Challenge Wanaka

Eleven days after finishing Ironman Cairns on June 3, 2012 and before even getting to Ironman Mont-Tremblant, Canada on August 19th 2012, I registered for Challenge Wanaka on January 19th, 2013. The reason I chose this race is because my family was going to be visiting me in Australia. And, me being the international traveler/Ironman triathlete, I looked at what events, specifically Challenge Wanaka, were going to be going on in New Zealand in January. So I found the event, signed up, and based the whole trip around the race. Although most people won’t sign up for another Ironman before even finishing the next one they had lined up, finishing would be without question, and I try to live like every day is my last. Also, I’m a little crazy. I had done 13 marathons in 17 months between 2008-2009, so what’s 3 Ironmans in 7 months?

A week before the race, I finally met up with my parents in Christchurch, NZ. This was after their flight from LA – MEL turned back, 3 hours across the Pacific due to a depressurization in the cabin. I picked them up from the airport in our 4 berth Maui campervan and we made the 11 hour drive to a campsite 45 minutes from Milford Sound. That night I ran 40 minutes in stunning scenery and woods, for the first time in 2 years and it was amazing. The next day after a cruise on Milford Sound seeing seals in their natural habitat, we drove the 5 hours to Queenstown, the outdoor mecca of the world. 3 nights there led me to do a couple runs through town and a 40 minute bike ride after putting the TT back together. We also did wine tasting, drank vodka from ice in the 5 below bar, went white water rafting on Class IV rapids, and jet-boating in a canyon.

After Queenstown, it was on to Wanaka that Thursday. I went to pre-registration, showed my parents around the town, checked into the Holiday Park and got settled down. At 5:30pm I went to the Specialized store and met 2x Ironman World Champion Chris McCormack and the 10th place NZ finisher from the London Olympics, Kate McIlroy. It was really amazing meeting Chris again; I had met him originally at Challenge Cairns in 2011 and then at Ironman Cairns in 2012. After some autographs and pictures, it was on to the carbo-load dinner. We heard from the pro’s and the announcer was the same individual that called the Olympic Triathlon. Some of the best pro’s in the world were at this race like Jo Lawn, who is one of the top 10 triathletes of all time, Chris who has won more than 200 events all over the world and the premier name in this sport, and Jamie Whyte who had won the event before. In no other sport, can you sit at dinner a single table away and eat with legends.

The next day I joined my coach and 25+ other athletes in a 6AM swim practice to simulate race conditions. We did several race starts and a mini race to get comfortable for race day. At 15.5 degrees celcius or 59.5 degrees Fahrenheit, the water was extremely cold. Even with a  wetsuit and cap, my entire body tensed up and it was hard to breathe. I was told to try and relax and think about breathing. It was extremely useful and I am very happy I did it. That day however, the water was calm with little wind, a drastic difference from the next day. But, I wanted to remember why I was there. In March 2012, I was en-route to Taupo on the north Island to do my first ever Ironman. That event was cancelled due to the weather and reduced to a half ironman the next day. But while heading to that event, I stood on the shores of Lake Wanaka looking out at snow-capped mountain peaks, a 25 mile/40km lake in front of me thinking, “I have to race here”. Now I was there and I was going to do my best.

That night I cooked dinner, just as I had done and would do, all 11 nights. I had some left over chicken parmigana, vegetables, a couple rolls, and a glass of Pinot Noir. I reevaluated my race day gear, insuring that I had everything I needed.

Race day. 4:30AM wakeup. 2hours 10minutes till race time. Massive blueberry muffin, banana, Monster Energy drink and I was set to go. This is my traditional race day breakfast which gives me plenty of time to digest and a balance of electrolytes, calories, and caffeine. We drove the RV near transition and I headed over after it opened at 5AM. I kissed my parents goodbye and they wished me best of luck. To the bike, bottles with Ironman Perform were locked and loaded on my new addition: the XLAB Carbon wing and profile design carbon fiber aero bottle. Air in the tires up to 110PSI, helmet at the ready, glasses on top, T2 bag next to the front wheel and I was ready. I headed to the tent, sat down for a while, thought about my race plan and execution. With 30minutes to go, I put my Xterra wetsuit over my DeSoto Triathlon suit and handed in my day clothes bag. I had my TYR swim cap and the race cap per my friend Jesse’s recommendation. I wished Jo Lawn best of luck. 400meters + to the lake, stood in the water with the other 200 competitors waiting anxiously. The pro’s took off 10minutes before us. I swam in the water for about 2 minutes, got used to the water, and then focused. I took my sights on the mountains since you couldn’t see the buoy’s so far away on the 2 lap course totaling 3.8KM. With the helicopter overhead, my family behind me, and the countdown begun, I prepared and took off.

Cairns 1:14, MT 1:09, I wanted sub 1:10 in Wanaka. The head wind was massive on the way out. The waves were so big, probably a meter or 3’ high, that once you crested each wave, you would smash your head on the bottom of the next one. Water everywhere, it was quite intense. Whereas in Canada a mass start of 2,500 athletes made me truly feel like I was going to drown for the first 5 minutes as I got swam over and into, kicked in the stomach and the face, and the persistent athletes behind me touching my feet, none of that happened in NZ. With only 200 competitors, there was plenty of space. It was the head wind that would be the biggest pain. In fact, I needed to stop and fix my goggles after 5 minutes due to water getting in them from the waves rattles. I went 1:18:02 coming out of the water 58th overall, 43rd gender and 6th in the M20-29 division of 13. I was certainly not happy with this time as I knew I was capable of at least 1:10. The headwinds and difficulty in seeing the buoy’s as a result truly impacted my time. I was happy that I wasn’t as cold as I was the day before. Remembering back to the Syracuse, NY Half Ironman where I couldn’t stop thinking how cold and freezing I was for the first 15 minutes. I grabbed my T1 bag, ran across the arch over the street and saw my parents.

Into T1 which was awful because it took forever to put my gloves and arm warmers on with cold and wet hands. But they went on and I used socks for the first time ever in a triathlon knowing that it was going to be cold and I would perform better with them. Race belt around with number on back and a pack of Powerbar gel blasts down the front. I grabbed the bike, saw the rents, and off I went.

Cairns 5:10, MT 5:20, I wanted 5:30 in Wanaka. This has been touted as not only the Worlds most Scenic Iron distance event, but also one of the toughest due to the wind and hills. I remember how in MT I just killed it on the bike which led me to be in quite bad shape for the last 20K on the bike while climbing 17% hills. And then I remember the awful 3:51 marathon performance where I walked at numerous times. I didn’t want that again. I listened to Bevan my coach. The race starts with the marathon. Therefore, I wanted to get to the marathon in good shape. I wanted to be consistent at 5:30 from start to finish. The first 30KM was very hilly. I made sure I was consistent from the start. I never pushed it too hard but started passing others. Back through town after 1:10, saw the fam and I continued moving. At mile 26 or 42K I had one competitor pass me. We would start changing positions for the next 4 hours. Sometimes I wouldn’t see anyone in front of me and it was just him and I. It was pretty rewarding and I felt that we were able to push each other. The course was amazing but while the hills were not very long, there were many of them. And then there was the wind. Heading up to Lake Hawea and across the dam, you had to hold on as I was nearly blown over with my deep dish wheelsets. The return was nice but on one steep hill cruising at 50KM+ or maybe 35MPH, the winds hit from all directions and I nearly bit it there. Another time near the half mark, I was in the aero position and looked back. I nearly bit it there too but was able to recover even with my foot coming off one of the pedals. I remembered those for loop 2. My nutrition plan included 3 bottles of Ironman perform but only involved 2 as I lost 1 of the bottles while riding across a bridge and hitting a pothole patch. I had 5 gels, 2 gel blasts, 2 full bananas, more electrolytes, and coke. Probably about 2,000 calories of sugar. But I remained consistent and made it back to T2 unscathed, less my 2 CO2 cartridge’s and bottle 2. Those also fell off my new carbon wing. At 5:43:01, I was 13 minutes off my time but my average pace for the entire time was between 19.0mph – 20.0mph. I came in 29th overall, 23rd gender, and 4th in my division. So I passed 29 ppl which was far smaller in number from the 450 back in Canada but typical in % of performance.

Into T2, bike returned, helmet off, shoes left on the pedals. I put on fresh new socks (another first for running in socks) because they were wet. I peed on the bike at 75 miles which meant that I was hydrated. Yes people, while cycling, all over my $10K bike. But time is money or in this case, time is placing in my division! Over the archway on to the run, passed the fam and then saw Macca heading to me in the other lane. The announcers and everyone was going crazy, he was 4 minutes back on the leader; this was the end of his first lap.

Cairns 3:36, MT 3:51, I wanted 3:45 in  Wanaka. I remember Cairns when I started running; my entire torso was cramped and my legs were in real pain. I walked every aid station that day. I remember in MT where I was walking within the first mile, every incline, aid stations, and in between. I was in bad shape that day and I never recovered from pushing so hard on the bike. My times proved that. Well in Wanaka, I started running with my shades and visor and just felt great. My legs weren’t in any real pain and I was heading off at a good pace. I dialed it back to make sure I was consistent and not exceeding my goals but at 2KM in, the motorcycle pulled alongside and my Idol, Chris Macca McCormack was there. I told him, “You’re the man Macca, you Got this”, and patted hands. He said, “Ah I’m hurting.” I didn’t say anything else to him and let him be. He pulled up in front of me, maybe 100 meters and the first aid station he walked. I said no way. I ran through the station, water over head, food, water, soda, kept going. He picked it back up but I never looked back. True, I know he had already run a half marathon and was faster than me by at least an hour – 2 hours but I was still competing against him believe it or not. He was back on my heels, passed me one more time and I saw him just off in front of me. I was there thinking, this is the most amazing things ever;  that I’ll never get this chance ever again in my life; to be running with one of the best triathletes of all time. Have you played ball with Michael Jordan? Shot balls with Tiger Woods? Catched a ball from Tom Brady? This is what that was and I was doing it. Macca slowed to a walk again but I wasn’t saying anything else to him. I never looked back. He was on my heels, I knew he was there. At one point, the dirt track which covered 50%-75% of the marathon raised and there was one of the many cameramen on the other side. At that moment, I was thinking “This guy better make this a wide shot! I know Macca is behind me!” (I actually did get the shot!) J . We traded and I felt like I was Macca and he was Andreas Raelert coming into Kona at the 2010 Ironman World Championship. 6KM later he passed me after some hills and kept going. But, I had my moment, and it was amazing. Macca would still break 3 hours that day and he would finish 3rd overall. Oh, and that biker who I was with for 4 hours on the bike? I passed him around 6KM in and made up more than 28 minutes on him on the run. True, I pushed the pace from the 8:30/mile plan down to 7:30’s and even 7:15’s while Macca was there but I was motivated. I was having fun. I was enjoying myself. But, even with that, I didn’t stop. Not even a slow down through the aid stations. At one point I missed the banana and had one of the 650 volunteers, or 10% of the population of Wanaka,  run after with me so I could get it; they were amazing volunteers. This was my day and I wasn’t going to stop. I am a runner. I’m a verteran at this. I have to put together this race. The Red Bull and Subway Choclate Chip Cookie in my special needs bag at the half marathon (another triathlon first for me) really secured my attitude on the day. In the end, I completed the marathon in 3:39:40 with the 18th fastest run of the day, 14th in gender, and 2nd in my age group.

Wanaka is a tease. With 5KM to go, you see the finishing circle from the hillside just off in the distance, then you’re forced to run away from it. But, then you hit the water and the shore, and run in to town. As always the emotions swarmed. I was sitting on 8:30 average and trying to bring it down to sub 8:30. Hundreds lined the course and as I entered the finishing loop I saw my fam. I also saw the time. 10:59:35. Then I heard the announcer “And he’s got 25 seconds to break 11 hours”. “Oh shit”, I said and started gunning it. I crossed the line in 10:59:59 but learned later that was the pro’s time. Official time was 10:49:58. I hadn’t reached any of my time goals but had some very significant highlights and memories. The first is that I ran this marathon non-stop. This was my 17th marathon and only the 4th marathon I’ve ever run non-stop. That is huge, considering that I had swam 2.4 miles and biked 112 miles before the run even started! Maybe it was running with Macca, or knowing that my parents flew 12,000 miles just to see me. But, it’s most likely from listening to my coach and learning from my past mistakes. i.e. take it easy on the bike, don’t push too hard. Bevan had said “Only 25% of Ironman runners run the marathon; the other 75% walk it.” I thought that number was high but I didn’t want to be in that 75%. I wanted to be one of the few and on January 19th, I was. Had I sacrificed my legs on the bike to make up the 6min 55s that I was down on 3rd position, I think my run wouldn’t have been as good. I was quite pleased with my result especially considering that I had paratendonitis only 8 weeks before leaving my running form quite low.

After Wanaka, we went up to the glaciers where we did hour and a half hikes two days in a row; that hurt. 4 days of pain and that was it. It will take a month for my cells to truly recover but I know I am stronger now. Mentally, I think this race has given me an edge.

So whats next? May 2013 – the Great Ocean Road Marathon in Melbourne (18), August 2013 – The Alice Springs 60KM Ultra Marathon (19), and December 2013 – Joining my mates and 8 other Alice Springs Athletes in Ironman Western Australia in Busselton.

Life is too short to sit on your ass. Go out and do something.

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