Last year Matt Dixon, left me with a thought after my race at Challenge Wanaka, whatever the result, however you feel, make sure you smile for the finish line. Regardless! It’s a non negotiationable.
This year as I ran down through town, just 500m or so to go, knowing I’d come so agonizingly close, but not close enough, that same thought popped into my head, but this year there was no doubt that I’d be smiling as I ran onto the red carpet.
In 2016 I was incredible disappointed with finishing second and unprofessionally I let it show. I knew I was in good shape and had a great opportunity, but didn’t grasp that opportunity to the full extent. It took me a while to process the race. There was a lot of positives and a huge amount of learning I took away from that race, and then subsequently Ironman New Zealand two weeks later. Probably learning more from Wanaka, and being able to take it into NZ, than if I’d won. Again in NZ though, I didn’t seize the opportunity fully, perhaps still wondering if I belonged. But whilst disappointing, both those races were incredibly valuable to me, and it’s the learning from those experiences that I took with me into the rest of my year and into Challenge Wanaka this year.
To be part of a race, where over 9hours and 15mins, first and second are within 27seconds of each other, and pretty much were for the whole day, is pretty special. Obviously it was all in the plan for the entertainment factor and for the fans! Ha Ha!
On the day I lost to a world class athlete and a world class performance by Yvonne Van Vlerken. Her resume speaks for itself. One of the very best athletes in the world, I don’t think any other athlete has gone sub 9 as many times as Yvonne has. Her experience, knowledge and resilience is impressive. Congratulations Yvonne, on defending your title and taking the course record!
What can I say about Challenge Wanaka. It really is a special place. Yes I’m biased, very biased, but it really is the most spectacular race in the world. All elements of the course are just stunning. Swimming in Lake Wanaka, surrounded by the sun hitting the tops of the mountain ranges. The rolling bike terrain again just through the stunning scenery, and then the run course that is an awesome trail along the lake front and down the banks of the Clutha River. What’s also special aobut this race, is that it’s an honest course. Don’t come expecting personal best performances, but don’t let that put you off either. This race is unique. The terrain, road conditions, weather elements, run course, the lot – it makes it an honest iron distance race and one you really shouldn’t miss. I like to call it beautiful, but beautifully brutal!
The town itself, is an amazing little buzz and community, with huge support for the race. 10% of the town are volunteers in the days and weeks leading up to the event and on race day itself. It’s great returning, now for three years, and seeing familiar faces of the volunteers who give their time year after year, always with a smile on their face. I was humbled by the number of people who came up to me this year to say hello. Even in the town itself in the cafes and shops, it was easy to mingle and chat to the locals, everyone is so friendly and welcoming.
On race day it was amazing how many people were cheering for me. Granted we have our names written on our bibs, so it’s not too hard to shout for ‘Laura’ as you run past, but so many people, and what took me by surprise was the number of people cheering for me as Sid! (Unless there was a bloke called Sid, running on my shoulder the whole way.)
Have I said that I love this place!
Again I was lucky to have an awesome homestay this year. I’ve been blessed the past two years with being able to stay with the fabulous Walton’s and Parry’s, and this year I was greeted and welcomed into the home of Simon and Jo, and their gorgeous girls Rhian (8) and Laila (5).
Race day and the weather was perfect. Well perfect, unless you were like me and actually wanting the wind to rip up in the usual Wanaka style, and so cause havoc to the lake and the bike course! Ha ha! But it was a stunning morning and start to the day. Lake Wanaka glistened as the sun rose, calm and flat. Not a breath of wind.
The swim was pretty uneventful. I soon found myself swimming alongside a couple of other women, one being Yvonne. The course is really pretty straight forward, two laps, with the only issue being on the second lap trying to find the exit as we were heading directly into the sun. I had scoped out the course in the days leading up and so knew roughly what direction to aim in, so was happy that I think I held a pretty good line (just aimed directly for the sun), and exited the water second, albeit about 3/3.5mins down from Emma Bilham who was out first and up the road.
The first section of the bike takes you out to the beautiful Glendhu Bay. It’s a rolling section with some decent pinches and bumps, but good to also get the legs going. Having dropped a bit of time in T1, I was about 20sec or so behind Yvonne, but had reduced that gap on the way back into town. We’d both (Yvonne and I also reduced the gap to Emma to 1min 20sec or so.) Heading out to Lake Hawea to start the first of the two loops of the bike course, I was struggling a little to find rhythm, but just kept working the terrain and didn’t let it worry me too much. Yvonne was riding well and I knew we were closing in on Emma, who we caught and past at about 50km. By the time we headed out on the second lap I started to feel good. Yvonne and I were still together and whilst we’d probably been working together in part, I’m pretty sure we were both also trying to get rid of the other one at the various sections of the course. I was starting to get the same buzz I’d had riding the course the previous year. It’s funny though, as throughout the ride I thought my power was down on last years numbers. I didn’t let this affect me as I knew conditions were different and still felt I was now moving well, but I guess it also showed I had more to give and more left in the tank, so could keep driving.
Part way through the second lap, I knew I was going to probably be close to the course record and so I started using that as motivation to keep pushing forward. I’d missed out on claiming the course record at Ironman New Zealand in 2016 to Lucy Gossage, even though we’d both broken it, I’d let Lucy ride away from me to claim it by about 30sec. I wasn’t going to make that mistake again, and wanted to have my name on that record. In the end I took 9mins 32sec of the previous record, and went sub 5hours, with 4.58.58, which on the Challenge Wanaka course I have to be pretty stoked about! Happy too, as it was my first race on my new Ceepo Viper R TT! Thanks also to Profile Design, Kask, PowerTap and Shotz.
As it turned out, after the race, the power numbers I thought were lower than last year, were actually higher than last years, and with a lower average HR. I’d just got it in my head, that the ‘target’ watts I was using as a guide for the race, was based on the power I’d produced in the race last year. But it wasn’t! Good lesson here is to not judge your race or ride on someone else, or on the numbers, don’t let the numbers restrict you. I was happy that I hadn’t let the fact that I thought I wasn’t hitting the right numbers negatively affect me, I still kept focused on the task in hand and just trying to squeeze out every bit of speed and riding well over all the different terrain on the course.
Heading out onto the run, and I had about 16sec lead on Yvonne, compared to the previous year when I had about 3mins or so. I was feeling pretty good (obviously relatively off the back of a 3.8km swim and 180km bike), and headed out onto the gorgeous track that heads along the lake front and round to the Outlet track. I was keeping Yvonne at bay with about a 30sec buffer. Last year Yvonne had erased the 3mins pretty quickly, passing me at about 11-12km. This year I seemed to be holding her at bay, and just kept looking forward. At about 16 or 17km I got a split she was still 30seconds behind, yet what felt like only a second later I suddenly could feel the second place biker on my shoulder and all of a sudden there she was! What happened to 30seconds! Ha ha! I was double checking my pace and was still moving pretty well and hadn’t slowed. We ran together for a bit, still holding good pace, before she started to move away from me. I think she got out to about 2mins ahead at one point. The middle part of this run was not my most spectacular moment.
I hit that dark place that regularly finds you in an iron distance race. Whilst the course is stunning, it can be pretty lonely out on the outlet track just with your own thoughts going through your head. I knew I just had to keep moving forward and keep taking on the calories and fluid. I fully expected to get to the end of the outlet track and hear that Yvonne had gone to a 5mins lead, so when I heard it was around 1min 45, it gave me a glimmer. Then I hit the infamous Gunn Road. Second time up this road and the 1km climb feels like trying to ascend Everest. I felt pretty average at the bottom, even Paul Buick (our Purplepatch bike coach, who’d been out supporting all day) said he thought I was going to fall over! Ha ha! But by part way up, I started to feel a stack better and find some legs again. As I crested, I suddenly looked up and exclaimed, “Is that the lead biker” – sure enough the fluro yellow vest was back in view and not that far ahead. It was time to dig deep and see what I’d got. This was it, still 10km to go but I had to find something. I started closing the gap, taking 10sec off at each split I was getting.
Unfortunately my element of surprise and stealth approach was thwarted at the small out and back section on Beacon’s Point Road. Until this point I think Yvonne was unaware I was closing in, but at the moment she turned the cone, I was clearly visible! That too with the fact that this turn around was right outside my homestay, and Simon and the kids were on the street yelling their heads off and cheering for me! Paul as well. It was great to be honest to have this support. Simon, Rhian and Laila had been on their bikes and in the car leap frogging me all over the run course to give me shouts and support! Thank you.
At this point there’s still about 4km to go, and now Yvonne had seen me gaining I knew she’d be digging deep. The run course heads back onto the track on the edge of the lake, and even though I was now only a minute or so back, I couldn’t see Yvonne or her lead cyclist with the twists and turn, so it was just internal focus to keep driving ahead. Emerging from the track and hitting the streets of the town, I knew I’d taken more time, but was running out of road.
But this year, as opposed to 2016, I was still smiling (well grimacing maybe) as I ran the last part of the course through town. Thanking all the amazing support out there. I crossed the line just 27seconds after Yvonne had taken the win. So close it was, that the traditional Challenge Family balloon kids that escort you in the finish chute, were not even ready for me, still over at the finish arch, with Yvonne, when I entered the stadium. Not that I was really aware but there was a sudden panic as the kids were sent in all directions across the stadium to form up behind me as I crossed the line. Ha ha!
F*&K! Again! So close but not yet close enough!
Whilst of course I’m disappointed not to win. It’s one of the goals we strive for in our sport, I am proud of my performance. On the day I was beaten by a World Class athlete, who delivered a world class performance. I came close. There again are lots of positives I have taken away and still lots to work on which is again exciting and keeps me motivated. I’m proud with how I’d developed and improved since last year. Sometimes, at times over the past few months and weeks, I got caught up in trying to compare myself to where I was last year, and what I felt like? Was it the same? Better? Worse? Yet I had to keep reminding myself that the lead up to this race and the training over the Christmas period were different this year, so you can’t compare. You’re in a different place, with different work in your legs and body. You just have to jump into the process, have faith and trust in it, enjoy the journey and believe that good things will happen!
So now, it’s just under a week till we get to have all this fun again. I admit at times on the marathon I was questioning my sanity to racing Ironman New Zealand just two weeks later. But NZ really do put on great events. Both Challenge Wanaka and Ironman New Zealand are iconic events so why in the world would I want to miss out!
Thank you to the brands that have come on board this year to support me. I’m excited about the partnerships and working with some great teams ahead.
Ceepo – Not a bad way to start with the bike course record
Scody – Thanks to Bernard and the Scody team, and to Solomon for turning my sketches and ideas into the awesome kit! Keeping it #matchymatchy. Absolutely love the kit and very excited to be part of the team and working with the company. (Use LauraS for your discount off the store, and email me for your custom kit referrals)
Kask – The best helmets about.
Profile Design – Thanks to Ian, and the Profile Team. For Challenge Wanaka, I raced on 58/78 TwentyFour series tubulars
Shotz – To Darryl and Steph’s long term support and advice with my race nutrition and hydration!
PowerTap – For providing the power! ha ha!
Skins – For the awesome recovery and training kit! (Use Laura30 for your discount on the AUS, USA and UK sites)