Last year, Josh Amberger approached the start line of the Kona World Championship for the very first time. Back then, he was widely regarded as one of the hottest up-and-coming athletes in the sport. At the end of the swim leg, Josh was first out of the water, grabbing an early lead over the fiercest field of competitors ever. He rode and ran his heart out during the remainder of the race, but faded out of contention. This year, he’s back, and he’s no longer an up-and-comer. The triathlon world expects the young Australian to be among the first, if not the very first again, out of the water at Kona. How he’ll monitor his efforts on the bike and the run remains to be seen. But a year older and a whole heck of a lot wiser, Josh is ready for his sophomore effort at the biggest race in the world. And no matter what his strategy may be, he’ll come out swinging, ready to fight for the win.
FELT: Tell us about your 2018 racing season so far. What have been some of the highlights and some of the low points?
Josh: One of my biggest highlights was taking second place at Ironman South Africa. It’s one of the major races on the Ironman circuit, and it’s always popular for those with early season form. Being an Aussie, it’s easy for me to have form early on in the season after coming off the back of a long, hot summer. It was just a really well-rounded and well-executed race, and a result I’m really proud of. A low point for me this season was suffering an ITB injury that’s seen me miss my last two races, both 70.3-distance events. It’s cropped up twice during race weeks, which has just been really poor timing. As a result, I’ve only raced four times this year. I typically race 8-12 times a year, at least!
FELT: What’s your favorite memory from your career racing triathlon?
Josh: Every athlete loves winning, right? Memories of winning races, particularly ones that are won against all odds, are always really nice to reflect on. A race in recent memory that comes to mind was a 70.3 event in Xiamen, China. I led the race until the last lap on the run, where it was certain that Tim Don was going to catch and overtake me at any moment to seal the victory. I waited for the pass, but it never came. I was able to find something deep within to hold off Tim and rally back to win the race wire-to-wire.
FELT: What racing goal would you like to achieve that you haven’t yet?
Josh: I’d love to win more championships. Championships are important because in triathlon they represent the mark that you are a complete athlete across swimming, cycling, and running. That’s my goal in the sport, to be the most well-rounded athlete I can be. You can hide in some races, but not at the world or regional championship level. A Kona title is the ultimate, so let’s just settle for that as the answer!
FELT: Describe your hardest day of training for Kona.
Josh: There are so many hard days of training, it’s hard to pick just one! I think big bike days are the hardest. Bike days normally aren’t just one long ride or anything. They can be two or three rides in the one day, with them mostly all being very intense. The idea is to be finishing the last hour of the day on the bike with a similar fatigue level that you would feel when racing an Ironman distance race, which I can tell you is never a pleasant feeling. You just always have to lift yourself and find a way to finish the session with the hours and hours of load behind you. This way of training gets you ready for racing, but you accumulate so much fatigue you normally have to be careful of how many times you do it before the returns start to get less and less.
FELT: What’s the most unique element of your training plan for Kona?
Josh: I think what’s unique about this Kona preparation is that I just left my coach, less than 4 weeks out from the race. There’s a lifetime to any athlete/coach relationship, and this one ended quite suddenly and much earlier than I expected. I’m only 29, but I’ve been doing elite triathlon for 12 years now and I feel confident that I have the understanding and resolve of how to best prepare for races. So with the force of my own momentum, I will push on!
FELT: What makes the Kona World Championship unique, compared to other triathlon events?
Josh: There is so much history to the race. It’s the biggest and most famed triathlon in the world, thus naturally it’s a great fit as a World Championship. The stars align to make it just such a great event. From the toughness of the course and the conditions, to the hype of race week. I’ve spectated major events like the Olympic Games, but I find the buzz and anticipation of race week in Kona to be on a whole different level.
FELT: Describe your perfect race day at Kona.
Josh: On my perfect day at Kona, I would lead out of the swim with a comfortable margin. I’d jog through transition to keep my heart rate low, and take in the awesome vibe of race morning as I get on the bike and ride through town up to Kuakini. I’d be feeling good and on top of my gears, and I’d ride solo until around Kawaihae, at which point I’d be caught by a pack, so I slot into the group and ride comfortably to the turn at Hawi. I weather the storm as the attacks fly coming down from Hawi, and I’m able to keep in touch with the leaders, knowing I just need to hang on until we get to the marathon. Then, of course, I run toe to toe, Ironwar-style, with the hitter runners, and just pull away to seal the victory on the downhill at Palani. It reads like a novel of fiction. But really, why dream of anything else but winning?
FELT: If you weren’t a professional triathlete, what career would you pursue?
Josh: Whether I would pursue it or not (because I don’t have the talent), I’d love to be an artist in the style of David Lynch. I think the art life is very similar to the athlete life, and I’m addicted to the freedom and fluidity of training for professional sports, so this would be a good fit for me. I love the bizarre, dreamy, and macabre art of David Lynch, and it inspires me to want to create art myself, equally as bizarre, dreamy, and grotesque.
FELT: What are three things you cannot live without?
Josh: Let’s keep this as three things unrelated to humanistic things. Of course we all need love and relationships, etc., but these things are of divine creation and literally the ventricles of my being:
FELT: Last year was your Kona debut. What were some things you learned competing at Kona last year?
Josh: I learned that you can’t be a hero early on in the race. I found myself off the front for the first three hours of the race, having led out of the swim by a significant margin. I thought, “Bugger it, I’ll ride strong and see how long I can last.” In this day and age, races like Kona aren’t won from the gun, at least not if you’re out there by yourself versus 50 of the fittest athletes on the planet. So no more heroics this year, at least not in the first half of the race. If I’m racing for the win in the last hour, then yes, that is the time to go all in and be a hero!
FELT: Tell us about your Felt IA Disc bike. What do you think of disc brakes?
Josh: I’m smitten with my new Felt IA Disc. The first thing I noticed was the enhanced stiffness that the thru axles bring to the bike. It has really made a difference to how aggressively I can ride and handle the bike. And, of course, the stopping power of the disc brakes complements this massively. It’s not only a tangible benefit of having more control over the stopping of the bike, but the safety and confidence I feel from this out on the open roads is incredible. I also love the flexibility that disc brakes bring to things like tire selection, and not having to account for differences in wheel widths when swapping out training wheels to racing wheels.
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After being first out of the water at the past two Kona World Championships, Australian Josh Amberger is eager for a podium spot at this year's race. Aiding him on the bike split will be a brand-new Felt IA Disc triathlon race rig, complete with a full component setup from SRAM and Zipp.
Daniela Ryf is the reigning Queen of Kona. A four-time consecutive winner of triathlon’s most prestigious race, the Swiss superstar has dominated this racing season, and she is chasing a historic fifth Kona world championship. This is the bike with which she aims to make history.