It’s definitely not summer in Boulder right now. When I jumped on a plane last week for Auckland NZ it was about 5 degrees outside. However, it is summer in New Zealand, and although I knew the seasons I had not taken fully into account that would mean that the Aussie and Kiwi boys are primed for racing and have been going at it for a couple months now. Pair that with a super deep and talented field and I was definitely a little out of my element. I headed down there with some solid base fitness, but not a lot of speed and I knew that I was just going to have to be smart and try and pick my spots in the race.
The day leading up to the race the weather was mostly cloudy with some rain and a lot of wind. Knowing that we were going to be riding over the Harbor bridge, the wind was making wheel selection a bit of a decision. I brought a disc and had planned all along to ride it but was able to track down a C50 rear if we woke up race morning and the wind was howling. On the whole the field was split between deep dish and disc, and with the hills, wind, rain, and turns it was probably a wash either way.
Race morning we woke up to clouds but relatively calm. They tell me their are mornings with no wind in New Zealand, but after a week there I can’t vouch for it personally. Ate my normal breakfast with the addition of some toast and jam for some extra calories and headed down to transition. There was a slight breeze kicking up as we headed to the swim start but they told us the forecast was for late day winds so no one was too concerned.
The deep water start was kicked off with a canon once the boys finally got in a line behind the buoys. Always cracks me up that someone feels the need to try and get just a bit ahead before the start and then everyone starts creeping. I got out to a decent start was was feeling comfortable as we headed to the first turn buoy. The 70.3 swim start was fast but not quite as furious as some olympic distance races so the violence was a bit more relaxed. After the first buoy whoever was leading took a terrible line to the second can, so I took the best line and got out in front. After I took the lead I tried to stay relaxed and in control. Since it was my first real crack at the distance I didn’t want to over cook the swim so stayed clear of people on my feet and in control. Coming out of the water first was a good start, but as they always say you can lose a race in the swim but you can’t win one, and with 12 guys close in tow that was most certainly the case.
Once on the bikes I led the group out of town and out towards the Harbor Bridge and within the first mile or so I was forced to make the decision I really didn’t want to make. James Hodge came up on me hot and flew by me hammering away, which left me the choice to chase and really put in a huge effort early in a break away attempt, or settle in with the group. Knowing where my fitness was and that I have no experience at that distance I decided to play it safe and stick with the group as none of them were in chase mode either.
In New Zealand there are tons of awesome things, but the 7m drafting rule is not one of them. It makes for a tight group that is essentially drafting and it makes break aways very difficult. So the group settled in and rode as a big pack of about 15. We rotated around and different people went to the lead but we ended up staying together for the first out and back and headed back over the bridge . We tore through the aid station, I grabbed a new water bottle, and we headed out on a two loop tour of the southern direction from transition. It was an out and back loop with a solid tail wind going out, and a head wind returning. It made for a pretty modest trip out, and then I tried to get everyone going a bit on the way back. Unfortuntly, for me I had mistimed my effort and most of the guys were still relatively fresh and after a few miles we all came back together. Then as we headed through the aid station again I grabbed another bottle, knowing that hydration had been a major key to my plan and we headed out for the last 20k or so. Then the one mistake happened as I went across a set of train tracks in the rain my new water bottle ejected from my bottle cage.
At the time I tried to stay relaxed and hammer on, but in the back of my mind I knew this was going to leave me short of fluids starting the run. My legs started to get tired and a bit of cramping in the last loop so I was unable to make the break with Ambrose and Kemp and had to settle to just ride with the group. It became a bit of a management issue, which is just part of the game at that distance but definitely not something you deal with going full tilt in an olympic distance race.
As we hit T2 I was in sight of most of the group and my legs were cramping some but nothing I couldn’t manage. Another key to my game plan had been to not hit out on the run too quickly so in an effort to be conservative I tried not to look around at all and just do my own thing. I felt really comfortable through 10k, taking on fluids and calories as needed. Going through the finish chute area in the middle of a run is always tough just because you never really want to see the line until you are there, but I gritted my teeth and headed back out for the second lap. I still felt like I was being smart with my nutrition but the legs were starting to falter a bit and as a couple guys caught me my mind began to struggle a bit.
It is a humbling thing to be in the middle of a race, and know that you are not really in the race, but it gives you the chance to build some character, and in this case some fitness. So you tough it out and get back around to the finish line. The last 5k was pretty miserable. My quads were cramping, my feet hurt, and running into a head wind and some rain was just insult to injury. But crossing the line always feels good, even when you are in 13th place, and this race was no different. I accomplished some of the things I set out to and I learned a lot. I have every belief that when I decide to the 70.3 distance will be one that I can succeed at. Not sure yet if now is that time, and I am certainly looking forward to getting back to 2 hour races, but when the time is right I am excited about the distance.
Walking away, I had an awesome trip to New Zealand. I had a good experience racing a new distance against some of he best that play the game. I learned a ton and when it is time, I will definitely be ready to play…