I’m sitting looking out over the beautiful mountains surrounding Lake Wanaka. This time last week I had crossed the line at Challenge Wanaka, finishing second just over 3mins behind the winner Yvonne van Vlerken. This time next week I hope I will have also crossed the line, this time at Ironman New Zealand.
It seems fitting therefore, to take some time out to reflect on Challenge Wanaka, and prepare myself for Ironman New Zealand. I’m trying to soak up the race last Saturday, but also keeping focused as I still have a fair bit of work to do in racing again on the 5th March. Two full iron distance events in two weeks. I do say “don’t die wondering”. It’s going to be exciting!
Wanaka is beautiful. I really do love it here. It certainly lives up to it’s name as the most ‘scenic’ triathlon in the world. However, as I’m sure I’ve said many times, don’t be deceived by it’s beauty, it’s a brutally tough course. This year was extra special too. Challenge Wanaka was celebrating it’s 10th anniversary and it really put on a show. It was exciting to see so many friends from all over the world and legends of the sport turning up to either race, commentate, support, and party afterwards!
As with 2015, I arrived 10days before the race, straight from our Purplepatch Training camp in Kona. This gives me good time to adjust to the conditions and settle into this stunning part of the world. I was again lucky to be staying with Kate and David Walton, in their gorgeous home right on banks of Lake Wanaka, where the run course goes past the bottom of their garden. The Walton’s are the parents of a good friend from Sydney, Lisa Walton, and I’m incredibly grateful for them allowing me to stay in their home again, for their generosity and support. Thank you.
In the days leading into the race, I always wonder how I ever managed to get round the bike course in a decent time on race day. The roads are coarse and slow, and the hills continuous, then throw in a bit of wind for good luck and you have the bike course in Wanaka.
Race morning and whilst it was a clear sky, the wind was already howling creating some interesting chop and surf on the lake. We were on our marks, and I was expecting to hear “10sec” to go, when instead we heard “sorry guys we need to delay the start by 15mins”. The race organizers were struggling to keep the buoys on course in the conditions. There’s very little you can do at this stage in your preparation, apart from keeping relaxed and calm and warm. The Challenge Wanaka team did a fantastic job of trying to keep the course as best they could with the wind and the swell. They have boats and kayaks trying to hold the buoys in place.
My aim for the day was “Trust – Blind” Trust in myself, my training, my abilities and be blind to everyone else.
For me it’s about swimming well, not necessarily hard and once we were underway I found that I was in contact with a pack. This gave me a buzz and I found good rhythm in this group and actually found I could swim through the group a bit to put myself in a better position. I actually loved the swim. It was great fun with the swell and bounce! Ha ha! Who would have thought I’d be saying this! I had no idea of my time when I exited the water, but on entering T1 tent, realized I was right up there. I’ll take that. Big thanks to my new Roka wetsuit for that swim!
Not a particularly fast transition, more making sure I was composed and had all the nutrition etc. I was out on the bike about ~30-45sec down from the leader. There was no panic and no chase. I just focused on settling into my riding. Trust Blind. The bike course starts with a 16km out and back section round past Glendu Bay, before coming back through town to start the first of two laps. It’s continually up and down, and as the road surface is slow you really have to keep the tension on. But it’s awesome and I love it. It keeps you focused and thinking. There had been no let up in the wind since the start and it was steadily getting stronger, particularly the second lap, but I just adapted my riding to the conditions, never chasing it, just riding. My Profile Design 24series wheels (58 front, 78 rear) were perfect for the conditions. I felt pretty good throughout and strong, this gave me confidence, whilst keeping very present and focused in the moment. I went into the lead around 80km, conscious there was still a long way to go, and was overtaken when my chain came off as I came down and over the Red Bridge (a very bumpy bridge).
Luckily I managed a very quick dismount/mount, fixing the chain easily and was able to regain the lead a few minutes later. Just prior to this as well I’d managed to knock off the cap of my aero system. No big issue here really (if smooth roads), however the Wanaka bumps ensured I was probably losing as much as drinking. I did managed to fill the bottle full just prior to the above Red Bridge, not really thinking properly through the situation at this point. On the other side of the Bridge, I had very little water left in the bottle but was nicely covered in said liquid as it had bounced out and all over me! I didn’t make the same mistake again, and would only ever half fill the bottle for the rest of the race.However after retaking the lead I never looked back, just focused forward and on my race. I entered T2, 3.5mins up, a position I’d never been in before, which was a good little feeling, but didn’t’ let it phase me or throw me from the task in hand. There was still a long way to go and still just a case of sticking to the process.
The run course is 2laps along the banks of Lake Wanaka and The Clutha River. It’s stunning. 80% of the course is trail and track, 20% on the road and is suitable tough on it’s own, let alone off the back of the bike. Again I went with my plan… Trust Blind… trying to settle into my own relaxed running and rhythm, my marathon. I think if there was a low point it was between about 5-17km. I didn’t feel horrendous, but couldn’t really find my flow. It was here that Yvonne re took the lead (at 12km) and did the most damage. Again not too phased when over taken, I was conscious there was still 30km to go and a lot can still happen so remained true to my marathon and my plan.
The atmosphere in Wanaka out on the course is fantastic. The course brings you through town at the end of each lap and it’s full of people lining the street and cheering from cafes and restaurants. It’s a definite boost. I felt strong heading out on lap 2, and over the next 21km managed to close the gap a little, but not quite enough, ending up crossing the line 3.5mins back from Yvonne. She really put in an amazing marathon run on that course. Full respect and congratulations to Yvonne for her race.
Also a quick mention and best wishes to Alyssa Godesky and Simone Maier, who unfortunately came off their bikes (separately) on the course, ending up in hospital with a “few” road rash marks and broken ribs. Wishing you both speedy recoveries.
Reflecting back now I’m very proud of what I achieve. Whilst of course I was racing for the win, I executed my race as we, myself, Matt Dixon (Purplepatch), my coach and Paul Buick (our amazing bike coach) had discussed and planned. I made some very positive steps forward in my racing and performance. I finished in a faster time than in 2015, swimming, biking and running faster, in more challenging conditions and we know there is even more to come. That’s the exciting part. I was just over 3mins behind one of the best and most experienced athletes in the World. Coming from an Age Grouper to a Professional, I can’t complain about that.
I really can’t recommend this race enough. It’s a very special event. I want to shout it to the world to tell everyone to come and do this race. Yet also keep it a complete secret to just the few privileged people that have been fortunate to experience the beauty of this place and just how good Challenge Wanaka is. It’s a bucket list race for sure. (p.s ok entry for 2017 is open now)
A big thank you to the Vics, the Challenge Wanaka team and Challenge Family. You really are #allabouttheathlete. Thank you
But now it’s time to refocus on the task ahead, another full iron distance race in a weeks time. What am I doing? I have no idea. But I know I have no expectations and no pressure going into Taupo. It’s unknown territory, and yes that’s scary, but it’s exciting too. I am going to give it a crack.
DON’T DIE WONDERING….
If I started to list all the things I want to thank Paul Buick for, it would be another epic blog. Paul is our incredible bike coach and I think fair to say Matt Dixon’s right hand man. I spent a couple of months in Christchurch before Christmas working with Paul, as well as the time on the Purplepatch Kona Camp. Paul was in Wanaka too, and it was amazing having his support. He really is an incredible guy. If you want to work on your cycling, and make genuine improvements, you should really consider booking a session with Paul. I can’t thank him enough, but also I know we have not finished yet.
Thank you also to Paul’s wife Francine. Francine was racing the half in Wanaka, and in only her second triathlon won her age group (again). That’s two age group wins from two races! No pressure as Francine heads to Ironman New Zealand next week for her first full distance race. Francine too was amazing to me whilst in Christchurch before Christmas and forever grateful for her support and friendship. I’m looking forward to cheering Francine on next Saturday in Taupo. She’s going to be great.
Matt Dixon, for his patience and belief in me. Much like above, I could spend several more pages trying to explain my gratitude to Matt and the Purplepatch community. As said, we are only really just starting! I’m excited about the next bit of the journey working with Matt.
Thank you to my sponsors, some new partnerships developing in 2016, and some great continuing relationships. Please check out my website for all the companies I work with and for any discount codes.
BABC – for being able to work to keep the links between the US and UK and for the ability to connect with fantastic companies and businesses.
Roka – wow! Loving the wetsuit! A 54mins swim (ok slightly shortened course) but I’ll take that!
Profile Design – for the amazing support in the US and in NZ! The wheels were great in the conditions.
SOAS – to Steph and Andrea, for their continued support and fab kit. Keep the awesome designs coming!
PowerTap – ah… power. I love now being able to train and race with power.
Kask – love these helmets.
Shotz – the fuel! Darryl Thank you for your continued guidance and support.
SockMine – a British company, that makes amazing socks that keep my feet in good shape and blister free.
Skins – the best recovery clothing, that keeps me on track through training camps, races and in every day life.
A Runners Mind – a great local community shop in San Francisco, that provides incredible support to me in keeping my feet in shape with shoes for training and racing.
Scicon – for making travelling with my bike so much easier.
Kitbrix – for keeping my kit in order!
Activbod – couldn’t have got through Kona camp without the “Cooling gel” and “Turn up the Heat”, as well as the “Sore No More” for stopping HR straps ripping my skin apart.