In the two weeks between, I once again reverted to trying not to second guess myself and my body, particularly with it ‘only’ being a half in Wanaka. I again tried to focus on each session day to day also reaffirming that there was no point in comparing, as 2017 was a totally different year to 2016, and my build up was totally different, so what am I comparing too?
It’s obvious to say I was in some way disappointed with Challenge Wanaka. I say this from the point that, I love that place and race, and it means a lot to me. For the past four years I’ve finished 2nd, getting closer each year, with this year being 11 seconds off the win. I would have loved to have taken the win of course. However, there were some really positive learnings to take away from the race. Ultimately on the day I was beaten by the better athlete, and one of the very best half iron distance athletes in the world, and only by 11seconds. Whilst I was disappointed with the result, I was also very happy with a lot of the elements of the race which gave me confidence as I changed my focus to Ironman New Zealand. I was also in Wanaka, and how can you not smile and be happy when you are there!
Once again, I’ll just say, if you haven’t raced Challenge Wanaka you need to! You have to! It’s just simple the most stunning, epic race in the World! No question and don’t argue with me, you’ll lose! Put this race on your bucket list.
From one of my favourite places in the South Island, I moved to another great place, Taupo for Ironman New Zealand, now my first full distance race of the year. Ok so I won’t hold you in suspense (and incase you’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks, not implying this is global news, but I’m assuming you’re reading this because you know me already and follow my adventures)… I won and it was one of the most amazing feelings in the world. To be honest, now a few days later, I’m still trying to process and take it all in. The last few days have been a whirlwind, totally my own doing, but wouldn’t have changed anything in the world for what I’ve been able to experience before, during and also after the race.
It’s just been a really awesome couple of weeks. With Challenge Wanaka, and then Taupo. At Taupo, I hosted two Hoka One One runs for athletes, showing them parts of the run course and just generally connecting with athletes.
I was fortunate to be asked to be on the Women For Tri breakfast panel, with legends, Sam Warriner, Julie Moss and last year’s winner, Jocelyn McCauley. (Check out the Facebook Live video here.) I was able to drop in and say hi to my friends on the Special Olympic Swim Team, and also had a fun 30mins serving coffee (my latte art was more abstract) at a favourite café, Spoon and Paddle.
Witsup carry out some awesome work to support and promote women in triathlon. It’s always great having Stef around and this year at Taupo was no exception. Check out the Witsup Vlog here!
Race day dawned with almost perfect conditions. Well perfect is you want, calm, pancake flat lake and almost no wind for the bike. (Note: perfect for me was chop and lots of wind. Oh well!)
The cannon fires and I found myself in the second pack. I knew three women had swam off the front, and had a fairly good idea who, but I found I was in a group of four and settled into that pace. For once I felt we, or rather I positioned myself better and was able to work with the others, not against, resulting in slowing everyone down. However, on exiting the water I had no idea what my swim time was, only that as we exited onto the bikes, we were about six minutes down from the lead.
On to the bike and I knew what the plan was and I knew what I had to do. Sadly my legs had not received the message on the power I wanted to ride at that day. I had to do some reassessing of the situation, and change the plan to what my body was currently giving me, hoping that over the 180km, my legs would be found and I could get back into things. I was yo-yoing on making time then losing time to the front of the race and the two women now in front of me. Not ideal from my perspective obviously, but I just had to be patient, deal with what the legs and body were doing and ride the best I could at that time.
Coming back to Taupo after the turnaround on the first lap, I didn’t necessarily start to feel better, it still felt like a real slog with numbers way down, but I got splits that I was actually taking decent time out of the women in front and making ground. This was at least a positive. As I approached the end of lap one I could see Jocelyn and Teresa in front, and was closing in. I managed to move to the front of the race as we exited town starting the second lap. The legs were better than the first lap, but still not great and it was very much staying positive, managing what I had and doing the best I could with this. I was also hoping it meant that my run legs would be good – but as we all know with endurance racing, who knows, and I’d soon found out when I started to run.
I came into T2 first, but with Jocelyn just a few seconds behind. I suspect starting to run, knowing you have a sub 3hour calibre runner chasing you down, is what the guys must feel knowing Cam Brown is running a 2hour 40 marathon behind them! I found I settled into my running pretty quickly and found rhythm. Actually, to be honest I wasn’t sure whether I had found rhythm or was just running scared or was just energized by the crowds on exiting T2! I was getting time splits though that I was holding Jocelyn around the same distance, and that Teressa was a further minute behind.
Yet it was all eyes forward and really being focused on keeping present in my running on the course and terrain and managing my energy. Coming back to town on the first lap (it’s a three lap course) and I felt I was going into a bit of a lull. Jocelyn was suddenly closing in and I think passed me around the 11km mark. There was lots of opportunity at this point to be thinking along the lines of, ‘yep this was expected, she’s a much faster runner than you,’ and ‘it was only a matter of time’, and ‘so second again’. But I was pleased with how I stayed present and yes these and similar thoughts certainly crossed my mind, but I was able to push them aside and just focus on managing the energy levels at that time. What I found too was that whilst initially Jocelyn put maybe 50m on my, she actually then stopped pulling away. Starting lap two and I was holding the gap, and starting to feel stronger again. The crowd support was just incredible (more on that later), and I was able to feed off this, and stay focused on my running, but with clear eyes on the lead biker and Jocelyn. Suddenly I was gaining ground and moving closer, that spurred me on, but I was conscious to not surge to much at this stage and just chip away. Then at around the 18km mark, as the course raised up a bit of a climb, I drew up on Jocelyn’s shoulder and moved ahead. Funnily enough I realised afterwards it was the same place that I’d moved into second position in the race in 2017. But as I moved back into the lead, I consciously said, don’t you dare look back. Keep running forward, looking forward. Don’t look back. I fully expected Jocelyn to stay with me. She’s a world class runner and athlete and I know she wouldn’t let me go easily, but I kept focused on forward, trying not to panic that I hadn’t even reached half way yet and still had another half marathon, hoping it wasn’t a false sense of energy and I’d got overexcited and moved too soon. I guess I’d find out.
But I was feeling relatively strong and just kept looking ahead and moving forward, close and closer to the finish line. I got a few people call out that I’d got a gap, but I just really tried to focus on me. Yes at times it crossed my mind that I may get caught, but I was going to make it bloody hard from them to catch me, and if they did and they were ahead of me at the finish, well then full credit and they deserved it. But I wasn’t giving this one up easily. But I also wasn’t getting ahead of myself either. I still had 21km to go.
At the end of each lap, and as you turn around the Nutri Grain sign, you get to check where your competitors were. Turning around this point, was the first time I’d be able to see where Jocelyn was, and I surprised myself at the gap that had formed, and then promptly shat myself seeing that Teressa had closed the gap and was running right behind Jocelyn. Heck there was going to be no easing up in this last 14km. Like I was making them work if they wanted to catch me, there were certainly sending my stress levels high in chasing me down!
As the 30, 31km signs passed I was getting people telling me that Teressa was catching, and there was going to definitely now be no letting up. I talk about ‘letting up’ but really in all seriousness I don’t think I could have relaxed at all, at that point in an Ironman. You just have no idea at what the body may still do or not do with 10km to go. It was really all about focusing on me and my running (I’m sorry if that’s sounding boring and scripted). Getting the calories and hydration in and running with as good a form as I can, 8hours + into the race. As I started back to town, with 7km to go, I got the chance to see Teressa in second as we crossed paths. This gave me about a 3min 30lead. My head was in over drive doing the math, at how fast she’d have to run to catch me. I still wasn’t believing or certain though that I was going to win, but just kept counting down the last few kilometres, willing the finish line to come quickly. Any thoughts around winning that that came into my head I pushed out straight away. I was now asking my lead cyclist if she could see anyone behind me. I still didn’t want to look back, I was totally focused forward, But I did want to know if she could see anyone. She was awesome, and kept reassuring me, “I can’t see anyone”, but I still didn’t believe.
“Relax chill you’ve got this” – was also shouted by a friend, but I still didn’t want to think about it. It was only when I got to maybe 3km to go that I started to perhaps breath a sigh of relief that I might actually win. As the crowds and spectators thickened, in the last couple of kilometres, I let myself realise I’d probably done it. I got a little too excited reacting to the crowd as a wave of emotion took over me. So much support, it was incredible and I wanted to thank them, and release. About 30seconds later, I realised I still had 1km to go and perhaps I had just over exerted myself a little as my body reminded me this wasn’t over yet. But running down the main street in Taupo, the finish line was closing in. It was an incredible feeling. I was trying to take it in, and trying to let it register, but I’m not sure it really was still. I’m not sure I really still believed it. I high fived and thanked my lead cyclist. She’s been awesome and I was grateful for having her, behind me, almost looking after my back for the majority of the run. Heck they then take you, what feels like the long way round to the finish line, but finally I was rounding the final corner, onto the carpet with the finish arch towering up ahead. I definitely couldn’t believe it and realise now, that I’m a pretty emotional finisher! It was so surreal and trying to think back now, just seems strangely distant. I saw a British flag being waved by one of the spectators and grabbed it*, raising it above my head. I then panicked thinking, how am I know going to raise the tape, with a flat in both my hands! The fricken final moments of panic. It was all a bit of a blur but heck what a feeling to walk the final steps up the ramp and grab hold of that tape. All the emotions, all the feelings, I’m getting goosebumps trying to recount it now. You can’t explain the feeling. It’s so hard to describe what it means, what it felt like, what was running through my head. But fuck I’d done it! I’d won! Ironman New Zealand Champion!
(*Thank you to John Broadbent and his wife for lending me the Union Jack Flag. I’m happy to say I was able to reunite the flag with John shortly after the finish.)
So many faces across the finish line smiling at me. Trying to take it all in. It was all a complete blur and fuzz at that point though. I think back with hindsight about what I should or wanted to do after the finish to really take it all in and thank everyone. Hindsight is amazing, and of course I’d not given myself a moment to think about this ‘what if’ pre race, that would be too risky, yet now looking back you start thinking about what you should or could have done. But I’m starting to be cryptic now in trying to explain something that I’m trying to describe.
It was incredible to have so many friends at the finish. Of course Paul and Francine Buick who’d been all over the course supporting me, yelling all sorts of “get on with it” and warnings, advice and encouragement at me. It was great to finally get to them to hug and thank them. To have my awesome friend Stef from Witsup right there, as she’d been in Port Mac, was fab. Then… I was told that Ilia was on the other side of the barrier at the finish line. Now Ilia, what a special little girl she was. Every athlete had received a letter in their welcome pack from a school child in Taupo. Mine was from Ilia, from Hill Top school. It has said…
“Kia Kaha. Be Strong. Be Courageous. Bike like a monkey, swim like a stingray, run like a leopard. I think you are a winner”
To receive this from Ilia before my race was so so special. She had no idea her letter had come to me, but I’d contacted Ironman, hoping to be able to go into Ilia’s school on Monday (regardless of result) to meet her. Yet here she was at the finish line! It made the win and the moment even more special to meet Ilia and lift her up over the barrier, giving her a big hug and high five.
So now I’m going to give you the aftermath of a race.
After spraying bubbles over Terresa who had a fantastic race on debut and her birthday to finish second, the fastest time by a NZ women pro at IMNZ, and Jocelyn, who finished third, I took some time with the lovely people of Drug Free Sport New Zealand, which thankfully for me (and them) this time was only a 90min meeting. I then headed to Burger Fuel to grab some much awaited fine cuisine and a take away delivery for my awesome mate (have I said that before) Stef Hanson. Who with an alien inside her had retreated (rightly so) to her room. I then proceeded to run my fastest 1km of the day to make it back to the finish line to welcome another good friend home. It’s funny you check the tracker, and know that they were 7km out, only 10mins ago, but still panic that you are going to miss them and leg it to the finish, only to be waiting for a while for them to cross. But it was another special moment to be able to hand my good mate, Nadine Voice her medal as she finished! By this time it was 9pm and I hadn’t been home, so I exited left and drove back to my awesome homestay.
They too had been out for most of the day supporting me, and I was finally able to get home to see then properly and thank them. Although it was for about 15mins as I dumped my shit, showered, changed and headed back to the finish line to welcome the competitors home in the final hours. It’s a special time to be back at the finish line. It’s magic seeing the athletes that have been out there for 15, 16hours making it to the finish line as Ironmen and women. So many stories and characters, I just love it.
I made it home again around 0030hours, still in a daze, still buzzing but not really knowing what to think or do. Go to bed I hear you say, but it’s just impossible. I did manage to get into bed around 0230hours, to then be wide awake, as I could have predicted at 0430hours! The usual post race sleep.
The fantastic people at Kinetic Media put a little video together of the day. Check it out here
Sunday started with a catch up of the Fitter Radio team and my post race interview. Listen to the whole podcast here! If I’m a little biased it’s one of the best episodes, not because of me but the pre race banter with the boys. It’s brilliant!
Then I headed to the Roll Down Ceremony to have the honour or presenting lays to the successful Kona qualifiers. The roll down is funny. There’s so much emotion and excitement by the athletes, determined and desperate to get to Kona, I just wanted to get on the mic and tell them it’s shit and horrible race. Why would you want to race on a boring course on a highway with no spectators, in ridiculous heat and heart sucking wind! Seriously! Ha ha! But yes it’s Kona and the World Champs and I get it (I think)! After Roll Down, I managed to get out on the bike to spin the legs. I usually try to do 2-3hours post race to flush the body and recover, but was grateful for just being able to grab 90mins on the road.
After that it was back to get ready for the Awards Ceremony. I think I was more nervous about having to stand up and speak, which is tradition at Ironman New Zealand with an evening dinner function for the athletes. Post awards, we headed out for a few quieter drinks in town.
Monday, was just magic and possible one of the best days I’ve had at a race. Remember Ilia? Well I’d planned to visit her school and surprise her and her class mates, but arriving at the school, I was the one surprise, greeted by a school assembly. It was really special though to be able to meet Ilia again and thank her and all the school children for their letters. They then sang to me a traditional local Maori song. It was amazing. Check out the videos of my school visit and singing here.
After Hill Top school I headed to Taupo Nui A Tia College to speak to a group of Biology and High Performance Sports Students on athlete / race hydration and fuelling and a broader Q&A session.
From there home briefly but then out to catch up with Stef and get some cool photos on the water front. I also managed to jump in the lake for a quick swim to keep the body moving. To be honest it felt pretty average but again just good to get in the lake and try to switch off. Then it was back home to change again and head out to the Volunteers Party, where I was to help serve the volunteers drinks, which is always a good fun way to say thank you to this incredible group of people. There were 2200 volunteers involved in the event, 10% of the towns population. They are awesome and it was a privilege to be able to thank them and hear their stories from the race. It was here that my magic Monday really hit a high. I was asked to say a few words to the volunteers and on leaving the stage I was greeted by a group of students, who just stood up from the middle of the volunteers and performed a Haka for me, a whaikorero (fye-core-rare-raw). I was taken a back and stunned but it was yet another incredible special moment.
So now I’m trying to catch up on life. It’s been an amazing whirlwind few days and I’ve tried to savour the moment and make the most of it, and relax and enjoy it. It’ll soon be time to put my race behind, my head down and get on with moving forward and building to my next races.
There are so many thank yous I need to say, some of which I captured in my speech at the awards…. Check out the end of Fitter Radio #203 to hear this. What was incredible for me was the support that I received in the days leading up to the race, during and after. I know I say this every time, but every time it just seems to be bigger and more amazing the people, friends, family, strangers who are cheering and encouraging me, Sid, Sids, Sid Talks, Siddall, Laura and the rest. I could go on and on about the encouragement people gave me out on course. The messages, the words.
Whilst, I may not have been able to respond and acknowledge but I heard every single one, and carried it with me. Thank you!
I spoke a lot about “Belief” too in my speech, and want to thank Matt Dixon and Paul Buick for their belief in me. I do doubt and question, and over analyse quite a bit, ok a lot. I’m sure Matt and Paul tear their hair out at me a fair bit. However, from the very start when I first joined Purple Patch, they believed in me and have continued to pull out of me the training and adaptation, and continue to challenge me to keep developing and to deliver the performances and improvements.
Thank you to the team at Scody for my new race kit for 2018! Just love it again and so comfortable. (Check out the Scody website and use ‘LauraS’ for your discount.)
Ceepo for my Viper R. That’s two fastest bike splits and one course record so not a bad start to the season.
Shotz – Darryl and Stef for keeping me hydrated and fuelled and for sending my nutrition to chase me around the world! Thank you!
Kask – so great to have the Kask Australia team out on course and in the finish chute in Taupo. A complete surprise but more memories and magic to add to the day.
Hoka One One – for of course making the new Tracers to match my yellow and blue race kit! Loving the Tracers for racing at the moment!
To the other brands that support me as well.
Vredestein – so incredible impressed with these tires and have been an advocate and fan for several years.
Volare – excited to be part of this company as they grow and develop in the market. The most comfortable wetsuit I’ve worn and a company that really wants to design the very best for the individual. Use Lmsid25% for your discount and give them a try!
Skins – My compression go to for pre and post training and racing and travel! Please use Laura30 for your discount!
Sock Mine – Look after your feet with these awesome socks! SOCKMINESID for your 10% discount!
Funkita – It’s always fun swimming in Funkitas!
Scicon – travelling with your bag made easy!
Oakley – keeping my eyes safe!
Kitbrix – keeping me and my kit organised!