Without a doubt, I think Saturday would have to be the biggest day in my life.
Winning Challenge Wanaka in 2011 meant the world to me, so to come back and defend the title, against the strongest pro mens field ever assembled for the race was a huge occasion. The Challenge series directors were even calling it one of the best ever pro mens field assembled for any of their events world wide with multiple Ironman champions from New Zealand with Kieran Doe (Ironman Canada champion) and Bryan Rhodes (4 x Ironman champion); from Australia with Courtney Ogden (2 x Ironman Champion) and Aaron Farlow (Ironman UK champion in 2011 setting the course record); and then the Europeans Jimmy Johnson (DEN), Marc Pschebizin (GER), and Petr Vabrousek (CZE) all with a handful of Ironman and Challenge series victories.
Pre race media conference - from left, Aaron Farlow, Courtney Ogden, Jamie Whyte, Bryan Rhodes, Kieran Doe.
Last year we woke up to strong winds, and this year wasn’t any different to start with. The north-wester was already cranking at the crack of dawn and the lake filled with white caps ready the for the 6:30am start.
The pre race talk came from Doe and Rhodes. They are both exceptionally good swimmers in the world of Ironman racing and made a pre race call to pair up and help each other through the 180km bike leg. And that is how it played out through the swim and the early stages of the bike. I exited the 3.8km swim in 4th place with Ogden, 3:40 down on the front pair and 50 seconds down on Farlow and had put some good time into the other contenders. The swim felt great in Blueseventy’s new Helix for 2012. We will see big things from this product in 2012.
Exiting Lake Wanaka in the Blueseventy's new 2012 Helix
On to the bike and I was feeling great from the get go. I immediately dropped Odgen, who is a renowned runner, so it was good to get rid of him early. I settled into good rythym on the Cervelo P4 and was pushing some solid numbers on my SRM power meter. It was also my first time racing on F6R and F9R Fast Forward race wheel combo. It was the perfect wheel set for the conditions. So the chase began.
The early stages of the bike via Glendu Bay
Early time checks to the front showed I was holding a 3:30 gap. However the big move was coming from Farlow, who after 50km had rode himself up to the front. I was pretty happy with how I was feeling at this stage. I was riding the best I ever have in an Ironman and was banking on Farlow’s big effort to jump across so quickly, to hurt him later in the race. The front group of three soon become 2 when Rhodes punctured. From 60km all the way to 120km on the bike the time gaps hovered between 3:30 to 4 minutes. Then we hit the big head winds along the Tarras flats. 3:20, 3:10, 2:55, 2:30. After battling away for 140km I was finally starting to make some dents in the lead. Then I got the call that Farlow had dropped Doe. I continue to catch Doe, but Farlow found another gear for the final 30km to Wanaka and re-extended his lead to 3:30 by transition.
The Cerveloo P4 and Fast Forward wheels made a perfect combination for slicing through the Central Otago winds making it back to T2 with the 2nd fastest bike split of the day.
I was pretty happy to be back in Wanaka. The Central Otago winds and the heavy chip seal make for a pretty hostile environment for riding a bike. It takes it out of you and wears you down. It makes you hungry but you are too nauseous to eat anything. The small hills and undulations become a blessing, giving you a chance to temporarily change your position and get out of the saddle for a bit. What a way to start a marathon!
Hitting the run I always had in the back of my mind the big effort Farlow made early. It has to hurt him in the last 10km. I knew that Doe had fell off the pace towards the end of the bike and would be hurting. I past him about 6km into the run. He would hold on for a comfortable 3rd place. I controlled my pace well the first lap on the run. Through the half way point I had run a 90 minute split which was good considering the off road nature of the run course. But I had dropped another 2:30 to Farlow, now 6 minutes down. I tried to extract more pace from myself on the second lap but struggled to find another gear running into the big head wind. I was still hopeful of making inroads on the last 10km and to make a move if he was to fade.
The Challenge Wanaka run course, 80% off road and stunning views. Has to be one of the best in the world!
But fade he did not. With 10km to go his lead was seven minutes. My solo ride was catching up with me too and chase mode slowly changed to survival mode. It was a tough pill to sallow but that was becoming the reality of the situation. I was not going to defend my title.
When you have been through everything you have for the past eight hours, realise you can’t get to the front, you have got 2nd place stitched up and the thought of Ironman New Zealand in six weeks time, the body and mind are looking for a break. I was hurting big time and considering the situation decided to ease up and just try enjoy the experience for the last 5km into town. I made an effort to thank every volunteer and as many supporters as possible on my way to the finish chute. The volunteers make the event possible and the spectators make it exciting. Without them it would just suck, so they deserve all the thanks I can give them.
The finish chute experience was equally as good as last year. I never thought finishing 2nd could feel as good as this, but it was a mixture of emotions. I was very proud of the way I raced and the crowd was treating me like a champion, but at the same time I had fallen short on my goal to go back to back.
The Challenge Wanaka finish chute...well worth the experience!
I had had a perfect build up, was in the best shape of my life, raced as good as I could of, or maybe a slightly faster swim could have paired me up with Aaron for the start of the bike? Either way I was cleanly beaten by the better athlete on Saturday. He laid it on in all three disciplines and I could not come up with any answers for the way he raced. He is a top athlete, the current Ironman UK champion and course record holder, so there is no overwhelming disappointment in falling short to a guy like this. But if I am to win here again I will need to continue working on my arsenal as an Ironman athlete. The race really reinforced some important fundamentals about the sport and I learnt plenty from finishing 2nd. Things are continuing to head in the right direction, so I will just keep working hard and will be back for the top spot again in 2013.
I was very fortunate to have Fiona greet me at the finish. She has been a key part of the training machine for the past month down in Queenstown. She is incredibly understanding of my commitment to the sport and makes it possible for me to continue training and racing. She too had a successful day finishing 2nd in her age group for the half ironman event held in the morning. Well done Fee!!
Also a big thanks to:
- Coach Gordon Walker for doing an amazing job in getting me in the best possible shape. Enjoying every minute of training under this guy. Big year for him with coaching the NZ kayaking team to London Olympics. All the best matey they are in great hands with you!
- My parents for providing a fantastic training base at their home in Queesntown.
- To dad and the team who kept me informed all day of the time checks to the front.
- Matt King, my secret training weapon down in Queenstown. Congrats on the 2nd place overall in the Half Ironman.
- Neki Patel at One on One Physiotherapy, and Rebecca Whyte and Rosanna at Peak Performance Massage in Queenstown for keeping my body in tune while down south.
- And all my sponsors who have been incredibly generous with their product support leading into the event – Cervelo New Zealand, Fast Forward wheels, Blueseventy, Hammer Nutrition, Nike, Oakley, Biosport, Vittoria tires, ISM saddles.
…And if all that wasn’t enough, immediately after finishing and a couple of post race interviews it was straight back for a shower and getting suited up for groomsman duties a great mates wedding in Arrowtown. I went through survey school at Otago University, flatted with him and then worked at the same firm in Auckland as Josh Munro for several years. I was very fortunate that despite me doing an Ironman and missing the wedding service, that we still wanted me to attend the reception as a groomsman. An incredibly top mate, now a very happy husband to the beautiful Anna Munro and father of young Nico. Was great to be a part of your day guys. Look forward to hauling up a few Blue Cod with you this week.
Within one hour of crossing the finish-line, three interviews completed, showered, suited up and ready for the drive to Arrowtown for the wedding!!
Thanks to everyone for the encouragement leading into the race and all the kind comments post race.
For the moment a big week of recovery is planned, maybe with a spot of fishing as mentioned above. Chat soon.