For Nicole van der Kaay, triathlon was her first love. From a young age racing across the three disciplines of swimming, biking and running she quickly knew her passion and thrived on the adventure of the sport. Growing up in Taupō amongst a strong triathlon culture proved to be the perfect place to nurture that love, leading her to begin competing nationally and internationally.
Returning home on an extremely high note from her recent triathlon season, Nicole secured 2nd place in the World Triathlon rankings after a silver medal finish in Hamburg. A race against the top triathletes in the world and the highest level of competition aside from the Olympics. An epic way to end a season that took her all over the world from Australia to Tokyo, Amsterdam, Montreal, Edmonton, Spain, and France - in the course of a few months! We managed to catch up with her once she returned home to New Zealand while in two weeks of MIQ. She spilled the tea on her recent trip to the Olympics along with what her running routine looks like when she’s not jet setting from race to race.
The world of triathlon competition is a wild ride during typical times - throw a pandemic in the mix and the past two years have been even more turbulent than usual. From cancelled competitions and training setbacks to not knowing whether the Olympics were on the cards or not. Amidst all the uncertainty in the world, one thing has remained certain for Nicole. Her focus is laser-sharp on continuing the progress she’s made as a triathlete and building upon it.
This focus led her to secure a place on New Zealand’s team for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics where she battled it out in conditions no amount of training can make less difficult. Heavy humidity was a constant and a typhoon warning threatened to postpone her big race but ultimately it went on as planned even on a slippery, dangerous course. Nicole shared with us a bit of what the experience was like. “The whole time I was on the bike, I was just making sure that I'd stay up because that would be such a horrible effect to get taken down by a crash, to not be able to finish my Olympic race. And that can also end your season as well if you have a bad crash.”
Nicole’s experience in Tokyo left an indelible impact on her and now that she’s competed at the pinnacle of the world’s stage she knows more than ever how hard to push her training to build upon the progress made. “With it being my first Olympics I didn't know what to expect, but gave it my all and I've walked away with so many learnings. With it behind me now, I'm really, really looking forward to competing in Paris 2024 and applying what I’ve learnt.”
But first, Nicole is taking some well earned time to herself, catching up with the friends and family she’s been away from for the past nearly 6 months. Her running routine now may look a little different from the training she’s been used to but here’s a look at Nicole’s go-to's.
Morning, lunchtime, evening runner?
Anytime!! I have to be flexible being a triathlete. :)
Favourite post-run snack / meal?
Chocolate oats or a thick smoothie bowl with granola.
Outside of your shoes, what’s one running essential you can’t go without?
Best piece of running advice you’ve ever received?
Consistency is key.
Running Solo or Running in a group?
Loves a solo easy run, but group running for key sessions.
Music, Podcast, or your own thoughts? What are they?
All three! Depends on the mood! Happy and upbeat music, self-development or motivational podcasts.
In 3 words how would you describe yourself as a runner?
Passionate, committed, ambitious.
Favourite running route in NZ?
River trails in Waipa or around Kinloch on the W2K and local walking tracks.
Running distance a week?
Favourite running event in NZ and why?
Park runs! I’m usually away for larger running events so I really enjoy hitting out a 5km with the locals.
What is your favourite event distance?
I run because…
I love the way it makes me feel, I love to be out in nature, and I love seeing progression.
Where does your mind tend to wander while running?
Everywhere - but mostly the scenery.
What’s your #1 way of maintaining a sound mind?
Running outside in nature (forest or beach).
Favourite ASICS shoe?
With her sights set on future competitions, one key takeaway for her next big races is to not let the pressure have such an impact. “People work towards this one goal for so, so long, usually it's childhood dreams and tend to build it up. Next time I want to relax and enjoy myself a bit more. Of course, it's a really big race that I want to nail. But at the end of the day, it is just another race. And I race best when I'm calm, relaxed, and confident in my abilities so I want to take that approach in the future. It's not the end of the world if I have a bad race, but hopefully next time I can really nail that.”
Sacrificing a typical teenage/early 20’s lifestyle for a rigorous training schedule Nicole’s love for the thrill, challenge, and adventure of triathlons overcame any FOMO or regrets for missing out on social events. Although she thrives off travelling and competing in the tri circuit, it is a big sacrifice being away from family and friends much of the year. Still, she recognises the privilege of competing in an international sport and doing what you love for a living. Particularly when medaling in events as part of New Zealand’s Mixed Team Relay where at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast in 2018 she brought home bronze and in 2021 a silver in Montreal. Or that 2nd place on the podium she earned in the World Triathlon Championship Series Hamburg.
Now based in Cambridge for the past 8 years Nicole’s road to being a professional triathlete, even in her young career, has been filled with the highest of highs and plenty of painful lows. Overcoming a stress fracture injury in 2019, Nicole found a silver lining to the competitions affected by pandemic postponement as she was allowed extra time to recover and bounce back. Then a head injury threatened her training while time trials loomed near for the Olympic Team selection process. She buckled down to heal her brain and was able to get back to training after 6 weeks of taking it easy and staying off screens.
Through the tough times, Nicole digs deep using positive affirmations to calm that critical internal voice that chimes in, keeping her mind in check and focused while racing.
"Disappointment is a part of sport. Between both extreme highs and lows with success and learnings (I like to frame them that way). Acknowledging this helps a lot and I find having self-compassion is very important for me. I’m my biggest critic when it comes to my performance!”
In between competitions, Nicole maintains a sound mind in a sound body through practising yoga and meditation, “I look forward to relaxing quiet time each day, which keeps me more grounded.” She also finds balance and a healthy mindset by nurturing her other passions. “I love being by the beach, I would live there if I could! Aside from chilling at the beach, hanging out with friends, dinner dates, having my favourite chocolate oats in the sunshine, reading random facts, listening to podcasts, quality time with my partner, visiting markets and photography.”
As she gets back into training and creating a plan of attack for the next few years she has her sights set squarely on progression. Prepping for the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games is at the top of her list followed by more competition overseas including the French Grand Prix. And she’s already determined to represent NZ in the Paris 2024 Olympic games. Sky’s the limit for Nicole van der Kaay’s future and the team at ASICS NZ look forward to following along.
Read more from runners and athletes of the ASICS community in our Sound Mind Sound Body Series on the blog.
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