Bec and I arrived into Auckland on Tuesday morning before the race and after a sleep deprived, stop laden drive, we arrived to the most picturesque and beautiful lake I have ever seen. It’s safe to say that I fell in love with Taupo then and there, and that a good race would just be icing on that delicious, delicious cake.
The rest of the week was a highlights package of various shenanigans with Bec and Damo (Collins), as well as with Xavier (Coppock) and the TEAM crew. We had consecutive ice cream parties with the TEAM guys, and in between Damo and I decided to dye our already terrible haircuts, as well as his moustache. All of this actually served me really well in the lead up as it kept me relaxed and stopped me from overthinking about the race on Saturday.
Move to Friday and things got a little tenser around the camp as a multitude of factors worked against my relaxed state –Bec and I were moving out of our terrible accommodation, run by simpletons, into something much nicer, as well as bigger, in preparation for my Mum’s arrival that afternoon. The problem was that we couldn’t check in until 2pm and I had to check in my bike and gear bags for the race that day.
Enter Damien Collins. He and his parents took us in at their townhouse and we were able to get all of our gear organised, before heading into to town to rack bikes and grab a well earned latte bowl across from transition. They then invited us to have dinner with them – an amazing pasta with lamb as well as a beautiful Greek style salad. I joked to Damien’s mum Christine that if I had a good race she’d then have to come with me to all my races to cook me that same pre-race meal. I may have to hold her to it. As we were winding down at our new accommodation and going over my transition check list for the 6000th time, Bec’s parents surprised us by turning up in Taupo. They made the trip over in secret to watch the race and thankfully I put on a good show, but more on that later.
4:15am. Business time. The race start was slated for 7am but with transition open at 5am and the entry gate to the swim compound being small, I wanted to be in transition just on or after 5. I wanted to get all my gear organised early and get through to swim start with ample time for a good warm up, as well as to get a good start position.
I had my brekkie – Weetbix and an Aeropress coffee, which I had with me after suffering through terrible coffee for 4 weeks in Kona last year. Released some pre-race nerves and got all my race gear ready, then we took off to transition. The first people I see and say hello to are none other than Damo’s parents. Mum and Bec settle in with them while I head into my bike and get my shit organised.
“Helllllooooo Damo!” We were racked next to each other and to show just how relaxed we were; I start filming our shitty haircuts on my GoPro rather than organise my bike. Poor old Lachy Green, eventual runner up in our age group, walked in halfway through the filming and the kid was racked right in between Damo and I, so we get him on video and I hope we didn’t upset his mental state with our very loose, very relaxed attitudes. We all share a laugh and finish getting ready, then head back out to our support crews. I say my goodbyes and get plenty of good lucks, then I head to get my wetsuit on and have one last expulsion of nerves, after which it’s straight down to swim start.
I get to the swim compound and it’s a hive of nervous activity – luckily I spot the big orange traffic cone in Xavier and make a beeline for him. I share some nervous good lucks with the TEAM crew, including Kerryn doing her first Ironman. No words, just a quick fist bump to the X man and I head into the swim start area.
I watch the pro’s start, spot Damo’s shitty moustache, head over and have a quick chat then we split for a warm up. It’s not the last time I’ll see him in the race though. I go through a few 25-50 stroke efforts then head over to the swim start line and begin to tread water. I spot Damo 5-10 metres to my right but opt not to swim across to him, as I breathe to the right so wanted to keep a few guys to that side of me. Treading water, I spot a silver wetty next to me, looking at the face it’s Lachy – we chat about our goals for the race and times we hope to hit. This gives me a great insight, but also great confidence as I know that if we both hit our times, I’ll come out on top. While we’re talking Lachy moves to the front of the start line, I follow and fluff my way there before thinking ‘shit, I probably shouldn’t be here.’ I wish him luck then it’s almost go time.
BANG!!!!!. Cannon goes and a cavalcade of fists fly around me. I get swum over by a couple of the faster swimmers but after going flat stick to the 2nd buoy, it settles down and I find a nice rhythm, as well as a beautiful little pocket of clean water. The lake is so clear and as the line of swimmers starts to thin towards the turn, I notice a lot of people swimming off course and going towards the support boats and not the buoys. I decide to give up feet a fair few times in favour of swimming to the 2nd or third buoy in the line-up and hope that a more direct route will make up for the lack of a draft.
I was feeling superb and strong coming back and as we got to the 20th buoy (out of 24), I see that the field is quite thin and I’m pretty much alone. People are still swimming off course so I sight the mountain behind the final buoy and go hard straight for it. One last turn and hard into the beach, I run up the blue mats and see 54:xx! Bloody stoked! Then the adrenaline takes over as I run the 400m to transition through the Tour De France style crowd.
Leaving transition (which was quick and awesome, a great improvement for me), I see Damo’s bike is still racked which gives me another boost, as I know that he’s probably as good or better swimmer than I am. The first part out of town I really have to concentrate on staying relaxed; with the crowd, fresh, tapered legs and the buzz of a great swim it’s very easy to get carried away and ride too hard in the first 40km. I had made that mistake in Kona and was very aware of not repeating it – that was a deposit in the experience bank and I was using it now.
Once out of town it’s net down hill to the turn at Reporoa so I stuck to my power numbers and kept on top of nutrition, while passing a lot of those faster swimmers. Coming into Reporoa I see the lead pros heading back and not long after the lead age groupers, I calculate the time gap as roughly 5 minutes and am happy with that given I’m riding solo and rather conservative this early on.
Just after the turn I spot Damo in his Poc sperm helmet and ride below power in order to allow him to bridge up. We get back together and I learn that he swam a 56, which, given I’d ridden 270 watts average to there, meant he had burnt a match or two in that 1st 45k in order make the catch. We roll 5 minute turns and pick off most of the other age groupers in front of us, except for the couple that are 5 minutes up. At 70k my power meter drops out, so Damo rides the front as pacer. We pick up the second age group pack on the road, including Lachy, and Damo keeps the hammer down on the front. On the downhills into town Damo takes some risks and plays his ace card, I chat to Lachy and decide to hold back and let him go, hoping that it’s not sustainable and that a more even ride will set me up for a good run.
The second lap was rather uneventful – Lachy and I stayed together with a couple of other age groupers and we caught Mareen Hufe riding solo. She and I rolled turns on the front, picking up a couple of other top agers riding alone, while also bringing a group of female pros along with us. I try to get a gap a couple of times to no avail and instead decide to bide my time, eat, drink and set myself up to ride the final climb to town strong, then get off and run well. Just before that final climb we see Damo again and catch him – he later told me that his legs had blown. On the climb 10k from transition I gap almost everyone, except Lachy, and through the downhills I gain a small advantage and roll into T2 leading the 25-29 age group, riding a 4:45 in the process.
T2 starts well, there’s no one in the change tent so I run to the far chair and grab a seat quickly to put on my shoes. The fantastic volunteer empties everything out and as that happens Lachy grabs a seat right next to me. He’s a bit more organised and takes off – I quickly grab all my run gear and chase him out. I bridge up in those first metres and as we turn onto the main road we’re side by side, laughing and talking like it’s a Sunday stroll. I wish him luck and knowing he’s planning to run a 3:10, I’m confident that if I run well he’s not going to come with me.
I throw a few peace signs and smiles at my closest supporters – Mum, Bec, Karen and Grant – then settle into my own rhythm and focus on running strong through the first lap. As I’m running the crowd support in town is phenomenal and I do my best while I’m feeling good to give as much back as possible – thank you, high fives, thumbs up and as much chat as I can muster. I was hoping to cash this investment in with the crowd during later laps when I start feeling shit and stop being able to communicate as well. I’m glad I did because despite a 57 minute first lap the effort is starting to take its toll on my diaphragm – talking is becoming difficult so during the 2nd lap it’s only high fives, waves and thumbs up. I’m getting incredible support at this stage though and people are starting to earmark me as being the AG winner. I try to stay patient and block this out as I’m focussed on the present – how do I feel, do I need fuel, water, ice? Technique, relax, execute, enjoy.
The legs still feel really strong and coming through the back half of the 2nd lap the discomfort has eased and I’m still running fast, even on track for a sub 3hr marathon. I run to the turn and now it’s go time – I see Damo just after and he relays that Bevan (McKinnon, the lead age grouper) is only 30 seconds up the road. I can see him, maybe a few hundred metres up, running and swapping positions with another ager (Hayden Armstrong). I settle, stay patient and am careful not to bridge too quickly. Xavier tells me the same time gap and says this “Practice the mental game, this is for Kona now, run ’em down.” The first part of the lap is pretty much downhill so I maintain the gap, control my pace and wait until the harder section out in the estates. This section has a lot of up and downs, its hot and there is a lot less crowd support. Just after the 8k to go marker we turn right and I know I’m going to catch Bevan and the other AG athlete, which is Hayden Armstrong. I make the catch and its decision time – do I sit here or do I pass and keep running my pace? I decide that they’re going slow and to keep running, hoping to use the down hill sections to my advantage and run away from them.