IRONMAN New Zealand 2019:
Ironman # 12
Date:March 02, 2019
The 2019 New Zealand Ironman also doubled up as the 35th anniversary for the event. I’ve always enjoyed anniversary years and this year was all the more special as it was my 10th NZ Ironman. I first became involved in Ironman more than 10 years ago. I had an improving running background but minimal experience in open water swimming or long road bikes. In fact, one of the main reasons I wanted to do an Ironman was so I could run the marathon. The problem being you have to negotiate a 3.8km open water swim and 180km bike ride even before you get to the marathon! But with patience, perseverance, and dedication, I built up from not being able to swim a length in a swimming pool (I was called rockfish for a brief period whilst in the Army) to having the courage to start. I can remember my first open water swim in Singapore whilst I was overseas doing my medical elective. It was 1.5km in length as it was part of the Singapore Triathlon which I had entered in preparation for an Ironman. I was absolutely terrified! I didn’t care one iota about my swim finish time. My goal was simply not to drown and live. Having the courage to start is one of the best attributes you can develop. Even to this day, an Ironman still scares me. It’s physically, mentally, and technically hard. An Ironman doesn’t have any respect for your background, training log, or pedigree. There are so many things that could go wrong and you have to remain calm and adaptable. It’s all about your focus and determination during the day as there’s no guarantee that you’ll finish. The no guarantee that you’ll finish is probably one of the main reasons I keep coming back to this event. I like this concept. It means you’ve got to really want this. Total commitment and buy in. As I wait to enter the water just before 6.45am, an overseas supporting couple reads my body language and senses my nerves. “Is this your first time?” they ask. It brings a smile to my face. I respond “No, this is my tenth Ironman but I’m still bloody nervous!” The courage to start…
As the starting canon goes off, I’m aware that we’re lucky enough to have perfect swim conditions. Lake Taupo is flat and there’s no hint of wind. I’ve been told that witnessing an Ironman swim start is one of the most spectacular things you can see in sport. However, witnessing and experiencing are on different ends of the spectrum. The once still and flat water becomes chaotic. It’s like being churned up in one big washing machine as you struggle to breathe. Your main focus is to establish rhythm and control your breathing as quick as possible. If you can avoid eating someone’s foot for breakfast and don’t get a leak in your goggles (or get your goggles completely kicked off), then you are doing well. Once you’ve established your rhythm, then it’s a matter of jostling for space until eventually the field begins to spread out. The Taupo Ironman is advantageous in that you can see the bottom of the lake the whole time you’re swimming. This is reassuring for nervous swimmers like myself. I establish a 5/3 breath rhythm and eventually relax into my swim. I’m lucky enough to see the sun rise through the air bubbles under the water. It’s a beautiful sight.
The 3.8km swim (or “warm up” as someone once described it to me) goes by quite quickly. The transition from the swim to the bike becomes the next challenge. It takes a bit of adjusting to being vertical and weight bearing again. Coming out of your tight wet suit and squeezing into your lycra can also be ungainly (though I imagine it would make for amusing viewing if you’re a volunteer!) If I were to be honest, the 180km bike ride is my least favourite discipline of the Ironman. The no drafting rule also means that interaction with other competitors is minimal. Coming out of transition, you often get an ‘enjoy the rest of your day’ comment. After a few years of doing Ironman, I’ve come to realise that this is a very truthful and literal statement. Over the next 6-8 hours, you spend the good majority of your day interacting and building a relationship with your bike. Your bike becomes your drink bar, lunch/dinner table, and for those wishing to shave a few seconds off their total time, it becomes their toilet as well. I push a bit harder on the bike this year in a bid to make up some time. After years of “saving my legs” on the bike, I’ve come to realise that this is futile. After 180km, your legs never feel “fresh” off the bike. Whether you take things easy or push hard, your legs will always feel like jelly when you start running. The reality is that you will make up more distance/time on a bike compared to any similar level of effort whilst running. Concentrate on biking strong!
By the time I get to the run course around 3.30pm, I’ve finally reached by favourite and most comfortable part of the Ironman. Competitors begin to engage with each other again. You can feel their pain and sympathise with their struggles. The heart beat and struggle is palpable. Hope and belief is freely interchangeable. The town comes to life and the volunteers are amazing. The atmosphere is incredible! Despite this, the reality of exercising for almost 9 hours catches up with me and I hit a small wall. The marathon is a three lap course so those runners on their last lap are getting another wind and surging past me towards the finish. As much as I console myself that this is normal, it is psychologically damaging being passed by lots of people looking a lot fresher than you. Confidence and a little bit of ego provide some energy in marathon running. I throw caution to the wind and decide to be brave and accelerate from the end of my 1st lap. I seek out other runners who are wearing pink bands (symbolising they are on their 2nd lap and well ahead of me) and make an effort to restore some confidence and gain momentum. The extra incentive of seeing my kids before they get to bed also quickens my stride. From this point, everything leading up to the finish line becomes a blur of noise, emotion, and struggle. I finish around 8.30pm, 13 hours and 27 minutes later. I can never seem to finish before night but thankfully my 3.5 year old daughter is still awake at the finish line. I love seeing my family at the end of an Ironman. It makes it all worthwhile. If you have the courage to start, the strength to persevere, and the belief to finish, I sincerely believe than anyone can complete an Ironman. It truly is an incredible feeling! Running is medicine. Join me at my next blog, the South Island Ultramarathon (54km) at the West Coast in May (I hope it doesn’t rain…)
Helpful tipListen to everyone but follow no one.