I call this race heartbreak race and it always is. Seven cracks at it now with the one victory back in 2009. In the weekend I was runner-up for the third time, but yet I keep coming back because I so much want another victory one day at my home Ironman. I love racing in Taupo. I find it really challenging, the cold in the morning, the mental aspects of riding 180k time trial; just me by myself on the bumpy roads with a stiff head wind which builds up to really hit you on that last 45k, and then that hilly run course when your legs are completely smashed from the bike ride. It's a pretty brutal course. But I love the swim, I love the crowds on the run, I love the community of Taupo and the race is always so well organised and the IMNZ team always looks after us so well. Plus in the weekend my son kept telling me how much he loves Taupo, the swimming pool especially and the Rotary train ride the day after the race, so I am sure we will be back!
Although I was disappointed in the result (everyone wants to win right?) I can't be disappointed in my performance. It was one of those days where you put in a solid effort, go faster than you ever have before, but there is someone else racing who does it even better. I have made so many changes and my body is trying to adapt to them as best as I can but I'm not quite there yet. Ideally I would have liked it if Ironman New Zealand could have been held a couple of months further on to give me more adequate time to prepare! I gave it my all and came up short to Meredith Kessler who ran an incredible race in every discipline and came away smashing the course record (when the bike course was not a fast year with the wind). For me I did a PB and came away with the third fastest time in history. It wasn't good enough for a victory in 2014 but in reflection this is a good thing for me. Competition is great. Without Meredith being there and if I had come away the victor I could have rested on my laurels, instead I come away with a burning desire to keep on improving in EVERY discipline and to reach for a victory at another race in 2014. Also I have to be very proud with the way I turned things around from Challenge Wanaka 6 weeks before where I was quite a bit off my usual pace. I worked so hard after that race, the Purplepatch camp (that I talked about in my last blog) was incredibly beneficial to me. I came back from it biking 2.5 kph faster in all my rides and with a totally different running technique. I went into the race feeling really fit, not fatigued like in previous years and the confidence that I was going to race faster than I ever had in any other year.
So to the race. For the first time at this race the pro women had a separate start (1 minute behind) from the pro men. In the sprint I tried my best to get on Anna Cleaver's feet but she was in a totally different speed zone to me. So I ended up by myself and swam the entire swim solo which was a bit of a new experience. The swim is incredibly beautiful and the 19 degree water is the perfect temperature for wetsuit swimming. I felt great in my Roka suit and was enjoying setting my own pace. I came out in about 51 minutes and was pretty happy with that. For the last few years I have been a 53 or 54 minute wetsuit swimmer so 51 minutes was a great improvement for me. During the long run up to the transition I found I was 4.5 minutes down on Meredith! And then after my transition I started the bike more than 5 minutes behind her. Trust me when you are racing Meredith (who pretty much carried the entire front pack of women around the bike course at the World Champs) that is not a great deficit to have. Just to put it in perspective. The men started a minute ahead, so at some point on the swim Meredith passed Cam Brown (who is not a bad swimmer by any means) and then put nearly another minute into him. She was only seconds off the best men swim splits, swimming solo).
Onto the bike and it was cold. I felt like it was Wanaka all over again, but there was blue sky so I knew I would warm up in time. I could see some men up the road and they didn't seem to be getting that much further in front so I felt I was biking quite well. Apart from around km 40-50 when I was able to keep some pro men in my sights I did the entire ride solo. I had a lot to think about though, my technique I have to think about it all the time now so that keeps me quite focused. The wind picked up throughout the day and the last 45k was pretty brutal as not only was there the stiff head wind, but you are slightly climbing, but I didn't feel like I used to on the last leg of the bike, I wasn't grovelling home. My technique is coming together, there is still lots of work to be done, but I feel much more connected to my bike, like it is a part of my body if that makes any sense. My split was slightly slower than the previous year but the course was slower, more windy and I knew I had done a better overall ride. Last year I was about 6 minutes slower than Meredith on the bike. This year 1.5 minutes. The biggest and stupidest mistake I did on the bike course was I didn't take a drink at the last aid station 15k from the end. I had been following a pattern of taking a bottle to refill every second station, but as I become not so with it, I obviously mistakenly thought I didn't need a drink at that station. Of course just after I went past I took a sip and there was nothing in it. So I had to bike the last 15k with no fluids with a completely dry mouth. I usually really take a lot of fluids on board in the last 15k as I know once I get on the run and can only get a sip every aid station (about 10 minutes apart) there is no way I can keep hydrated, so it was a pretty crucial mistake. After the race I had these crazy cramps that I have never experienced before all over my body but mostly in my abdominal, I couldn't really move just had to lie completely still in one position for hours. I think there is a very fine line and I may have crossed it by that mistake I made. So all in all my bike was really the highlight of the day. It was so great to see all the hard work I have done with Matt and Paul from Purplepatch starting to pay off. And the Ceepo, Rolf Prima, SRAM, Rudy Project, Keywin combo did a fantastic job for me, thanks guys!
Onto the run and after another poor transition (I had to skull as much water as I could) I was 7 minutes down on Meredith (actually in my analysis I discovered I lost a minute to Meredith in transitions). I was excited about my run as I have made some big changes. As I talked about in my last blog I was trying to lean forward. When I first started working with Matt mid November and I asked him what I should be doing on the run as I totally have no clue having no running background he told me to lean forward. At that time I had tried doing that and it felt fabulous but because of all the changes going on with my biking starting to utilise and activate the muscles in the backs of my legs it was just too much for me to do this all at once. So it wasn't until I went to the Hawaii training camp 4 weeks or so ago that I really made this change and it felt wonderful. However, this running puts a lot more stress on those "lazy" muscles of mine which are really beginner muscles as they have really never done anything in their lives. They are starting to adapt from the changes to my biking (and I guess you can see the difference in my bike riding from Wanaka 6 weeks ago to Taupo after the muscles got used to performing as they should) but 3 weeks or so of running is not really enough to get through a marathon race. So I just did what I could. I started out with very sore lower calves so I just put one foot in front of the other and waited until they came right after 5k. Then I went for it, I felt great and I concentrated on my running form. I started to make time on Meredith, after about 24k I was down to 3 min 50 behind her. Then I felt my hamstrings, this strange feeling of pinging like a rubber band with every step, I think the muscles were telling me to take it easy. I had a think and I could either go for it, ignore my muscles and hope they held out on me but risk pulling them and having to perhaps walk and go from second to last and perhaps not qualifying for Kona or backing down and running sensibly. I chose the latter. I was seething inside though as I felt really good, the rest of my body wasn't taxed, my muscles just could not match my engine. At 7k to go I started to fall apart a bit, but it was probably because the motivation was gone, I was back to about 6 minutes behind Meredith with a tail wind section in front of me, and it was about 15 minutes back to Candice in 3rd. Without this motivation things do start to hurt a lot more than if you have the adrenalin pumping. In the end I finished with a 3.08.06 run split the exact same split to the second as Meredith, how freaky is that! It was my fastest run split on the course. I feel that I could have run close to the 3 hour mark if I hadn't of had the muscle issue but even if I had it wouldn't have been enough for the victory, Meredith would have simply have increased her pace if I was breathing down her neck. She raced a superb race and has really thrown it out there that she has a VERY strong shot of winning the Ironman World Championships this year. I raced for the first time in my Asics DS racers and felt fantastic, light on the feet and finished an ironman for the first time without any blisters!! It is great to have Asics on board as one of my sponsors and I'd like to thank them for their belief in me.
Again like in Wanaka the highlight was seeing Benji at the finish. He came running towards me with a huge smile on his face as I crossed the line and it made it all worth it. I'd like to thank all those that gave me so much support out there on the course, it means the world to me. Thanks Matt Dixon and Paul Buick from Purplepatch for all their help. They have had to help me with so many changes and it really must not be nice to have two athletes that you coach going head to head with the same goal. Thanks so much to my sponsors for their continued support. Ceepo, Powerbar, Rolf Prima, Roka, Asics, SRAM, Rudy Project, Keywin.