Still only 34, Will Clarke has been a stalwart on the elite triathlon scene since 2002, where he made his debut as an elite junior racer. The road to Kona 2019 has witnessed Clarke collect an U23 ITU world title in 2006, the Olympic Games in Beijing, and failure to make the 2012 team four years later as the Brownlees captivated a nation in Hyde Park (a selection process Clarke described as being “like hell.”).
The BMC-Vitfit Pro Tri Team athlete’s move to long-course racing has brought about further highs (he has three sub-8hr Ironman finishes to his name) and lows (he’s struggled in his two previous attempts in Kona). And yet he’s back in Hawaii as the best prepared he’s ever been, having spent late summer altitude training at Livigno in Italy before warm-weather acclimitisation in Texas alongside the reigning Kona champ Patrick Lange.
The latter saw Clarke perform low volume, high intensity efforts with the German, and he admits to feeling more potent as a result. But talking to the Brit at a Team BMC showcase at Huggo’s in Hawaii, and you become aware and the sacrifices, perils and pressure that pro triathletes have to face in order to make a living in Ironman.
“I haven’t seen my four-year-old son for a month and the Hawaii experience will have cost me six thousand pounds,” says Clarke. “It is a sacrifice and a burden, but it’s something I have to do as if you take yourself seriously as an Iron athlete then you have to be here. If you don’t come here desperate, then you can go home. The pressure is good for me and keeps the fire in my belly.”
Clarke’s Hawaii ventures so far have ended in disappointment, and he’s aware of the pitfalls of not racing to his own plan come Saturday morning on the Big Island. “The race does scare me,” Clarke admits, “Everyone over-bikes and moves out of their comfort zone. The worst-case scenario is to miss the packs on the bike and ride on your own for 180km; you need other athletes to bounce off and the aero benefits of being in a group.”
Clarke will be joined by his old friend and former training partner, Ali Brownlee, for the first time in Hawaii. Having had dinner with Brownlee this week, Clarke has high hopes for his fellow Brit. “He’s good to go. He’s really smart and leaves no stone unturned. I think he’s the most talented triathlete in history and he wants his title as the best triathlete on the planet back.”
And what of Clarke’s own pre-race goals and his future in the sport that’s dominated his life? “I’ll be proud to run myself into the top 10. I want to stay on Team BMC and earn myself another contract with them. My own coaching setup, Will Clarke Coaching, is going well and I want to start a Zwift team next year. But I know that I can leave pro racing with no regrets.”