It all felt a little surreal as I headed out into Lake Taupo for this year’s Half Ironman. I had no support crew or family watching, so I just set up my gear then waded into the lake amongst all the bobbing white swimming caps, sighing deeply and wondering what the hell I was playing at. I was so ill-prepared it was laughable. So I baptised my head in the water, floated around on my back and waited for the hooter. I just hoped like hell I wouldn’t panic when things got underway.
Other than a bit of weekend cycling and mountain biking any ‘real’ preparation for this race was non-existent – I’d donned my wetsuit twice in as many years, the last time a year ago. The little running I had done over the last few months had never amounted to anything greater than an 8km jog, and I certainly hadn’t done any running off the bike. To protect my ego from certain athletic disaster, I’d told anyone that cared that I was just doing it for fun – not that they believed me. So to authenticate this statement I went to the pub the night before the race downing an entire jug of beer and a couple of whiskeys with my friends, and then went home and sat up avidly reading an adventure biography until about 11pm even though I knew I have a 5am start. And to top off my staggering preparation I’d committed an athletic cardinal sin by buying a new tri-suit the day before the race and I’d forgotten to buy leppin with no chance of purchasing any on race morning. You never wear something you’re not use to wearing as there’s a high probability of ending up blistered and sore – but I figured that since I hadn’t done any training in the kit I already owned, so it wasn’t going to make any difference to the days outcome what I wore, but energy replacements are essential on any long hard ride – and this I fretted about – but there was nothing I could do about it but pack more bananas – so I worried into the small hours and sleep ended up being a complete waste of time.
I stood in the water watching all those athletes who had worked so hard and diligently and I laughed at myself – I was so going to blow-apart – but I didn’t really care, all I really wanted to do was to kick arse on the bike and merely survive the rest. Surprising myself, I didn’t panic when the swim started. My swimming is much like my running; I just plod along and don’t push myself. I got a few kicks in the head and a few tried to swim over me, but all in all it wasn’t too bad. Someone had very cleverly dropped white pebbles along the lake bed so you didn’t have to look up for direction all the time – but mostly I just relied on whoever was in front to know where they were going. At about 1.5km into the swim two things happened. My left calf started cramping up and I had to stop and tread water while stretching out my limb. But it kept cramping so I ended up swimming with my foot flexed up, pulling it through the water like a drogue. The other thing to happen, which was more an irritant than a problem, my wetsuit started rubbing a hole into the back of my neck – but I knew that would happen – my body wasn’t use to wearing the wetsuit.
Transition went well apart from both calf muscles cramping badly as I pulled out of my wetsuit and shoved my feet into cycle shoes. But I was happy to be getting on the bike. It was raining and windy, but it was also very humid so it wasn’t cold. The cross wind was appalling and I was scared to be on the aero bars as I was being buffeted about so badly. Staggering amounts of people were puncturing in the first ten kilometres – I just crossed my fingers and pushed hard. Then I dropped one of my two drink bottles the first sip I took. Damn it. They’d be handing out bottles at the 30km and 60km mark so no problem, I just hoped they tasted better than the last time I did this race, which it was like drinking highly chlorinated pool water.
I was pushing hard and passing a lot of people. But I constantly worried about my energy and lack of leppin, hoping to God I wasn’t pushing too hard. I made sure I kept eating despite the fact that riding hard and eating bananas at the same time makes me want to puke. I was keeping my average at about 32km/hr but it wasn’t high enough as I knew the head wind and hills on the way back into town would slow me down. So I kept my head down, constantly talked to myself and only ever eased up when I felt myself getting close to going anaerobic.
Twenty kilometres into the ride I could feel myself blistering on the inside of my thigh where my leg contacted the seat and my new shorts weren’t long enough to cover the skin – oh, my fault for buying new kit before a race, nothing I could do about that but press on. I continued to pass people; I started drafting behind them then sling-shooting myself around them – this isn’t technically allowed and I got pinged once with a warning by a marshall for being too close. At about 70km I started cramping in my left shin muscle but I just ignored it and kept pushing as hard as I dared. I flew back into town with a time of 2:56 for the 90 kilometres, I was happy that I’d finally broken the 3 hours for that ride but I would have liked to have done better.
Back in transition I mucked around with my hair tie and cap, and threw my shoes on. As soon as I started running I knew the race was over for me. I’d done all I wanted to do and my running was going to suck no matter what. I walked, staggered and jogged the 21km hating every moment whilst gathered blisters on the soles of my unhardened feet. But mostly I laughed at myself for doing the slowest half marathon time in my history. I walked and I didn’t care, my race was done.
I crossed the finish line in 6:11:30 – my new personal worst. My body ached and I had a blister from each discipline to remind me that one day I should learn to train properly for an event!