ve been getting into lots of aerobic miles and short rest, with an occasional dabble in speed and some abstract gear like sponges for strength work. With running, I’m specifically working on good economy. I have a good engine with an 81.7 Vo2, but I have quite poor running economy. So lots of tempo running at specific zones with build runs in the mix, with volume generally at 80-100km.

ST: One would imagine that Courtney Atkinson is a good man to learn from, outside from training and racing.

Josh: For sure. Courtney is one of those athletes that stand above the rest when it comes to factors beyond performance. How many professional athletes whilst in the peak of their career go home to a wife and child everyday? I think it's this element that has elevated Courtney to a revered status, certainly in Australia anyway. Even Courtney says that starting a family was the best thing for his career, and it is this attitude that permeates him into this amazing figurehead. We can talk about training theory for three hour rides, then we can talk about business stuff the entire next ride, but at the end of the day, we talk really have to talk about anything for me to get the important lessons from him, the life skills essential to be successful in and away from sport. I hope I can return the favor someday!

ST: Anything exciting about your sponsorships?

Josh: I’m happy to be riding Kuota again for this season. I put the KOM through every test last season in the drafting races, and I’m hoping the new Kalibur will be just as thrilling to ride in the 5150 races this year. Garmin are preventing me from getting lost in foreign lands and forests, and also providing all the scientific data I need for my new found romance with smart training. Neways has been keeping me healthy with natural supplements for the last 4 years, and I just jumped aboard the rocket train with Rocket Science Sports for race gear and wetsuits. I’m also supplied with some eye wear provisions from Adidas. Something equally exciting would be gaining a US based sponsor to help me along in my 5150 quest! (Josh is sponsored through Rocket Science Australia)

ST: Can you share with us some of your food likes and dislikes?

Josh: I have a diehard love for Asian food, specifically Indian and Malaysian. Not surprisingly, I had been to both countries on holiday within the last four months and experienced the food first hand in the dingiest of side alleys and the most questionable of kitchens. But you know, this is where the allure is. For me, the appeal is the spice, for the intense collision of spice to the mouth cannot be outdone. After every meal in these countries, my face would be sweating, my mouth and lips burning, but it felt good. It feels like an instant detox (an inside tip just for the ST readers, eat a hot curry the night before a race, it will clean you out). In Australia though, I have to ask for ‘Indian hot’, not ‘Australian hot’. Another monolithic like of mine would be my girlfriend’s baking. My girlfriend is Ashleigh Gentle, the current Junior World Champion. Essentially, she understands my needs for intensely flavorsome and rich goodies for in between sessions.

Food dislikes would easily be fast food. It was a really cult thing in my family to get takeaways when I was growing up because, well, obviously my parents were smart. It’s odd because Australia has a sickening fast food culture, which needs to be crushed, and I genuinely feel sick whenever I have eaten fast food in the past. On the beverage side of things, I like my coffee black, and strong. Espresso or nothing! I also like a good drop of red, soda water or a slick G&T to unwind at the end of a long day, but not too often of course. I find it hard to dislike fluids, but I have certainly cut back on soft drinks.

ST: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Josh: I will only be 26, but prolific with regards to the ‘warm and fuzzy’ aspects of the sport. I see myself as an ambassador for the sport and as the approachable athlete who has no divisions when it comes to participation in events of all sizes and levels. I can see myself as notoriously being one of the toughest competitors on both the ITU and non-drafting circuit, and with a few big wins behind my name. I will also have an arts degree in History and International Relations with a Masters in the field. On the cultural side of things, I see myself as an underground musician in abstract drone music with fellow composer and competitor Dan Wilson, with a few releases limited 20 copies on home-dubbed cassette.

ST: Is there anything else we should know about you?

Josh: I have an insatiable compulsion to collect vinyl records from the underground metal scene. I think it will be impossible for me to ever stop collecting, so I think my addiction is something that should be public now rather than later. Maybe a Slowtwitch reader can fulfill some of the obscure stuff on my want list? I am also a big history buff, and love to read, study and expose controversial things, specifically from the modern globalization period and World War Two war crimes. Maybe one day, I would like to be one of the guys pulling strings on a global scale, for the collective good, of course.

You can follow Josh on his blog: