Taupo Solo

Finally! I have conquered the sub five hour Taupo bike ride!

On the early hours of 29/11/14, I left Auckland at 2 a.m. and arrived in Taupo circa 5:30 a.m. I step out of the car and my lungs fill with Taupo’s cold but refreshing air. I also do some last minute checks on my bike and scoff down breakfast – a bread bun, muesli bars and a banana. 8 a.m. arrives. I start in Group 3 (expect to finish between 4:50 and 5:10) and we’re off!

The first half of the course is interesting. Although I am in a sizeable bunch, it appears no one is willing to share responsibility for breaking the wind at the front. Soon a smaller group (myself included) break from the group with the aim of catching up to an earlier and faster group. We make good headway but life is not easy with foul weather (head wind, cold temperature, occasional showers etc).

As the race progresses I find myself surrounded by much better cyclists and we have a paceline going. We zoom down Waihi Hill and the pace really picks up from Turangi onwards.

All of a sudden, a few kilometers from Hatepe Hill, my stomach churns. Running low on energy and almost out of energy gels, I am now being punished for a poor breakfast! I slow down and am dropped from the pack. I muster the energy to climb the notorious Hatepe Hill (but after doing K2, this is is not a hill!) and manage to pass a few of the riders in the group I was with! This success is short lived as I stop to refuel at the next aid station.

For the remaining 15 kilometers, I ride by myself. The wind picks up and the weather worsens – it is now quite wet. I persevere and cross the finish line in 4:59:49, beating my five hour goal by a mere 11 seconds! Today’s effort placed me 142nd out of 376 M20-34 finishers, and 810th out of 3605 overall.

Although I was happy finishing the race under five hours, I left knowing I could have done better. Had I had my usual breakfast (rolled oats), I would have been able to keep up with the bunch I was with and better my time by 10 minutes. Next year’s goal is under 4:45. To do that I plan to start in Group 2 and eat a proper breakfast!

Coromandel K2!

If you are a bit like me and relish challenges, look no further than the Coromandel K2! But don’t take my word for it. The K2 is reportedly “the toughest one day cycle challenge in the Southern Hemisphere“! This year, the K2 starts at Coromandel (each year it rotates between Coromandel/Thames/Tairua/Whitianga townships).

I had great ambitions for my K2 with plans to finish with a time of 6:15. It is a demanding 192km course with 2,300m of hill climbing! In preparation I knew I had to hit the Waitaks and do longer rides than I usually do. The months go by and suddenly November is upon me. I have not done enough riding or any hill repeats!

Realizing my preparation was not adequate, I drive down to Coromandel at 4 a.m. from Auckland on the morning of the race. I am a sucker for punishment.

I collect my timing chip and race number. Like last year, I ambitiously sign up for Group 3. This group consists of riders aiming to break 6 hours.

I am at the start line and the race begins! The Coromandel-Thames is the easiest of the four stages and is a good one to start with. Before for I know it, I have passed Thames and am part way up Kopu Hill, the largest of the hills on the circuit. It involves a 425m climb over 14km… it’s one long hill! My legs are feeling fine but I am already the tailing Charlie of the bunch. There a brief downhill section and that’s where I get dropped. I timidly roll down the hill and watch the group race into the distance.

Fortunately I am not the only orphaned rider. Slowly, another group forms and we make headway and arrive in Tairua. Next up: Pumpkin Hill! My legs are tiring. Again, I get dropped partway up the hill. Knowing my target time of 6:15 was in jeopardy, I put in a last ditch effort attempt to catch up to the bunch. A lot of effort but to no avail! The groups are now few and far in between; I ride most of the remaining course solo.

I roll into Whitianga and brace myself for the last 43km stage of the ride. From last year’s attempt I know that this is the hardest stage of all. I look at my watch and notice that over the 160km I have biked so far my average speed is 31km/h. Not too bad I say to myself. If only it was flat from here I might stand a chance of finishing by 6:15!

Unfortunately, the last 32km is anything but flat! The previous hills have taken their toll, and in conjunction with my inadequate preparation, my legs are well spent. I crawl up each hill but through shear fortitude I continue to pedal. I pass a rider who gets off their bike to clasp their inflamed thighs in great agony! The K2 is one tough course and takes no prisoners!

Fortuitously, the last stage has extra aid stations. Otherwise I would have tempted dehydration. I toss my empty bottles and pick up ones filled with water. It is 2pm and is quite hot! The wind has started to pick up and to make matters worse, it is a head wind!

Finally, one more hill to go! The infamous Whangapoua Hill! Although it is not quite as tall as Kopu, it is a lot steeper and is a really rough hill to finish the ride with! Again, through sheer determination, one pedal at a time, I navigate hairpin turns and arrive at the top of Whangapoua. It is all downhill from here to the finish line. Oddly, it is my fingers – not my legs – which are getting a workout. The descent feels like a mirror image of the ascent. There’s a succession of 25km/h turns followed by a 15km/h one! Yes, it is one corner you don’t want to mess with!

I am glad to see the finish line and finish with an official time of 6:39:13, some 25 minutes slower than my target time. Later on I find out that I was 202/542 to cross the finish line, and 32/59 in my category. Could be better and room for improvement!

Next time:

  • Training: sort out a hilly route and stick to it!
  • Consider changing to a cassette with an easier low gear.
  • Nutrition was adequate: I took two bananas, four energy gels and two bottles (one water, one electrolytes). On the course, I picked up two bananas, three bottles (two water, two electrolytes) and a handful of jelly beans.

Auckland 70.3

The team (Swimmer Mike, Runner Michael “dALLRunner”, and me) arrived at The Viaduct Basin around 6am. Although the team entries start at 7:30am, the swim-bike transition closes at 6:15am. Only the cyclist needed to be there this early, but the team decided solidarity is more important than that extra half hour of sleep!

Shortly, Mike heads off to prepare for the 1.9km swim. He’s a good swimmer and we’re he’ll clock in a competitive time. The start of the swim is only 500m from the transition but is not visible from there. I know Mike will be out of the water shortly, but the wait is agonizing long!

Soon Mike appears out of the water, clocking an impressive time of 28:25. I grab the timing chip off him and push my bike out of transition. I get on and start pedalling…

The first 45 kilometres of the ride are interesting and follow a course you can’t actually ride, except when competing in this event! The speed bumps at the Westhaven Marina were not as bad as I thought and neither was riding up the harbour bridge. The Northern Express bus lane is super smooth, and the rest of the ride is not bad either (on fast tarseal roads). The northern part of the ride is undulating but the climbs are small. Officials stationed at every turn to control traffic (if the road is not already blocked) and show the athletes were to go.

During the ride my aim was to maintain a 250W average power output and have an average cadence between 85-90rpm. The later is easily achievable but the 250W is hard to judge with the slightly varying gradient of the road. This is also the second ride with the SRM on my bike. I decide to aim for an average speed of 35km/h and look at the power data later on.

I arrive back to the city with an average speed of 35km/h which I am happy with. I’m feeling good and head out to do the first of two laps of the south bike course. This follows Tamaki Drive from the city to Saint Heliers and back. It is dead flat but oddly I struggle to increase my average speed. It is still around 35km/h by the time I return and head out to do the second south lap. A few kilometres into this and I realise I haven’t been consuming the energy gels and bananas I had taken with me! I also notice that to maintain my target cadence, I need to be on an easy gear. My average speed drops and I start to feel hungry. I’m about to hit the wall! I consume two energy gels in a hurry which offers temporary relieve but it’s too late. I go into damage control mode and make disappointingly wrap up the bike ride on a low note! The 90km ride took me 2:39:14.

As soon as I racked my bike Michael grabbed the timing chip from my leg and went on the run. He did this in 1:31:52, which considering he was harbouring a slight injury, he was quite pleased with. The total team time was 4:41:43, placing us 6/15 in the all male teams, and 11/51 finishing teams!

All in all I really enjoyed the bike course and the weather couldn’t have been better. Had I been on top of my nutrition, I could have done 5-10 minutes better. I also learnt that I did not need to take two water bottles on the ride.

The numbers:

  • Total time: 2:39:14 (33.9km/h)
  • 44km split: 1:15:11 (35.11km/h)
  • 67km (23km split): 39:23 (35.04km/h)
  • 90km (23km split): 44:39 (30.91km/h)
  • Average heart rate: 166bpm
  • Average power: 211W (I need to recalibrate the SRM?)

Bike bling and Auckland 70.3

This week I finally got around to installing an SRM PowerMeter on my bike! It also happens to coincide with the Auckland Half Ironman which I was roped into a week or so ago! Something came up for the cyclist from a 70.3 team entry (the others belong to running group I occasionally join in), so they asked whether I wanted to join! The bike course of the Auckland 70.3 is quite special: it is the only event where you can bike over the harbour bridge! I was sold on this fact alone.

I dropped off my bike today and made full use of the Shimano mechanics on site. I must say, the mechanic was most helpful and gave my bike a thorough check. He noticed that my bike’s chain was loose and needed to be replaced, estimating I had done more than 3,500km on it. I added it up and estimate that I’ve done more than 6,000km on it! Note to self: change the chain after the event! He also recommended that my rear shifter cable was sticking and needed to be replaced. So I got him to replace it, and he did it for free! What a champ! And the gears change super smooth now!

My bike with aerobars and the SRM unit weighs 9.85kg. My aim is to try to average 250W over the 90km ride. We’ll see about that!

Taupo Solo

I was always going to enter in the Lake Taupo Challenge. The question: which event? Last year I thoroughly enjoyed doing the Enduro (2x laps), especially the first lap which took place in the dead of the night! However, it was a long day and a long time to be on a bike (it took me 12.5 hours) and so I settled on the single lap.

Dad also decided to challenge himself and asked me to sign him up for the single lap. I questioned whether he was up for this 160km bike race, considering he doesn’t bike often and if he does, it is only 20km or so. He was also doesn’t have a road bike and was pig headily adamant on doing the race in his heavy steel frame MTB he bought from The Warehouse!

I arrived in Taupo the night before and stayed at a backpackers lodge. Despite arriving with plenty of time I couldn’t go to sleep before my Dad arrived, who was driving up from Wellington. When he arrived at 11pm I wasn’t impressed, but there was a fatal car crash en route which created chaos and added several hours onto his trip. After imparting a few words of wisdom (eat every 30 minutes, drink when you need to etc) I eventually got some sleep at 1am.

With only 4 hours of sleep, I felt tired and drained when I woke up. However, the crisp Taupo morning soon prised my eyes wide open. I started cooking my usual pre-race bowl of porridge. Unfortunately, the kitchen was locked and I had to use what was available in the kitchenette. The porridge came out undercooked and tasted terrible but did the trick.

I met my Dad outside and saw him off. He started in the last group, which actually starts before all the riders at 6am. I meandered and then made my way to the start line. Because it is such a popular event (with >10,000 riders!), riders are released in waves.

I turn on my GPS watch (Garmin 910XT) but to my dismay it does not come on! I frantically try pushing all button combinations but to no avail. I suspect what has happened is that the watch was not turned off, which happens after it had come off charging and downloading. My colleague has also had this problem before.

If anyone from Garmin is reading this, you ought to make the watch smarter: if the watch has not moved in half an hour, it should go to sleep. Instead, it sits there happily chewing through the battery and continues to log itself flat!

Frantically I pull out my phone and with minutes to spare, I manage to install a bike logging application (MapMyRide). The only place to put the phone is in my back pocket, which means I can’t see the display.

Without my watch, I’ll be racing without knowing how long I have biked for, what my current/average speed is, and what my heart rate is doing!

The group I’m with starts off with a good pace, but I’m feeling ambitious and break away and catch up to some faster groups. In the Sunday bunch ride I sometimes join in, usually there are two lines with the front riders peeling off every so often. In this Taupo group, I’m introduced to the circular paceline which takes a bit to get used to. All goes well until the Kuratau Hill. Half way up the hill I slip to the back of the group. At the time, I wasn’t too worried as I reason I’ll just put in a few hard yards and catch up with them at the top of this hill. Big mistake! In a drafting event, it is always a good idea to ‘hold onto the wheel’ of the rider in front so you get the benefit of drafting. I end up spending too much energy trying to catch up to them and take a breather as the group vanishes into the distance.

As I make my way down to Turangi, my stomach churns from the previous exertion. I slow down and decide to consume only water until my stomach feels better. Fortunately it does, and I chomp down a muslie bar. I continue to ride solo for quite some time and tag along to the next group. They’re too fast and I take a couple of token pulls then decide to drop off and hope the next group isn’t too far away and is of a slower pace. The bunches are few and far in between. I suspect my average speed plummets but I welcome the space as I do most of my riding solo.

Before I know it, I am at the foot of the dreaded Hatepe Hill. Since I’ve already done this hill twice before and having done the K2 a month ago, the hill does not trouble me much. A friendly onlooker offers me a bottle of coke which I take, which is unusual as there are no bottle pickups at Taupo (there are in the K2 and in Ironman events).

After conquering Hatepe, there is a long downhill and an undulating road to the finish. I spend what is left in the tank and cross the finish line for a time of 5:05:06. I was aiming for under 5 hours (and secretly around 4:45), which I think I am capable of, but considering that I was riding ‘blind’ throughout the race, I think that today’s ride was acceptable.

I pulled out my phone and notice that it is completely flat. I head back and charge it up and look at the data collected by the MapMyRide. I ran out of juice at 113km into the ride, or 3:38. This gives a 31.0km/h average. The remaining 43 kilometres (Taupo is not quite 160km) took 87 minutes, i.e., 29.7km/h. Definitely room for improvement and I’ll be back next year!

Note to self – what I had on the ride:

  • 1x Large banana
  • 2x Replace gel 38g
  • 2x Muslie bar
  • 2x Electrolyte sports drink
  • 1x Water
  • 1x Coke

ps. Dad finished the bike ride in just under 10 hours! The odds were against him, especially since his bike weighs a ton. But he persevered and finished the race, which I highly commend him for. 10 hours is a long time out there, irrespective of how fast you are going. He still enjoyed the ride and even said some of the other cyclists took out their phones while riding and took photos of him pushing his bike up the hill! He saw the funny side in it and came to his senses and will let me sort out a proper bike for him next year!

 

Down, but not out! (My attempt at the Coromandel K2)

There are many words that describe Coromandel’s K2 bicycle race. However, none as apt as: “to inspire fear in young animals”. Literally! That’s because the event is named after the “Kuaotunu” community on the Coromandel Peninsula, and translated gives the aforementioned.

Here’s my unfortunate experience of the 2013 Coromandel K2…

It’s the day of the race and I’m woken by my alarm clock. The time’s 3:15 a.m. and I reluctantly pull myself out of bed. I have a bowl of porridge (my usual pre-ride breakfast) and leave Auckland at 3:50 a.m.

Even on the way back, it insisted I ditch my car. Presumably it’s better walking 250km back to Auckland that having to drive few extra kilometers?

Two and a half hours pass by and I’m almost in Whitianga, the start (and finish) of this year’s K2. It’s my first time down in the Coromandel and it shows. I’ve placed too much faith in my car’s GPS and it has steered me to the wrong end of the Whitianga Passenger Ferry terminal. It’s a merge 500m between the ferry terminal and the township but unfortunately I’m in a hurry and a ferry ride won’t do — I also need my car on the other side! Silly GPS! You would have thought when planning your route it would avoid ferries and such (if possible), especially so when it is only suited to carrying passengers! This mistake adds an extra 30 km to my journey but fortunately I have some time to spare. I leave the registration office with my bike timing tag and put on my kit.

It is a few minutes from the start. To make things safer, they divided the start the race in groups based on the riders’ anticipated times. I signed up for group 5, who expect to finish between 6:10 and 6:19. I’m aiming to complete the K2 in under 6:30. And we’re off!

There are a couple of small hills before the nasty one — the Whangapoua Hill! So far I’m happily keeping up in group 5. Like always, I restrain myself in zooming too fast down the hills, especially since I haven’t done the course before. Consequently, I’m ‘left behind’ on the descents but make up for it on the flats and the climbs.

Soon enough we’re making our way up the Whangapoua Hill. This involves a 380m climb without reprieve! Surprisingly, I have no problem making my way up and overtook a number of people on the way. It is still hard work and on the side of the road there’s some creatively clever use of road kill. Someone’s dressed several dead possums and put them on re-purposed road signs. The signs below usually read “How’s the cramp?”, “How’s the body?”, “Go hard you Aussies!” and other tough-love motivational phrases! One of them even had several shot glasses filled with what looked like whisky. I wonder whether anyone stopped and had a drink?

At last I’m at the top Whangapoua Hill and it’s time for a very steep descent. As always, I’m hard on the brakes but at least the bunch has spread out. Those Coromandel killer hills separate the men from the boys. There are many hairpin turns on the way down and you pretty much need to obey what the road sign’s safe cornering speed says. There’s one just a head that says “15” (i.e., take this corner faster than 15 km/h and risk falling down the cliff!) and I’m slamming on the brakes.

Then I hear that sound that every cyclist hates! Pissshhhhh! F#ck! F(_) c|<! F####ck! I’ve got a blowout! Fortunately at that stage I’m at a slow enough speed I safely make my way off to the side and inspect the damage. I whip off the front tire and look for the leak. Fortunately it’s just a small hole so I patch it up. While I’m waiting for the glue to become tacky I notice there’s also another rider who’s suffered the same fate as me. He’s also off to the side, no doubt cursing just as much as I am! Is this turn notorious for getting flats? Before fitting the tube back onto the wheel I have a quick look for what caused the damage. Slightly bemused, I can’t see a thing. I shrug it off and get back into it. 10 minutes down the toilet!

But the tire wasn’t finished yet! A measly 200m later and I hear that dreaded pissshhh noise. Another flat in the front tire! By this stage I can see that several groups have now passed by, and it would be pretty much impossible to catch up to the original group I was with. I spend a little more time looking for the problem and might have found what I couldn’t find before. There’s a small and just noticeable cut in the tire sidewall. I’m not sure what it is from, but it doesn’t look like it’s helping at all. It appears to be where the puncture in the tube is as well. Unfortunately I didn’t carry any spare inner tubes with me, let alone a tire, so I am feeling a bit worried at this stage. It was a new Gatorskin as well! Due to the narrow and windy Coromandel roads, there are no support cars.

I fixed the puncture and hope for the best. Unfortunately, but predictably, it is flat again in the next 500m. The only saving grace at this point is that I’m in Coromandel, and just a few hundred metres from the start of the EMCK150 race. I ask around and with a bit of luck I manage to bump into “Stuart”, a friendly supporter who happens to have a spare front wheel! Legend! I thank him many times for saving my bacon and decide to join in with the EMCK150 riders. But for some reason or another, I end up falling off the back of this group (there’s only 30 riders or so) and end up doing the remaining 150km mostly solo.

Riding the bulk of the race solo is hard and frustrating work! There are three of us taking turns at leading some of the way from Coromandel to Thames, but even so, biking into the sea breeze is harder than ever. It’s even coming from the side! Looking back on the race, oddly the flat stretch along the Thames Coast Road was the hardest part for me.

Two hours slowly roll by and I’m about to climb the other and largest hill on the course, the Kopu-Hikuai Hill. This one is a 425m climb, but I’m told this one isn’t as bad as the Whangapoua Hill I climbed earlier. I also drove over in when making my way to Whitianga so I already know what’s in store. Again, it’s just a matter of sucking it in, dropping down to the easiest gear and staying seated. I take a longer than usual stop at the aid station that’s partway up the hill. I take a handle of jellybeans, refill my water bottles, and restock on bananas!

The rest of the course passes by, fortunately without any drama. I meet up with several more riders on the home stretch, but unfortunately they’re the slow ones from K1 and continue riding solo right until the end. The other major hill on the course, Pumpkin Hill, a 240m climb, wasn’t too bad.

I cross the finish line relieved, but mostly annoyed at my below par performance. The numbers:

  1. Start to finish: 8:06
  2. Time of first puncture: 1:30
  3. Time to fix first puncture: 10 minutes
  4. Time of second puncture: 1:41
  5. Time to fix second puncture: 11 minutes
  6. Time of third puncture: 1:53
  7. Total time wasted from punctures and sitting around: about 45 minutes!
  8. Time to do K150 (mostly solo): around 5:52

I’d imagine I’ll have better luck and do better next time. Pity the K2 is on the same weekend as the Auckland marathon!

I was feeling really good until my bike got several blowouts…
… And somehow it all went to custard! Most of this is solo.

 

A review of my Ironman preparation

What does training for an Ironman involve?

A whole lot of swimming, biking, and running of course! I didn’t need to tell you that! But I reckon a summary of what I did over the last year would be useful for those who are contemplating doing an Ironman. So here goes.

I began training for the 2013 Taupo Ironman the moment I paid the $825 entry fee, circa April 2012. Yes. It is common for people who have entered in an Ironman to train for the better part of a year. For me, shelling out the hefty entry fee had made it an official commitment, and in many ways, was a good thing.

An important component of an Ironman preparation is to keep a training ‘diary’. This can be as primitive as an Excel/OpenOffice spreadsheet, which is what I did. I recorded the distance and time I did with each workout. Each exercise type had its own column, making it easier to see how much swimming, biking, running, etc, I had been doing. I also noted down any issues such as sore legs, chaffing, lack of energy etc. If you were more onto it and had a heart rate and GPS recording watch, I would suggest using Training Peaks.

So, how much training did I actually do? In a nutshell I did:

  • Swim: 106 kilometres, 71.4 hours.
  • Bike: 3536 kilometres, 176.8 hours.
  • Run: 1457 kilometres, 130.6 hours.
  • Other (gym and football): 59.8 hours.

As you can see, that’s a fair amount of exercise! A total of 438.6 hours in fact. I suspect many people end up doing much more than that! Training for an Ironman is a big commitment, and in many respects is a part time job. It was challenging to fit in training around my full time job and my other interests beside exercise. But I managed to do so and usually did my weekday workouts before work. Most of my swimming was in a pool. I did quite a bit of running on a treadmill and biking on an exercycle. I have included the time spent on these, but not the distances reported by the exercise machines.

I’m unsure what of the breakdown for your typical Ironman triathlete is, but here’s what mine turned out to be:

As you can see, the largest portion of my workouts was spent on the bike. This makes sense, as the bike is the largest component of the Ironman and you want to be good at biking. I was surprised that spent a similar around of time running as well. I guess running is more convenient. Put on your shoes and off you go! Running requires minimal preparation and rain and/or howling winds are manageable. Whereas I was not enthusiastic cycling in the rain and/or wind. As for swimming, obviously it can be a hassle driving to the pool or to the beach.

Another interesting graph is my training breakdown on a week by week basis:

Yep. My training was all over the show! You can see there are several wind up and tapering down periods here. Expect this, as you too will probably have planned to enter in a marathon and also a long bike race. You will probably have a two week taper before the Ironman as well. The gap in exercise around July 2012 was due to my lung surgery. It took a little over two months after the operation before things got back to normal. Hopefully you won’t have to deal with this!

Out of the 335 days I had available for training, 37 of them were rest days, and 43 were for recovering from lung related issues. Excluding the days that I was recovering from lung, I averaged 1.5 hours a day, or 10.5 hours a week.

In the first few weeks of preparation I decided to do what I wanted and see what sort of hours I could commit to and handle without fatigue. I had plans on following a generally accepted Ironman preparation regime. But old habits die hard and I continued with my own plans of doing what I wanted. This didn’t turn out too bad and worked well enough to do the business, but next time round I’ll follow a recommended Ironman preparation plan and aim for a better time. Until then!

2013 Taupo Ironman!

The moment is finally here. After a year of training, I am about to compete in an Ironman!

I woke up at 0510 h this morning and had a large bowl of porridge and some sports drink. Once I finished breakfast I put on my tri suit, heart rate monitor, GPS watch, timing tag, and my race tattoos. Things are running like clockwork and I’m making sure I’ve completed all the tasks on a check list I prepared earlier. I stopped, collected my thoughts in a few moments of solitude, and then headed out.

It’s dark but unusually warm outside. Several people are also out and about. They too must be other Ironman athletes. I head to the bike transition area and do one last pre-race inspection. From yesterday’s gentle ride I know my bike is in tip top condition. I’ve borrowed a pump from someone else and inflate my bike’s tires to 120 psi. I also check my brakes and that my wheels spin freely.

0630 h. The bike transition is closing shortly. It is still dark but there are still a good number of people doing last minute checks on their bikes. I stand under a flood light and put my wetsuit on. I slap generous amounts of Vaseline on my neck. Otherwise I’ll get chaffing.

The race officials signal that the bike transition is about to close. I’m good to go and join the others making their way down to the lakefront. Already athletes are in the water. Since the lake is a balmy 20C, why not? I too test the water but I only get my feet wet. There is an energy gel in my hand which I am just about to take, exactly 15 minutes prior to the race start. All of a sudden I hear a large boom. It startles some and comes from blank round cannon fire. It’s 0645 h and the pros are off!

Just 15 minutes remain until the start for me and the other age groupers. I down the gel and put the wrapper in a bin. I put on my goggles followed by my swim cap, head into the water and do some warm up strokes. I check my watch and it’s 0655 h. Everyone is lining up in between the start buoys. The faster swimmers are on the right while the slower ones stick to the left. I think I’ll complete the swim slightly slower than the average time so I line up somewhere in the middle. You can tell everyone is really keen to get going. The race officials on kayaks tell people to get behind the start line and threaten not to start the race until this happens. The remaining infringers get back in line and we are now counting down the final minutes.

A few motivational words are blasted through the speakers. It’s Mike Reilly! He yells: “Let me hear you say, you will be an Ironman today!” Everyone yells “YES” and a state of euphoria overcomes each and every athlete! And before I know it, I hear cannon fire again. It’s 0700 h and the 2013 Taupo Ironman age group race has just begun!

With more than 1300 athletes starting at the same time, it is like being in a washing machine. The water becomes churned. Swimmers are left, right, centre, and behind. My race plan for the swim is simple: ease into it, go at my own pace, and save it for the bike and run. The first few hundred metres of the swim are quite abrupt and it’s difficult to get into a rhythm. Athletes are still jostling for spots but fortunately the pack soon sorts itself out. I make my way towards the right side of the course. It’s a lot calmer out here and it allows me my own swimming space. I maintain my usual swim speed and sight every so often.

I make it to the turnaround buoy in good stead. I don’t bother looking at my watch as I’ll just impede other swimmers. I don’t even look to see how many swimmers are ahead and behind me to gauge where I am in the pack. I stick to the plan. Just keep swimming at my own pace. I chip away at the remaining 1.9 km but find the last 500 m to take an eternity. The end of the swim is in sight, but it takes a while to get there. The water is now shallow enough to get up and start running. I complete the swim in 1 hour 12 minutes, slightly faster than the 1:15 I had anticipated.

I’m out of the water now and on foot towards the bike transition. There are quite a number of supporters cheering us all on. It’s quite an experience. I manage to remove the top half of my wetsuit with ease while in motion. I’m surprised. Usually I have struggled to do this. Must have brought my A-game to the race! I boost it up the staircase and a race volunteer gives me my bike bag. I head into the changing tent and remove my wetsuit. Underneath is my tri suit which I’ll continue to wear until the end of the race. It put on sun glasses, arm warmers, and cycling gloves. As I exit the tent I asked a volunteer to sun block me. I put on my bike shoes and helmet and push my bike out of the transition for a time of 7 minutes. I clip in and start pedalling.

The first few kilometres of the bike are uphill. For this, I’m out of the aero position and riding on the hoods. At this point I’m overtaking people. Here is where I planned to recover time for my slower swim leg. I’m now at the Centennial / Broadlands Road junction. I’ve studied the map and know there is a fairly long downhill ride. I’ve only recently got accustomed to aerobar riding, and decide to ride on the drop down bars for the downhill portions of the course. Soon I’m 20 km into the bike leg and feeling great. In terms of nutrition, I’ve mostly finished my water bottle and am starting on the sports drink. I haven’t consumed anything else, but will pick up a banana at the next aid station.

20It’s been a quite a nice and fast ride so far and I’m almost at the Reporoa turn around point. I’m averaging about 34 km/h and am happy with my ride so far. Unfortunately, the ride back proved to be different. It is hard to tell from the course profile, but it feels like there is slight uphill back to Taupo. Sure, there are dips here and there but it’s enough to make it difficult to bike fast. There’s no way I’ll be able to maintain my average speed on the way back. And sure enough my average speed drops and it’s saddening to see this each time I look at my speedometer.

I’m now at the big Broadlands Road hill and I’ve had to drop down a few gears. I’m still on the big ring and grinding my way up the hill. It seems to go on forever. Fortunately it doesn’t and after a few hills I’m speeding my way back to Taupo. I start mentally preparing myself for the second lap. There are heaps of supporters are lining the streets of Taupo and it creates a nice atmosphere which helps reignite my spirits. I’m now onto the second and final lap. 90 km down and 90 km more to go.

I don’t hit the hill towards Centennial / Broadlands Road junction as hard as I did in the first lap. I’m weary that I’ve still got a fair bit of biking to go, not to mention the 42.2 km run following that! At this stage my body is feeling ok and I’m still focused on the goal. I have, however, had a sore neck for a little while. I suspect that’s because of sun burn. Although I did get sun blocked up at the bike transition, I think the race helpers must have forgotten to spray the back of my neck. At the next aid station I hop off my bike and get sun block re-applied, particularly to the troublesome neck area. I’m not sure what’s in the stuff but the spray on lotion stings the back of my neck. But that is ok. It takes my mind off my sunburnt neck and lets me get on with it. While at the aid station I chomp on some biscuits and take a couple of caffeinated gels for the road.

For the next few stations towards the final Reporoa turn around, I consume a variety of gels and bananas while hydrating only on the sports drink. I can feel that my legs are getting tired but fortunately yet to hit the wall. I’m now past the turn around and am heading back to Taupo for the last time. I’ve just noticed that I must have been biking with my shoe not on properly. The heel tab has been folded over and has been digging into the back of my heel. I correct it but curse at myself for not noticing it earlier. Will I end up paying for this in the run I ask myself?

I’ve now biked about 140 km now and getting a little sick of it. Frequently my eyes glaze at my bike’s speedometer. From the first lap I’ve made the unfortunate discovery that the return leg is uphill. I’m at the big hill for the second and final time. Seeing my average bike speed slowly drop and go under 30 km/h is disheartening. But I’m sticking to my guns and know that I need to save it and my focus shifts to the marathon run that follows.

At last, I now find myself at the Centennial / Broadlands Road junction. I’ve been eagerly awaiting the downhill ride back into Taupo as it will give my legs a chance to recuperate for the marathon. I roll into the bike-run transition and a helper takes my bike. I’ve completed bike leg in 6 hours and 7 minutes. Disappointed I’ve missed my goal of under 6 hours, but happy that my body is in good shape. Inside the transition tent a medical officer asks me whether I am ok. I say yes, but would like my foot to be taped up. After this I put on my shoes, get another dose of spray on sun tan lotion, and dig in at the biscuit table because I felt like it. I’ve spent a leisurely 7 minutes in the T2 transition. After swapping my cycling footwear for running shoes and a helmet for a sun visor I’m ready to head out!

The first few kilometres go well. I know that it’s going to be a long run and aim to maintain a pedestrian 6 minutes per kilometre pace. It is very tempting to push myself and catch up with some of the other keen athletes but I resist the temptation. I suspect I’ll see and pass them later on.

Taupo’s run course consists of three laps of a circuit. Fortunately the circuit has only rolling hills and no serious ascents to contend with. I’m half way through the first lap and I’ve settled into a rhythm. My plan is simple. With the exceptions of drink stations, do not stop running! I’m also trying to maintain my stride rate. When going up hills my strides are shorter, while I take longer ones on the descents. At each drink station I take two cups of water. One is poured over my head. The other, along with a cup of Coke, goes down the hatch. The fizzy drink is flat and goes down without problems.

The return leg of the first lap goes slowly but the second lap goes quickly. I‘m on autopilot. Put one foot in front of another and resist the enticement to walk like several of the other competitors. Just like the first lap, I continue passing people who had steamed past at the start of the run. I’ll confess. It is quite satisfying. Sure, running at 6 min/km won’t win the race or yield an amazing time, but this speed is quite sustainable. Especially considering I’ve swam 3.8 km, biked 180 km, and ran 20 km already.

I’ve completed the second lap and receive my third run arm band indicating I’m on my final lap. Hooray! Much of the same so far on my last lap. I continue the ritual of water and Coke at every drink station, maintain the 6 min/km pace and visualise crossing the finish line. More supporters than ever line the streets of the course. It is 1800 h and still roasting. Fortunately the locals are still kindly offering to dose you with water in between drink stations. The water helps to keep you cool.

I’ve now completed all but two kilometres of the Ironman! In the last run lap I’ve been keeping a close eye of my total time. It looks like I’ll be able to finish in less than 12 hours, which was a goal I set myself a while ago. But it will be close at my current pace. So for the remaining run I dig it in and give it my all. The finish line is out of sight but is nearing.

The last drink station for the race comes up. It’s less than 500 metres to the finish line and you can people cheer as Ironman competitors cross it. This is the only drink station that I run through and power my way to the finish line.

I’m now on the red carpet. An influx of adrenaline begins to flow through my veins. A moment of epiphany overcomes me. All the training and preparation. Rain or shine. Hot or miserably cold. I’d be out there exercising. All of the things I could have done instead spent either in the pool, on the bike, or out on a run. It has all been for this. Mike Reilly, the voice of Ironman, yells out, “Robert Tang, you are now an Ironman!”

It was all worth it!

The second I cross the finish line a race official greets me and I proudly receive my finishers medal as well as my finishers towel. I’m sure there is also a finishers t-shirt waiting for me inside which I’ll be flaunting for the next few days.

After indulging in my moment of glory at the finish line I’m ushered to the recovery tent. In side I’m weighed and enjoy having a rest after 12 hours of non-stop exercise. My legs are a little wobbly and I ask for the assistance of an event volunteer when moving about. Over the next hour in the recovery tent I eat food, chat to other Ironman finishers and get a massage.

An hour later I’m out of the tent and keen get back and have a shower. The sun is starting to go down which makes it a hard to get good post-race photos. Dad drove up from Wellington early this morning and has watched the entire race outside in the sun at Taupo’s lakefront. He must be just as exhausted as I am! Dad’s always keen on taking a lot of pictures. This can be annoying, but just for tonight I’ll let him off and happily let him snap away! My mum and my brother would have liked to come up but they were double booked today. A bit of a shame, but no doubt they’ll hear all about it!

I’ve just had a really, long, hot shower. My legs are shattered and I have a headache. The roof of my mouth is also peculiarly sore. Covering 226 km by swimming, cycling and running, dehydration and the “meals” I’ve had throughout the day will be the causes. I’ve already feasted on muffins, ice cream, soup, and pasta (not all on one plate or in that order!) when I was in recovery but know that after the race I’ll need to continue eating to aid my recovery. Dad has already strongly suggested that my lean 8.3 % fat self needs fattening up and wants us to get K-Fry (aka KFC). I rest for a bit then we head out and settle on having McDonalds instead. Fast food burgers have never tasted so good!

It is well into the night and it’s only then that it sinks in how great of an achievement today has been for me. It’s been a long year since I have started preparing for the Ironman, which unusually enough has been my first triathlon. It’s been eight months since I had surgery to fix up a troublesome right lung. The road to the Taupo Ironman has been anything but smooth. Undoubtedly, in the years to come I’ll continue to reminisce on today’s achievement. The urge to do another Ironman will resurface. For now, I’ll try do something that is just as challenging for me: kicking my feet up and enjoying a well deserved break!

Swim 3.8 kilometres! Bike 180 kilometres! Run 42.2 kilometres! And brag for the rest of my life!

Cyclist attack at Taupo

Hearing things like this make me mad. A cyclist was out on a training ride in preparation for the same Ironman I’ve entered in. While out on the bike he suffered injuries after a road rage incident with a motorist, and is now unable to complete in this year’s Ironman NZ. From the article there appears to have been a kerfuffle between the parties.

I would like to discuss about the repercussions of this unfortunate incident.

Firstly the cyclist, who was training for his eight Ironman triathlon is in hospital with broken bones. Whether it is your first or you’ve done several before, an Ironman triathlon requires a lot of training and preparation. For newbies like me, I’ve been training for most of a year. This has been a huge commitment: it has taken up a lot of my spare time, made me somewhat (/more?) anti-social, and has cost a fair bit of dosh. I can only imagine how infuriating it would be to be made incapable of competing in an Ironman by a deranged motorist.

Now the motorist. Yes the cyclist made an inappropriate gesture. It is alleged that this was a result of the motorist coming uncomfortably close to the cyclist while overtaking another vehicle. Now I’m both a cyclist and a motorist. I know how vulnerable you are on a bike. I also know how annoying it is to be driving behind slow motorists. But after being caught and convicted of the heinous act, the driver is likely have an entry on his criminal record. I’m guessing this stupid mistake will have repercussions for travelling abroad and future job prospects.

The key point, in my opinion, is whether the agro is necessary. Yes you might think you are in the right. But is it really any skin off your nose to let it go? And if something bad almost happens, why not take note and let the authorities handle it?

Confidence riding in the aero position

I’m in my last week of training before the big race. Time for a reflection. So far my training has involved a lot of swimming, biking, and you guessed it, running. I’ve mostly done long distance work outs appropriate for an Ironman. I probably ought to have done more brick work outs and high intensity tempo trainings, but no one is perfect.

One gaping hole in my Ironman preparation is riding in the aero position. I’ve got a road bike which I have modified to be like a tri bike: I’ve attached aerobars. Truth is I have not spent any longer than 10 minutes staying in the aero position at a time! I did try but felt a bit uneasy and unused to the steering being so twitchy. I decided to reduce the risk of injury and crashing my bike and defaulted to riding on the drop downs instead.

But then I read up on how to better set up a road bike with aerobars. I’ve now moved the seat as far forward as possible and lowered the handle bars. This coupled with the approaching Ironman race date and miraculously I’ve now got the confidence to ride in the aero position! I guess setting things up properly and a bit of pressure to get my A into G is all that it took.

Perhaps this morning’s ride had a tail wind both ways, but riding faster in the aero position seems easier!