After seeing photos and reading race reports about challenge Wanaka, I was super excited to make my full distance debut on a scenic but super tough course. I arrived with my wife (No1 supporter) flying into Queenstown Tuesday afternoon and making the short trip over to Wanaka.
My preparation had been with minimal disturbances and my body was feeling great. I did my recon of the swim bike and run leading into the race and was super excited with the usual nerves to just get stuck in. Race morning came with perfect conditions.
Swim - lake 2 laps 16.c water temp Bike - undulating open to the elements 1st part - out and back 40km 2nd part 2x75km big loops Run - undulating majority trails 2x21km loops
The gun went off and we were away. I jumped immediately on Bryan Rhodes feet who was sitting on Mike Phillips feet who was leading. Knowing they were front bunch swimmers, I knew if I could hold I would be in a great position. I held on until about 600m at the first turn buoy with McKenzie and Bell coming across from the right side which popped me off the back a little. I then swam the remaining 3km solo, but could see the bunch ahead most of the way.
Into T1 the front group was just going out as I was going in. 3mins was the split I was hearing and I knew that I was in a great position. I settled in after the first 5km, finally my heart rate and adrenaline settling in. Dougal Allen, the defending champ, came past me about 6km in and I paced off the back of Dougal for the next 10-15km choosing to just stay disciplined and stay at my own numbers and let the eventual winner stomp up the road. I road the next 75km solo taking my own time gap to the front group at around 95km I was 6mins off the front bunch with a few guys off the back. I had to keep myself composed knowing I was so close and being so comfortable. I could see Simon Cochran about 45sec ahead at the same turn and thought if I remained patient, I could bridge to Simon and work the second lap with him. This would put me in a great position for the marathon.
I rode into town through the backstreets with volunteers directing me along the way, but it seemed a little weird as there was a lot of traffic on the road. Next minute Bryan Rhodes had chased me down in a car (Bryan had pulled out of the race with a flat/mechanical). After a brief conversation, it was apparent I had been directed off course and then back on course but going the opposite way. Rhodsey gave me directions to go back to where the initial stuff up had happened. I rode back through the traffic and onto the course when Allister Caird and Simon Billeau (2 athletes I had a 8/9min lead on at the last check) were going out onto their 2nd lap. I turned back into the loop I had been directed off and continued my way back on course back through town and out onto my second lap. I was so filthy at myself thinking how could this happen? I cruised the remaining 75km going through what had happened over and over. I came to the turn on the final lap and looked at it in great detail. Yes, there was a sign saying turn left but it was that low if a car was at the intersection you couldn’t see anything. Yes, I agree it's the athletes responsibility to know the course but with so many turns, traffic, athletes (a half distance on at the same time) shit can become hectic very quickly. After going back through there I know that this is why it happened. But after the initial wrong turn I was still directed in the wrong direction by at least 10 volunteers.
Anyway into T2 and I found the race referee asking if I was ok to continue? Fear of staying out there for a marathon to finish with a DQ against my name was not happening. After a 5minute meeting and my garmin recording 191km + it didn't start straight out of T1, I was allowed to finish the race. I stopped to let my wife know what had happen as I knew she would have been freaking out. The next 42km was one of the hardest things I have had to do more from an emotional side of things. I was embarrassed, shattered, gutted but deep down proud to keep soldering on. I jogged to every aid station stopping to have a drink and buffet along the way. I met some great people along the way from volunteers to other athletes. I came into the finish chute having visualized it for the past few months but to be honest I wished I was a ghost. I went through the arch and just wanted to disappear as soon as possible.
At the end of the day it is just a race I know, but at the same time it's still very raw and disappointing. I felt terrible for my family, supporters and friends. The support since the race has been amazing and I am very grateful for that. Looking forward to putting it together at Challenge Roth in July! Bring it on!
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