Yesterday I was down in Rotorua putting myself through a reasonable amount of pain and suffering in the Rotorua Half Ironman. The motto for this event is “The Pain is Never Far Away” and is pretty apt as its raced over a tough course. The bike has two particularly sharp climbs, the last and longest being, cruelly, right at the end, and the run starts off on a trail through the bush around the Blue Lake. The run is beautiful but tough, and includes a stairway to no where – I’ll explain later.
For those of you who don’t know (and I suspect that most people who follow this blog probably do know) a half Ironman, as the name suggests is exactly half the distance of a full Ironman (actually that’s not quite right as the swim is 2k’s not 1.9k’s which would be half the Ironman swim), so it was a 2k swim, followed by a 90k cycle and finished off with a 21k run.
This was actually my first triathlon and so was very much a step into the unknown. I have done some multi-sport events in the past but this was significantly different as you have no support crew sorting you out in the transitions. And in this case I had no support crew at all as unfortunately Helen and the kids couldn’t make it down with me, which meant that I had to sort everything out and get myself ready by myself. Doesn’t sound to hard I hear you say… unfortunately being a first time triathlon for me there was an awful lot of stuff going on in my head, and a lot of it I was working out as I went along. This, predictably, lead to some issues on race day.
Anyway I got to Rotorua on Friday afternoon and after only one wrong turn I managed to find the registration venue. I always get nervous that my name will somehow have been left off the list when I et to registration time, but thankfully, once again, everything was where it should have been and I registered without a hitch. It was then off to the Blue Lake to check out the course and get my tent sorted (I was staying at the Blue Lake Camping ground which was very convenient). I got my first look at the big climb (bike) it didn’t actually look to bad as I regularly train on tougher climbs at home, the difference of course being that I’d be running a half marathon immediately after this climb (literally, as you basically come up over this climb, and then have a short decent into transition). My first real challenge was setting up the tent (by the way thanks Rice’s for the use of your tent). It took me a wee while and a sneaky look at someone else’s tent which was the same kind as what I was using, but I got there in the end (hopefully) without looking like to much of a clueless idiot. The camp ground was a strange mix of bemused looking German Tourists and super fit triathletes, it was quite strange, you could almost feel the pent up energy. I then set about checking out the swim course and transition area, before setting up my bike and going for a short ride to make sure it all worked properly and to stretch my legs after the long drive.
Dinner was the endurance athletes staple of pasta (tasty little chicken parcels in my case) chased down with some creamed rice. When I was making it in the kitchen I was chatting to another guy who was doing the team option (ride). He said that I looked as if I had been doing this for a while, which is the perfect kind of complement for my fragile ego. Walking around the camp ground it was funny seeing everyone checking out each others legs, you get that a bit when you hang around the cycling scene, so I guess triathletes are no different. I eventually called it a day and went to bed at around 9ish and actually had a reasonable sleep.
5am I was up again and munching on breakfast before taking my bike and gear up to transition and then picking up my timing chip. It was amazing how fast time flew past and I found myself running a bit short while I was busily pulling down the tent and getting the rest of my camping gear packed away (and I use “packed” in a very very loose sense). While I was doing this I noticed that I’d left a gel bottle that I was going to be using on the run behind, as well as the spare car keys which I’d planned to leave in my running belt (so I could actually get back into the car afterwards – things will be so much easier with a support crew). After a quick look at the watch I reckoned I had enough time to whip back into transition to drop it off while I drove the car to the car park (unfortunately I couldn’t leave it in the camp ground). So after dropping off the gel bottle and car keys it was quickly off to the car park to change into my wetsuit and then hurry on down to the swim start.
I was just about at the swim start when I looked down at my ankle and realise that I had left my timing chip in the car! I had 8 minutes to o until the start (3 minutes before the final briefing) and had to decide if I really needed it or not – I decided that I probably did and so ran to transition (again!) got the car key, ran to the car park, grabbed the timing chip and some sun block (which I’d also forgotten), and then ran back to transition to put the key back in the running belt and throw the sun block into my transition bin. After that I ran (some more) down to the swim start. On the way I ran in Steve Guy from www.alpegear.com and gave him my goggles and swim cap while I put the timing chip on. As I was doing this the race got underway, so while everyone else was in the water ready for the start, I was still on the beach fumbling around – better later than never I guess! I threw on my swim cap and goggles and sprinted into the water (slightly off course) and got underway. In my rush I hadn’t put my goggles on properly and had to stop after a 150m or so to empty the water out and put them on correctly. Not the ideal start, I was puffed, late and flustered.
It didn’t take to long before I got into a rhythm, it also didn’t take to long before the women (who started 5 minutes after the guys – but only a couple of minutes after me …) started passing me. Predictably I was smoked in the swim by the bulk of the field, I came out of the swim with 49 minutes showing on the clock, one leg down. The first transition was SLOOOWWW, something I’ll defiantly need to practice, it probably took me close to 10 minutes to get going. Once on the bike though I started doing some smoking of my own, passing a lot of people going up the first hill, going down the hill (where I hit 80kph) and onto the flat section pass the airport. I passed Kathy Miller (http://www.kathymillernzironman2008.blogspot.com/ ) going out pass the airport, I gather she had a bit of bad luck with punctures, check out her blog to catch up on her day). Speaking of bad luck, on the way back I past a guy walking he rather flash looking bike up hill. He didn’t seem to have a flat, and normally anyone who spends that much on a bike knows how to ride it, I was talking to a team rider after the race who said that that chap had lost his pedal and ended up biking the course (apart from the hills) with only one leg! Throughout the ride I was super conscious of not over doing it and making sure that I’d have enough left in my legs to put in an ok run. My main was of doing this was to keep my heart rate in check and staying fuelled. The eating plan was to have two “One Square Meal” bars (one at the start of the ride and the other two thirds into it) and a gel every half hour. This all worked out well and over the course I averaged just over 30 kph to give me a three hour ride.
The transition into the run went much more smoothly and I was quickly onto the run course. The run was a mix of single track through native bush (which was tough but beautiful), dirt road and sealed road. It consisted of a lap around the lake, followed by an out and back past the “buried village” with a 4 k detour down a dirt road to the Rotorua Gun Club, followed by another lap around the lake. There were a couple of hard parts to this run, including the bush track (ran twice), the stairway to nowhere, and a long sharp climb coming back from the buried village it was heading down this climb that I passed Graeme MacDonald ( http://graememacdonaldnzironman2008.blogspot.com/ ) going the other way, he must have been a good hour ahead of me and was looking really strong.
The stairway to nowhere needs some explaining. At the top end of the lake is a lookout, and the run course goes up to this across the lookout and down the other side. You could very easily simply stroll around it but no! You have to go up a bunch of steps (trying not to use the hand rail) take the 4 – 5 steps across the lookout platform and then down the other side, so basically a stairway that goes nowhere and is simply there to course you more pain!
The run itself was reasonably slow for me, I took 2 hours 5ish minutes, but kept a steady pace throughout which was always the goal. Unfortunately for me I ad some “gastro intestinal” problems for most of the run, and was constantly trying not to throw up (I think I may not have had enough water with my gels thus messing up my stomach) as a result I ended up doing most of it with just taking on board water – not ideal. So that’s something else to sort out before Ironman.
End result was 6 hours 9 minutes. I had hoped to go sub 6, and probably would have if it wasn’t my first triathlon (i.e if I had started the swim on time and did a half decent transition) and if my stomach behaved itself. Nevermind all in all it was a good outing and I learnt plenty from it.
I’ve found that I tend to get quite emotional doing stuff like this, it’s a mix of the effort and the corresponding endorphins floating around. In my first marathon I spend a lot of time after the 30k mark thinking about my kids and having to choke back the tears, in my second marathon it was my lovely wife who took my attention. This time round I found myself thinking about the pain and suffering I was putting myself through and the general pointlessness of it. This was followed closely by the pain and suffering that Jesus went through and the total worth of that and then I realise, like Paul did, that there’s redemption in suffering, at which point I got teary again (its funny how your mind works when you’ve been going hard for several hours).
Thanks for taking the time to read this, and thanks for your prayers and best wishes. I’m now about to head around the bend and get on the home stretch towards Ironman – not much longer to go.