Last Saturday, March 3rd, I did the New Zealand Ironman. The event was held at Lake Taupo, which is roughly located in the center of New Zealand’s north island. Keeping with tradition I was unprepared – actually, I was exceptionally unprepared.
My training since my Ironman race in November consisted of zero swims, maybe eight bike rides and ten runs. So in race terms I guess I peaked in November and have been tapering ever since. Because I kept choosing work and family over exercise I had to adapt my training program accordingly, which generally translated to "Why train today when I can train tomorrow?"
One smart move involved arriving in the region a week or so early to get used to the time zone and climate. After a careful look at the globe I decided Singapore would be perfect. Foolish American! What was I thinking? Turns out that Singapore is a 10 hour flight away and the climate is not even similar!
Desperate to train, at the last minute I decided to prepare by running five days in a row for just one hour. The day I landed in Singapore (following an 18 hour flight from Los Angeles) I attempted my first run – outdoors. Turns out that Singapore is very humid and running outdoors midday requires a lot of water. I got dizzy and had to take a rest with just a half mile left to go. On the second day I did my one hour run on the treadmill. Then on the third day, to my surprise, my legs were too sore to run at all. Not a confidence building moment, that’s for sure. No more runs for me. With just six days until race day, obviously I needed a new plan.
As the race day approached I was getting more nervous. I was hearing things, like Lake Taupo is very cold, even with a wetsuit, and if the temperature is too cold on race day they may cancel or shorten the swim. Someone also mentioned it was the largest inland lake in all of New Zealand and has no bottom (I think that just means really deep, huh?). At this point I resorted to a critical racing strategy of something called "carb loading" where one ingests massive amounts of carbohydrates in the days before the race. So to kill two birds with one stone, I chose alcohol to both help with the nerves and get some carbs in me (not recommended!).
I decided to swing through Taupo on registration day to sign up for the race (mandatory) on Thursday after flying all night from Singapore and then bounce down to Wellington for late day meetings. Definitely never do this. Turns out commercial flights for this kind of schedule don’t exist. In desperation to register for the race I actually had to charter an old twin engine plane. The pilot had to keep pushing the window molding back in place by hand throughout the flight to Taupo and then on to Wellington.
I returned to Taupo Friday before the race around 9 pm. I was pretty nervous … so I carb loaded some more (specifically, I had a margarita and split a bottle of champagne with my girlfriend).
Not much sleep over the previous week and not much sleep on race night proved to be no advantage. Saturday I got up around 4:45 am to start eating. The race was to start at 7am.
Because I had not swum in 90 days, I walked out into the water and was able to stand on a rock until the gun went off. I think I got to the rock with no more than two or three strokes. The strategy here was to conserve my arms … what if they failed 10-20 strokes from shore simply because I warmed them up?
The water was not very cold at all (nothing like swimming from Alcatraz to San Francisco). Taupo was beautiful, at least the lake bottom where the race started – it looks like peanut butter and chocolate swirls. I got to enjoy that for about 30 minutes until the swim back in deeper water. Luckily, my arms only registered formal complaints twice en route to the swim finish.
Out of the water, while leading what might have been the last twenty percent of the athletes, I made the 600 meter dash to the bike transition area. A little out of it, I almost put my bike shoes on before taking my wetsuit off. Duh! Then with some assistance a volunteer sprayed me with sunscreen. This is key as I was about to spend the next six plus hours pedaling the bicycle. And consistent with most of my races, I did not take great care with the completeness of this important sunscreen application stage. You know they say New Zealand has no ozone layer. Hence, the awful burns I have today on the top of both thighs (the swelling is going down now though). Race tip: Apply sunscreen to all of your skin.
The bike ride was quite nice. I was able to enjoy the scenery for the first 30 or so miles. After that one mainly looks for more water and oxygen. About three quarters of the way into the ride I crushed (that means passed with great strength) a bunch of riders including a much older guy in a green bike jersey with a braided beard. Shortly after reveling in my extraordinary strength … he and whole bunch of others returned the favor as I began to run out of steam.
After the swim and the bike I was about 7 hours and 45 minutes into the race. This was a first for me. My fastest swim and bike combination ever … in fact, it may be the first time I ever started the run before the pros had already come through the finish line. Obviously, my carb loading strategy was making up for my pathetic training strategy.
The run. Oh. the run. Nothing like starting a marathon after almost eight hours of exercising. The run course had mild rolling hills. A nice course actually, maybe my favorite so far. I was able to jog along through the first half of the course, then on the second half did some walking. Then with about six miles left to run I noticed another competitor gaining on me. The idea that this person (without being specific, think much older and much bigger) might actually pass me became my biggest fear. Needless to say, I had to really push myself those last few miles.
I completed the race in 13 hours and 10 minutes. As it turns out this was my second best race time over out of the seven Ironman races I have completed to date. I was only 15 minutes slower than my best time – crazy!
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