The morning of the race was cold. Really cold. When we got down to the Blue Lake, there was a noticeable (and cold) wind. Everyone was walking around wrapped up, or getting into their wetsuits early, to keep warm. When Hooksie gave the race briefing, he said this was isolated, and there would be a tailwind home; I wasn't sure how that could be the case, but I hoped he was telling the truth...
After fixing Kate's back wheel, I got wetsuited up, only managed a short warm-up I'm never that well organised at Rotorua), said goodbye to my honey, swam as far forward as a could (but not with the stupid fast people), and then there was a (not that noticeable) whistle, and we were off.
My swimming has not been great this year; various shoulder injuries, and no squad, have limited my swimming time. But I tend to race better than I swim, and I did surprisingly well at last year's race, so thought I might be ok. The wind had made the lake really choppy; it certainly wasn't glass like, as I'd come to expect. The buoys were a lot smaller this year too; combined with the chop, it was very hard to navigate. I headed out hardish, and then tried to draft where I could. There was one guy who I couldn't quite get ahead of, so I decided to draft off him. He was kicking like a mad person, so was easy to follow, so I stuck with him for about 2/3 of the swim. On the way back, it was nigh on impossible to work out where to go (in fact, the second and third fastest swimmers completely missed a buoy), so I kept with my friend until I was sure he was going a bit off track. I couldn't really find people to draft off, so I swam the last third on my own. I got to the end and felt quite good (I had saved a lot of energy by drafting the dude), and then ran to transition, where Paul said I was about 39. Actually, I was 40:40 – about 4 minutes slower than last year (I was 39, but that included T1). So not great. However, I saved a lot of energy, the conditions were a heck of a lot tougher, there were far fewer people racing this year (so fewer people to draft off/get sucked along by), and the swim times in general were up a lot – only two individuals, men and women, were sub 30 – which is pretty damn slow for a Half swim.
I had a quickish T1 (only slowed by needing to put the Garmin on), and headed off. I have been practicing getting on my bike in one go, but one rubber band moved, and I nearly fell over when I got on (which would have been embarrassing) – but I sorted myself out, and I was off. I used the Powertap to pace myself – the aim, apart from hills, which to stay between about 200 and 220 watts, which I mostly managed. I didn't go crazy on the first half like last year, and while I was consistently passing people, I did not play silly games. I was feeling good, and feeling comfortable (a few months in the aero position made a difference). I felt like I had a bit of a tailwind on occasion, but swore there were also headwinds, and I wondered if I might get a tailwind home. I did the first 45k in 1:15 – I was surprised at how well I'd gone, and thought I might go sub 2:40 on the bike; boy was I wrong.
As soon as I turned around, it became apparent why the first half was so quick – I had the headwind from 'Nam on the way home, and it was going to be there pretty much the whole way. It was hard, way harder than last year. Where I had been going over 40 on the way out, I was now going 23. But I kept on pacing myself (perhaps allowing myself to work a little harder). There were a lot of annoying people on the way back – I'd go at a relatively consistent pace; they'd smash themselves down or up hill, just pass me, then sit up on the flat, and force me to pass them again. I didn't get any drafting penalties, but if I had, it would not have been my fault. Hell's gate was a b*itch on the way back – it's not only steep, but the wind was so strong I had a headwind climbing. But at the top of the hill I caught the woman who was coming second, and I pushed away from most of the annoying people. I got to the turn back to Rotorua, had a slight respite from the wind, and just pushed home. Tarawera seemed to come quicker than last year (I died along the airport straight last year, this time I was still feeling strong, albeit that the wind was making it hard). At the start of Tarawera I thought there might still be a chance of 2:45, but I forgot how long it takes to get back to transition after you get to the top. I paced up Tarawera, passed a number of people, and headed home. Finished with about 2:48 (2:52 official – but that includes T1 and T2 – compared to 2:54 last year, which only included T2) in much tougher conditions than last year is not too bad at all. If I'd properly appreciated the conditions, I would have gone harder on the way out, but I may have blown up, so you never know. Again, the bike times were down from last year. I averaged 193 watts, normalized power of 207, so I kept my watts about where they needed to be, which is good. Also, there weren't a whole heap of power surges, which meant I was able to conserve energy.
A quick T2, and I was off and running, and feeling pretty good. Until about 10 minutes in, and my ankle started hurting. I occasionally get this strange twinge in my ankle – it seems to come and go; but today it decided to come, and it was making things quite uncomfortable. I even wondered if I might have to walk or stop altogether. And then my tummy started feeling a bit gross (not bad, but just a bit gross), so there was a lot to be negative about. There were also way fewer people about to pass, which is normally what I do to keep myself focused. I had a friend for a short while (we'd ridden 'together' for a bit, and had a moan about a dude who'd been drafting), and he started pulling away, so I decided to keep him in my sights. Out of the forest, and man it was hot. I remember last year being hotter, but this year I was desperate to drink at every drink station, and pour a cup of water over my head just to keep cool.
The gun club was stonking as usual, and on the way back, I got passed by the woman in second. So I decided to just follow her, which I did for over 10k. When she picked up the pace, so did I. I started feeling a bit better, and my ankle stopped being stupidly painful. We kept on passing people, and I kept on running a consistent pace. Not as fast as I'd hoped, but the bike (and the heat) were obviously taking it out of me. At the top of the lake track )after struggling up the hill – my hammies and butt were shot) we passed a guy who beat me last year, made the 24 – 29 Age Group National team last year, and who had beaten me at both Contact and Tinman (for former by about 10 minutes, the latter by 5). The we passed my friend, who had slowed a lot. The woman started pushing towards the finish, and I did too. Until my right hammie started cramping – not badly, but cramping nonetheless. So I slowed a little bit, to make sure I could finish well. I still passed a few people n the way to the finish, and I ended up with a 1:40 (faster than last year, but not much, but I think the heat really took it out of me). Out of interest, my normalized pace was 4:36 mins/km (my heart rate strap doesn't play nice with the tri top, so I decided not to wear it).
Total time 5:13. 5 minutes faster than last year, in much tougher conditions. So not the sub 5 I was hoping for, but hand on heart, if the conditions were like last year, I am certain I'd have been somewhere between about 5:00 and 5:05, maybe a bit faster, which in Rotorua is a pretty damn respectable time. I was nowhere near as sore after, but totally exhausted – I had no sprint at the finish, and I just wanted to lay down. I even had to have a nap later.
All in all, I'm pretty happy. I didn't die on the bike like last year, and was faster in tougher conditions. I didn't feel great on the run, and had some issues, but I pushed through them. I also completely spent myself.
Thanks heaps to Jenn and Damian (sister-in-law and her fiance); having gophers for the day (as well as supporters) made things go a lot smoother. Thanks also to Mike and Paul for their on course/of course support, respectively.
Big thanks to Paul W – I was a lot stronger this year, and I feel like I have a much 'deeper' fitness than last year. You have been a massive help, and I'm looking forward to getting back into it when we return.
To Kate - because she is wonderful =)
Things to work on:
- Swimming! Kate and I are going to visit Ally Boggs to get our techniques critiqued. I also just need to swim more. Having Kate around will also help push me harder (which I need for swimming).
- Cycling – I'm getting better, but I need to get stronger. I think a good year of consistent riding (with a big focus, I've decided, on Mountain Biking, which I enjoy more than the on-road stuff) will help.
- Running – just keep doing what I've been doing. It's what I'm best at, and I'm getting faster. I think any issues are more bike related – basically, I need to get stronger on the bike so I run better off it, if that makes sense.
- Nutrition – pretty good. I probably needed more electrolytes on the run, so should have had more heed (rather than Coke at every aid station), but it was a lot hotter than I'm used to, so it's no biggie.
European holiday aside, I'll be able to keep training consistently. I have another goal race to focus on this season (Xterra – heck yeah, I'm really looking forward to this, and not just because the swim is only 1k...), and I will not have 6 months off again, so I have a good base to work from.