I wanted to borrow the Kiwi greeting from my mate Robo from kiwitriathlete.com this week. I figured this was appropriate as I am just back in Oz after a weekend in Taupo, the triathlon heart of New Zealand. If you are not aware of Taupo it is an amazing town on the edge of Lake Taupo (prounouced "toe-paw"). Taupo is were Iron Man New Zealand is held each year and is an example of a town that really gets behind an event. I headed to Taupo with my wife, Dez and friend Matho and we were met by Robo for theTaupo 70.3 on the weekend. This is the same race I did last year. In fact, my end to 2016 has been almost identical to how I finsihed 2015. I did the same two trips and the same 3 races. To take it even further, with the exception of my puncture disaster I even had the same results.
We arrived in Taupo on Wednesday night and we were greeted with some less than stellar weather conditions. New Zealand is a bit like Melbourne though. The weather is all over the place. On Thursday we did an early morning swim of the course and let me tell you. The lake was FREEZING. I was so cold that I could not control my fingers in the water. I remeber the lake being cold from the year before but this was unlike anything I had ever experienced. Luckliy the lake did warm up a bit before race day. The weather however put some training plans on hold and instead gave us the opportunity to play tourist which was nice. Being surrounded by a good group of friends was a big help in ensuring that I got to the race calm and ready to go. Before we get into the race I just want to get something out of the way. While the result was far from my fastest time, I am incredibly proud of this performance. I really feel like I raced the race. I remained present at all times and when it hurt, I went even harder. Now with that off my chest lets get into the race recap.
The 30-34 age group was literally the last wave start (except for teams) on race day. I think we kicked off just before 7am. It was however still a very early start. Out of bed at 4am and in transition at 5am. I had decided to get myself set up as quickly as I could and then head back to our place to chill for a while. If you have been reading lately you will know that I have started to use meditation in my pre-race preparation and this was no exception. A good 25 minutes of meditation and I was in a good place. I was incredibly nervous leading into this race. I was really scared I was going to have another mechanical issue on the bike. The meditaion helped me to calm my mind and not focus too much on it. The weather had continued to defy the forecast and it was actually looking like it was going to be a very nice day. One of the other real advantages of where we were staying was that I was able to get ready for the swim in our apartment and then walk down to the swim start with Dez. When we arrived I realised we had actually cut it quite fine as I was rushed into the start area just before we were let into the water. Nothing for it but to get stuck into my 20th 70.3 race.
So did I mention the water was cold? While it was much better than it had been it was still bloody cold. Especially for this poor sook who had spent two weeks swimming in the 27c waters of Thailand. In the swims leading up to the race I had noticed how high my heart rate would go when I tried to swim quickly. I really was not very comfortable in the cold water. At the start line I decided to start a bit wide to avoid the crowd and then with less than a minute to the start I made a last minute decision to move closer to the action. I assumed my position just as the start siren sounded. I started swimming hard and after about 100m noticed that I was terrified. I was panicking really badly in the water. I was surounded by people and I could hardly breathe. I worked really hard to get this under control but it was terrifying. It just shows that even after 20 70.3's the swim can still be scary. As I settled myself down I noticed the guy to my left was starting to move ahead. Lake Taupo is some of the clearest water I have ever swum in. So I made the decision to jump on his feet. This was the best swim decision I ever made. As soon as I focused on his bubbles the swim became easy. I had one task, follow him and that is what I did. There isn't much to say about the majority of the swim. I literally followed him for a good 1.2kms. It was turning into a dream swim. I noticed as we approaced the final turn buoy that the guy I was following started to pick up the pace.
As I increased my kick to go with him my right calf was struck by a horrific cramp. This is the first time I had ever cramped in the swim of a 70.3. I had to stop and tried to stretch it out. It wasn't working. I resumed swimming in an attempt to straighten my leg. It was still bad. Man, was this the start of another disaster? Was I even going to be able to get into the shore. The cramp settled but I could still feel it. I realised I would have to swim the last 300m into shore without being able to kick. I shudder to think how much time this little incident cost me. But I eventually got to the swim exit. My calf cramped again as soon as I stood up but I had time to make up. I exited the swim in a time of 31:44 and believe me I was happy to be out of the water!
Taupo has a long run up to transition. I tried to settle my heart rate and once I got into transition I attempted to be as efficient as I could. I noticed that it had been raining while I was swimming so the decision to lay a towel over my helmet and gear was a good one. I ran my bike to the mount line were I actually struggled to get on my bike. It took me a few attepts to get going. I think the only real criticism I have of the race is that the mount area was very narrow. My T1 time was 4:16.
I was really looking forward to the bike. I have improved so much on the bike this year and this was the first time I was racing on the same course for comparrison. I had power numbers I was going to try and hit and felt like I was familiar enough with the course to know where to attack and where to conserve. While the rain had settled down I noticed that there was a bit of wind about. At first it was hardly worth noticing. It would become more obvoius as the day went on. As you leave the town of Taupo there is a long climb. Lots of people really worry about this climb but in reality it isn't anything to concern yourself with. After the climb it is onto the main part of the bike course. The road surfaces are generally rough but nothing too bad. There are some sections where it was very rough but there were no massive potholes or other serious things to be aware of. I found myself overtaking lots and lots of athletes. In fact I had only been overtaken by one person (who also just so happened to be in my age group). After maybe 20km I passed him again and kept riding.
If you ride with a disc you will know that they can make some pretty sexy noises. They can also sometimes sound like a cyclist is passing you. I am not sure at what point I heard a noise but when I turned to look I noticed the athlete I had passed was sitting right on my back wheel and well within the draft zone. As I turned to look, some of the sweat also ran across my visor. I tried to shake the sweat off the visor so I could see properly. It is probably one of the only design flaws with a visor. Anywhoo, I think old mate thought I was having a go at him. He rode up next to me and said something to me about shaking my head at him. I replied with some less than polite words about being a drafting cheat. He tried to ride off from me. This lasted for about 2 minnutes before I was forced to pass him again. I think I ended up riding 5 minutes faster than him and is why I maneged to hold onto 3rd place. As we approached the turn around point of the bike, the pace had dropped right down. It was apparent that the wind had picked up and I was grinding at a speed of 33km/h with watts that were way too high. To confirm there was a headwind as soon as I made the turn my speed inceased to well over 40km/h. The ride back became a bit lonely as the riders I was passing became less and less frequent. I had been excited to see Robo was basically at the front of the age group race as he had ridden past me in the opposite direction. His flatmate and coach, Simon Cochrane (who is a real up and coming pro) was also looking really good on the bike.
The last 20km of the bike course was really starting to hurt me. I knew there was a few climbs to get to the last peak before the nice drop back into Taupo. Every climb I went up I hoped was the last. Once I saw the race track I was flooded with relief that I would be able to recover on the way back into town and get ready for the run. I was anoyed at one point to have a car pull out in front of me and insisit on driving about 40km/h. After he pulled off I picked up the speed and made my way back into transition. I finsihed the bike with a 2:21:06 which was over 5 minutes faster than last year in what I believe were much tougher conditions.
I had made a little joke that I was going to beat Robo in T2 (he is very good) and really tried to be as quick as I could. I had passed another athlete in my age group just before we came off the bike and noticed we both left transtion about the same time. I completed T2 in 1:11 and was gutted after the race to find out Robo beat me by one second!
I really wanted to try and run a nice and consistent run. My legs were still quite sore and stiff from the cramp and oh yeah, I forgot to mention that my hip had been a bit tight on the bike (probably compensating for my calf). I set off at a good pace and didn't want to spend the whole run starting at my watch. I was actually in a bit of pain off the bike to be honest but I was determined to run a solid split. After maybe 1500m the other guy in my age group passed me and I tried to go with him. I think I managed this pretty well until the far turnaround. I realised that if I kept doing that, I was going to probably end up walking. Instead I tried to keep the focus on my own run. I was amazed as I often am by the support on course and was even surprised to spot my friend Emma on her bike at both ends of the run course. As I came back towards the end of my first lap I heard Dez shout out to me "You're in 2nd place" (At this point I was actually in 3rd after I had been passed). But I couldn't believe it. I was in podium contention. I realised I wasn't going to catch the guy who had dropped me (unless he exploded) but I could do everything in my power to not let anyone pass me.
Looking back I am incredibly proud of how I handled myself on the run. I think that to be honest I probably over biked a bit. But I rode the whole 90km solo without anyone to work with. Anyway, I really tried to stay consistent with my pace. I knew I could easily hold 4:15 pace and probably increase it if I had to. The weather was not hot, but it was actually a weird kind of humid. I wasn't as comfotable on the run as I wanted to be. But I kept reminding myself that this race was mine to loose. The number of phantom footsteps I heard coming up behind me during the last few kms was ridiculous and I refuse to look back. As always I decided to increase my pace for the last 2km and literally said to myself lets really test how much we can suffer. I think the pace increased to about 4:05 which isnt lightning but I was being consistent. I made the final run through town and approached the steep hill towards the finish line. I was willing myself to finish strong. As I made my way down the finish area I knew I would manage a sub 90 minute run and was looking like a sub 4:30 time (my garmin had frozen during the swim only recording 260m). As I crossed the finish line I celebrated knowing that I was on the podium. They annoucned I was 3rd in the 30-34 age group and it turned out I was the 5th age grouper accross the line. My total run time was 1:29:44 and my total race time was 4:28:01.
I was excited to have Dez and Robo and Penny at the finish line and I was on a massive high. My day was made even better when Dez told me Robo had managed to win his age group too. I literally couldn't be happier for him. We had a quick debrief, headed home for a shower and were back in time to see Matho finish his race too. It had been a fantastic way to finish my 20th 70.3.
I titled this blog "Good Friends, Great Racing" and that is because Taupo has become a real 'mates race' for me now. Not only my usual bunch of friends but also a number of people I have met through the sport. I mentioned Simon Cochrane, Robo's coach who came 10th overall and is only getting stronger and stronger. There is also Taupo local pro Cameron Paul who I have gotten to know and ride with. Cam was able to fix my bike for me which has been causing me a bit of stress lately and also happens to own the best pub in Taupo (He is also a pretty bloody fast triathlete). Add into that all the people who I have interacted with online and were able to meet in person, like Bec Clarke, who managed to finish 4th in her first 70.3. I find being surrounded by positive people makes me want to race well and that is why I think Taupo 70.3 is becoming a sentimental favourite for me. Great friends make we want to race well.
Anyway, there you have it. Another race report that has probably gone for too long and is filled with spelling mistakes and problems with grammer. I am going to take a few days to chill out before building back up for Port of Tauranga Half in early January.
Have a good week, race with your mates and remember to TRI!