To Hannah Wells, caring about her body and caring about science are one and the same. As one of the world’s leading Ironman triathletes, Wells has an intricately structured approach to her planning, preparation, training and diet.
And she doesn’t just want to know that she is fueling effectively and propelling herself to success, she wants to know the details.
“The science matters to me,” Wells said. “If I am going to use a product that will help me prepare, then I want to know the story behind it, the thought that goes into it and the processes that went into making it.”
Wells has a sharp focus on her competitive career, with positive results even during the disrupted schedule of 2020. She finished second at Challenge Wanaka in her native New Zealand, then crossed the line first at the Ironman 70.3 Geelong, near Melbourne, Australia, just a week later.
That extraordinary performance on short rest brought a mix of pride and ultimately regret. The victory established her as a name to watch for the world championships in Taupo, close to her home on New Zealand’s North Island, but the event was eventually scrapped due to COVID-19, robbing her of what would have been a cherished and emotional moment.
Wells is not just an athlete capable of performing outstanding feats of endurance, but has a mind that gravitates towards the scientific. She holds a PhD in biotech and during her post-doctoral research worked for Massey University’s School of Engineering and Advanced Technology, spending countless hours dissecting sheep arteries in a bid to find patterns and progress that would improve the quality of skin grafts for humans.
Putting her academic talents to one side for now, she no longer has to be up at 5 a.m. each day to fit training in around work. During 2019, she won all nine races she participated in – mostly the half Ironman distance of 70.3 miles (1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike and 13.1 half marathon run), and planned to try her hand at the full Ironman discipline before COVID-19 struck.
Meanwhile, Wells’ inherent scientific inquisitiveness means she has a different kind of take on nutrition and preparation than some of her rivals.
“It is just so important to get it right,” Wells said. “It is tough, because there is a lot of complicated stuff that goes into it and it would be easy just to take something because it is supposed to be good. I really try to take it to that extra level, because I understand science and come from that background.”
Wells is a strong believer that adaptability is critical, never more relevant than during the times of COVID-19 and all the upheaval that was wrought upon the global community. She found that just as athletes have had to be adaptable, so too did manufacturers.
On that note, she partnered with ERW, makers of the ERW Active sports supplement product. ERW began as the manufacturer and distributor of My Flight Pack, a market-leading jet lag treatment. Once the travel industry ground to a literal and figurative halt, the firm accelerated the launch of its ERW Active range – that uses similar procedures but adapted ingredients – to fuel endurance athletes.
Wells experienced significant improvements to her hydration routine after making the change and was encouraged by the involvement of the women behind ERW Active, world-renowned Michelin star chef Hannah Grant and sports-hydration pioneer Dr Stacy Sims.
“It takes a lot of the stress out of competing if you can turn up at the start line in the knowledge that you’ve done everything in your power to be as strong as you can,” Wells added. “That goes for both the workouts you do and for the way you refuel.
“I work too hard to settle for anything that is not the best quality. A tiny edge, something that affects you by even one percent, and helps you feel good and confident, that makes the difference between realizing your dream and having your heart broken.”
Wells noticed the benefits of ERW Active most significantly during the Geelong race, which was supposed to be the wind down to her season. Coming so soon after Challenge Wanaka, she did not expect to be able to perform at her peak, and the resulting victory was the most pleasant of surprises.
“Our research is behind everything we do and we were exhaustive in figuring out how to help the body recover from period of stress,” said Grant, the ERW co-founder who previously worked extensively with cyclists in the Tour de France and masterminded both the “Eat. Race. Win.” cookbook and the Amazon Prime series of the same name. “We figured out how to get travelers back to their best as quickly as possible and now we are doing the same of elite athletes like Hannah.”
Wells was drawn to the ERW policy of shunning unnecessary additives and artificial flavorings and has now implemented the range as part of her training and race strategy. With the Ironman schedule possibly returning to a more normal pattern, she is looking ahead with fresh optimism - and a new element to her nutritional base.