I have to admit, I’m not sure how I feel about this race. Overall, the processes I went through were good, the atmosphere was good, and the execution on the day was good. I put off writing this for a couple of days to let my emotions settle down, but the ultimately I’m not as happy as I possibly could be with the race result.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. And fair warning, this is a bit of a long post.
Auckland to Taupo is a 4 hour journey, leaving plenty of time to nap on the drive down. Quickly unpacking upon arrival is important to me, I like having the space I inhabit to feel like my own. The rest of Thursday was taken up doing an open-water swim on the course and checking out where the swim start would be, then changing and doing a short run with some strides to shake the legs out after being in the small space of the car for so long. After checking out the likely spot for where transition would be, a brief dinner, and planning out the days ahead, it was time for an early night. Thursday was relatively uneventful but key to setting up the next couple of days!
Friday was slightly more eventful. After a long-lie in, breakfast, some light stretching, and reading the Athlete Info Guide, I rode my Quintana Roo PR4 Disc down from the place I was staying to the Athlete center near transition. The Athlete center is the place where your wetsuit is checked, the bike is checked over, you get to pick up your race pack. I was asked by one of the volunteers if I was a pro, which made me giggle, and I had to unfortunately correct them and say I wasn’t. Yet.
Once the bike was plastered with stickers and the bike was checked, I racked it in the #296 spot. It was equidistant from the swim entry/run exit and the bike entry/exit. I don’t think I could have been given a better spot, so I have to say thank you to the official who did that for me! Post-racking, it was time for a bit of ‘window shopping’. 70.3’s are one of the few events where age groupers and professionals all line up in the same space, meaning you can get to see the small tweaks they make to their bike which might end up giving you an advantage if you do the same to yours. Surprisingly for the small field of pro triathletes who turned up, there wasn’t a lot of customization around! The most ostentatious things were Ceramic Speed jockey wheels and the new Sram Force Etap, which a few age groupers also had.
However, it was great to see so many people who were lining up with Negative Split wheels on their bikes. Every bike I saw with them on looked race-ready!
With the racking of the bike out of the way, I checked out the expo and traders hawking their goods. A couple of things of interest stood out – like free neck massages and super-cheap race belts – but nothing too wildly interesting stood out. The transition walk through that occurred was well worth the short wait after looking around the expo, and then it was time for my traditional pizza dinner before packing for race day.
4.15am alarms. I hate those! The sad reality is that with transition opening at 5am, and with last minute prep to do (including coffee!), the early alarms are a necessity. Arriving at transition and being one of the first people there is important to me, and Saturday morning was no exception. With hydration, etap battery, and shoes all placed in the right spot in transition it was time to warm up and watch the pros set off!
My start time was 6.57am, meaning I just had enough time to watch the leading pro men come out of the water and go into transition before starting to pull the wetsuit on for my own race. I’d wished a few people luck before the race, and talked to a few of the other athletes in my age group whilst in the holding pen before the buzzer sounded for the swim start. Being a rolling start, 4 athletes set off at once with a short gap between each group. I was the third grouping in line, and got off to a great start. Before the first buoy I’d caught the second group, and made my way around them. By the halfway turnaround point, I was sitting behind another swimmer and passing other age group swimmers from earlier set-off times. Upon exiting the swim I blazed passed him aiming for a fast transition. I’d said before the race that one of my goals was to have the fastest transitions out of everyone in the race, and I was determined to make it a reality. I left the water with the fourth fastest swim split (26.24), and ended up with the fastest T1 split (3.49) out of the age groupers and 4th if you included the pros as well. I have to admit, I was very happy with that when I heard about it after the race!
Onto the bike. The jump onto the bike and first few pedalstrokes went really well – clean and up to speed as efficiently as I feel I could have possibly done. Unfortunately, my powermeter wasn’t playing ball, and died within 2 minutes of the bike leg starting. I’d charged/replaced every battery on the bike before the race apart from the one in my powermeter, so this was probably my own fault. This meant that I didn’t have power and cadence displayed on my Garmin, but still had speed, time, and distance. I resolved not to let this affect me, and powered on. Being on the bike felt great – the Quintana Roo PR4 Disc has excellent straight-line speed and superb handling, and the Negative Split carbon wheels ride like a dream. I couldn’t have improved the setup much more than what I was riding, so it was up to me to ride well – no excuses were available.
I had a really positive mindset on the bike, and it was probably down to the fact that I wasn’t used to passing a lot of people on the bike. With other age groups setting off before me, it was fun to see myself whizzing past people in a non-drafting environment. Before the halfway point, two of the other athletes in my age group passed me, but that was ok – one was moving far to quickly to mark, and I used the other as a pacing guide. I’d seen Liam Miller, a great cyclist, moving up the field and my goal was to make sure he didn’t catch me.
The ride back was going incredibly well too – until the hill and headwind combo started up at around the 80km mark.
As you can see, between the 72km mark and the 90km finishing point for the bike, something changed! I’d crashed completely and was really struggling. It hit me at about the 80km mark, when the combination of hills and headwind started to slow me significantly. As you can see from the speeds above, I was going well until then! At the 46km marker I was on pace for a 2.18 bike split, and at the 72km marker I was on pace for a 2.22 bike split. Unfortunately with my slow death march for the end of the bike leg I ended up with a 2.27 bike split. It’s not bad, but there is certainly room for improvement!
At the first footstep getting off the bike and running to re-rack it, I could tell that the run was going to be fairly tough to finish, let alone finish fast. The first kilometer ticked over at 4.07, which was surprisingly good considering how fatigued I was feeling. The next kilometer was also not terrible, 4.09 I was starting to think a bit more positively as to how the run might go for me, and the 3rd kilometer was done in 4.12. The first aid station came up – and I feel sorry for the volunteers! The only word I can think of to describe myself in there was ‘monster’. I drank every cup of water, electrolyte, and coke I could, as well as having a couple of gels. Up to this point I thought I’d managed my nutrition well (I’d had a total of 2 liters of water on the bike and 3 gels), but maybe reflecting back on that aid station alone might tell me that I need to consume a bit more on the bike! The rest of the run got increasingly slower, with no chances of pulling back a half-decent run split on the cards. I finished off with a run split not too far off 1.45. Not a great half marathon, but at least I know exactly why I’d killed my chances of running well!
The finish chute is always a great experience, and at 70.3’s it’s even better. There is a great atmosphere and lots of supportive people, as well as food, shade, and the knowledge that at least you’re done with trying to move fast for the day – always a blissful feeling. I certainly recommend to anyone thinking about doing a half or full ironman – go for it, it’s worth it just for the finish-line feeling!
So, what have I learnt? I think that I had a good swim, a great T1, and a great first 80km of the bike. All positive! And if I ask myself if I would have changed how the race had played out, I’d probably answer in the negative. I put myself in the mix, had a chance of being in the hunt for a world champs slot for most of the bike, and if I’d slowed down I might’ve been able to have a better run but it wouldn’t have made much of a difference to the overall result. Another positive was that the run position looked good – relatively relaxed shoulders, slight lean forward, and knees not coming up to my chest (a first for me!). However in my fatigued state the stride length had shortened significantly, and the cadence was pretty low. Running off the bike when tired is definitely a work on! For March’s attempt, it’s important that I put significant work into my power on the bike – which I hope will buoy my chances of pulling a sub 4.20 70.3 time (which I think is a rather achievable albeit painful time to go).
Wish me luck!
In a nice twist, my friend Henry (who ran significantly faster than I!) has challenged me: he said he’s backing up races two weekends in a row, and said if he can do it I should be able to because of how slow I ran. I hate to agree with him, but I don’t think I have an option… Challenge accepted!