Sunday, 14 December 2014

Karen writes: Rotorua half IM 2014

What an amazing day Saturday was for the Rotorua Half Ironman.  The weather forecast was a bit dodgy, showers and some wind predicted.  It turned out to be perfect conditions however, to the point where sunburn was more of a problem than the wet and cold.

So Kate had said lets do the early start option.  This was an 5.45 am start being offered to those who had a history of taking more than 7 hours to complete the course.  A smart idea to cut down the mop up of stragglers coming through the bush hours after the event has been wound up, but also it was pointed out that it can be lonely on the trail still finishing off your 21 km if nearly everyone else has gone home. I for one did not regret getting going that 45 minutes earlier one bit, in fact it was a fabulous change which I hope they repeat.

So we had a 4 am breakfast, put the bikes in Kate's car, and headed off into what still seemed very much like night.  It was so dark Kate was driving along and she said "I'm sure we missed the turn-off". Sure enough, we had come right to the lakeside, way too far.  Backtracking, no street or other lights, we found the car-park, there was only one other vehicle there in the big paddock which is usually full for this event. Other cars started turning up shortly and then there was a small procession of people wheeling bikes while juggling transition boxes and bags and wetsuits and things, along the dark road.  I had a moment of panic when I couldn't seem to get my bike wheel on with that pesky easy-release. Fumbling around in the dark I was sure I had it wrong and it would fall off going down some big hill somewhere.

Visualise this. Inky black lake, surrounded by trees, spirals of mist coming up off the water, then the music starts.  Old favourites, driving beats, absolutely surreal at that time of the morning in such a beautiful place. Add in a bit of normal pre-event anxiety to get the heart rate up, wow, you couldn't buy a high like that.

Finally ready, into the wetsuits and it was time to get soggy.  The damp grass was freezing underfoot, so the lake felt luke-warm after standing on that.  Gun went, off swimming.  I had an average sort of swim,  laughed to myself when I thought I was at the back of the back of the pack.  No pressure, took it easy, none of the panic attacks that marked previous years forays into that particular body of deep water.  The biggest problem is when the lake is clear, I see the bottom, it looks close enough to touch but I know it is meters deep, the brain goes eek, cant put my feet down if I want to, but it looks like I should be able to.

Second lap, I made the mistake of looking across the loop and saw lots of high speed splashes, the main start was in the water and rapidly catching up, I just barely got to the end when those super fast machines came along finishing their first lap.  I'd had a 45 minute head start, and I was well on the way to being caught!

Through transition, on the bike, grinding up the big hill, the muscles always protest here. I think this is because they are still a bit cold from the water, and by this stage I have done an hour's exercise and breakfast was a long time ago. I always doubt that I can do 90 more km on such tired, sluggish legs, there is a bit of mental game playing to get into enjoying it.  Down the other side I got up to 64 km/hour!  I have never ridden that fast and not been hanging onto the brakes hard enough to hurt, yeehah, must be the new (ish) bike.  Out onto the main road, and past the airport, the fast riders caught up here and what I noticed was how friendly some were.  The lead male, I think for the quarter Ironman, read the name on the tag on my back and called out "going great Karen".  That happened lots, something I noticed round the whole course, no games of mad smiley athlete needed from me to provoke a response, there were plenty of smiles just there for the returning. What an excellent ride. I spent around 3 1/2 hours on wheels, ate up those big hills and a treat was getting to the top of Hell's Gate (takes 12 rounds of Kate's trick of singing '10 green bottles' to myself to get up) and there was Mr Triathlon, Shane Hooks standing there yelling encouragement, wow, endurance royalty!  One of many benefits to that early start.

The purple and blue replacement top
On the half marathon, there were plenty of people around, even some who had had much faster swims and cycles and started with the late group, but who were my pace in the running.  It never fails to amaze me however that some good athletes take risks with themselves by not doing their homework.  Cramps when only taking in some lollies and water... um, a guaranteed outcome. Wear a cotton t-shirt and not expect chafing?  Wear untried gear in a race, oh, hang on, that was me. I forgot, would you believe it, among other things, both my cycle top and running top. A trip to a Rotorua op shop and I had a new cycle top in my size, tags still on, and a spandex designer label singlet that the girls insisted would be just right, and it was, after I insisted on removing the sequined pocket at chest level.  The singlet in shades of purple and blue was a perfect match to a great area of purple foxgloves buried deep in the forest by the side of a stunning lake.  Some things you see are too perfect not to stop and have more of a look.  There was also, not so perfect but still something of a break, a little diversion down a narrow path which had at the turnaround a large purple bunny parked in a deck chair.  Um.  Yeah. Didn't see that one coming.

I finished in 7 hours 34 minutes.  Not my best time ever, but way better than that disaster of a race last year.  And I felt great during and after.  Will we do the same next year?  Who can tell what will happen next year, but I definitely didn't come out saying "never again".  Again.