Ironman New Zealand
Ironman New Zealand: Full Ironman, Taupo, New Zealand
Date of Race: 3/7/2015
Total Race Time: 10h 14m 59s
Overall Place: 85 / xxxx
Age Group: Male 50-54
Age Group Place: 6 / xxx
My twin brother already has his KONA slot for 2015 so I have been determined to qualify for one more trip to the big Island. I had a disappointing year in 2014 partially due to a few injuries, but I got through it and got my mojo back near the end of the season. I trained hard for short bursts and came pretty close to getting KONA slot in IMFL and in IM Coz – missing by just a few minutes in each. Given that I was turning 50 and aging up, I figured my odds were getting better.
I have wanted to do Ironman New Zealand for a while but it is far, expensive and forces training through the worst time of the year in Atlanta. Since I missed a good bit of 2014, I didn’t really need my typical winter off-season so I decided to give it a shot so I signed up, got a flight and then “asked permission” from my better half. I thought I would get push back but she decided she wanted to go. Quite frankly, that floored me. She does not like to go to races with me since the vacation revolves around me and the race versus the vacation on which I happen to be racing. As of this writing, I have done over 55 70.3’s and full Ironman races in some very nice places and she has only joined me twice — Oceanside 70.3 once and Kona once. It was really nice having her with me and New Zealand was as good a place as any to buck the trend.
I trained for this race during the USAT National Challenge Club Competition. That provided extra motivation and some good company with a lot of other ATC teammates putting in a decent amount of training time. I trained my tail off. I have not trained this “hard” for an Ironman before – sure I train a lot – but this was different. I trained with more intensity, more frequency, and put in more total hours than for my other Ironman races. I felt I needed to with the lack of LSD training and I had huge motivation.
The main thing I missed in this race build was the long, aerobic workouts that have been my bread and butter Ironman training sessions in the past. My longest ride was 70 miles in this build. Normally I do a 100+ mile ride every single week during the build and do 2-4 simulation days that include a ~7+ hour run/bike/run session at planned Ironman effort. Those long days prepare me physically and mentally. Therefore, my fitness was very good coming into this race, but it was missing a key component. I was hoping the extra time and intensity would make up for that but I did not know.
I booked with Tri Travel to simplify things. When my wife decided to come along we rented a car so we could do some real vacationing and didn’t use Tri Travel much. Next time I wont use Tri Travel for IM NZ. First, I like Endurance Sports Travel better – they have onsite bike mechanic and provided a bit more services. No disrespect – Tri Travel is good, I just prefer EST. 2nd, logistics are easy so its not necessary as long as you get a decent place to stay. Often – if you sign up late – the travel services are the only way to get a good hotel room. Finally, renting a car in New Zealand is a must if you want to do anything besides going to the race site. Everything is far and driving is easy. Steering wheel is on right side of car and you drive on the left, but it takes little time to get used to it.
We stayed in Auckland for 3 days before driving to Taupo. It is a nice city on the coast and there are lots of things to do including many Islands surrounding it that you can visit by ferry to see volcanoes, beaches, wine country, mountain biking, hiking etc.
We were also lucky to be there during the big Sailboat race during so the were added festivities.
A famous icon in the city – the needle is almost a mandatory visit for a tourist and looks pretty cool in the early morning.
A portion of a view of Auckland from a boat – it is a very big city that houses about 1/3 of the population of New Zealand.
Lake Taupo roughly in center of North Island.
We drove to Taupo on Tuesday and stopped a few places to sight see on the way – caves, volcanoes, hot springs. My plan was to vacation as normal through Thursday and
then Thursday-Saturday would be me getting into race mode and my wife doing her own thing which worked out fine.
I got up early and had Coffee, OJ, eggs with crumpet, toast with Peanut Butter, apple and some powerade. I drank water and powerade while walking to race and ate a banana anbout an hour before with 200 calories of chocolate UCANN.
My bike needed very little setup so I went to race start chatting with everyone as usual.
A couple slightly different things in transition. The T1, T2 and morning bag were string bags that already had our number on them so it was easy to carry and get ready. They also made us put our helmets on the bike (which I like) and made us mount our tri bike by the handle bars (which I don’t like). We could not mount by the seat. That made it sucky for the folks with the deep aero bottles up front but didn’t matter to me.
After the pros went off, we got into the water and floated around for 15 minutes. I did a few strokes to get warm but nothing significant. The water was cold – 18 degrees C – but very refreshing and not too cold.
Swim Time: 1:09:54 (50th AG)
The swim is a one loop our and back swim in Lake Taupo along the shore line – buoys on the right. The water is crystal clear. You can see the bottom of the lake the entire swim. You don’t see fish like in Kona and Cozumel but its fresh water and as clear as anything I have ever swam in. It is drinkable so don’t worry if you swallow. Some of the locals told me that fisherman fill up their drinking water bottles from the lake while they are out. I drank some – not on purpose – and it was fine.
Given the relatively small field for this Ironman I figured I would seed myself more in the middle vs wide. I didn’t think it would be that physical with less athletes. For me, this was a bit of a mistake. It was very physical for the first half since I was sort of stuck in the middle. Nothing horrible, but was getting knocked around a lot. We had wetsuits, so it didn’t affect me too much but was annoying to lose my rhythm so much. Next time I will seed myself wide again.
The swim was fairly typical for me although I was expecting to be a couple minutes faster. I went steady the entire time and tried to stay on course. I did follow a dude’s feet after the turn for a bit but we went too far out so I didn’t get much out of that.
My watch didn’t work in the swim. I am certain it got bumped in all the caos so it paused and I didn’t get my stats. It was a certainty that it would happen since it worked perfectly in Cozumel.
T1 Time: 6:30
T1 is very long and mine was extra sloppy. I clocked it in one of my runs and it was .34 miles. It was over the short beach, up the road and then a set of stairs to a grassy hill with all the bikes. It was narrow lined with spectators on both sides so there was no good way to pass. I tried to pass since so many people were walking, but I had to jump on curbs and try and push my way through crowds to get by – not pleasant since the mat they place only covered a small width and the road was rough.
I ran right past my bike bag – I thought they were all in the tent since that is where they were the night before. They weren’t – they were all in front of the tent in rows so I had to go back and try to find it as the volunteers were all helping people coming the other way. There’s another 22 second mistake — of course, I am not dwelling on that..
I got in the tent, lubed up and put on an extra pair of bike shorts – I need to do that in IM now due to my sensitive underside and it worked perfect for me in this race – NO taint issues at all. That was pretty awesome.
Quick Note: How I deal with bike and run transition bags. I only put stuff in my T1 bag that I am going to use. Keep it simple. I just dump it out in T1 and that becomes my To Do List.
Note: For this race don’t place your bike nor run bag with all the other bags at checkin and you can’t put frilly things on them. You go into the tent and hand them to volunteers and they organize them that night. That is good and bad – good since you don’t have to deal with it – bad because I had no “feel” for where my bag was — I relied on exploring the row layout and finding number during the race. On the run, its no big deal since I have lots of help, but coming out of water there is too many people so I am on my own.
Bike Time: 5:10:10 (moved into 6th AG)
The bike course is no joke. The roads are extremely rough the entire ride – think that section between about miles 50-60 in IMFL – but it’s the whole ride. All the roads in New Zealand are like that – they are not smooth. The course is two loops. We were warned about the winds on lap 2 and they were severe. It starts with some decent climbs and then mostly small rollers, false flats and with some normal climbing. It is pretty tough and the conditions made it much tougher on Lap 2.
Picture: Note the helmet in the picture below – not my spiderman helmet – it is the new KASK Bambino Pro. It has nicer adjustments and the windscreen is able to securely mount upside down on top of the helmet when not in use – a very important feature for when it fogs up. I also wore gloves in this one since I was planning for rain on the bike.
I was feeling good. I knew the wind was going to pick up a lot during the day so I went out a tad fast to try and get through and miss as much of the heavy winds as possible.
Note: My power meter did not work and I tested it over and over with new batteries during the week. But, no dice race day. That was strike 3 for my Vector PM so I am getting rid of it in favor of the new Pioneer and hopefully that will be more reliable – anyone want a used Vector PM?. I don’t care about all those data points Pioneer captures, but I do want left and right power and reliability. Hopefully Pioneer will be reliable – only time with it will tell. I ride by feel and “govern” with power and heart rate so it did not affect my race, but its annoying that I cant analyze my data afterwards – especially since my training was so different for this race. I want to compare the numbers so I better change to improve on the next one.
EDIT: Well, not luck with the Pioneer Power Meter. It does not work on my Speed Concept. There is a little piece inside the chainring for the pioneer power meter and it rubs against the frame of the bike. So, I got some new pedal pods for the vector and re-installing with 37nm (27.5 ft lbs) and seeing if that will work better. The Quarq is not a good option for me either since the Shimano 11-speed version is a BB30 and the Trek is a BB90. Amazing how far the technology has NOT come.
I did the first 90K in 2:26 so I was on target and I was feeling very good and my HR was in planned IM range. I was getting in lots of calories and fluids, passing steady streams of people and moving up the field. I was to the right side perpetually for the first 90K. Once I got to lap 2 things changed. I climbed the big hill and then into a 20+ MPH head wind that did not stop. It was like IM Coz and IMFL 2014 all over again, but this time we also had rough roads and hills. It was brutal. I wanted to get to the end of this section so I pushed harder. The turnaround was about 4K longer than I had calculated and that felt like an eternity. My legs were shot. After the turnaround we got some relief and I was doing my best but was not passing many people and trying to let my legs recover. It was tough since it is net uphill on the way back and we got a couple swirling wind sections.
With 35k to go, I could really feel my “lack of the long ride in training”. I was ready to be off my bike. My legs were not happy and I had to “ease” my way into the rest of the ride without giving up too much time.
In the end, I did 5:10:10. Not where I wanted to be. I was targeting 5:05 for this one in these conditions. I was 3rd fastest in my AG on the bike and I am usually first so this ride was not my best.
But, I knew I was still in it — albeit farther back than I wanted. It’s all about the run – it always is.
The good news is that I believe I hit my nutrition correctly. I took Ted and Bethany’s advice and mixed a 1500 calorie EFS (that I got from a “distributor” selling it out of the back of his van on the side of the road in Taupo). I had that on my seat tube and it was plenty liquid enough to get down easy. I also had two Em’s power cookie bars at ~300 calories each. I broke them up into 1/3s to eat a piece at a time. They have a texture similar to bonk breaker bars and taste almost the same. They are very good. If you are a bonk breaker person (e.g. Me, Tim) – you will like Em’s power cookies – maybe even better.
I got water at every aid station – I didn’t need to anything else. I drank plenty pee’d 4 times on the bike. It was much tougher to pee with the extra bike shorts but I was able to manage when I really really had to. After I pee, I squirt water down my pants and leg and then apply more chamois. I keep chamois in a doggie poo bag in my bento box that makes it easy and clean to apply while riding.
Bike Lessons Learned
I went too hard into the wind. I need to work on managing better in the wind. I am certain I would have been better taking it easier for the big head winds and gone harder on the way back. You gotta be patient in Ironman even if you are in a hurry.
I am ready to get the long rides in and swap out some of the 1-2 hour suffer fests. Those are good but cant rule my training plan. I need my long, aerobic stuff to get me through IM. There is no substitute for this in my case.
T2 Time: 4:08
T2 was sloppy. I handed off my bike and my helmet but he made me come back and get my helmet (only couple seconds). I went into the tent and dumped out my bag. I got a lot of help since only a few people were in the tent with me. I put on my shoes, drank some UCAN, put on my hat and sunglasses and headed for the toilet. I forgot to take off my extra bike shorts before I put on my running shoes so it was a pain. I went pee in urinal for which seemed an eternity. Just went on and on. I left the tent, got lubed up with sunscreen and off to the run. I had to fart around with my watch a bit since it locked up but I did get it working by the time I hit run start. Another sloppy transition. Didn’t seem to matter at the time. But, every second counts and I wasted quite a few on this one. I will be cleaner on the next one.
Run Time: 3:44:17 (moved into 4th briefly, then back to 6th)
The run course is 3 loops that runs by the lake’s coastline most of the way. It is a tough run course. There is almost no flat except for the 1st ~1km of each lap. After that it is all up and down – some short, some long. Some is on the path, some on sidewalk and some on road. Normally I do not like 3 loops due to the crowds but it wasn’t bad here and there were quite a few spectators, which always helps. The wind was howling and the storms were starting to come in. We had a tail wind on the way out and head wind on way back. The wind kept getting stronger and was nutso, coocoo by the final lap along the lake. Spectators were taking cover but not thinning too much.
I started running and it immediately hurt. Sure, its an Ironman, but it usually does not hurt that much that soon into the run. It was all muscle fatigue – not cardio – my breath and heart felt fine but my muscles did not. I knew I was in big trouble which is tough to swallow with so much left in the race.
I was planning to do the walk/run for the 1st half, but I ditched that idea due to how my muscles were re-acting. I was afraid to walk since I expected it to cause me to lock up – which has happened. Instead, I tried to keep a reasonable pace that was manageable enough to get me to the end. I had constant muscular pain. Like someone hammering my quads, but not to the point of cramping. The short, steep downhills were the worst.
I was hanging in there on the 2nd loop and felt like I was keeping a steady effort but I was sure my pace slowed – I don’t look at my watch during the run since it makes me do dumb things. I did pass a lot of people on both loops but don’t think I passed anyone in my age group. At that point I don’t think I was passed by anyone in my AG either since I only got passed by a handful of folks that looked younger and did not have an “O” on their calf. “O” was my division (M50-54) but my wife said it was for “old”. A lot of folks had compression socks so you could not always tell but the really young ones — under 40 or so – are easy to spot.
At each loop of the run, they put a different color “scrunchy” around your arm so they could see what lap you were on (they did it on the bike too). First was white, then blue, then orange so it was easy to tell if you were on the same loop as someone else.
By the third loop, it was getting ugly. I was maintaining but at the turnaround with 14k to go, I saw a guy in my AG pretty close. I thought he was gonna pass me any second, but I kept pressing on and did not see him for a long time. I got to the 32K mark and then started thinking about how much was left – only 10k. I don’t like to think about how much is left until about this point. In Ironman it is not mentally sound to think about what’s left – its more productive to think about what is behind – or something else completely – like fluffy bunnies.
I kept moving, ticking off the K’s and no one was passing me. I just needed to hang on and see where I landed. With about 3 or 4K to go, we ran along the lake shore – the wind was ridiculous and howling. It slowed me down and was a lot of extra work. I was doing my best and suffering but my legs wouldn’t go any faster. At 2k to go, a guy passed me with compression socks on but he looked like my AG. I tried to hang with him but couldn’t. He was running much better than I was. Then, he stopped and started rubbing his calf so I passed him and pushed as hard as I could to try and separate from him. With about 1K to go – at the bottom of the final hill – he went by me again. I pushed but my legs wouldn’t do it. He just kept getting farther away.
We passed the turnaround point where I assumed we just turned left to go down the chute. Nope. We had another 100 meters to climb before the turn into the finish chute. Bummer. I kept pushing but right before I made the left turn into the chute, the guy I saw at lap 2 turnaround came whipping by me. He was at high speed when he passed me and I couldn’t respond. He beat me by 10 seconds, but he also missed a KONA slot. If he got the last slot, I would have been devastated from that pass. Its bad enough losing by 22 seconds, but being passed in the chute for a slot would be a serious mental challenge.
I went into the finish tent with the catchers but I had to take a dump something fierce. It was wanting to come out for the last 4-6k but I squeezed to keep things tidy down there. I kept asking them where the toilet was but they would not let me go until they weighed me. 62Kg. My weigh in was 65Kg so I only lost 3Kg which was in range and was a positive indicator on the days nutrition and fluid intake. I immediately went to the potty and probably dropped another couple Kg and felt great after that.
Then, they showed me the results. 22 seconds. At the time, I was really, really, really not happy. Missing podium by 10 seconds didn’t bother me. I don’t care about podium unless its first. I do care about one last trip to Kona with my twin. 5th just doesn’t do it so I am good with the dude passing me in the chute other than the ego thing. Also, the pass was not “in” the finish chute and captured in pictures.
Finish strong no matter how hard it hurts. Every second counts – even after 10 hrs 14 minutes – every second counts. It is easy to say now that I feel like I should have pushed harder for the last 1k. Right now, it seems like I could have. At the time, I couldn’t. Or could I have? Enough. Stop. 22 seconds is like 125-150 meters. That doesn’t seem like too much after 226 kilometers, but it sure seemed like a lot at the time.
I wonder if I should have gone potty with about 10k to go. I wonder if that cost me or helped me. Hard to know. Not sure how much energy it takes to squeeze the butt cheeks a few times to hold it in.
It kinda sucks. I felt my run was as strong as it has been in while, but it isn’t. More long runs off the long bike are needed to get the IM run back in contention.
Of course, my HRM didn’t work on the run either. My electronics were pretty much a bust. This has happened to me plenty of times and I don’t rely on it, but having the data to analyze later is very valuable so that part bums me.
It could not have been more than 5 minutes after I finished when the rain started coming down really hard. My wife went back to the hotel and I just sat in the tent until the rain settled down. I walked to the hotel, reflecting and took a shower. We came back into town, got my bike, watched more of the race and then got a big, juicy $22 burger complete with beetroot, onion, eggs, avocado, bacon, cheese, and a bunch of other stuff.
What I would do different
What I would do different the next time… Hmmm. Thats easy.
Go 22 seconds faster.
Sure, I am bummed I missed a KONA slot a 22 seconds. Getting that close can really make you go bonkers, but it’s in the past, shit happens and I will try again. I am sure if I had never been to Kona, I would be a basket case. I could drive myself crazy thinking about how many places I could easily have gotten 22 seconds – big time sloppy transitions, forgetting to take off bike pants until shoes on, forgetting T1 bag and having to backtrack, swimming wide etc., but I will try not to. Its not productive and I feel like I did the best I could. I have missed 1st place in an Ironman by 2 seconds, but this is the closet margin I missed a Kona slot by – previous PR was 42 seconds. So, I guess I got a new PR. Woopie. A new PR.
CDA will be my next legitimate crack at it and I have had success there. Texas is in between now and CDA but I don’t expect to be in contention in IMTX as I will be much further behind after the swim. The swim in Lake Woodlands sucks. I dont like Ironman Texas. But, Texas is perfect timing for a solid CDA training day with my brother and racing with him trumps everything.
New Zealand is a nice place. I really like the country and the race. The course was extremely tough – that varies year over year based on weather. I would highly recommend it if you have the time and the budget to do so. I would suggest you really want to see the country if you plan to come for the race since it is not often you can take a trip to New Zealand and its quite unique. It has a population of about 4.5 million (less than Atlanta metro), has an area about the size of Colorado and has more coastline than the entire US. There are basically NO dangerous or predator animals – lots of sheep, cows, goats and a few other things like Kiwi’s, Ostriches, etc. It is very green – both in the environmental sense and the landscape – gobs of trees, grass and hills. Not many flowers. Pretty much the entire country was defined and formed by volcanoes and so you see hills and hills and mountains and lots of green grass and trees as you travel through the winding roads.
There are lots of fun outdoor activities including caving, mountain biking, hiking, swimming, boating etc. And lots of hot springs – both totally natural and naturally fed – very soothing after a tough race.
Ironman New Zealand Info and Tips
- Time Zone acclimation was not an issue on the way there. It is 18 hours ahead so its like going to Hawaii and being 6 hours behind – it just happens to be the next day. Acclimation on the way home was much tougher for me. As of today, I am still not sleeping well yet but that should pass very soon.
- Logistics were not complicated. Getting a car at airport was fairly easy and learning to drive on other side of road only took a day or so – tougher in Auckland since its very busy but still not bad. You really must get a car since you have 4 hours + from airport to Taupo.
- It is easy to drive and lots of places to go. No real interstates – all like 2 lane state roads. Speed limit is 100kph on the “highways” and 50kph on other roads unless marked. Don’t speed. They will catch you.
- You don’t need cash hardly at all – I only needed cash for the washer and dryer at the hotel – I paid everything else with credit. I use AMEX wherever possible since it has good exchange rate and no foreign transaction fees.
- Wetsuit dipping. The water is pristine. Clear as a anything I have ever seen. You must dip and clean your wetsuit before getting in – they do not want any foreign stuff in this lake – one guy called it river snot – they don’t want river snot in their lake. You can not check into the race until you clean it in their soapy bins in front of them so don’t forget your wetsuit at race checkin. I forgot mine since I had dipped a couple times before during practice swims, but I had to go back, get it and re-dip it at race checkin.
- Nutrition on packaging is marked in Kj not calories. Some stuff has both, but some just has Kj. There are about 4 calories in a Kj so you just do the math. I used Em’s power cookies that I got in Auckland and they were in Kj.
- The roads on the bike course are very rough. Don’t bother with latex tubes and run a lower pressure than normal. I usually run about 105 on smooth roads and ran at 90-95 PSI here per recommendations and it was much better than my test rides with higher PSI.
- This is tough to swing if you are on a tight budget. Things are pretty expensive in NZ. Luckily I don’t smoke – a lady in the grocery store showed me a pack of cigarettes cost over 20 dollars – and that seems like a lot. But it is expensive to get here, be here, and do things. Right now the exchange rate to $NZD is about .78 so you get about 1.22 $NZD for 1 $USD but things are still expensive. I had a burger after the race – it was good – but it was 22 dollars and it was just a normal burger.
- It really isn’t the best race for folks from most parts of the USA to get a Kona Qualification since you have to train through the toughest part of the year. That part of the year is pretty often offseason for US triathletes.
- You go North to get warm and South to get cold.
- Don’t rely on the weather forecast – it changes every hour. They say it is very tough to predict around her for some reason.
- If you like Bacon, this is your place. They have lots of great super fresh vege’s but they are big on meat. Bacon at every meal and almost all the restaurants in Taupo have pork belly which is just like a big, giant, thick piece of bacon. They also have lots of beef and lamb many different ways since there are cows and sheep everywhere in this country.
- Obviously fish is abundant as well and they vary greatly on what kind you can get day to day. I always ask what that fish is like and they always want to say snapper. I had several different kinds of fish I never had before and it was all good.
- Vegemite is horrible. Salty as heck and bad flavor. Not sure why folks like it. I am not a fan.
- Taupo is a cool lake/mountain town with lots of shops, over 100 restaurants and plenty of things to do well within walking distance. It reminds me a bit of Coeur d’Alene which is very nice.
- Bridges are slippery when “Frosty”, not icey.
- You don’t “Yield”, you “Give Way”.
- STAY TO THE LEFT while driving unless you are passing. They will remind you.
- Order your coffee “long black”. They serve great coffee in New Zealand.
- Auckland is the biggest city and is near the north end of the north Island. About 1/3 of everyone in New Zealand lives in Auckland with about 1 ½ million people. It is a bit like other big cities in the US along the west coast. Some aspects of the coast remind me of San Diego area. Wellington is the capital and is on the south end of the North Island.
- I did not notice the Toilets swirling the opposite way like people said they do. They all seem to flush almost straight down.
- The race Porta-Potties had flushers.