Warning: Long. Detailed. No jokes or pictures.
This year's Rotorua Half Ironman was success in every way that matters- if not so much in terms of time.
We arrived in Rotorua on Friday afternoon, having spent the morning getting chores done in Auckland and Cambridge, and once again checked ourselves into an ensuite log cabin at the Rotorua Thermal holiday park. I absolutely adore it here, and am forever grateful to Kathy and Paul for recommending it for our pre-race stay last year! Once again, we had a great swim in the lake which was definitely a little colder than last time, but not too cold (and certainly not as head-tighteningly, penetratingly chilly as the Contact race in late November), a quick ride on the, once again, road kill littered run course (which I will be riding in my women's tri next year- all 9.5 k of it!!!), then headed to registration.
It was pretty windy, and I remarked to Phil as we loaded our bikes back onto the roof (read: Phil loaded the bikes, and I pretended to be useful by passing him cloths and taking the wheels off him) that "at least in Rotorua the wind doesn't usually pick up until later in the day".
Once again, Jenn and Damian drove up (/over) from New Plymouth to cheer and sherpa, so we enjoyed a very brief "Christmas" with them before heading to the hot pools (some of the best Holiday Park pools ever), and settling back to drink tea and eat Jenn's fantastic homemade blondies (basically like a chocolate chip cookie merged with a brownie- I ask you, what could be better??) I slept MUCH better than I did last year (still a little restless, but without that maddening "nervous. can't sleep. stressed out." feeling), but, once again, 3:30am came too damn quickly. It was chilly at the campground, but in that way that 3:30am tends to be, especially in the central North Island! We ate our porridge (with dates, cinnamon, LSA and brown sugar) sloooowly and about 4:30 headed back to the cabin to get dressed and head to the race site.
It was FREEZING. My normally cosy "Arthurs Half" 2XU jacket was no match for the bitter breeze that was whipping around Lake Tikitapu and I regretted saying to Phil the previous day "it's so much easier packing for a triathlon in summer- none of this effing about with polys and gloves and cosy socks." Tell you one thing- I'd have given my right arm for beanie and a pair of cosy socks yesterday morning (well- maybe something else, the right arm comes in kinda handy for swimming, and holding my body on the bike!) The area was pretty quiet when we arrived, and it felt like we had heaps of time, but once we'd fiddled about with tyres, including a last minute rear wheel tube change after Phil realised it was one of the crappy ones with a short nozzle, so neither my pit-stop nor my CO2 gun would work with it. Then, after we'd put the bike on the rack, Damian THANKFULLY realised that we'd put the wheel on too tight and it wasn't spinning. Thank you FBIL- I'd have lost it if I'd discovered that in T1!!
I remarked to Damian and Jenn that it might not be such a day for PBs after all. The wind was stirring the lake up, and definitely felt like it would get in the way on the bike, especially with a 10m draft zone! But to be honest, I didn't really believe it would be a problem, especially given the gains I've made on the bike this year. Then, the race director said at briefing we'd have a lovely tail wind bringing us back on the bike. In hindsight, I wonder if my "piss-taking sensor" skills were on the blink??
It's a deep water start, and the men start 5 minutes before the women. It was a bit messy this year, probably because people resisted taking off their top layers for as long as possible, and when the whistle went, there was a pause before a big chunk of the field left, and still lots of stragglers running in from the beach. I think the one good thing about being a female triathlete is that it's much harder to miss your swim start!
It was really hard to figure out where the start line was meant to be, impossible to hear the anouncer over the wind and the choppy lake, and absolutely impossible to see the first buoy- 900m from the start! I have finally started racing in contacts this year, but the buoys on this swim course were easier to see when I was swimming blind!!
Getting out to the 900m buoy wasn't too bad. It was a bit messy at times, and hard to sight, but it was also just in a fairly straight line from where we started, so not too hard to go by feel. I could tell I wasn't swimming fast, but I was passing people, and catching drafts off the occasional pair of feet. Made it out there in around 17:00, which is a bit av, but what I expected given how it felt. The way back? a whole nother story. I had no freakin idea where the second buoy was, and it seemed like no-one else did either! Swim hats everywhere! I also started cursing Hooksie's policy of "byo swim cap" (fundamentally, I am a BIG supporter of this one; I have enough shitty latex caps as it is)- I wanted to know whether I was passing or drafting off women (good thing) or very slow men (bad thing)! I muddled through as best I could, but I suspect a Kate tracking GPS would be all over the show! The waves were also dragging us around in strange ways, and people would go from my left to my right to my left again within a matter of minutes. Finally, I caught site of the buoy from a couple of hundred metres away. It was great to have something to aim for again! Rounded the second buoy, and pushed the final 200m to the third buoy (although, I unfortunately swam over a boat ramp in the process. Ow.) I emerged from the water at 39:18, dazed and frustrated, but not too unhappy with the swim, and crossed the swim timing mat in 39:58, official time 39:49.
Reluctant brickbats to Hooksie and co for the inadequate buoys. I don't know what went wrong, but it was an absolute shocker. Those wee yellow buoys are fine when they're 200m apart, but not when there's 900m between buoys, especially when they're on a diagonal.
T1 was uneventful, and not too slow. Jenn and Damian cheered us up the beach with homemade signs, which was AWESOME. I had a brief chat to some of the dudes around me (I love this race, because there are DUDES around me- such a nice change from the hyper-competitive olympic distance events!), got my helmet, shoes and Garmin on, and raced out to the mount line, where I was promptly blocked by some muppet who didn't bother to think before he stopped to get on.
I felt much more hardcore than last year, with aero bars and Mike's old aero helmet (which has really done the rounds now!). Oh- and the fact that I had two drink bottles filled with replace on my bike, instead of a big uncool Camelbak. It's the little things ;) I felt like a poser in the aero helmet, but I figured it would encourage me to spend more time in the aero position, so I would just have to handle the jandal. In terms of data, I eventually decided not to mount the Garmin on the handlebars, and instead to ride by feel, with the occasional look at the wrist to check average pace, HR and cadence. I must admit, I quite like riding without too much data- it definitely helped me in the Contact race, although if I'd had readily accessible cadence info in Tinman, maybe my average wouldn't have been 99!
I passed a couple of dudes up Tarawera on the way out, but kept it pretty easy, and made sure I started drinking pretty much straight away. Of course, pretty much everyone passed me back on the descent- I'm quite happy to do it at 65-70kph, thankyouverymuch! The ride out to the turn off was great. Good roads. Good aero position. Keeping up the drinking. Munching on mini bagels with PB. I was averaging a little over 31km/h, but keeping it easy, as I knew the return leg would be a b*tch, even with the promised tail winds!
Daryl Bloomfield, who organises the (I must add, AWESOME) Scorching series in Wellington passed me either just before or just after the turn off to Whakatane. Last year, he passed me early in the bike, and I didn't catch him until the gun club. He's a tall, well-built dude, and can really nail the flats and downhills, but that size is not really an asset for a hard, hilly, run. This year, I decided to stick with him. I passed him on the first wee climb (up Hell's Gate on the way out), and didn't see him again for a little while, but he can't ever have been too far behind, as he caught me again sometime a few minutes later.
I had decided to try out the bottle stop this year, so ditched my "She Triwoman" bottle just before the 30k mark (damn thing deserved to be ditched, as that was the single most disappointing and utterly unprofessional triathlon experience I have ever had... ) Then I slowed to grab a water from the first little dude I saw. And failed. Then slowed more. But chickened out at the last minute. I almost always keep my left hand on my bike, except when indicating, and, even then, taking it off still makes me nervous. Something to work on- maybe I should practice left hand drinking next year. Eventually I decided I'd have to actually stop, so I slowed down and unclipped at the next water bottle swapper. Embarrassing!!! Bouquet to the bottle stop people (and to all the other fabulicious 'Vegas volunteer crew members), again- those dudes are awesome.
Daryl passed me on the first wee hill after the bottle swap (I had no momentum at all) at the same time as some winner decided to pass me on the left. Dbag- there was no need for lefthand passing in this race (in Tinman it was hard to avoid), and although I was probably being a little annoying (drinking, shifting, sorting myself out), a little patience doesn't go amiss. Being sandwiched between two bikes is not cool at all!
I started mentally calculating when I should expect to see the top guys. They'd have had a good 20 minutes on me out of the swim, and they'd have been nailing it along the flat and rolling hills out to the turn off. I figured it would be between my 30 and my 35. At 32.7km, I saw the first dude, but didn't see the second dude for another k! Then I saw the first chick. Phil had some lofty goal of beating the ladies (optimistic, but not too crazy, actually, given his goals and the top female times from last year), but when I saw first lady within the top 10-20 dudes (I think..) I knew she'd be caning him (...which she was). I could tell at this point that the return jouney might not be as fun as I'd thought- the top guys certainly looked like they were working into the wind. That made me up the effort a wee bit, to try to buy some time. I made sure I stayed aero most of the time after seeing the first 20 or so guys. I knew he wouldn't be up there, but I wasn't risking having him catching me upright! (he doesn't believe I spent any time at all in the aero bars at Tinman, but I promise I did!) I saw him in about the same place I saw him last time (it was my 39.5k), but I knew we were both doing better.
I reached the turnaround in 1:31, and started the return journey full of optimism. Basically, I was imagining myself texting everyone after the race to tell them about my sub6 finish and half-hour pb. Hah!
Of course, I hit the headwinds before too long, and the long battle started. Hell's Gate became something to look forward to, as it would signal a break from the wind, and a new stage of the course, but it was still a good 20k away. I had a bit of a mental shut down as I rode around the lakes on the way towards the next landmarks, the 60k bottle stop and the Hell's Gate climb. I found myself drifting into random day dreams about next year, when I remembered that instead of thinking about awesome things, it was probably a good time to be doing some awesome things, so I put pedal to metal and tried to pick up the pace a bit. To no avail.
Hell's Gate hurt much less than it did last year, but it still hurt. I would love to say it's because I'm fitter and awesomer, but I suspect it's at least partly attributable to my 25. And to think I wasn't sure I wanted it! I passed four people on the way up, including Daryl, who by this time had certainly recognised the friendly competition we had going, and managed to up the gears for the descent comparatively quickly after I crested it (ps- man, that hill has one long crest!)
Sub 3 was long since out of reach, but I wanted to finish the "Hell's Gate to bottom of Tarawera" leg at an average of 30km/h, to salvage some sort of respectable time. Again- hah! I was freakin dreaming! But I did manage to stick near my triplets, Jim, Dave and Daryl, who were all wearing this year's jersey with dark shorts. Daryl had quite an edge on me between Hell's Gate and the turn-off, but he was still dimly in sight, and I knew I just had to pick off Jim and Dave (it's pretty sad when the people you're picking off are old, paunchy dudes, but at least this year they were younger and less paunchy, and at least it was me doing the picking off, not vice versa!) I leapfrogged with Jim for a while- pretty intensely. It was a lot of passing and passing back, and I suspect we were both getting on each other's nerves, but I think it meant we caught Dave, and then Daryl more quickly.
Although the winds were all kinds of nasty- not strong by Welly standards, but soul-sappingly consistent- I didn't feel the intense fade last year, and I still had knees to ride with after Hell's Gate. I was being passed, but keeping up with my buddies, and passing the odd person (including the woman on the HYBRID, who seriously rocked that ride!!!!) meant I was nowhere near as demoralised as last year, even as I watched my shameful last year's time become reality again. In my worst nightmares about the race, I never imagined that happening! The Lynmore turn-off arrived much quicker than last year (although it took even longer to get there), and I hoofed it up there, behind Jim and Daryl, and a few other ride buddies.
Tarawera Road was once again a complete sufferfest, but nothing like the pain it was last year. I span past Jim, and then Daryl, and laughed when Jim asked me what cogs I had that he didn't- a compact with a granny 25 on the back comes in handy sometimes! Cruising past Daryl seemed to spur him on, which spurred me on, and we battled up the hill, and along the rest of the road back to T2.
I lost my bike in T2, but luckily had half iron sherpas Jenn and Damian yelling at me, so I found it after not too much dazed circling! As I ran out, I noticed another Wellington legend who featured significantly in my race last year, Ann Bondy. Last year, I raced against Ann (who is decades older than me, and an absolute inspiration) in quite a few events, although I'm sure she wouldn't have known it. Basically, I beat her on the swim, she catches me on the bike, and wipes the floor with me, and I spend the run hunting her down. Last year, she caught me on the flat not far from the turn off on the way back, and although I caught her on the run, eventually, she only finished a couple of minutes behind me. Having Ann and Daryl there helped me to accept that this year's 3:24 was actually a vast improvement on last year's, and that I had to head onto the run feeling like a champ, not a dismal failure.
Average speed: 26.1 km/h
Average cadence: 86 or so (91 for the first half.. a shocking 81 for the second half!)
Average heart rate: 164
Top speed: 62km/h (disappointingly chickenshit down Tarawera)
After Arthur's Half, I had high hopes of running a sub-2:00 half off the bike this year, but I knew that with all the offroad time, the heat, and the hills, that taking 13 minutes off last year's time was going to be a big ask, even with improved bike fitness and, y'know, actually having knees this year! So I'd settled on a goal of around 2:06, which is around 6:00/k. As I started the run, I felt like this was doable, but a minute into it, when I hit the first wee climb on the bush track I started to doubt it! I got passed by a few teamsters, and passed a couple of people in the bush, but it was a pretty lonely 3km/20 minutes!
Emerging from the bush was a bit of a double-edged sword. It was great to get off the trails, to have some company (read: targets) again, and to see the rest of the race going by, but it was stonking hot! Definitely hotter than last year, right from the get go. I was living from water station to water station, and by the end was getting two cups, drinking one slooowly, and tipping the other over my head.
I kept myself sane by pressing the lap button at particular landmarks, or, in some cases, just randomly. That way, the 6:15 for the first go at the bush track was a distant memory for the 4:52/km cruise down the road from the lookout, and up most of the way to the gun club turn off! The gun club section is horrible, but also a very good section for a shite cyclist/decent enough runner like me, because on the way out, you basically get to see everyone who might remotely be in your "passing zone", and on the way back, you get to see just how far back all those people you left in T2 or passed in the early stages are!
It was good to see Mike running back along the gun club road, a good distance ahead of me, but he wasn't feeling great. I didn't realise just how shite he was feeling until much later though. I didn't really think I could catch him, so focussed on picking off the ladies in front of me, most of whom were team runners after the gun club turnaround cone. I saw Mike again coming through the buried village, and this time he said "you'll pass me for sure". I still didn't think I had a hope in Hades (...what it felt like out on the run...), until I got to the lookout, with two of my team cyclist-runner pals, and saw that I was less than 700m behind him (it had been about 350m since I'd seen him, and I guessed that I was travelling faster).
The "lookout back to beach" stretch felt long, as usual, especially once I got to the bush-lookout area, where we started to mingle with speedies again. I was feeling pretty rubbish, but moving faster than almost everyone else helped me to ignore the heat, and the pain, and to keep moving. There were people walking everywhere, and a couple of middle aged men called out as I went past "oh no, I'm being passed by another young woman, do you have any idea what that does to my ego???" I wanted to reply "dude- if yo' gonna walk, yo' gonna be passed!"
I got passed (!) by a mega fit looking, quite a lot older than me, lady at the drinks station, and actually thought she was on her second loop, but she gave me someone to try to hold onto as we neared the beach again. Then I saw Mike in the distance. I wanted to stop and crawl or walk or cry, but I told myself I couldn't walk a step until I passed Mike-I still didn't think it would happen, so I was really just saying to myself "don't walk!"
As we approached the beach, my right inner thigh (just above my knee) cramped horribly, and I let out a wee yelp. I imagined heading straight into the finish without doing the godawful second loop, but soon realised I'd be explaining a 1:20-something half-M off a 3:24 bike. Uhhh- not likely!! So I sucked it up, and finally edged past Mike near the toilets.
Jenn, Damian and Phil were cheering as I ran past. I rolled my eyes and gave them a big double thumbs down! Phil looked totally chillaxed, and I wondered if he had met his goal of going sub5? The finish clock read 5:45, which was 5:40-lady time, so I knew sub 6, and sub 6:10 were out of the question- I've never managed to run the loop track in under 30 (although I'm confident I could if I ran it straight), especially not the hard way (anticlockwise). I hit the lap button again, and headed back in.
The second loop in the bush was even harder, but luckily there were still people to pass- both people racing with me who were fading and walking, and people who were heading out for their first loop. Poor bastards! There were also lots of spectators, and unsuspecting victims out for their Saturday walks, all of whom were great with the cheers and claps, and thankfully short on the patronising encouragement! Earlier, I'd been a box of fluffy ducks- yarning with volunteers and my fellow gorillas, calling out effusive thanks to the cheering spectators, but by this stage, all I could muster was a pathetic thumbs up. My thigh kept twinging for the first couple of ks, and my achilles (which had also niggled a little on the bike) started threatening to misbehave. I'd missed the finish/transition area drink stop, and could feel it. I ended up stopping to walk up a longish, but not that steep, hill, for ten, then twenty, then fifty paces, before I slapped my CG and pushed back into a gammy run. My pace was abysmally, embarrassingly slow, but I soon overtook my new friend (who had only been on her first lap before), and my old friend, beige contact t-shirt dude. We stayed together for awhile, but they both passed me back before we'd left the bush, which seemed to go on forever. It feels so much longer anticlockwise!
Even though I didn't have much left, I walked for another drink and splash at the final aid station, and started a new lap for the 2-odd ks back to the finish. I was pretty sure I had a solid PB sewn up, and that I'd be seeing an improved run time, but it was hard to tell, with limited and muddled Garmin data. My pace for the last "leg" was 5:32/km, and I crossed the finish mat at 6:21 race time, 6:16 lady-time, for a 2:06 half marathon, and a ten minute PB.
I accepted my medal (and some teasing! I was famous for all of ten seconds) from Hooksie, accepted a warm Export Gold from a volunteer, and accepted a hug from my Phil. As soon as Phil told me about his times, and his experience on the bike, I knew I was right, and that I could take this 10-minute PB as something much more. One day I will master this race, and I am such a masochist that I will be back for more until I do!