Blog » Challenge Wanaka 2016
Challenge Wanaka 2016
Well it wasn’t to be.
My biggest fear heading in to the race was not being able to ‘race,’ for example having bad legs and simply watching the others go by without having a fight in me.
Looking back, there was a bigger fear than that, and I realised it a little too late.
I was/am in great shape, I wanted it bad, and I was prepared to and planned to race hard... Maybe a little too hard!
I always figured Dougal would still be the #1 threat. There were some great athletes in the field this year, but this is Wanaka, if you don’t know it then there's a good chance it will beat you up.
Looking back I made the mistake of not just racing everyone out there, but also trying to race their race and play their games, when in reality there was only 1 guy I should have been focused on, myself.
The wind was up early and it was obvious it was going to be a tough day in the swim and out on the bike.
After a little delay to the swim start for a few stray buoys we got underway and battled some pretty intense chop for the first section of the swim. I remember thinking that there would be a few very unhappy age-groupers out there if that continued. However, by the second lap the lake had calmed down a bit and I was surprised to have a decent lead on everyone, including Graham O’Grady who I thought would be on my feet. I had planned on having him on the bike and a bit of company for the first time, but it wasn’t to be.
Out of the swim I didn’t know what my time was or what the gaps were until I jumped on my bike and heard that Graham was 2 minutes behind me and had just swam 45.30 – meaning I had swam 43.30!?
So, safe to say that the swim was significantly short considering the conditions and that in perfect conditions last year I swam 45.30ish.
Anyway, I then got the splits to the others; 5mins to Maik Twelziek, the German Cycling Machine, and 10mins to Dougal – about where I had expected to be.
Let the fun begin…
Mistake 1 was taking the 5minute gap to Maik to heart and thinking “nope, that's too close,” and basically reacting straight away to it. After all, it was my plan to be aggressive and to take the race to them on the bike a little more, so why not react!?
Taking the race to them a little more was something my Coach, Tim Brazier, and I had discussed. We knew I had a little room to move on the bike and decided that this year would be a good year to do it.
But, that is a little room, in watts that equates to about 5 watts higher over the 180km.
For the first 2 hours of the ride I averaged about 20 watts higher than I did to the same point last year. My first 90km power was higher than all but 1 of my best half-distance events… Basically suicide.
Mistake 2 was knowing I was riding hard (and knowing I was riding TOO hard), but never checking just how hard I was riding… After all it was the plan to be aggressive, to take it to them!
I never watch my power when I race full-distance events anyway, it is always on feel, which is something I am good at… and obviously something I should have listened to.
By 90km on the bike I was starting to feel the pinch. I basically had to go in to survival mode and from 85km to 98km I went from 2.17 up on Maik to 1.40 down on him. 4minutes in 13km…ominous.
The rest of the ride was spent trying to minimise my losses and trying to save any run legs I might have left. I had spent so much in that first 90km, so much high end power that having a good run would be about (somehow) recovering out there on the ride and fuelling as well as possible.
Dougal came past me about 130km – about where he should have always caught me, but obviously not at the rate at which he did, as if I was standing still. I watched him ride away in to the distance and I knew that it was going to take something ridiculously special to pull this one out of the hat!
Getting off the bike my legs were a ‘little’ shot, but nothing I hadn’t experienced before and then followed up with a good run.
I was 12 minutes down on Maik and 6 minutes down on Dougal. I knew I would be needing some great legs and a lot of patience to pull in Maik and the run of my life to even get close to Dougs. But, I still believed, and who was behind me never even crossed my mind.
I headed off and tried to stay relaxed and patient.
Still hope, and great support
The first signs that things weren't really going my way was what I would describe as a lack of coordination – relaxing was hard, I had no flow, and it took effort to do those things that usually take none, But I felt as though I was still running good.
At 5km I got my first reality check – I wasn’t actually moving as quickly as I thought.
By 10km my rhythm was going, Gun Hill felt about as spastic as I have ever felt, and by 15km I knew that I was digging a nice little hole for myself – And only losing time to Dougal and just holding Maik.
At 20km I felt as though I should have been at 41km and coming in to the finish line. By then I had switched to survival mode and I had to jog, which was as fast as I could go, for the 2nd lap.
Actually running, but if you look closely in the top left there is a piano waiting to drop ;)
Finishing wasn’t the usual relief, which is what I usually feel more than anything, but an emptiness and anger that I have never felt. I held back the tears, put on a brave face, and moved on.
It would have been a gigantic ask to have beaten Dougs on HIS day. He deserved that and it was an incredible performance. I wish I could have made it a bit more of a battle and pushed him along the way a little more. Well done mate. Next year!
And Congratulations to Maik and Matt Russell for 2nd and 3rd. Two guys that came to Wanaka and handled the conditions and the course better than 90% of people who have come and raced there. They did their thing and got two great results.
For me over the last week I have been furious at myself for racing like such an idiot.
For re-learning the most important lesson in long-distance racing, one which I know very well – Race Your Own Race.
Challenge Wanaka has defined me over the last 3 and a bit years. It saved my career, made my career, motivated me, inspired me, you name it, it did it. I have lived the last 3 years safe in the knowledge that the race that meant the most to me was still ‘my race.’
Like I said, it defined me.
But, it isn’t how many times you get knocked down, it truly is about how many times you get back up – If Wanaka defined me to this point in my career, then what I do next will define the rest. And that, to be honest, is actually pretty exciting.
It all starts next weekend at IRONMAN New Zealand.
Fingers crossed for some firing legs and braincells ;), and maybe a little redemption.
Thank you for all the support out there.
Time to write the next chapter in my career…
Catch you in a week or so.
Thanks for reading,
Images thanks to Getty Images, Mary VT, and Libs Bramwell