Challenge Wanaka 2013 - Iron-Distance Debut

Like so many athletes this year and at years gone by I was woken to howling winds early on race morning. The good thing was it actually got me excited for the tough day that was to come and to race in the conditions I had trained for.

I had no expectations going in to the race, but I had told my friends and family that I wanted a podium finish to ‘finish’ my career. So I figured 3rd, maybe 2nd would be my top result. How things have changed.

My form leading in to the race had been great. I handled the training better than most other build-ups I had done over shorter distances and my body was responding well and recovering better. By the time I hit taper time I was basically ready to race and my taper was just a bonus.

When the gun went off and I headed out in to the lake I was happy to find we were swimming smack bang in to some pretty good little rollers. I felt the best I have felt in the water in a long time and felt better and better as the swim went on. It was a good feeling to get out of the water and know that I’d exerted about as little as I could have hoped and was shocked when I heard that I had 3.40 to Rhodesy and 6.40 to Jamie, Macca and Leon.

The time gap gave me confidence to get straight in to my work, but at the same time I was telling myself that I would get caught eventually and that my pace was my pace and there was nothing I could do about the others. 
I extended my lead a little in the first out and back section, which surprised me and got me thinking that I’d probably gone too hard. Never the less I didn’t ease off and kept pushing. I was never strained aerobically and I figured that was a reasonably good sign that I wasn’t over working. 
Once I hit the next turn around point and got a glimpse of the others riding together, I lost a bit of heart for a moment, but got it back nice and quickly when I got a time gap from my mates out on course and I was holding at around 7 minutes. By the next time gap, about 25km  later (100km mark) and in to the headwind I had extended it out to almost 8.30, but it was right at this time that I went through a bad patch and so decided to eased off a bit. At the 130-140km mark I still had 7.20, but my back had been giving me grief for about 10km by this stage and continued to do so for the remainder of the bike. For the last 40 odd Km’s I was barely on my bars and barely on my seat. 
By the end of the ride I had 1min to 1.30 on Jamie and Rhodesy and felt that I had given away a pretty cheap 3-4 minutes, but there was nothing I could do about it. It may have cost me that time on the ride, but may have also saved me more time on the run. Ultimately I was just surprised that I got off the bike still in the lead!

My transition was a bit of a mess and I was glad we had the change tent. I could barely put on my shoes on with my back in the state it was and I am sure it was quite a scene.

I set off on the run and my legs felt better than I expected. I needed a toilet stop pretty much straight away so took the first opportunity at the 2km mark. (By popular demand – about 2 people – I have added to the toilet story). I really needed to clean out all systems, but my back was such a mess that if I’d sat down I’d still be in there. A real pain was that I popped my buttons on my race belt and they fell to the floor. It was quite demoralising bending over with my face in the hole while having back spasms and trying to pick them up! Jamie and Rhodesy passed me during my excursion, but were only about 100m in front of me when I stumbled out of there.
I ran up to Jamie probably a bit overly keen and decided that I’d trust his pace and his experience for a while. 
I was feeling really good and was happy just to sit and wait. At about 45 minutes in to the marathon we started getting time gaps to Macca and he was closing quickly. I decided that if I wanted to win then I had to go now or never. I was amazed at just how good I did feel when I decided to go and kept that tempo up until the turn around when I saw Jamie again and Macca for the first time. He seemed close at 3.30 and once again I thought it was all over and it was only a matter of time before he caught me. 
I managed to pull my head in and kept my tempo going until the 25km mark. It was here that reality started to set in; I was still somehow out front, I was putting time back in to Macca, gaining on Jamie, I could potentially win, I still had 17km to go and I was already very close to being completely spent! There were a lot of emotions flowing around! 
I took in some gels, slowed down and made more of an effort to relax.

The rest of the run was just one foot in front of the other. My quads were wrecked from the constant pounding and around the 35km mark I started to feel some cramps come on. I made more of an effort to get down fluids and slowed down to make sure of it. By the 4km to go sign I had a 4.30 lead on Jamie and started walking aid stations to make sure I made the finish line. I cramped a couple of times and almost took out a bike during an emergency stop. I got to that 1km to go sign and still wasn’t even relieved. I took a look over my shoulder almost expecting to see Jamie or Macca charging down the street. It wasn’t until I got to the red carpet that I managed to relax a bit and for the last time was surprised to know that I was still out in front and it would actually be me breaking the tape. 

To win in what is my second home in New Zealand, in front of so many family and friends, and on a course that is both stunning and brutal is going to be hard to beat.

My goal now is to go out and race as hard as I did at Challenge Wanaka, regardless of my position and regardless of the course, and if I do so I hope I can keep doing this for a little while longer!

Thanks to the boys out there who made it so tough – Jamie Whyte, Chris ‘Macca’ McCormack, Keegan Williams, Bryan ‘Rhodesy’ Rhodes, Carl Read, Axel Reiser, Leon ‘Griffo’ Griffin, and Rob Creasy.

A big congrats to the Girls too – Gina Crawford, Candice Hammond and Jo Lawn.

Once again a huge thank you to all my supporters out there on course who were nothing short of exceptional and to all those at home watching on their screens.

Of course thanks to the Challenge Family and Wanaka + all their volunteers for putting on an amazing event.

Will update soon with my season plans.

A big cheers!