Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Ironman New Zealand 2012 - A Shorter Day

Sunday morning, 4 March 2012, 24 hours after I was supposed to have been starting Ironman #2 and I was on the shores of Lake Taupo with 1500 fellow athletes, contemplating a shortened day ahead.

We had woken at 4.00am to go through the normal breakfast and body glide routine.  Eat some toast and banana, apply body glide to all the bits that might even think about chafing during the day and think happy, focused thoughts.

The weather was still a bit iffy - the wind was blowing enough to cast doubts in my mind as to whether we would get to swim, and yesterday's storm had left a chill in the air.  However there was no point thinking or worrying about it - we needed to get down to the start area and get body marked and then rack the bike for a second time.  After I racked the bike I also had to find my transition bags and re-check those.  I needed to make sure everything in there was still needed given the shortened distance and do minor changes such as change the yellow lenses out of the sunglasses and put the dark lenses back in.

All sorted and it was back to the marquee to chill out for half an hour or so.

And chill out I did.  Literally.

The temperature outside was about 5 degrees Celsius and my long pants and hoodie were struggling to keep me anywhere near warm enough.

Waiting, waiting, trying to stay warm...
By 7.00am (an hour before race start) I had had enough of sitting around playing ice block and so we headed down to the foreshore and found mum and dad.  They had driven up from Christchurch to cheer me on and this was to be their first ironman experience.  I was really pleased to have them share this with us and hoped they would enjoy it as much as we had promised!

An added bonus was the fact that they had travelled up in their camper van.  The Taupo District Council is very accommodating to self-contained campers and provides a parking area right by the lakefront where you can park up for a maximum of two nights.  No pre-booking, you just take your chances, but there were parks for about 20 vans and it was right between the swim start and the run/bike action.  They therefore had a perfect spot to base themselves for the day.

We headed down to the start area and it was looking like it was going to be a great day.  I was ready to go, in fact I was wishing we could just get on with it!  At that point I should have already finished ironman for the year and hobbled my aching muscles to the nearest cafe for a decent celebratory breakfast.

Anyway, the day was just beginning and so I said my farewells to mum, dad and St Pete and joined everyone through the swim chute down to the start line to get acclimatised to the water temperature.  The lake was a little chilly to start with, but warmer than Shelly Beach had been a few weeks ago when I did the Cole Classic (sans wetsuit!).

Finally, we were swimming.  The water was a little bit lumpy from yesterday's storm, and not quite as clear as it normally is (again, remnants of the storm). There was still a bit of wind but it really wasn't too bad. We headed out and, as always, it took me a while to get into a rhythm. However I was a pretty happy camper - not worried about the distance or anything other than getting to the first turn buoy. We got there and did the turn which leads you about 70m away from the shore before you turn again and head back to the starting end of the course. I did my first ever "swim" around the buoy, rather than "breaststroke" around it so was very pleased with myself there, and "swam" around the second buoy and headed home.

The swim seemed to be going OK. I was happy, didn't get lost, didn't seem to get too far off course and was doing calculations in my head about the time I wanted to see on the clock on the beach. The pros had started 15min ahead of us and I was aiming for a 45min swim time. So I really wanted to see 1 hour or less showing on the clock when I got out of the water.

When I hit the beach and looked it up, the clock was showing 1:05. Damn! That meant a 50min swim rather than 45min. What happened there? Bit disappointed with that, but nothing I could do about it now, onto the bike. I ran up the chute, overtaking about four people in the first 20m out of the water (they were all walking/staggering out!) to start the 400m jog up to transition. As I did so I also started pulling my wetsuit down. I've got a fab new Garmin 910XT trainer on my wrist and it takes a bit of care to get the wetsuit sleeves off so I decided to stop and walk a couple of metres while I concentrated on getting the sleeve off properly.

Next thing I hear "you're not supposed to be walking!" Jeez, talk about sprung! Look up and there's Mel S and her partner Pete, standing alongside the walkway, telling me off. OK, sleeve off, lesson learnt and I start jogging along the green carpet again and up the hill to transition.

Into the transition tent and the volunteers, as always, were amazing. Wetsuit stripped off, bag emptied out, shoes and socks on, vest and arm warmers on, number on, sunglasses on and I'm ready to go. Run out, helmet on, pick up bike and before I know it I'm off riding.

The bike is my favourite leg and this was no exception. I relished the opportunity to push a bit harder than I would have done with full IM distance and spent the 90 minutes powering out to Reporoa with a bit of a tail wind and plenty of people around to target and pass.

At Reporoa we turn around and head back into town and it was set to be a slightly longer journey - uphill overall and a noticeable headwind made its presence known. Not to worry, I settled in and had plenty of people around to play cat and mouse with.

I had a good routine with the aid stations as well, picking up a banana at all but one and taking in a gel every 15km. The one aid station I missed picking up a banana from was at the bottom of a hill and I think I might have been going slightly too fast for me to do a successful pickup ... who's bright idea was it to put an aid station at the bottom of a hill anyway? Such a waste of perfectly good free speed!!!!

The last 10km of the IMNZ bike course is always my favourite - downhill - and today was no exception. Even better than last year, it was dry as well, so there was no holding back as we came back into Taupo. So much so that about 5km out my contact lens appeared to get blown out. I thought I felt it dislodge and had a couple of attempts at pushing it back into place but wasn't about to sacrifice any speed in this final section so pushed on with 3/4 vision and the hope that I could resolve it in transition.

Into transition and again loved the work of the volunteers. I sat down and had my bike shoes and socks taken off for me and new socks put on and running shoes put on as well. That left me free to take off my helmet, vest and arm warmers and put on my running cap and rearrange my race number to my front.

And just like that I was ready to head out on the final leg. Just before I left the tent, though, I spotted a medic and so took the opportunity to ask her to check my eye for a stray lens. No conclusive answer on that - after a bit of pushing my eyeball around she couldn't tell if it was in or out. Never mind, if I have to, I'll run without it.

Are we there yet?
So with good vision in one eye and average vision in the other eye I started running. As usual the first 5km was tough but I expected that and so knew I just had to get through it. The course had been changed to a 2 lapper, so around 5.5km each way, out and back.

The plan was to only walk the aid stations and I sort of achieved that. OK, I didn't totally achieve that... But I did finish up with a 2:31 half marathon time which isn't too bad for me. During the run I had some great company - Jacky (Ironjack) was out there yelling me on and Mel S also lounged in a deck chair alongside the run course (and she gave me a hard time for walking for 10m to transition, jeez!).

Loudest of all were St Pete and Mum and Dad, who had also scattered themselves along the course with the inflated bananas, cowbell and pullout signs. They certainly had a busy time once I started running and, given it's my least favourite leg, it was the best time to have some loud and raucous company!

One of the really cool things about the out and back course is that you had plenty of company in the form of other runners and I guess it's a reflection of my improvement that even on my last lap there were still people around - I wasn't running on my own. And heading back on my last lap I couldn't help but look across at the people still heading out, usually with two arm bands on (signifying that they were on their last lap as well), but occasionally I'd see someone with only one arm band on, which gave me a great confidence boost.

Six hours and 44 minutes after setting out that morning I headed down the finish chute, absolutely shattered but also really happy to be getting to the end.

One of the only times, I'm sure, that I'll finish Ironman in the daylight!!!!!!

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