We recently got to catch up with one of our Sol Ambassador's James Harvey, we have had the privilage to keep James protected with Sol Goods from the very early days of both his journey as a triathlete, and our journey as a small business. Our recent chat is all about life as an athlete and the exciting adventures he has coming up.
So James, tell us a bit about yourself and your qualifications in sports.
When I left high school I went to Massey University in Palmerston North, and did a Bachelor's in Sports and Exercise, majoring in Exercise Prescription and Training and I also did a Certificate in Science and Technology.
So that was basically four years, because to do full-time study you had to do at least seven papers a year, I did three a semester and one over summer school; my whole idea was to have the smallest workload at uni while still getting the living costs on my student loan so I could survive which let me do more training and pursue sport. At that time it was Triathlon.
I never actually intended on going to uni but some how my brother convinced me and said having a backup plan wouldn’t be the worst idea! Not bad advice really. I got pretty consumed with triathlon in my last two years at high school, and it was all I wanted to do; so that push to go to uni actually did turn out quite well for me in the end.
So through Uni I went to Worlds a couple times, Racing in Adelaide in 2015 and Gold Coast in 2018. Nice easy places to get to and relatively cheap! Triathlon stopped ticking the boxes for me a little after Uni and that’s when I started to just focus on my running and getting back into other outdoor stuff I’d neglected for a long time, particularly hiking.
Otherwise I just love the outdoors. I love being out there and It's been a really amazing place for me to grow, to learn more about myself, and also connect with a really like-minded community.
What is your biggest achievement to date in your sporting goals?
A real tough question I reckon!
I had my first Worlds at the Duathlon World Champs in Adelaide in 2015. I think I placed 15th or 16th in the World. I was definitely one of the later Kiwis In that race, but I wasn't the last. Two guys who were in that race, I actually ended up flatting with for the next couple of years at uni and we had this awesome little triathlon flat, it was pretty incredible! Two of us had the same coach, and we're all still friends now. We try to have an annual get-together and go on little missions and things over a weekend and have good yarns, retelling the same stories with as much zest as when they first happened, just reliving the good uni days and reconnecting with what we’ve all been up to since.
And then I think one of my proudest races was my first half marathon. I did 1:30: flat at Christchurch in 2016 which I was pretty stoked with!
But again, I don't really identify with those as the big things anymore. When reflecting on what’s meaningful for me now, it comes down to where I sit at the moment with my values; I’m pretty proud that I'm still in sport and I still have a massive passion to get out there get after it. I've seen a lot of people really competitive through high school and / or university drop off and kinda exit the community in a way.
I always stayed pretty keen on events and getting out there and keeping that ball rolling. And so I think it's actually quite a cool to still be out and about mingling within that competitive community. Stuff happens in life, as we know, so for me, still having that as really core part of my lifestyle and who I am I’m stoked about because it’s lead to a heap of opportunities I would have never come across otherwise!
How do you spend your day or what does an ordinary day look like for you?
Right now I am an Akaroa, a hidden little gem in our Country that is just incredibly beautiful. So at the moment I’m guiding for Akaroa Guided Sea Kayak Safaris which has been pretty cool. I love being on the water; but it is quite all-consuming. So since Christmas I’ve done very little running, basically zero structured training. I've gone out for a few small runs to keep things ticking over, but I haven't been ‘training' per se.
So yeah, my days are: wake up, go for a walk in the morning with the dog, go to work, come back, and another walk with the dog. And then I might fill my time with a little bit of music or sleep!
If I get a chance and the surfs' good, I've picked up surfing down here. I was always around and into the ocean. My parents are really big into the ocean and they were super involved in Surf Lifesaving when they were younger.
My mum actually set up the Nippers program in Taranaki which is pretty amazing - A long time ago when they were based in Opunake. So yeah, I’ve always kinda of been around the waves: swimming, kneeboarding and all that good stuff. Now down here in Otautahi there's some pretty cool surf, and I managed to pick up this sick as 9.6 McTavish for 600 bucks! It’s a weapon and been an awesome outlet!I've just been loving the headspace surfing. As we all know, or anyone who’s caught a wave knows: there's nothing like catching a wave! And even just sitting out behind the break can be really therapeutic.
Of course I still love to run. So when I can, I'll get out for an easy 30-45 minute jog; Just on the flat, that's always quite therapeutic as well. You can really find a nice little groove, nice and easy, and that's meditation for me too.
Do you find running quite hard on the body?
That's a fantastic question. I think a lot of people do find it hard. My relationship with running has been pretty up and down. I was always a really big kid and I used to have this fixed idea that big people aren't runners. That sort of changed when I went through high school; I wanted to want to be a runner; I wanted to run and be fit; I wanted to be an endurance athlete. The body just adapted to what I was training for and that debunked those old fixed ideas too. But it wasn’t all smooth sailing at all; I had a pretty major burnout end of uni and basically started from scratch again with everything.
Running is definitely really hard when you're not very run fit, it can feel a bit brutal. And that segues into lots of other stuff, and makes this a bit of a charged question for me. But the short version is: yeah, it can be hard!
As a sports therapist, I know there's so much that we can do to make it easier for our body and ease ourselves into it. Once you’ve built some okay foundation for your running gait / how you move when you're running, then I think running is a really beautiful natural movement.
I guess it's like anything, right? It comes as a form of fitness. And, you know, you can't just get up and go surf one day and get up on a board and go right, you got to do the foundation.
Yeah, exactly. I had that exact same thing with cycling. I used to do heaps of cycling km's before Adelaide in 2015 and my half marathon in 2016. I probably did some of the biggest cycling km's I have ever done. I'm not trying to toot my horn or anything; people do a lot more than I was doing, but I was clocking up some Km’s for sure. So after I gave away the pursuit of triathlon and focused on running I lost all the ‘Foundation’ for cycling. When I tried to hop back on the bike in 2021 after I tore some ligaments and tendons in my ankle I got quite a freight by how little fitness I had for cycling and how tough it felt!
What's next for you? Do you have some cool events in the pipeline?
Lots of cool stuff coming up actually!
I’m at this amazing time in my life where opportunity has literally exploded for me! So a quick timeline: I was a sports therapist, but wasn't happy with the work. And I tried to do a bit of pilgrimage and had semi planned to do the Te Araroa Trail; that didn't quite work out and so I ended up out farming for a year. I loved the work and have a tonne of respect for that way life; I was around farms and things growing up when I was young, and so wanted to give that life a go. Being in the outdoors after being in an office without windows for three years was closer to what I wanted to be doing, but farming ended not not quite being right either.
Farm life is all consuming, which there’s nothing wrong with. But for me as I started to feel a need to have an expedition and explore, which wasn't quite part of the life where I was. So that's why I'm down here in Akaroa. Down here I had the opportunity to apply for a job with Outward Bound; Outward Bound is an outdoor education centre and a really incredible one at that. It's ranked pretty highly in the world, and it's just a very special place.
I was fortunate enough to get selected on their course (which is like a week-long interview with 11 other like-minded people), and what an experience! I was super stoked and humbled to be offered a job there. But the story there carries on bit more: I got talking to another chap from our course who got offered the job as well and was confused about his hesitation to take up the offer!
So I'm like, "man, what’s the big decision here, this is our pinnacle, there’s not much better in the world for Outdoor ed!”. And so he says “I’ve got this idea…” His idea is to travel the world with no commercial transport - just hiking, biking, paddling and maybe some sailing. And so, wow, that's a big expedition, probably two or three years! And then he said "it's an open invite”. So I naturally said, "Okay, I'm in”.
And so I’ve of course since spoken to Outward Bound and being so humbled with the grace that they took my news and even more so humbled that they were more than happy to catch up when we’re back sometime in 2027 to talk about starting then. So I’m very very grateful for all of that lining up for! Feel like the stars are aligned for me!
But otherwise in terms of events, I'll be here for the Taupo Ultra in October. I'm just going to do the 50k there. That's an event that I was meant to do in 2021 but I mentioned earlier I tore some ligaments and tendons in my ankle in 2021 which left me with a far less than ideal build up for the event that I needed. And then I was on the farm last year and didn't quite have the fitness and the headspace for it. So hopefully 3rd year lucky, I can get to the Taupo Ultra!
So second cool opportunity that’s come about is the beginning of my own business called SALTY GRINS. SALTY GRINS is all about Human Connection, helping create wholesome, meaningful connection and greater sense of community through the sharing of our Journey's! You'll find vlogging content based on my adventures, following the highs and the lows of those adventures; and podcast interviews with some beautiful humans as they tell their story, their journey, their way.
The name is actually inspired by a quote from Karen Blixen “The cure for anything is salt water — sweat, tears, and the Ocean.”
I heard this from a professional triathlete who shared it on their Instagram page years ago and it has always stuck with me. And for me, that's been something I’ve always fallen back to.
We all know It's good for you to grin. We know physical activity and being outside and in the ocean is good for you! And of course mental health is super prevalent in our world today! So hopefully you can all see those connections there!
And so there’s some exciting scope for SaltyGRINS! And hopefully, as our expedition unfolds for next year, we'll have a bit of a following, and people can follow the journey! But also, hoping to spread some really good vibes. I’ve always been super excited and inspired by seeing people get after the things their excited and passionate about and I hope this will do the same for others and help give themselves permission to get after what they love!
Well, that leads us to one last question. What's the one piece of advice you would give someone wanting to train for a triathlon or even just getting into running events?
During my first year at uni, I had one of my favourite lecturers, Paul Macdermid, he was actually a professional kayaker, in the British White Water Slalom team and once of the coolest lecturers I ever had, and also had a really big impact on me as an athlete. And so a big part of the papers we had with him was: know your philosophy, know ‘why'. And I think as an athlete, that's something that’s always stuck with me, probably because for years I never really had a good answer for it. But I mentioned earlier in our conversation here about community, I've really come to realise that a big part, which is really important for my whole Hauora is having that community around you of like-minded people who you can go and do something you're passionate about with, share stuff with, and just have that sense of relatedness.
So that's really important as an athlete you're looking at the three of core needs of athletic well-being: and sport and those competence relatedness and autonomy. And for me that relatedness I think I've been searching for, for a long time. And I find that in the adventure / expedition communities, people just doing what they love, and also the Ultra / Trail running scene as well: really like-minded people who you can share a lot on a philosophical level.
So I think, going back to knowing what your ‘why’ is, and why you're doing it. And so I think invest time into creating a vision. Have a philosophy of why you're doing it, and be really strong with that. And then whenever you get to a tough point - because we're always gonna have highs and lows - when you get to that low point and you know why you're there it’s a bit easier to work through.
The second bit of advice behind that is also being able to allow those values / where you put the weight on your values, and your why to change; it's going to evolve and adapt over time! I have way more weight and value in community and meaningful connection with people now than I did when I was 18. At 18 I was probably trying to stroke my ego and prove something to the world and I invested too much self-worth in event results. I've grown up a lot, and there's been lots of trial and error. And that's definitely something I reckon a lot of people will relate to and struggle with as I have done, and still do at times. Even when you know this it's still hard to zoom out at times and bring yourself around to the more important things.
SO My advice is know your why, be okay for that to change and evolve, and also be okay for yourself to not have an answer straight away, but always be pondering it!
Do you find that your nutrition side plays a big part in your training as well, when you're training for a triathlon?
Protein is a really big one for me. It can be a pretty polarising debate, but for my body type, I know I can recover and do so much more training when I have a really high-protein diet. So I was lucky enough to be a bit of a guinea pig through uni with some Ph.D. students. Two of the Ph.D. students ended up being my coaches at various times: Emma and Will O'Connor.
So we've got connections today and they are beautiful people that are doing a lot of good in the world. Being part of the Ph.D. studies their not allowed to give money, so you're either given petrol vouchers or food vouchers; and as a student that's really valuable and something that definitely helped me through!
One of the studies that Emma was running, they had us loaded up on heaps of protein: testing out keratin; essentially it was basically chicken feathers made edible! And this stuff for my body was like rocket fuel, and that had me in amazing shape for the Worlds in 2015.
For me protein is a big one, and everybody is different. But also there's a lot of research out there that high-volume endurance athletes can have up to 1.8 grams per kg - quite a lot!
Also don't underestimate protein and all proteins' ability to help level out emotions, too. Again, I touched on mental health a couple of times, and I feel when I haven't had enough protein for my activity level, I can see my emotions can get a little bit unbalanced as well.
To keep up to date on Jame's adventures, take a look at his Facebook Page or on Instagram