Challenge Wanaka 2017
“You are in the form of your life. Just prepare to suffer, for glory”. This was the text from my coach Val the night before the race. She had nailed it. I knew I was fit and ready, I just had to be ready to do whatever it would take. The field was amazing. I had big respect for all the pro men, but I viewed Luke McKenzie and Mike Phillips as the biggest challenges for the win. Luke is a proven world-beater. Mike was untested over the distance but full of ability and desire. Throw Luke Bell in the mix and the podium was going to be in hot demand.
Racking the bike at transition on Friday, then pausing to consider what was coming the next day. Credit: Getty Images
Most decisions made in the past 6 months were based on Challenge Wanaka on Feb 18th. Amy and the kids were in full support and my job was basically to train everyday and be a good dad and husband in between. Oamaru was a good spot to train, although lonely a lot of the time and the weather wasn’t coming to the party. By mid-January it was time to head to Wanaka and sharpen the pencil for the final 5 weeks.
Our family stayed with Will and Joy Harvey. Our friends (who are really actually family) who took us in, fed us good food, helped with Flynn and Tilly and generally made my final weeks of preparation about as perfect as I have ever experienced. Quite possibly, they were the biggest influence on my success on race day.
Will and Joy probably added 10% to my race day performance.
I didn’t sleep on Friday night. I was relaxed all week but the nerves had finally hit. I wasn’t nervous for any reason other than I had accepted how much the race was going to hurt. I was ready to suffer and my heart was racing just at the thought of it. Race day dawned fine and calm. Different to most of the summer we have had, but conducive to fast and fun racing. I knew the record was a goner. I just didn’t know which one of us would claim it.
I started a little wide of the main pack and didn’t manage to hook onto any feet. So my 3.8km was solo. But the water felt good and I enjoyed it. I just kept my three technique cues in my head on repeat and stayed in the moment. I exited in 8th, just over 54min and around 4min down on the leaders.
Swim exit. Credit: Getty Images
My plan was to ride to power and heart rate and keep patient until the second lap of Hawea where I would lift it up a notch. Having 4 minutes out of the water afforded me the chance to trust my plan and not panic. I spent the first 100km with between 1-3 minutes to the lead group that had dwindled to three. McKenzie was driving the pace and Bell and Phillips were going with him. I had to trust my plan and hope the back half of the ride would catch up on them.
The ride. Credit: Getty Images
I made the pass at around 135km (Hawea Flat) and went straight past. Knowing how hard McKenzie had tried to break away I figured it might be tricky to drop them. Luckily I got a gap and managed to keep the power down for long enough to stay away. For the first time in my long distance triathlon career it looked like I would be first to start the run. That would be a bonus.
Bike data thanks to Polar and Rotor 2InPower
My brain was a little messy at the start of the run. I was guilty of letting my thoughts drift off track. I wanted to know what my lead was, who was behind, what was happening. This lasted about a minute or two as I was running through town and being cheered along by the crowds. But luckily I managed to snap myself out of it. I realised I had a plan to run to a pace and heart rate. As soon as I returned my thoughts to the process I began to relax. It was comforting to know that I had a plan and I could trust it. If I stuck to my plan and got beaten, that is racing. But I had to stick to my plan.
I focused on eating and drinking, cooling off with sponges, monitoring heart rate and pace and listening to splits. Mike was 2-3min back and didn’t seem to be gaining. This was positive as I still felt I was running a pace that would allow me to lift into the second lap if I was pressured. So far so good.
Running the outlet track at around 30km. Credit: Getty Images
My memory of the marathon becomes a bit of a blur now. I guess I was deep into that world of hurt I had expected and planned for. I was probably on auto-pilot. The second time up Gunn Rd I was told I had 5-6min on 2nd. from the top of Gunn Rd to the finish is more or less down hill for 9km. I just had to look after myself enough to get to the finish.
The finish. Credit: Getty Images
Finishing was unbelievable. I had broken the course record by around 9 minutes (and my own bike record too). I had won for a second year in a row. I had made an effective race plan and executed it. It just felt so damn good. The support at the finish line was humbling as it had been all day. The job was done and I could relax and enjoy it.
I had poured all of myself into this race. As a professional you are never guaranteed of a return on your investment and as a dad and husband it was a great relief to see the summer had turned into a paid one. I can barely walk now three days after the race but I guess it shows that Val was right before the race, I had to be prepared to suffer, for glory.