Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Challenge Wanaka half-iron Race Report

The big hometown race of the year has come and gone. It lights up a fire in the bellies of most locals the months to weeks to days leading up to the event. The question everyone asks in the change rooms, the run track, out cycling is: "Are you doing the Challenge?" In one way or another, everyone does take part. It's an epic, tough course in a tough part of the world. I've never done a harder half, and I've raced 13! Hills, sure, rough chip-sealed NZ roads, yeah, epic foehn winds blowing off the Southern Alps down the valley, mmmhmmm.

I've done this race twice before. In 2011, this was my first full-iron distance and we were blessed with 70kph Northwesterly winds, with gusts upwards of that. I was already frightened of the distance, and on top of that with such tough conditions, I was afraid it would suck all the energy out of me so I went as slow as I possibly could to make it out alive: A 14-hour ironman! In 2012, I had had a bike crash the week before in a sprint triathlon, I was anemic and had hormonal complications that left me menstruating for 5-6 weeks non-stop. I made it through the swim, and bike, but had to pull out on the run because the hematoma was giving me too much pain. It's been a turbulent couple of years, and I wanted to perform well on this brutally honest course.

Swim: 34:38
4 seconds slower than last year, where most people, including the pros, were a good 6' slower for the full (or 3' slower for the half). I'm small, and waves buffet me about like mad. We had had strong winds throughout the night, and had some pretty serious rollers on the lake. I got sea sick. Never mind, I swam as hard as I could, and managed the seasickness as best I could.
I felt as Gina Crawford (1st Pro F) did in the swim, read her race report
Bike: 3:11:17
This includes T1, but on such a tough course, I did not bother with speed, all I worked off of was power. I knew my power output goals, and I nailed them on the head. I was EXACTLY 137W avg for the ride (I weigh 47kg/103lbs). More importantly, my nutrition practice for IM was bang on. I'm no longer getting nauseated because I am no longer overdosing on sugary gels. I had a much more even source of energy. The winds were calm at the beginning but they did pick up by the end, but not nearly as bad as I've experienced on previous occasions in training or races; maybe only 50kph?
Run: 1:50:20
This includes T2. In the end, due to high rainfall levels in January, part of the run course was flooded so they had to use the contingency run course. It meant we encountered the hills earlier on (but just as much elevation gain: 258m overall), and were more exposed to the sun. At the time, I knew I was in 4th in my AG, 1st was way out of my league, but I wanted to see what I could do for 3rd and 2nd. I just started running by effort, worked as hard as I could, tried to manage the pain in my glutes, hammies, quads and calves as they fatigued, and took in enough cals to get me through it. My partner had shouted out in T2 what position I was in, and I saw him again on the uphill out to Outlet Rd and he was surprised to see me so early. I had blown by so many people on the run that I hadn't even noticed passing 3rd. I kept motoring along but the hills were slowing me down. Finally, at some point, you hit the kilometre marker where your brain lets you suffer quite a bit more because you've told it that it's near the end... For me this was 4k to go, and I just threw myself into as much pain as possible, trying to catch as many people as possible. 
In the end, 5:43:05, on a tough tough course. Given my PB is 5:18, this is a far cry, but also far far tougher than most courses, even the "tough" World Champs 70.3 in Las Vegas. At least there they have smooth roads and lighter winds. I'm definitely content with my effort.
I was 3rd AG 18-24... but out of 7 girls only, so that provides me with very little indication of my fitness compared to others. I was, however, 18th chick out of 128. Yeehaw!
What did this race teach me or show me? Well, firstly, this is a "strongman's" course, i.e. if you have more muscle, you can muscle your way through a lot. Roller swim, hilly, rough roads, windy bike and hilly run. I am very aerobically fit, but I still lack some serious strength to stay consistent (in terms of time) despite the varying conditions. The strong girls are able to ride almost the same time whether flat or hilly, smooth or rough roads, windy or not. I seriously slow down. Strength building will be key for the future!!
Photos below...






Outlet Rd hill, just the start of it!

I am still SO happy that run form has improved as I no longer heel strike/get shin splints.
First order of business: eat an ice cream cone!!
 5.5 weeks until IMNZ!!!!

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