After spending a week in Dunedin on the south island of New Zealand, I flew to Auckland on the 12th and met Mark on his arrival from Alaska. We spent the night in Auckland and hit the road for Rotorua after a leisurely start our day and a fairly lengthy quest for breakfast.
The drive to Rotorua was about 3 hours and went fairly quickly since we were in a new country and driving on the opposite side of the road. The scenery was lovely, with green rolling hills pocked with sheep and cows.
We arrived in Rotorua in the early afternoon and were quickly greeted with the famous aroma of the place. Rotorua is one of the geothermal “hot spots” in NZ and therefore basically smells like farts. Farts everywhere, all the time…though there are definite areas of more intense fart smell than others. I guess that means there are fart refugia. I imagine that Rotoruans get used to it and maybe enjoy the excuse to pass gas at will without getting called out on it. But for those of us who don’t perpetually live with sulfur in the air, it can be quite distracting at times.
We checked into the hotel and then grabbed a bite to eat before heading back to the hotel for race check-in. It was obviously going to be a laid back affair, as there was no one checking you were who you said you were and the race packets were laid out on the floor in one of the hotel conference rooms. After “checking in” I decided to go chat with the race director since I had traded some emails with him before about coming from Alaska. He was a big guy with an obvious charisma, but he did take perhaps a bit too much pleasure in telling everyone how hard the race was and how you will meet your demons, etc. Then he told him that I really fucked up by not allowing time in our itinerary to stay for the after party. Good times ahead.
Mark and I then drove to the race start and I did a quite 30 minute workout (20 mins bike/10 min run) with some pick ups thrown in, while he went for a run as well. The location was gorgeous, but after rendezvousing at the car we both were realizing how difficult this course really could be. Too late now!
Back to the hotel where I fussed with my gear, while we continuously excused the other of breaking wind. It was quickly getting late, so we went off to find dinner. I had a lovely salad and Mark a pizza and some local brew. I was DYING to be done racing so I could let me usually strict diet go for the rest of our trip. I did some last minute fussing, then set the alarm for 3:30 because the bloody race start time was 6:25 and it was first come, first served on bike racking.
|Setting up transition|
3:30 came fast, and while I slept ok, I did not sleep long enough this night or the night before so was pretty heavy with fatigue. Thank god for pre race nerves to get me going. I hid in the bathroom while I ate a sweet potato, one packet of almond butter and a scoop of protein powder and prepped my nutrition, so that Mark could keep sleeping.
At the race venue now, there was a layer of fog rising off the lake and the skies were beginning to show their bright blue. It was going to be a warm one! I found a reasonably good spot in the racks and went about setting up transition. I did some light stretching and then went out and jogged for about 10 minutes. With 30 minutes until race start, I began sipping on a packet of chocolate UCAN as my final shot of prerace nutrition. Then it was into the wetsuit and the dreaded anticipation that builds as the race start slowly crawls nearer.
The Swim – the course was two 1K loops in stunning Blue Lake, so slightly longer than a traditional 1.9K half swim. The water was cool, but comfortable and very clear. It was really nice. I tried to find some feet to grab on to and I was successful for brief periods at a time but was never really able to stick with anyone in particular. I felt good, but perhaps too relaxed. I navigated well and the first lap went quite fast. The second lap seemed to go slower but I had a relatively even split.
|Out of the water!|
T1 – My bike was a fair bit away from the swim exit and I had to run up a grassy hill. My wetsuit came off quite easily until it got stuck on my right ankle. I couldn’t straighten my foot without my calf cramping, so I struggled with that for a bit before just ripping the damned thing off.
The Bike – In my research for this race, all I kept hearing was how hilly and difficult the course was. I left transition not entirely sure what was ahead of me, except for the hills that we had encountered on the way the race start. They weren’t any worse than what I rode at home, so while I wasn’t overly concerned, I did feel like I needed to ride fairly conservatively since I really did not know what I would face across the entire 56 mi course. The course was really quite stunning and afforded some spectacular views. I tried to ride strong but also make sure I was enjoying myself and appreciating the opportunity. There were hills. There were lots of hills. But they weren’t overwhelming or endless and I felt pretty good with how I was handling them. I had mixed three packets of UCAN into a single water bottle and the plan was to take 1/3 of the bottle (~one packet) every 75 minutes starting about 15 minutes into the ride. I stuck to the plan and felt just fine. I sipped water (with NUUN) as needed. It was warm, but the course offered quite a lot of shade and some big rain clouds rolled in the latter half of the ride, so I kept my temperature in check. Coming into transition, I wondered if I should have ridden harder.
3:26:32 (includes T1&T2)
T2 – Nothing to report here. Helmet to hat, change shoes, and strap on fuel belt. Done.
|Getting ready to really suffer|
The Run – I made a quick potty spot so that I could get into my run feeling light and fresh. I ran first half mile or so and felt pretty good and thought that if I maintained this pace, I would end up with a descent time for the day. Unfortunately, I had two big things working against me. First of all, it was getting quite warm now. The rain clouds had all together disappeared, making for an increasingly hot afternoon. Secondly, there was the course. After that first half mile on the road, the course cut into the trails that wrap around Blue and a neighboring lake. The up and downs were constant and mostly in direct sun. My pace quickly slowed to less than ideal and I knew I was in for it. So, fairly early in the run I knew this leg was going to a mental battle and my goal switched from finishing as near to 6:00 to not making it my worst finish time ever. I stuck to my nutrition plan and continued taking one packet of UCAN every 75 minutes. I never felt like I was out of energy or poorly fueled. I just felt like I was running up rocky hills in the heat. The course contained no distance markers so I had no idea where I was. Since my pace was off and I wasn’t sure how accurate the swim or bike leg had bin, I was pretty lost as to how far I’d come or how far I had left to go. I asked volunteers whenever I saw them and literally got a different answer EVERY single time. Now you might say, well that’s because they were at different spots along the course. Well, of course. But that’s not that I mean. I would ask one guy and he would tell me I was at 10K, while the next guy would tell me the same or some number that would make no sense if the previous guy had been right. The worst was when I was told I had only a few K to go, when I actually had twice that. While I knew that the report had to be crap because of where I was on the clock, that part of my brain that just wanted to be done wanted to believe it so, so bad. After a bit, I rounded a bend and saw the finish line…oh my god, maybe he wasn’t lying! And then I saw it…the dreaded arrow separating the first lap from the final lap. Nuts! Another 5K lap for me. This final stretch (which marked the end of your first lap or the end of the race) was the only flat part of the course and it was through sand. Insult to injury! I did my best to smile and wave to Mark and went out for my final lap. It seemed to last an eternity and I distracted myself by counting my steps and also looking for Hobbits. I began taking coke at the limited aid stations, not because I needed it but because it was cold and just sounded good. I finally rounded the bend and saw the beach marking the way home. Whew! Mark was waiting with an ice-cold “beersie”! Though it was the NZ equivalent of Budweiser, it was fucking delicious.
Going into this race, I actually felt very good physically. My training had all gone quite well and I was laying out some pretty decent training paces for me. However, having started my 2013 triathlon season in February, I was really beginning to feel mentally burned out. I’m certain that came into play on race day.
While I had a decent swim, I’m realizing that I am afraid of going too hard on the swim and hold back far too much. My pool times predict swim splits that are a few minutes faster than I have been able to hit so far. While I realize that open water swimming is a different beast, I still think I need to work on this aspect of my training.
I took a wrong turn on the bike, which I recognized quickly but still involved some back tracking. I also dropped my chain twice. Also, NZ roads are pretty crappy. They aren’t full of potholes but they are paved with that very rough asphalt which rattles your entirely body and undoubtedly increases rolling resistance and slows you down. While none of these cost me hugely, they definitely contributed to a slower bike split than I could have posted on this course.
I initially thought I could have pushed it harder on the bike leg, but facing that run leg would have been much worse than it was, so I’m glad I held back a little. My mistake was that I was overly concerned with the difficulty of the bike leg and did not focus enough on the run course. As I said, the run was the most difficult I have encountered. The heat of the day (it reached near 80) was especially difficult for me since it’s winter in Alaska! I also found myself with a side stitch that I wrestled with for about a half hour. Oh…and there was the bloody nose.
|Best crap beer ever!|
I would not change anything with my nutrition plan. It seemed to do well for me and I plan to continue with the metabolically efficient (fat adapted/low carb) approach to training and racing.
The race as a whole was a very laid back affair, which has it’s benefits and drawbacks. The lack of distance markers on the course was quite frustrating and nutrition was very limited, only water and coke available all day. And while that beersie was nothing short of amazing at the finish line, there was nothing else! Not even water or bananas. That is a huge offense in my book. That said the race was fun, safe, a bloody good challenge and absolutely breathtaking. I always show disdain for athletes that bring a camera along on race day, but there were several times I wish I had one.
Am I disappointed that I didn’t post a better time? Of course! But I never intended this race to be a PR event. I knew the course was going to be challenging and it was far harder than I had expected. While I have tackled more difficult bike courses, they have often been followed by much less punishing runs than what Rotorua laid out. I’ve never faced a tougher bike/run combo. In fairness, I was warned. I also wanted this race to be more about the experience of racing in New Zealand, an opportunity I felt so very fortunate to have.
As always, I am grateful for my epic support team. Mark, the long-time sufferer as the race director called him, was once again always where he needed to be, did what he needed to do and made me feel like a super star. Coach Lisa Keller got me through another season of triathlon feeling good about the sport, a couple of PRs and no DNFs! Coach Regina Hammond of TriSmarter.com helped me dial in some finer aspects of my metabolic efficiency approach and gave me confidence in my daily and race day nutrition. I always grateful to TheTriShop.com for the privilege of racing on the store’s team and for the advice and support of my fellow teammates. Finally I want to thank Mike Wall, a local who offered a home for my tri gear during the rest of our time in NZ. Here’s to 2014!