Ironman New Zealand, Taupo 2008

Swim: 49:50
T1: 4:30
Bike: 5:09
T2: 1:30
Run: 3:22
Total: 9:27:31 33rd, 3rd M35-39

Race Analysis here

Report in Middlesbrough Evening Gazette here.

My training post New Year had gone really well, I’d nailed more volume than I’ve ever managed especially consecutive weeks of big running and I didn’t feel too drained entering my taper. Swimming was going well, felt strong whenever I ran and I’d done loads of bricks. The only part I wasn’t that sure of was my cycling. I’d done lots of 100 milers but with it being winter I’d not been able to do any over distance riding of which I’d done tonnes ahead of all other Ironman Races.

Day 2 of my taper and I come off my bike on ice. I think nothing of it once I’m home – hip sore, bit of road rash but can cycle and swim. Held off running a couple of days but felt that was it. On arriving in Taupo a couple of weeks before the race I can feel my groin whenever I run. Again, I just think how in the past this sort of thing just improves of itself so I crack on with my plans. By the Wednesday 11 days out from the race it’s got worse so I go see a physio on the Thursday. He stops me running and gives me some stretches to do. Thus my daily routine now includes spending 4 lots of about 15 minutes with a hot water bottle on the groin doing gentle movements and then my sister having to help me do a gentle stretch. It just gets worse. Monday I go to see him again – have acupuncture, ultrasound and stretching and no cycling for a couple of days. I also see a sports masseur and he works on my lower back which he thinks may be contributing to it again. Something worked as there was great improvement next morning. Same again on Wednesday and then another session of acupuncture and ultrasound on Friday. Having not run I’m only going to find out how it’s worked when I start the run.

Other than this groin problem my build up to the race out in Taupo was excellent. I arrived 2 weeks ahead of the race and found for that first week I had the course to myself. Not only was the swim course marked out but on the bike and run course all the turns were marked on the road and every 10k on the bike and every 1k on the run were marked out. I swam most mornings and rode the course most days. I ended up knowing loads of landmarks, all the descents and climbs and most of the pot holes. The first day I went in to Bodyfuel cafe for some late lunch. I was impressed and told mum and Jane – we ended up there virtually every day (often more than once). Stephen and Chrissie more or less adopted us and were fantastic with Jude – letting him go into the kitchen and getting on well with all the staff. They made up this great nut and seed bar which I ended up using as my food on the bike. The hotel (The Copthorne Hotel) we stayed in proved perfect – not only was it right next to the swim course (and bike and run course) so I could put my wetsuit on in my room each morning and walk out to the beach to do my swim but the staff were awesome. They were all so friendly and were brilliant with Jude. Dave and Cheryl ended up more or less babysitting Jude each night whilst we had our dinner. The chef got to know what Jude liked and prepared ever more custard for him with his plum crumble. The food was excellent with Mum, Jane and I working our way right through the whole menu during out stay (other than the banquet we had dinner here every night). Cliff provided me with a bigger bowl for my breakfasts (!!) and Darren made excellent suggestions for where to take the kids. Dave’s friend DC even got up early race morning to cook up breakie at 4am. All this made for the perfect relaxed build up to the race.

This is calmest I’ve ever felt ahead of a race. I put alot of that down to how much mental rehearsal I’d done. Especially around feelings u have and should expect – for instance how tired u feel 5 minutes into the swim after a hard sprint. Also, I seem to sometimes lose focus in the swim so I went through plans to sort that out. Visualised my legs not feeling good early in the bike and pushing through. Then running strong. The running visualisation became a habit on almost all my runs but during the two weeks in Taupo I spent time just laid quietly thinking it all through. The night before the race I continued reading ‘Get Carter’ about Hamish Carter. It just so happened that I was up to the point of describing the race at the Athens Olympics which he won. I made sure I finished that bit before sleep – it was the perfect motivation ahead of the race. I thought through my race and decided that since I was unsure what would happen on the run I should make the most of the swim and bike – balls out on both.

Race morning … the hotel staff have been awesome. They got up early to cook us breakie for 4am. I had 2 poached eggs on a slice of toast. I also had my usual banana and peanut butter. The poached eggs were so good I think given the chance again thats all I’d have. In transition I have a flat rear tyre ! Luckily I was there pretty early and the mechanics were free and fixed it for me.

I got in the water quite early, did a long warmup – 10 minutes or so. I swam beside where the Maori’s paddled in and did their Haka on the beach. Then went to pick my spot. No more faffing at the sides looking for clear water I was in search of good toes. I went straight to the middle of the field to a group of about 6 swimmers. The signs were good. Firstly the german next to me said he was hoping for 50 minutes. The rest of the guys were Kiwis who seemed to know each other so when one of them said something about them all jumping on “The Kieren Express” I was in high hopes.

The canon went and I just went absolutely all out. Apart from one of the guys I was holding my own but I was flat out. I was getting squeezed from both sides and knew I couldn’t ease off. 30 seconds in and I was half a body length up on those directly beside me. Head down push push push. After a few minutes I was able to look up and see where I was – seemed pretty clear but off to the left of the main field. I edged over to get into the group and found myself in no mans land. The back of the group was about 10m ahead and I had a couple drafting off me. Decision time. Either I ease and get on the feet of those behind or push to get on the group. This is where the visualisation worked – I went anaerobic again and pushed like mad – I was a few metres short and really feeling it, I dug in and got the feet. It was so worth it – I had to work reasonably hard to stay in the draft which clearly meant we were going fast. It turns out I was in the second pack with alot of the top pros. I ! could see a pink cap which was Jo Lawn. Jo’s final email was in my mind “Swim like u are being chased” – this certainly didn’t take much imagination with over a 1000 athletes behind me ! At the turn buoy I eased out to the side to get a clean turn and then worked hard to get myself back into the middle of the pack. Making the last turn with 200m to go my right calf cramped completely – I had to stop and sort it – dropped slightly off the back but the going was good now with the current and didn’t lose too much. Standing up on the beach I could see the clock – unbelievable 49:40 … I sprinted like mad to get across the mat before 50 minutes.

I’d come out side by side with Jo Lawn. So during the 400m run everyone was shouting “Go Jo” … everyone except the small little pocket of Jane, Mum, Jude and Isaiah. Now they can shout! “Go Ste” drowned out all the “Go Jo”‘s. It was so impressive Jo slowed up so I came alongside and said “Whats your name”. I told her and then asked her whether that was a good swim for her. She said it was. I told her it was awesome for me. We wished each other luck and continued on. I found out later mum and Jane and chalked “Heart of a Champion” on the road for me but as they’d done it right by where they were stood I was rather distracted and never got to see it.

Had a speedy T1 coming out with Jo again. That was despite putting shoes on in the tent and being very careful mounting – physio said I should do this as it would be easy to pull the groin if I tried a running mount ! Hit the bike and tried to go like a train down the lake front then turned and hit the hill and my legs felt like shit. I knew this would happened and just battled through. Once over it I started to go well. It was so fantastic – felt I was really in the race. Had some pros’ go by and could see their train start to form. Was half tempted to try and stick with them but I knew the pace was too high. As I approached the turnaround it became apparent that other than a few off the front that “train” was the main group at the front of the field.

I rode the course loads and knew given lowish winds sub 5 hours was doable. The first lap I flew. For something like 40 minutes I saw no one – no one ahead and no one behind. I started imagining what it would be like to be leading. Then a guy in my age group went by like a bullet (he went on to win my age group). Coming into town after a lap my average speed was 22.4mph – bang on for 5 hours split. I whizzed through town and saw Jane, Mum and Jude screaming me on … as ever it choked me up. Now to hit lap 2 hard and get that 5 hour bike split.

Back out for lap two and the wind was up to gale force – it was tough. Jo’s final email kept me focussed “Ride like you’re making an escape”.  A train of about 10 riders caught me and it was very interesting to be part of this for awhile. Everyone was just outside the draft zone but clearly there was an advantage to this as periodically the latter half of the train would all stop pedalling, sit / stand up to ease their pace and keep legal. At one point the three pros at the front were doing this weird chain gang – again all draft legal as far as I could see but going through and off if u see what I mean.I was sitting behind these three and every so often one of them looked over their shoulder at me. With hindsight I think it was probably indicating I should take my turn ! This happened less formally with the whole group – someone at the back would get sick of sitting up and would push through but couldn’t break clear. As we approached the turnaround I felt I wanted to be off the front as by now it was absolutely pissing down and I felt it would be better to be at the front for the dead turn and to collect a band. I pushed through from the back and kept pushing. When I started back after the turn around it was very pleasing to see I’d blown the little train apart. After a few miles this Aussie pro (who on passing me earlier had said I was riding well) came by, once along side we had a quick chat – he thanked me for pushing it and breaking up the train – he’d been the only one able to match me as I went !

Coming into town it was clear what the wind had done – ended up wih 5:09 split but happy as I’d been holding my own and my legs were telling me I’d pushed as hard as I could.

T2 awesome – even with pulling ‘Skins’ on my wet legs (aimed at supporting the groin) was through in 1:30. I thought about the final bit of Jo’s mail “Run like you’re free”. Having not run f or so long I was looking forward to this moment.

Felt good on the run straight away and couldn’t feel the groin. As ever the support was great. Jane kept changing her spot, mum was in the hotel with Isaiah so screamed at me each time I passed. Then all the staff and people we met at the hotel were shouting me on. Throughout the run I got shouts of “Looking Strong” and thats how I felt. Not the fastest I’ve done an Ironman Marathon but certainly the most consistent. After 20kms I felt stronger than at the start so much so I consciously held back on the outward leg of the second lap since the return was into a fierce headwind and I knew it was tough. After about 15km a guy from my age group came by me, I stuck with him for a KM or so and then felt the pace was abit too much. I let him drift away but by about 20km I was back with him and was pondering a sprint finish (I know… early to think that) so edged up my pace and went by – ended up dropping him completely. At the time I was completely unaware this was for 3rd pla! ce.

With 5kms to go I could see it was close for sub 9.30. Having been under 9.30 a couple of times I pondered whether I was bothered … again my mental rehearsals helped so much as I immediately thought of course you are – keep pushing. By the final 2 kms I was running hard and loads of people were shouting looking strong. Crossed the line in 9:27:31 and pretty confident of a Kona slot !

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