One of the hardest things in racing is finishing an iron-distance race when things go wrong and you are not having a good day. Sunday was one of those days- I competed in Challenge Wanaka on New Zealand’s south island. I’d decided to do the race when my husband and I were planning a New Zealand trip late last year and the timing looked like it could work out really well. The race was voted the most scenic long-course triathlon in the world by triathlete magazine and features a 70% off-road marathon, which sounded awesome! As a side note: I am beginning to catch on that when a course is described as “incredibly scenic” that this is synonymous with “really really tough course” nearly 100% of the time 🙂
View from our incredible homestay in Wanaka!
We arrived in Wanaka about 5 days early after a great stopover in LA to visit Chris’s cousin Scott, wife Tina and son Aiden. The 11.5 hour overnight flight to New Zealand couldn’t have been better (I ate, slept for 7-8 hours, and ate again) and in Wanaka we were setup with an amazing homestay overlooking Lake Wanaka. Roger and Mary were incredibly gracious and generous hosts and one of the highlights of our time in Wanaka was getting to know them! What a perfect place to have 5 days of downtime!
Enjoying a post-run flat white (one was Chris’s 😉 in my Newton Gravity IIIs!
Race day was gorgeous and with little wind. For the swim we had a beach start, male and female pros together, and we were off! The swim was wetsuit legal, the water crystal clear, and the lake was smooth. I quickly found some feet to follow that happened to be the absolutely perfect pace- just fast enough to keep me working pretty hard but all while enjoying a draft benefit. I followed the feet around the entire course until the last turn buoy when I accidentally swam under the gigantic buoy a bit. I scrambled out from under it, gasping for air and by that point had been gapped just a little too much. I struggled to catch up but couldn’t quite bridge the gap. Another swimmer came around me and I tried to stay on her feet; however, I was having a hard time keeping contact at that point with the sun glaring into our eyes making sighting difficult and ended up swimming solo the last 400 meters or so. It was a non-current-assisted iron-distance swim PR for me (in a 59:45 according to my husband- haven’t looked at the official times). Unfortunately, the swim would end up being the highlight of my day!
Onto the bike, I immediately noticed my shifting was a bit rough. My bike did not want to shift into the big gear on the cassette unless I held the shift lever in place, which was not a problem on the flats but a big problem on the steep hills scattered throughout the course. (By the end of the ride, I could not shift into the biggest TWO gears without holding the lever up). When I had taken my bike into the bike shop prior to the race (more times than I can count, for various reasons) the bike mechanic had said the shifting to the large ring on the cassette was a bit tentative – however, I had tested it out on the roads and it seemed to be shifting OK and I was able to shift into the big ring on the cassette without a problem. Out on the race course, I figured there wasn’t much I could do about it, so I tried to just make do and climbed while holding the shift lever in place. Then, by about mile 5, I was going up a fairly steep hill, and I just could not pedal up it. I stopped to examine my brakes, spun my rear wheel, and it came to a halt. Since the break pads were spread as wide as they could go, I tried opening up the skewer and adjusting how the wheel was seated. This seemed to help and the wheel spun normally. While I was stopped, two other pro women passed me and asked it I was OK. I hopped back on the bike and tried to at least keep them in sight. A more mild break rubbing returned within a couple of miles. I heard the rubbing once every pedal stroke on all of the climbs and at other random times- it was hard to tell whether it was only rubbing at those times or if I was only able to hear it when I was going slower. I don’t know if it slowed me down but it was frustrating to listen to and not be able to do anything about it.
The bike course certainly was beautiful, but it was hard to enjoy it with the bone-rattlingly rough roads! Not rough as in potholes, but that the road surface is consistently lumpy like cottage cheese rather than a smooth asphalt surface- I hear from other New Zealand athletes that this is pretty much the norm for the road surfaces here, and I can see how training consistently on roads like this prior to race day would be helpful. I found it hard to keep my power output high enough and pedal stroke smooth. As we were nearing the end of the first loop, we came to an intersection where three volunteers stood and one of the volunteers motioned me right, or at least I thought he did. I turned right and pedaled on for several miles. The scenery on this road was definitely familiar- Chris and I had driven it, I thought as part of our course preview, so I thought all was well. Soon, I came to an intersection close to town and saw no signs or volunteers. I knew something was not right as I knew the course was supposed to take us through town and I had basically cut off that portion. I turned around and saw no other cyclists behind me. There was a group of volunteers down the hill so I biked down to ask if I was off course. One of them pulled out a course map. Turned out I needed to go back to that last intersection where I had made a right. I went back and got back on course, but probably lost 15-20 minutes. At this point, I had a feeling I was out of contention for any sort of place which was confirmed when I took splits on the other women at one of the turnarounds. I definitely thought about dropping out, and that is honestly what I felt like doing at that point. But, there was nothing wrong with me- I was perfectly healthy and able to continue. My goal in racing is to use the gifts God has given me to the best of my ability. To drop out would not really be in line with this goal! Sometimes things do not go according to our own plans and it’s painful and frustrating, but God does have a plan for what happens. I talked myself into just finishing the bike- an Iron distance race is long, and you never know what may happen with your own race or with other athletes’ races. I’ve had my day turnaround from bad to good pretty quickly in other Iron-distance races, so I held out a bit of hope that that could happen here too.
One of the other challenges I encountered during this particular race was nutrition. I still have yet to find a good way to carry all of my nutrition with me on the bike during an Iron-distance race. I rely heavily on special needs, but it’s still a juggling act. I prefer liquids when I race- I stomach them much better than straight gel or solids and they’re easier for me to consume and also provide hydration at the same time. My absolute favorite nutrition for iron-distance racing is First Endurance EFS liquid shot (vanilla flavor) – 4 servings mixed with 1 bottle of water. It tastes amazing, is great on my stomach and I can drink it easily and quickly and it provides 400 calories in one bottle. I typically take 2 of these bottles on the bike (grabbing bottle # 2 at special needs), a bar of some sort, and then about 800-900 calories worth of sports drink (EFS pro being my drink of choice). However, it’s tough to bring enough EFS drink on the bike. My game plan for this race was to bring the EFS pro powder and try to dump it into my aero bottle at each aid station with water. This was a total fail! Not only did I not drink as much as I had anticipated, trying to dump powder into a small aero bottle opening while traveling 10-20mph equals sticky powder all over me and the bike and I think I probably left half the powder out there on the roads of Wanaka. The end result was (I think) too few calories consumed, especially since my bike was more than 112 miles! The logistics of carrying all of my (preferred!) race nutrition with me during iron-distance racing is something I’ll be continuing to work on.
In any case, I finished up the bike and started the run, looking for Chris so I could tell him what had happened. He did a great job of riding around on the course with our new friend Simon (whose parents Roger and Mary hosted us) to cheer for me at various points- I really needed this, as I was feeling pretty rough by mile 13 or so and needed the encouragement to keep going and finish the race. Not only is most of the run off-road, but about 6k of it is basically a technical trail run! The run course was absolutely gorgeous, and I was actually able to enjoy it for the first loop.
Yes, the run course was pretty gorgeous!
By mile 17, I started to feel really nauseous and lightheaded, especially in the sections with hot sun beating down. I stopped at the next aid station for about 10 minutes to try to get in some fluids and salt tabs and sit in the shade. The kids volunteering kept giving me sponges. The aid station volunteer asked me how I was doing and told me that he’d seen others looking worse than me. I asked him how much further there was to go (I guess I could have just looked at my Garmin?) He said, just 13 or 14k, just a walk in the park! By that point I was feeling a bit more alert, and decided it was time to continue. The last 10k was challenging, but I finally caught on to the idea of taking a sponge with me and squeezing additional water out over my head until the next aid station where I could get a new one (aid stations were about 3k apart). I decided I could go as slow as I needed to in order to get to the finish line. I was so happy to cross the finish line and be done. I ended up in 9th place so still came home with a small paycheck (about enough to pay for the bike fees on all of our flights!) While it does hurt to have a race that went far from the way I had hoped or planned, I’m excited for what’s to come this season. I am still working out the details of my 2014 schedule but can’t wait to try some new racing (and training) venues this year! I’m definitely looking forward to doing more Challenge series races. The Challenge staff at Wanaka really looked after the pro athletes and I had a great experience overall, despite my mishaps on the race course.Awards ceremony
Many thanks to FFT and our sponsors who help enable us to do what we do- Inside Out Sports for your continued support, Computrainer for enabling me to train for a winter iron-distance race 99% indoors (on the bike at least), Roka for helping us swim faster this year, Newton for helping us run efficiently and injury-free, and First Endurance for keeping us well-fueled with the superior race nutrition on the market!