Ironman Asia Pacific Commentator
Ironmans: 34 (on the mic)
IM70.3 : 51 (on the mic)
What was your pathway to commentary?
Port Macquarie (my hometown) in 2005 played host to Australian Long Course Championships (2/80/20) and I was suppose to be on the age group start line. However the week leading up to the race I came down with a serious bout of pneumonia and was forced to stand on the sidelines. The day before the event, my good mate Pete Beckerleg (voice of IM Aus. in Forster through the 90’s) invited me up in to the commentary tower to “give him a hand”. Being a primary school teacher, I thought talking it up for a few hours wouldn’t be that difficult. However, as I learnt working with triathletes was more of a challenge. They all looked up at the tower saying “What about me?” “Say my name”. “I am a triathlete”
Coming from a 13 time Ironman finisher (10X IM AUS , 2 xHawaii, 1 x NZ) background, I knew the technical side to long course racing so that was easy to communicate to the crowd and from there I started adding in some one liners and putting a bit of “shit” on the local competitors in particular.
The event in these days was run by IMG and the big wig at the time Dallas Obrien approached me after the event. I remember “BIG D” walking towards me and I was thinking here we go, his red hair blowing in the breeze and his face red, I thought what have I done to receive this “honor” of meeting the head of IMG.
After a few positive words of encouragement and “constructive criticism” Dallas was pleased with my performance and so invited me to Ironman Western Australia 2005 six weeks later to work as an assistant to the main team. Those days it was Canadian Don Ryder and new to the scene for 2005 and today my still partner in crime in WA, the legend Simon Beaumont.
So in 2005 I “I warmed and eventually came off the bench” like a reserve grade footballer playing his first game of 1st grade when needed and pumped out the voice at IMWA. Now one of my best mates, Kerry Stubbs was working with IMG in some capacity and he ran a few races himself in Tassie. Like Dallas, he liked what I did and invited me to Tassie for his race in January 2006. At that race there was a race directors convention of all the long course races in Australia. So after race presentations, I was approached by them individually and was then to be part of their respective events. There was no contracts, just a hand shake and it was all done over many schooners at the “Fromby” Hotel in Devonport, especially Mick and Lindsey from Shepparton Tri Club who kept the supplies flowing all night long and lead to me getting a smack in the mouth from my fiancée Megan who obviously didn’t agree with the way the deals were being negotiated. However the boys were rolling with laughter. All worth it. Nothing better than the Aussie beer economy.
My first year saw me work at five or so events then it just snow balled year after year to where I am today and now working at 25 events a year throughout Australia and the Asia Pacific, predominantly for IRONMAN.
What do you love about it?
Great question Phil. This is without a doubt the most asked question I receive. However the answer is simple. I love it. I have a real passion for Ironman and that wont ever change. Ironman is the best brand of long course racing in the world and I feel it a privilege to be a small part of that. Ironman has been in my blood for over 21 years now. Ten years as a competitor and now 11 years as a commentator. It is not about me though.
I love what Ironman allows each competitor to realize about him or herself both in a physical and mental capacity. Ironman is the toughest one day sporting event in the world and it provides competitors with the opportunity to follow the Ironman motto “Anything is Possible” and achieve goals, tick boxes that previously were dreams and when they cross that line those dreams become reality. I am in total admiration of competitors who sacrifice so much of the lives in time (weeks, months & years) for that one-day of success. The dedication and commitment by individuals is amazing, with all avenues leading to the Ironman finish line and for most to hear those four famous words “You are an Ironman”. That’s special. That’s really special to me.
I have one of the best views in the house at races and I love being able to witness the fittest men and women on the planet through the professional ranks, to our world class age groupers right through to the average “Joe Blow” who juggle work commitments, family life and still find time to swim, bike run train all for one endeavor. To see individuals of all different ages, all different abilities and sizes, all with their personal stories on getting to the start from all over the world and making their Ironman journey to the finish line, all in one day. That’s special.
All this, on the same course, on the same day, at the same time. Nowhere in the world do we see Professional and age groupers race side by side so to speak. That’s unique.
Finally the passion displayed by Ironman athletes. From the moment they get to town to race day. It is amazing and so positive. The energy and atmosphere generated by these athletes before race is electrifying. Love it. Almost makes me want to jump the fence and go around again (not!!) . The passion is not necessarily at race venue.
Getting pulled up in airports and being told, “Hey Pete you didn’t call me an Ironman” and then having to yell it out there and then. That’s the passion triathletes have.
What do you hate about it?
The time away from my family is the hardest thing about the gig. Missing, sometimes-important milestones like birthdays, sports, school assemblies etc. are tough. I am lucky my family supports me in this endeavor and one thing I have learnt in all this is to spend as much time with your family as you can and when I am home that is the main priority. My 10-year-old son, Harper is the biggest fan of Ironman and his recognition of athletes and their stats is amazing. So much that we are locked in head to head at IMWA 2023 when he turns 18. (Should be enough time to get fit. Imagine the early bird entry price) my daughters Kayla 17 and India 8 are netball, not Ironman so much.
No doubt about it. TRAVEL, TRAVEL, TRAVEL…
Working throughout Ironman Asia Pacific involves so much travel. Last year alone I clocked up over 136 flights, so I spend a lot of time on planes and airports. I get sick of everyone saying, “Geez you are so lucky seeing all those places…” Well news flash it isn’t all it is cracked up to be the travel gig. Majority of my trips sees me leaving Port Macquarie on Friday morning 6.30am or late Thursday evening, travelling to lets say Philippines via Sydney. Work the event plus support events and being back in town 10am Monday. My last trip one way was 22hours door to door. How good does that sound??
Then there are the flights when you battle for an “exit row” only to be informed on check in that all those seats have been taken. Then I get on board and walk pass those seats and see a little couple, whose feet don’t touch the floor and are both past jockeys at the Melbourne Cup and no chance at all of lifting that 15kg door in the “case of emergency”. I always make a point of listening that little bit closer to the safety brief in these circumstances as I will have to move two things before getting to the exit door.
Meanwhile at 185cm tall I am sitting next to Hulk Hogan cramped with my knees up to my jaw trying to balance my meal tray and have a beer at the same time. Where is the justice?
At hour 15 how hard is it to find your happy place?
Believe it or not my happy place starts at 4.30am on race morning when I travel to race start venue and get ready for the Ironman day journey. It really is a great time of the day for all -competitors, spectators and commentators. So many different vibes from the experienced Ironman to the first timers. My favourite call at race start …”Only 17 hours to go”. Sounds long but time does go quick (most times haha)
I always try to keep the positive vibes pumping throughout the day and interact with the crowd in some way as different people come and go at the finish line and it is great for those families, friends and supporters to experience the Ironman finish line as their athlete completes the 226km journey. It is a special time for them as well.
By the time 15 hours comes around we are deep into the back end of the race and usually have a load of athletes to bring in. I love this time of the evening. I love getting down into the chute and working with the crowd, seeing athletes who have finished with their medals around their neck and so proud cheering on their “Ironman “family. The music is pumping; everyone is dancing and having fun. Time flies…
What’s it like working next to the voice of Ironman Mike Reilly?
Well …what do you say?
“Ring a Ding Ding… I work with the King”
Mike is without a doubt probably one of the most famous aspects in the history of Ironman (besides the athletes), primarily for this famous words that he himself brought to the sport. What Mike continues to bring to our sport is like competitors and myself… Passion and a true love. I said previously Ironman is in my blood, well for Mike it is in his blood, on his skin and everywhere else imaginable.
I work with Mike regularly and have done so for many years and every time I have a blast with him. The banter, the laughs, and the same job we do make it so easy. I had the privilege of being called an Ironman by Mike at Forster for years as an athlete and something you don’t forget. I can understand that for those competitors today. (Also great to hear people like the Aussie version haha)
However, I remember the first time I worked with him in 2006 Port Macquarie, it was like tread lightly and hang on for the ride. I said to myself, “This guy is Ironman royalty, do anything wrong and that will be professional suicide. The end of the road for Pete Murray” as a commentator.
Mike has been not only a mentor for me, but also has set the bar for what it takes for me to achieve something important to me …to be one of the best in the world in all areas of commentary. I regard Mike as a close mate and when we work together I really feel a great chemistry between us, which in turn makes it so easy to do our job and more importantly that comes across the microphones. We share good times before the races over a couple of beers and we talk about sport away from Ironman. In recent years he has been an unbelievable friend to my son Harper, who is now welcomed in the comm tower by Mike freely and to see the smile on Harps face is a testimony to man Mike is and so special for me.
Mike has also given me an opportunity to be part of the World IM Commentary team in Hawaii a couple of times, something I want to experience again in 2016.
Mike and I always laugh at the time when my rise to the top could have been a little quicker. I picked Mike up at Port Mac Airport one morning. We had a gig to do at the Glasshouse so Mike started to get changed on the back seat. I was driving along the airport road when all of a sudden a kangaroo popped out in front of our car. I slammed on the brakes and swerved to a stop. All that time Mike had his pants down around his knees, yelling out “What the ####”. I was in stitches as I looked around and saw Mike all sprawled over the back seat. We both laughed as the kangaroo hopped across the road. I could have seen the headlines “Murray takes out Reilly to become the voice”. All I said was “Welcome to Australia mate!”
What has been the weirdest thing you have ever seen whilst calling a race ?
Hard question. How do you define weird?
Ironman athletes can be regarded as weird full stop.
People might think I am weird.
Working throughout Asia 12 times a year, you definitely see things a little different from the comm tower. Bikes and bike set ups, race gear and outfits certainly to name a few.
Most of the “weirdest” things I have seen from the tower would have to do with supporters probably. Seen big front row forwards dressed in mini skirts running up and down the course, scaring children and adults as they go.
Supporters help make the Ironman what is, a memorable experience. The lengths people go to be noticed is amazing and they love it when they get their two minutes of fame over the air.
Maybe not “weird” but I can’t believe some male athletes choose to wear all white race suits in Ironman (to me just not right. but good luck if you can)
What has brought you a lot of emotion during an event?
I have witnessed many emotional moments, from mates winning world Ironman titles to Ironman victories local, to thousands of age groupers finish.
2008 seeing my great mate Tim Van Berkel win his very first Ironman title at Sunsmart IMWA. The race was a real cracker with the “old bull” Jason Shortis and “Young Bull” Berks having a ding-dong battle. To have the honour of calling him home as an Ironman Champion after everything he sacrificed to win and also coming from the same hometown of Port Macquarie is something I wont forget. The signed photograph of the finish with a few nice words was great as well. And to do it again last week in IM Cairns Asia Pacific Championship 2016, eight years later was awesome. Love the Berks!!
Age group finishers always bring out the emotion at the finish line. You might not know their stories but you can see the passion, satisfaction and relief when they cross. The sharing of the finish with their husbands, wives, kids and partners is what it is all about. The true emotion of Ironman.
Then you have your truly inspirational athletes who have overcome some adversity or setbacks to get to the start line. To witness greatness at these times is amazing. I remember Ironman Cairns 2014, Craig Grubber providing “Smiling for Sharn” the opportunity to become and Ironman. To see how Craig swam, rode and ran with Sharn and for Sharn. I turned off the mic and the crowd did the rest, there was nothing to say at the finish line, the emotion said it all.
Turia Pitt, this year in IM Australia 2016. Totally inspirational. That young lady is an IRONMAN in so many ways. To hear what she went through and see the effects of that tragedy but still that did not deter her of a life long dream to become and Ironman. Turia not only did that but she smashed out a time no one thought possible. Unbelievable. Her finish was emotional and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. (Even Mike and I shed a tear…sssh)
Blind athlete, Nathan Johnston and his guide Glenn Gorrick at IM AUS 2015 was truly emotional. Young Nathan displayed great courage to complete that event. Then at awards on Monday night when he thought he was doing a motivational speech, then CEO OF IMAPAC , Geoff Meyer, presented Nathan an entry to the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii. Then on top of that Rod Morrison from Tri Travel donated the airfares and accommodation. It brought the house down.
Top 3 athletes you have ever seen from the comms tower?
Very tough this one. So so many amazing performances.
Have to start with Crowie. Everyone knows of his previous accomplishments but I was there when he made his Ironman debut in IMAUS Port Macquarie 2007 and podium 3rd behind Patrick Vernay and that was the talk of the Ironman world that he finally came across from 70.3 racing. He then ventured to Kona in the same year and podium second behind “MAcca” and then the following year won the 2008 Ironman World Championship in Kona. His resume is stacked with five world championships plus 30 plus 70.3 victories. Fastest man ever in Hawaii. Today he still continues the wins and if I was a betting man, I would be throwing a few dollars on Crowie come September 4th at the World IM70.3 Champs on the Sunshine Coast. Yes I do have a “man crush” on Crowie.
Chrissie Wellington was a” destroyer” on the women’s side of Ironman. I first witnessed her live at IM AUS and wow she was memorable in so many ways. Her performance and dominance on the course was needed to be seen to believe. A power-horse from start to finish keeping a lot of pro males at bay. She demonstrated her craft all over the world as we know in the same way for years. Chrissie was the pro’s pro, presenting herself as a true professional off the field with athletes and supporters and always spoke so well at award ceremonies that you could hear a pin drop. Other outstanding women include Caroline Steffen and Aussie Liz Blatchford.
As a commentator, you don’t see a sub 8 Ironman often. Luke McKenzie gave myself and thousands of supporters that opportunity at IMWA 2015. To witness a sub 8 live is something else, absolutely remarkable. A 4hrs 08min cycle (43.5km av) and follow that up with a low 2.50 marathon for an overall time of 7hrs 55min. The fastest time on Australian soil in history. All day long the question was being asked can “Lukey” hang on or is he going to blow on the run? Never a doubt. Love to be part of that experience and atmosphere again.
Others I have the privilege of seeing from the commentary tower Macca, Cameron Brown, Caroline Steffen, Liz Blatchford, Jason Shortis, Frodeno, Melissa Hauschildt and Frederick Van Leirde, Gwen Jorjenson, Emma Snowsill, Emma Moffatt (ITU)and the Brownlee brothers (ITU) just to name a few.
Do finish chute marriage proposals make you cringe?
Classic question. Why? Why? Why?
This is something that totally amazes me. For all of the Ironman’s and I have commentated, except for one there has been a marriage proposal at the finish line or in one case with Mark “Sharky” Smoothy at the half way of the marathon at IM Melbourne. Everyone of the proposals except one received an automatic response of Yes. One person had to think about it (oouch)
I look at it two ways. The first, why would an athlete swim, bike, run 226km then be in the right state to propose to the partner. The athlete naturally thinks there is no way they can say no after what I have just done – hey I am an Ironman they have to say yes.
On the other hand, the partner that has been up from 4.30am, moved between T1 and T2 all day long, gets to the finish line and has waited between 8- 17hours for their athlete, feel they cant possibly say no, so what the heck lets get married.
So everyone is a winner ??
It is a great moment at the finish line when we have the proposals and we always pump it up as Ironman has brought people together for whatever reason but we also joke that Ironman has led to a lot of divorces (haha).
Thanks for your time Phil.