Ironman New Zealand…it has taken me awhile to write this race report. It was a day that promised plenty as I had the best prep I had ever had for the iron distance and I was feeling fit and ready. However it was a day that ended in bittersweet disappointment as a few things went wrong and some mistakes were made. Yes, I still finished, but I didn’t execute what I wanted.
The race is based in the beautiful lakeside town of Taupo (“Toe Paw” to the locals). Taupo is located in the volcanic region of the North Island. One of my favourite pre-race activities was a visit to the Thermal Spa Park (free to public) where you could sit in various natural heated spas that ranged in temperature depending on the height of the spa you chose. I went for the warmest and soon needed to cool down - that was easy as you just had to go lay in the fast flowing Waikato River where the water was cooler - then once cooled down, hop back into the hot spa! It was very relaxing and the group I was with ate dinner while we relaxed in the baths.
The pre-race routine went to schedule and before long it was a cold, clear Saturday morning and 1600 athletes were lined up on the shores of Lake Taupo ready to tackle the 3.8km swim in the crystal clear freshwater (you can drink it as you swim). Before the start, the Maoris from the XXXXXX arrived by boat and performed the ceremonial Haka on the shores of the Lake - it was performed to bless the lake and was a powerful performance. The cannon that started the pro race went (and scared the shit out of everyone because it was so loud) and then we were herded into the water. NZ is the only IM left with a mass swim start. I wasn’t sure if I would like it but had no choice! We sculled around in the water for 10 minutes before the cannon fired and we were off. It was a rough, frustrating swim at times. With so many starting at once it felt like you were swimming in a human bait ball - people couldn’t swim straight so momentum was hard to find. At one stage, a lady next to me stopped, thrashed around and started screaming. I told her it is easier to just keep swimming rather than panic - don't think it helped. I maintained a good, steady pace throughout the swim - the idea wasn't to blow the gates off so early in the day and just to maintain a good tempo. To finish the swim you enter the Waikato River Channel. You then exit and have a fair run to T1 up some stairs!
The transition from swim to bike was pretty straightforward. Before the race, Ken Glah (ex-pro, winner of IM NZ, legend and owner of EST - who I traveled with) had advised us to put a plastic bag in our T1 bag and stick it down the front of the tri suit to help keep us warm in the early stages of the bike. It was a choice piece of advice! It worked really well and I kept the bag for the entire first lap of the bike until the sun warmed up a bit. The first lap was pretty uneventful apart from the incident involving the bug…a big black bug ended up getting itself under my helmet visor and into my eye. As this was a confined space, it scratched my eye and I had heaps of trouble getting the bug out from the visor. From that moment on, I couldn’t see out of my left eye. It was like some oily sheen was covering the entire eyeball and my eye stung like crazy. There wasn’t much I could do so just had to keep riding. I stuck within the heart rate range I was assigned and kept on top of nutrition. The course is undulating but provides plenty of opportunity to get down in the bars and ride. You do a lap through town and then head out for the second lap. Throughout the back half of the first lap I could feel the wind starting to whip up. It got ridiculously windy throughout the second lap and it was a crosswind. I felt like I was fighting with my bike the whole time as I was getting blown around when there were big gusts. As I hard to work harder in the wind, my heart rate went up and out of the range I was trying to stay in. However, it was unavoidable given the conditions. I managed a decent ride and was happy to get off the bike into T2. The volunteers all clapped and cheered as I entered the tent and I got ready to run. I must have been a little disoriented at the time as I left T2 with my bike gloves on and didn't realise until about 1km into the run (insert face palm emoji here).
I tried cleaning my eye out in T2 with a cup of water but it did nothing (apart from sting!). As such, I had to run the marathon with one eye! This proved interesting as the course itself is hilly throughout the middle part of each lap and involves a number of different surfaces, including uneven bricks and grass. I set out on the first of three 14km laps and felt pretty good - my only problem was that I couldn't get my heart rate down to where I wanted and I was frustrated trying to sort that out. I also got stung by a bee and then couldn't breathe properly but didn't want to get pulled off course so didn't seek medical assistance. I just had to do what I could to get my lungs to work properly and get the HR down. This meant my run turned into a run/walk after the first lap and I felt pretty upset about it at the time. I was pissed off that stupid things went wrong and then annoyed at myself for running the first 14km at a higher HR then I should have - and I even recognised it at the time but didn't do enough to control it. I eventually got over the finish line in an overall time of 12:58. I was happy to still finish before it was dark and before the glow sticks and hot soup came out. But I wasn't really happy with my marathon time. It was an hour off where I should have been.
On entering the recovery area they weigh you to see how much weight you have lost (they weigh you at registration). I had only lost about 3kg. I then had to get my eye looked at. I was taken to the army medical tent as they had the better equipment and upon inspection of my eye it was revealed that I had a rather large corneal abrasion. The Doctor inserted a yellow dye in my eye, some lignocaine for the pain and then patched the eye, gave me codeine so I could sleep once the lignocaine had worn off (it was pretty painful!) and gave me antibiotic cream. I was told that I needed to see an ophthalmologist however, there were none available in ED at the hospital.
Fortunately, one of the other ladies travelling with EST was an emergency doctor. She checked me over the next morning and said the eye was responding well to the cream and if my sight came back within 2-3 days then I would be okay. However, if I didn't get sight back I had to go straight to ED. Thankfully, sight had returned by Tuesday and it meant I could carry on with the rest of my trip in NZ.
The support out on the IM NZ course is phenomenal. The highlight was the “unofficial aid station” located in the housing estate section of the run. The aid station offered beer and jäger bombs! Taupo is also a great place to recover - the thermal springs are plentiful and contain all the minerals needed for recovery. It was nice to have a few soaks in the days post race.
HOT TIP - if you ever do this race, apply sunscreen all the time! Cake it on - you get real bad sun burn in NZ - I now have my race number burned into my skin.