Challenge Wanaka Half Ironman

Decision Time
Not long after coming back from London Triathlon Martha and I decided to look into heading to New Zealand in February 2015 after having the best time on our honeymoon in February 2014. After we booked our flights and booked our accommodation for the last weekend we would be there I did my usual – start the search to see if there was any races I might do. I found one half marathon and it looked interesting but then I found the race. Which can only be described as an amazing coincidence Challenge Wanaka had changed their date to that weekend from their normal January date.
I started to ask myself would I be able for it. Only the week earlier I completed my 1st Olympic Distance tri. I did my 1st triathlon in July 2013, a super sprint. I struggled through the 250m swim on that day, now I was eying a half ironman only year and half after barely being able to finish that super sprint. I had only ever done one 90k cycle and that was Sean Kelly cycle with a nice break half way. The only thing I felt confident about was the run part of it.
Of course another stumbling block for me was getting the training in. With work and also hitting the end of the summer means it would be a tough slug through the winter months. So I officially signed up on August 31st (final day before price rise) and organised a bike to rent while out there. So I was all set. Just need to start the training.
Training
I felt training went well. I knew it would be a lot of time in the pool since it was coming to the end of the opening water swimming for the year. I did get the luck of going out to Austin in October where I got to swim in Barton Springs Pool on a number of occasion. This is an outdoor spring fed pool that had a good 1/8th of a mile of a straight. It really gave me the confidence in building up distance. I was only in my swim shorts so I knew the swimsuit would make things that bit easier. I managed to get to 2km a couple of times. Great facility and delighted I got the time there. It was back to the pool in Garryvoe Hotel for the rest of the training and was another great place to train. A surprise work trip to Singapore over New Year meant I got more outdoor swims in the hotel pool, always nice.

Barton Springs Pool

Barton Springs Pool

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Pan Pacific Pool Singapore

When it came to the bike I did nowhere close to enough. It always had been my weakest and I should have worked on it more. The great excuse of the time of year, weather too bad etc was too easy to use. The trip to Austin meant I got some warm weather training in with plenty of hills. I only once got over 70km and the most I reached was 85km. Looking back on my mileage I know for next time I need to be doing a lot more to bring my time on the bike down.

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Bike for Austin

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Tough Hills

My running which I would have seen as my strongest and my times had really come down over the year. A strong half marathon in Clon and some warm weather running in Austin and Singapore meant my training was going well. Only worry for me was how my body would be after the swim and run.
I put in a lot of brick sessions so I was confident coming out of water and on to the bike and then from bike to run.
Build up
The build up to race day started a couple of weeks before hand when I had to pack my bags and head off on what would be an epic holiday. I had a list of what I needed and packed everything from tri bars to gels. I put all my race gear in my hand luggage, just in case. While on holidays in NZ I went for a run in Christchurch, Fox Glacier, Invercargill and Queenstown. I managed to get a swim in at pools in Dunedin and Invercargill as well. We passed through Wanaka about a week before the race so I had to stop off and have a look at the bike I was renting. It put my mind at ease when I saw it. Exactly what I needed. Also got a look at some of the hills and windy conditions that I might face.

Windy day a week before

Windy day a week before

 

A relaxing few days in Queenstown beforehand kept the nerves down. I was more excited that nervous and that included when picking up my number 2 days before the race. The expo was small and nothing to write home about but great atmosphere all round.

Race Number
The night before the race my watch decided to go crazy. Spent about 2 hours getting it going again. I think I was so tired from the stress of that that as soon as I got to bed I fell straight to sleep.
Race Day
My targets were
Swim: 45 mins
Bike: 3 hrs 30 mins
Run: 2 hrs
I was up nice and early on race day. Set the alarm for 5:15am. This gave me time to have a shower to freshen up and have a good breakfast. Some porridge with banana and toast with peanut butter set me up nicely. Then I had Martha strap up both my calves with KT tape, they needed the support to get through the day. I headed down to transition for 6:30am. I got a nice space close by so that would be handy to crawl back to afterwards. There was a bit of a nip in the air, it was still early so I knew that wasn’t going to last long. I headed into transition to do final check on the bike and put my drinks and gels on the bike. At that time the Challenge Music started to play as the pro were about to set off (at 7am) I missed them starting but I headed down to the beach once I was happy with the setup and I knew where I was coming in and out for T1 and T2.

Sunrise

Sunrise

The sun was rising and there was a buzz around the place now as the Age groupers for the full were getting ready to hit the water. They were next to set off and then the relay teams after that. I knew it wasn’t long before I’d be heading into the water. Of course not before Dylan Macneise broke the full swim course record and didn’t look tired coming out.

Pre Race

Pre Race

Swimsuit on

Swimsuit on

On went the bodyglide and sun screen and slipped into the wetsuit. Last time I had been in it was during Youghal Tri but it still fit so all was good. That tri was also the last time I was in open water. But as I gave Martha the last of my gear and strolled down to the water I felt confident with how I’d preform in the water. Being from Ireland its always a slow walk into the cold water so that’s what I was expecting here but to my surprise it was nice and warm. Jumped straight under the water and made sure the goggles were secure. It was a deep water start so took my time heading out but finally took my place a few rows back closer to the left hand side. We were waiting about 5 mins to start but it was head down and drive on once the buzzer went off. It was the most chaotic I had experienced in the swim. Punches, kicks and bodies above and below but I just tried to concentrate on my stroke and keep close to the direct line to the buoy. I felt good turning the 1st buoy but the fun was trying to sight the second buoy. I just stayed on the feet of the swimmer ahead and hoped they were going in the right direction. The fun began when I turned the corner on the next buoy. The sun was rising and directly in my eyes. I had no idea where I was going. On the home straight I had to stop 3 times and take the goggles off to get an idea of where I was. I put the head down and drove on each time. I did hit the guide rope a number of times on the way, lucky I saw it or I could have still been swimming now. With the water was so clear and I knew I was coming to the end as the lake floor was almost within touching distance. When I could finally touch the ground I got up, delighted I had done it but to my horror a marshal came up to tell me I had passed the buoy on the wrong side so I’d have to swim back to go around it. Overall it cost me about 40 seconds but still when I saw my time I was delighted. Finally out of the water I headed up the ramp over the road and back down the other side (cruel to make us run up that). I grabbed my red T1 bag and into the tent to get out of the wetsuit and off to the bike I went. Made sure to spray more sunscreen on me as the sun was coming up now.

Out of the water

Out of the water

Off out on the bike I went. The one part I wasn’t looking forward to. I read about the hills but on the 1st out and back I didn’t even notice some of the uphills but had fun going down the downhills. The scenery had me distracted which waas a relief. My main aim was to keep close to 25kph as I could and when calculating it as I went I could see I was doing that.

Epic View on Bike

Epic View on Bike

At about 60km the pros started to pass on their second lap. They had to head off to do an extra loop so no doubt I’d see them again. With cycling always being something that I struggled at my main aim here was to finish. I made sure to get kept well fuelled. With the temp rises I knew I had to make sure to not overdo it. The crowds on course definitely helped and a good push was another Irish athlete trying her worst Cork accent (her words after I met her the next day), she saw the Cobh jersey and knew where I was from. When you think you are motoring along, airport hill comes and knocks the wind out of you. At one stage I’m fully convinced I saw a turtle pass me out. But I knew once I got up that things would get easier. I actually drove down the hill a couple of days later and I must say it made me proud that I got up that hill in one piece. The big thing on my mind now was that the last 5k was to be relatively flat with a nice downhill finish. I would cycle past very close to where we were staying and I knew Martha would be on the road there. There was a small climb to that spot but I could see her in the distance and it brought a smile to my face. It got me up the hill and I gave her a wave before it was all downhill to the finish line. I had completed 90k for only the 2nd time. I was delighted to have that finished and in the time I wanted 3:30:37. Went through T2, made sure to cover myself in more sunscreen and off I went to start the run.

!km into run

!km into run

The highlight of the day was about to come. Dylan Mcneice and I left T2 together so we got to run out at the same time. I stayed with him for about 10 seconds before he was out of sight. Crazy to see the fitness out of him. It probably was the main reason why I started off way too fast on the 1st km. The run is a lot different to what I’d be used to. It was mainly on gravel track. Where you spent time avoiding tree roots, stones and other runners. While I was on the run I realised the watch wasn’t set up as normal so I was getting split time and pace. A minor issue but put me off. A number of the full pros ran passed me, if only I had their energy. I was feeling good up to 7km and then I hit the wall and it hurt. It was hitting 28 degrees at this time and I hadn’t run in temperatures like that outside of when I was in Singapore.

All smiles for the camera

All smiles for the camera

 

 

Before the race I had said to myself, whatever happens keep running. But I disappointed myself this way because I had to slow to a walk. My groins, hamstrings, calf and back were all giving out. It was about then that I realised I had left my water bottle back in transition. There were only small cups of water at the stops so they weren’t easy to carry. I grabbed 3 or 4 and a sponge at each one to try cool me down. It helped in a way but my pace had gone and I knew I wasn’t going to make my run target. The hardest part of the run is when you come off the gravel track and you get to see Gunn Road. The biggest challenge on the run. I felt like I was going backwards running/walking up the hill.

Motivating sign

Motivating sign

Once on top of Gunn Road it was mainly going to be downhill from there. It didn’t make it any easier, it was still as hard and hot as ever. I struggled through the rest of the run, I had some good parts and some bad as well. At this stage I just wanted to finish. I knew I was almost there. Coming down the home straight I was looking out for Martha and she made sure she was seen. I could see her sign and hear her shouting. Brought a huge smile to my face. I took the Irish flag off her and ran onto the line. I suddenly had all the energy in the world. I was done, goal achieved and I was still standing. What an experience, what a day. Would I do it again? Yes definitely. Would I do a full? Right now no. But get back to me soon.

And I'm home

And I’m home

What a Day

What a Day

Link to my race can be found at the below links

Swim

Cycle

Run

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