Above: Daniel Balchin leading home Caden Shields at the 2016 10km Road Championships in Masterton. Photo by Jo Murray.
Daniel Balchin has become a steady accumulator of national endurance titles over the past few seasons. Steve Landells spoke to the Christchurch-based athlete about his gradual improvement and future aspirations.
Perhaps it is the words “patience and time” that best sum up the career of Dan Balchin.
Never a star athlete as a youngster at a national level – his first individual national secondary school medals were only secured in his final month as a Year 13 student – he has gamely plugged away at the sport and is now reaping the rewards as a six-time national senior champion.
For any youngster in the sport operating below the very highest level - he is a source of inspiration.
Growing up on a 40-acre farm in the Dunedin suburb of Sunnyvale, Dan experienced a typical outdoor Kiwi lifestyle growing up. Initially starting out as a rugby player it was once he hit intermediate school and he started winning local cross country races he realised he had a natural aptitude for running.
Joining Caversham Harrier and Athletic Club as a 13-year-old he slowly developed under the wise coaching guidance of Mike Weddell.
“He was the one who got me through my junior years,” he explains of Mike. “The mileage was relatively low and the workouts were more speed orientated. I maintained an enjoyment for the sport during those times. My finishing kick today can probably be attributed to the training done in those days.
Meanwhile as part of a strong distance running unit at Kings High School he has also earned vital additional running experiences in his formative years.
“We had a good team that often medalled at the national cross country or road championships, although I never placed individually,” he says.
It was not until Year 13 he finally earned those first precious individual medals on the national stage when winning 3000m bronze and 3000m steeplechase silver at the New Zealand Secondary Schools Track & Field Championships in 2008. It was a pivotal moment in his running development.
“It was a big achievement for me,” says Dan. “From that point on I knew athletics gave me a chance to succeed in sport.”
He moved to Christchurch to study a Bachelor in Civil Engineering in 2012. But back then on a weekly training regimen of around 80km he knew there was vast scope for improvement and he credits joining Matt Ingram’s training group soon after for bringing about the next stage in his development.
“Matt is a sports scientist who himself also competed at a national level. He has a great knowledge and understanding of the sport,” explains Dan. “Under Matt’s tutelage I started doing threshold type sessions and the weekly volume also increased. Not long after I started getting among the medals at a national level.
With quality training partners in the group such as 2014 New Zealand Road Race champion Callan Moody and reigning Auckland Marathon champion Oska Inkster-Baynes to work alongside he secured his first national senior title in the steeplechase. However, it was his bronze medal he scooped later that year in the 2013 New Zealand Road Race Championships which Balchin values more.
“I don’t know whether the steeplechase really counts at a national level because only three people are often entered, so you are almost guaranteed a medal,” he insists. “I class that bronze medal at the road champs as my first proper senior individual medal at national level.”
In 2014 Dan completed the 3000m and 3000m steeplechase to his growing cache of national titles and further demonstrated his impressive versatility by winning silver medals at the New Zealand 5000m, 10km road and half-marathon championships.
The following year he completed a hat-trick of national steeplechase titles and significantly also experienced his major international event competing at the World University Games in Korea.
Dan has been part of two previous New Zealand teams at the Chiba Ekiden Relays but competing in Gwangju elevated the South Islander to a whole new level of competition.
“I guess the environment (multi-sports) is similar to the Olympics,” he says. “It was definitely an eye opener. I didn’t compete nearly as well as I wanted. The temperature was 30c plus and my preparation had been done in close to zero degrees training in Christchurch. I found the conditions pretty tough.”
The New Brighton Olympic athlete finished ninth in his 5000m heat recording 14:32 which was well down on his best at the time of 13:57. Yet more disappointment was to follow as an Achilles problem ruled him out of the 2016 domestic track season before he returned to the fray for last winter’s cross country campaign.
Better known as a track and road runner he was pleased to secure silver – seven seconds behind Jono Jackson - at the New Zealand Cross Country Championships at the Auckland Domain – a performance which gave him the belief he had a shot at the national 10km road title last September.
His confidence was not misplaced. In Masterton, Dan delivered to defeat Caden Shields by four seconds to strike gold in 31:43 a moment the civil engineer for Fulton Hogan describes as “pretty satisfying.”
This year Dan has continued to progress and after running a 5000m PB of 13:56.49 at the Auckland Track Challenge in February, at the following month’s New Zealand Track & Field Championships in Hamilton he produced an accomplished piece of running to take 5000m gold.
“I knew I was in good shape after Auckland Track Challenge and it was definitely one of my more memorable track titles,” he admits. “I had a good tussle with Aaron Pulford. He’s been a rival for the past five or six years and on the day, I managed to beat him.”
Boasting the bragging rights as national champion has become something of a theme for the 26-year-old who racks up an average of 160-170km as part of his training regime which regular takes in runs around Hagley Park and the Port Hills.
In the long term, he sees his future in the marathon but in the near future he believes he has “unfinished business” over the shorter distances with a sub-four-minute mile on his “bucket list.” Before such ambitions, however, his most immediate target is the New Zealand Cross Country Championships which take place at Auckland Domain this Sunday.
“My goal is to go one better than last year (when he was second to Jono Jackson) and then make sure I’m in the best possible shape for the national road champs,” he says.
“I haven’t put any pressure on myself to compete at Commonwealth Games or the Olympics, but as long as I keep training and improving it is definitely on the radar.”