Endurance, resilience and life-balance with farmer Kieran Hickman

Posted on Tuesday, 9 April 2024 under IRONMAN New Zealand

Marlborough-based sheep and beef farmer and ANZCO Foods supplier Kieran Hickman talks about balancing life with his new passion for IRONMAN®, the mental and physical challenges of adventure racing, and the value of great nutrition.

Kieran, tell us how you came to represent ANZCO Foods at IRONMAN New Zealand.

It all started back in 2022 when I was in the middle of the spring lamb draft. My stock agent, who knew I’d done a bit of adventure racing, mentioned a competition that ANZCO Foods was holding to find amateur athletes keen to give IRONMAN New Zealand a crack. I entered and was lucky enough to be selected.

What were the biggest challenges you faced preparing for that first race?

The main issue was the swim, which is why I ended up choosing to do the shorter 70.3 event (with a 1.9km swim, compared to the full IRONMAN distance, of nearly 4km). While I knew how to swim, I’d certainly never done anything competitive in the past, so I needed to put in a bit of work there. Time in the water was the key – I just needed to get used to swimming for longer distances. Every time I took my daughter to her swimming lesson I’d jump in the pool and do some lengths. It ended up turning into one of the real positives from the whole experience. I’m certainly never going to be an elite swimmer, but I’m now much more comfortable in the water.

And how was the race-day experience for you?

It was very challenging but also really rewarding. I loved racing under the ANZCO Foods banner. They had several ANZCO Foods staff members competing, and we got to rub shoulders with elite athletes such as ANZCO Foods brand ambassadors Braden Currie and Hannah Berry. I finished in about six hours, which I was happy with. I’ve certainly been bitten by the IRONMAN bug now – the next goal is to complete the full distance at the first ANZCO Foods sponsored IRONMAN New Zealand next month!

We understand you have a bit of a history when it comes to endurance racing. Tell us about your sporting background?

I was a typical Kiwi kid growing up always really active and loved being outside. I played cricket and rugby and was very competitive (probably something to do with having four brothers and two sisters)!

I played semi-professional rugby in Ireland for a couple of years, and then got into running once I returned home. That evolved into adventure racing and I have taken part in a number of the GODZone races over recent years (where teams of four have to navigate their way across hundreds of kilometres of New Zealand wilderness) as well as the Coast-to-Coast.

What are the key differences between adventure racing and IRONMAN?

The adventure races last for days and there are lots of highs and lows. Everything from the weather to sleep deprivation plays a part, and you also are in a team environment, which adds pressure on yourself to perform. Mentally, you do a lot of growing during those events – you certainly build resilience, and it has helped me deal with some of the things that crop up during daily life, especially being a farmer with all of the challenges that can present. ANZCO Foods IRONMAN New Zealand, on the other hand, is a very individual race and the intensity is much higher – you’re trying to stay just under your lactic threshold the whole time.

How do you juggle all the necessary training with fatherhood and life on the farm?

Well, there are certainly some early mornings and late-night training sessions to keep on top of things! I have a pretty busy life – I’m on the local school board, I’m a member of the rural fire brigade, the coach of several kids’ sports teams, as well as running the farm. But family always comes first. After that, it’s really just about prioritising and planning. When I’ve got a big event on the horizon like ANZCO Foods IRONMAN New Zealand I try to do everything I can to get ahead on the farm before the training volume starts to ramp up. That hopefully saves me some time down the track and gives me a few more opportunities to get those training sessions in.

And what role does nutrition play in all of that?

It’s super important! I completed a Diploma in Exercise, Sport and Nutrition at Canterbury University, so I’ve always been aware of the role nutrition plays in achieving your best performance. As a member of the ANZCO Foods crew I was lucky enough to get some time with Mikki Willenden, a registered nutritionist and leader in the health and wellness space. She gave me some great tips, notably to increase the amount of protein I was taking onboard during my lead up to March.

As a family, we always eat together, and always try to eat as ‘clean’ as possible. We limit the processed stuff and focus on whole foods. ANZCO Foods lamb racks with mint sauce are a family favourite. Having said that, I do find it hard to pass up a good ribeye steak, cooked rare on the BBQ and accompanied by garlic sauce!

Finally, what’s it been like being a livestock supplier to ANZCO Foods?

We supply both cattle and lamb to ANZCO Foods, and it’s a partnership we feel very privileged to have. They have been incredibly supportive and foster a real sense of family amongst their suppliers. Their support of IRONMAN New Zealand is amazing too – they pour so much effort and time into the event and they are truly passionate about spreading the nutrition and good health message to all New Zealanders.

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