Quite possibly the best half I have ever done
Whilst its the best half event I have ever done, it is also the toughest and most gruelling, even besides the fact that the weather gods arrived for us on race day.
Challenge Wanaka, as a lot of events in New Zealand, takes place on a Saturday. We flew from the Gold Coast on the Thursday before the race and after a spectacular 50 minute drive from Queenstown, via the Crown Range, we arrived in Wanaka mid afternoon. The first thing to do was to check out this lake that I had heard so much about. On arriving, it was not the last time over the weekend that the lake was going to take my breath away. We were lucky enough to be greeted by some unseasonably snow capped mountains behind Lake Wanaka.
After checking into our motel, it was back down to the lake for a quick swim to test the water. This was the second time the lake literally took my breath away. Due to the unseasonably cold weather Wanaka had been experiencing, the water temperature was a ‘fresh’ 15 degrees. Coming from a record hot Queensland summer, where water temperatures were around 27 degrees, this was going to be interesting. Jumping into the lake was like an ice bath and every little bit of air in my lungs was sucked out. It was at least 5 minutes or so before I was able to control my breathing somewhat. My fingers and toes remained numb for my short 15 minute swim, although it felt like 30 minutes.
The following day included a 60 minute cycle out to the first turn point on the bike course and again I was blown away by the shear beauty of this area. I was greeted by some decent climbs during this short ride and as I had been told before, you were either going tup or down the whole time.
Race day greeted us with perfect conditions
Race day, as per the previous two days, greeted us with calm conditions and temperatures in the mid 20’s. Arriving at the lake 90 minutes before race time, I was concerned about how long I had to wait around for. But as is usually the case, the time flew and I found myself at the waters edge with the 60 second warning to start time.
The swim start is a deep water start and given the way I had been affected by the water temperature two days before, our plan was for me to start from the shore, dry and warm. Then with 90 seconds to go before the start, I was to swim out to the start line and arrive at the same time the starting horn was sounded. The plan was perfect however my execution was not! I left the shore too late and found myself 100m behind everyone else when the race started. I stayed controlled, did not panic and was still able to manage a strong swim. The water was also a degree or two warmer than my previous swim two days ago.
The first part of the bike sends you towards the Treble Cone snowfields turnaround point 17km out of town. Having ridden this part the day before, I was well aware of the hills and made sure that my heart rate was not spiking too much. This took some discipline, especially having the mental strength to let other riders pass you by on the climbs.
You then return and ride straight back through the town of Wanaka where the crowds of people are waiting to cheer you on. It is a challenge (excuse the pun) not to get carried away with these crowds and start putting in a bigger effort than you should. Not to mention doing bunny hops over the traffic humps!
The back two thirds of the bike course is very similar to the first and includes tough climbs, with some long and fast sweeping descents. It also included a couple of stretches of flat road, where you welcome the chance to get into your aero position and tick off some fast k’s. The final 2kms into transition 2 is a welcome straight downhill at pace.
Onto the run and my aim was again to keep an eye on my heart rate and ensure that it was not getting out of control. The run course is 90% off road, around the edge of Lake Wanaka and includes single trails and all types of surfaces. Whilst I was expecting a tough run, I did not realise the degree at which it would be, with plenty of ups and downs, which made it very hard to keep any even rhythm. This type of run was something I had done no training for.
At around 11km Gunn Hill, a 1km climb comes in. Our pre race plan was to fast walk this hill, again to avoid any spikes in heart rate. Once at the top of Gunn Hill you can just about see Lake Wanaka, which thankfully is downhill. The final 3kms of the run sees you back onto the track you initially started on, with athletes starting their run coming the other way. Not only were the spectators on course amazing with their encouragement, the other athletes at this point are also cheering you on.
The final 500m of the run is back down the main drag, past the many restaurants and bars, where again, people are there to give you that final kick home.
My pre race plan, including my nutrition, was the best it had ever been and I stuck to it to a tee, resulting in one of my most solid performances ever.