SHANNON ECKSTEIN TO COME OUT OF RETIREMENT
The greatest ironman of all time is stepping on the start line one more time.
Shannon Eckstein is coming out of retirement for the WA Race Week’s $20,000 invitational ironperson event – a new race added to the already star-studded Doctor surfski festival in Perth.
“Yeah I am pumped,” Eckstein told The Paddler.
“It’s not a comeback, it’s more just being a part of the event really.
“There is a bit of pressure and trepidation about if I still have it and if I can still match it with anyone, but I’m sure I’ll be fine.”
The event is the brainchild of Shaw and Partners CEO Earl Evans, who wanted a way to pit the leading athletes from ironperson and downwind paddling head-to-head.
After retiring from ironman racing at the start of 2019, Eckstein had already committed to competing on the surfski series – including the WA Race Week.
But when he was asked to take part in this one-off race, he jumped at the chance without hesitation.
“Well, that’s probably because I’d already thought about it,” he laughs.
“Your life does move on and you can’t race forever, but your mind thinks you can.
“With a full-time job and balancing other things, it’s hard to compete against the best.
“But it’s been in my blood since I was born.
“I really enjoy the concept of ironman racing and competing against everyone, but more so, I love the surf.
“I don’t know what shape I’ll be in – time is my enemy – but whatever time I do have to train I’ll be looking forward to putting in some good work.
“I’m really looking forward to it.”
In his ‘In The Boat’ article that he wrote for The Paddler, Eckstein revealed that it was the training workload that pushed him into retirement. He also explained the struggles that he went through as he transitioned into his new life.
With that in mind, he doesn’t expect to once again become a regular at the swimming pool – seen as a key to performing as an ironman.
“Pool swimming is the one thing you lose your passion for – getting up in the dark swimming six kilometres up and down the pool,” Eckstein admits. “I don’t miss that.”
“At this point it’s all about doing more ski paddling and just getting ready for The Doctor, which I’m really enjoying.
“If you’re 70 per cent fit in an ironman race you can use tactics, nous and skill to win the race – there’s no doubt about that.
“You don’t have to be the fastest on the day to still win.
“If I put my foot on the line, I’ll definitely have a chance.”
Of the four Australian Championships in Perth that Eckstein lined up in, he won two and finished on the podium each time.
“I love when the wind gets up in the afternoon and you can catch the runners,” he says.
“That’s really, really cool.
“I feel like coming in on the board runs and ski runs is what I really enjoy, and you can break away.
“There’s a lot of skill involved. It’s not big surf, but there’s a lot of skill involved to catch those runs and that’ll help.”
He admits it’ll be easy to get caught up in the excitement of the $200,000 WA Race Week.
Not just as a downwind paddler, having finished ninth at The Doctor last year, but also as someone who’s passionate about ironperson events.
“It’s awesome for the sport,” Eckstein explains.
“It has been a bit of a rollercoaster, and it’s part of why I retired.
“It was getting harder to make a dollar in the sport. There wasn’t as many sponsors, there wasn’t as much TV time.
“Coming from the heyday of the sport, it was an easier decision to retire and go to a full-time job when it’s difficult like that.
“What Earl is doing is great. If everyone who has a passion for the sport and wants it to succeed wants puts in the work to run an event, it’ll be great for the sport’s future.
“That’s what this event is about – putting something on and getting involved. Especially over there in the west.
Eckstein’s build up has already begun.
The now 37 year-old has returned to the early morning ski sessions and he admits that the thought of upstaging his younger, fitter rivals is a driving force.
“I felt like I’ve had a target on my back since I won the World Ironman title in 2002 as an 18 year old,” he says.
“Every race I felt like people were out to get me and claim my scalp.
“If I finish tenth over there, it’s to be expected.
“But if I finish third, fourth or even win the race… the other guys don’t want to get beaten by an old washed up ironman.”