At 82 years of age, Keith Pearce is still pounding the pavement and running his own race …
Hi Keith. You’re now 82; what are the most difficult and most rewarding things about growing older?
I find lapses in memory very annoying – but of no great concern, as they are short lived. However, I do now have the knowledge and experience to know how to best provide my energy levels over the duration of races, be it short ones like a sprint or longer ones, Olympic and half Ironman distances. I am less steady on my feet now and although I am “running” – others with a fast walk may overtake me! In the old days, I was always trying to get past all those who were ahead of me, irrelevant of their age or mine.
You didn’t take up triathlons until you were in your 50s. What made you embrace such a gruelling sport?
My actual first triathlon was back in the late ‘70s. I then had a long break, until taking it up again in 1990. I was fairly capable in all three disciplines – so thought I would be competitive in triathlon, and I’ve always enjoyed a challenge. It seemed to me that those finishing an Ironman weren’t as “stuffed” as those just racing a marathon alone (where you have to go flat out for 42 km.) You really need to pace yourself in Triathlons – if you go too hard on the bike, you won’t have the legs to do the run; it is all about discipline! Not going out too hard, too early!
You have raced in triathlons all over the globe. Can you tell us of this experience and some of the titles you’ve won?
I enjoy racing – pitting myself against the best in my age category. It always motivates me to beat ALL in front of me, even if not in my age group! Now I am not competing as much, someone else can win! Below are some of the events I’ve competed in.
1990 – NZ KIWI LARGER IRONMAN – AUCKLAND 1st Vet 50 – 54 (age 53) overall time, 11 hoursr 15 minutes 14 seconds.
1992 – NZ DB IRONMAN, AUCKLAND. 1st Vet 55 – 59 in 12 hours 5 minutes 22 seconds.
1992 – HAWAIIAN IRONMAN WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS, KONA. 2nd Vet 55 – 59 in 11 hours 1 minute 10 seconds (whilst breaking the course record!)
2002 – HAWAIIAN IRONMAN WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS, KONA, 4th Vet 65+ in 13 hours 7 minutes 56 seconds (over-trained).
2009 – ITU WORLD AQUATHLON CHAMPIONSHIPS, GOLD COAST AUSTRALIA. 1st Vet 70 – 74.
2009 – ITU WORLD OLYMPIC TRIATHLON CHAMPIONSHIPS GOLD COAST. 1st Vet 70 – 74 with a puncture 1km into bike, but still won. Diagnosed with stomach cancer five months later.
2012 – ITU “WORLD” OLYMPIC DIS. TRIATHLON CHAMPION, NEW ZEALAND. 1st Vet 75+.
2012 – ITU “WORLD” AQUATHLON CHAMPION, NEW ZEALAND. 1st Vet 75+.
2016 – ITU AGE GROUP WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS, COZUMEL, MEXICO. AQUATHLON 2.5 KM RUN, 1 KM SWIM, 2.5 KM RUN. 1st 80+ in 1 hour 0 minutes 46 seconds
(6 minutes ahead of 2nd place).
2016 – ITU AGE GROUP WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS, COZUMEL, MEXICO. SPRINT DIST 750 M SWIM, 20 KM BIKE,
5 KM RUN (DRAFT LEGAL). 2nd 80+ in 1 hour 37 minutes 46 seconds (just 1½ minutes behind 1st place, closing fast).
2016 – ITU AGE GROUP WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS, COZUMEL, MEXICO. OLYMPIC DIST 1,500 M (reduced to 1,250) SWIM, 40 KM BIKE,10 KM RUN. 1st 80+ in 3 hours 38 minutes 6 seconds – ½ hour faster than 2nd place.
I would imagine you have an intensive training program. What do you do to stay fit and in peak condition?
Fortunately, I retain excellent health and fitness, with no real issues i.e. muscles, joints, heart and lungs – and my mental health is sound. I have won triathlons over various distances, Olympic, Sprint, Aquathlon, Duathlon and Ironman. I’ve also competed in the World Masters Champs in numerous events, both running and triathlon – in Australia, New Zealand and Mexico.
In 2010 you faced a major hurdle, when you were diagnosed with cancer. Do you think being extremely fit and active helped you overcome this?
I was in training for Ironman Western Australia when I was diagnosed. I never saw this as being life threatening (though my wife assures me it was!) I was confident that I would return to my usual level of fitness – and I did! Whilst I haven’t competed in a Full Ironman since my stomach surgery in 2010 – I have competed in Sprint, Olympic and Half Ironman distances. I still train every day, mid morning and late afternoon. The morning session is a run on the first day, a swim on the second and a ride on the third day. I then repeat this, day after day. In the afternoon, I do a gym session in my home gym – this focuses on my upper body, using bungee cord for my arms and shoulders. All this gives me the confidence in my ability to perform at a high level, for my age.
What are the major values or principles that you live by?
I avoid aggressive behaviour and will not tolerate this in any form. Keeping extremely fit has helped me in so many ways – it definitely contributed to my quick recovery from stomach cancer surgery, where most of my stomach was removed. I had three months of chemo and was then back competing again three months after that – just nine months after being diagnosed. I remained very positive of a full recovery.
What would you say keeps you young in both body, mind and spirit?
All of the above, as any doubts or negative thoughts are quickly expelled during and after exercising. I also have a “mantra” that I repeat to myself whilst exercising”: Exercise is good for me; it clears my mind and sets me free, energises my body and opens my mind to creative thought of every kind. It makes me feel so good inside – so get in the groove and exercise.
You are fondly called the “Kahuna”. How did you acquire this title?
“Kahuna’’ was a title given to me by triathlon friends I was helping train up for Ironman. One of them, Pete Camilleri, used that name for me, and it has stuck with me for nearly 20 years now! I accepted the title as a very special compliment! I had a fountain of knowledge to draw from, to help my friends overcome any query about their training – and both Pete and Paul Nixon have gone on to complete 10 plus Ironman races!
Who’s your biggest supporter?
Roberta, my wife, is my biggest and loyal supporter – though I have so many friends both in Forster and even overseas who have supported me fully during my competitive years. I am still in contact with running buddies from 50 years ago too!
What’s the next event you’re training for?
At age 82, I have said that I have “retired” … but I have learned that you can never say “never”!
Thanks Keith. Interview: Bronwyn Davis.