It's always interesting to board a flight to a famous triathlon or Ironman competition. As you check in, you always see others with huge bike boxes in line with you. Where else would they be going but to the Ironman you're going to?
The plane ride was uneventful. I slept the whole way. An uncomfortable sleep at best, but better than nothing. Arrival in Auckland ran me through the typical international traveler passport check-in lines. What struck me next was the rather humid climate after getting my luggage. The temperature was fairly warm, maybe in the 70s and drizzling rain. I remember reading about all the microclimates in NZ. This will become more apparent during the drive to Taupo where the rain disappears, the sun emerges amidst beautiful partly cloudy skies, intensely warm while in the sun, but downright chilly in the shade. This should result in an interesting race temperature and weather-wise.
I ride on a smaller bus due to the fact that I booked my own motel. I am staying at the Le Chalet Suisse, which is right behidn the second transition area (bike to run transition, also known as T2 - T1 is the first transition of swim to bike). I have a room which overlooks Lake Taupo and you have a bird's eye view of the swim and T2. This should be great for my friends staying with me and I am envious of the fact that they will be up there hanging out on the porch, sipping great New Zealand wine or beer, and watching all the Ironman competitors roll past them in the water first, and then in and out of T2. Me, I'll be cruising along burning every last bit of calories left in my body - hmmm, the wine and hanging out doesn't sound so bad...
On the smaller bus are 4 of us. 2 are Canucks and 1 is from Northern California. I am heartened by the cheerful and open banter that occurs between them. They remind me that there are only 10,000 people at most worldwide who compete and that once you get into racing you can't help but bump into people you meet from races past. They tell me that they have the most amazing, friendly, down-to-earth people in the world at these races.
What is it about Ironman competitors then? Why are they open, friendly, and accepting of others?
Perhaps it is the comraderie of people with the same goal - to reach the finish line. There is more support in an Ironman than I've ever seen, whether it's from friends and family or from other racers. One of them was telling me about Ironman Canada where the last racer to cross the finish line (before the 17 hour cutoff) gets an enormous crowd building behind him or her. Usually it's close to midnight, and the race officials pretty much know who can or cannot finish. As the racer passes each aid station, the people in the aid station follow behind, jogging/walking and/or cheering. By the time the racer approaches the finish line, there is a huge crowd following behind. It is an emotional moment; the entire finish chute is cheering now, urging the racer to keep it up and the finish line is within grasp. Remember the racer who finishes last is a true Ironman in every sense of the word. This person has been going non-stop for 17 hours straight! Usually the racer is a wreck, every muscle is sore, feet aching to stop/stop/stop but can't because the finish line is finally there, and the 17 hour ordeal is almost over, knowing that as soon as the finish line is crossed, another Ironman is born.
Or maybe it's the similar stories of trials that many Ironman competitors face. Sometimes it's a personal journey like myself, sometimes it's facing incredible odds like emerging from rehab after being a drug user foryears and watching it destroy one's life. Sometimes they are racing for others, like someone who has died from cancer, or perhaps another competitor whose dream wsa to race and finish Ironman but passed away before they could reach their race. The stories are endless, sometimes tragic, and infinitely bonding.
They give me tips, as I am the only Ir5nman virgin on the bus. Here are a few:
"You don't need to swim train. I swam for the first time in months last week." - From a sub-12 hour Ironman competitor! Wow, what great genetics!
"I took Red Bull for the whole bike. I was so wired it took an hour off my bike!"
"Gotta eat pizza the night before. Pasta is too heavy for me."
"Snacking on Tim Bits is the best!" - Tim Bits are donut holes from a Canadian coffee house, started by some pro-hockey player.
"I read People magazine the night before the race. Otherwise I stress too much."
"You gotta stay in the host motel to be able to pee in your own hotel room. All you gotta do is run out of transition, go up to your room, an dthen run back down and out."
"Remember to pee. You should need to pee." - From a Canuck, who managed to go through one of his entire Ironmans without the urge to pee - Amazing!
"Do what you can do for the moment - don't worry about the whole race." - On when the race gets monotonous, and you're butt tired, and every fiber of your being is saying "why am I doing this?"
"Thank the people at every aid station."
"Gotta keep your sense of humor."
"Wax before the race." - From a male competitor!
"Put on tanning color for great photos." - Especially if you are a white anglo saxon and don't want to have this ghostly white appearance in your race photos.
Very funny stuff - but I do agree with the last one. You gotta look good in your race photos.
If I see a camera guy on the bike, I will definitely go into aero position and have a smile on my face. But I DO NOT LOOK AT THE CAMERA. I did that once and looked like a dork. Hunker down in aero position, look cool, and smile like you're out for another training ride.
If I see a camera guy on the run, I pick up my knees more and kick my legs back just a bit more also as I pass him, no matter how much it hurts. Usually this always happens when I am butt tired and my legs are dead, because I am part way through the run. But I don't care. I make my legs look like I'm running instead of shuffling, which is probably what I was doing before I saw the camera guy. Again, no looking at the camera. Doesn't look good later.
The ride to Taupo was filled with great conversation and funny anecdotes. I am amazed at all the stories. Some of them are scary, like the ones about NZ's unpredictable weather in Taupo, and how years ago they were racing in rain, sun, and then rain again - all in one day. I get the willies thinking about my pretty steel Ritchey Breakaway with no defense against the elements....! I can only hope that someday I will buy the Titanium/Carbon Breakaway supposedly ni testing now. Many were stories of hardship during the races, some memorable, and some half forgotten. Many are of helping other competitors, some are of what goes through their minds at various stages in the race. I am wow-ed by the variety of their finish time, from 11 hours to 16. You can never tell by the way they look how fast they will go. And each Ironman is a different test for each competitor as well. Different weather, road, physical/health conditions exist for each race. One can only hope that the training and mental determination will carry them through the race.
I arrive in Taupo mid-afternoon. Taupo is a beautiful place. The wind had picked up and ws raising swells on the lake. We all hope that wind doesn't come on race day as that will trash bike times for sure. The air is supremely fresh. It is very scenic and reinvigorating to be there. Taupo is a small town, somewhat like Kona, Hawaii. Somewhat quiet, but many decent restaurants and little shops. The sky is partly cloudy, and the sun is intense due to the elevation.
I quickly get to my room and put on some running shorts. There is a short run session with pro-Ironman Andrea Fisher. I have not been up close to many pros before, but for some reason I expected something different in Andrea. She is taller than me, about 5'9" I think and supremely muscled without an ounce of fat. She is our tour guide for the course during pre-race week. Today, we run 30 min on the run course to shake out the tightness from the flight. She takes off at what is probably slower than her jog pace. I find that as we move, it slowly creeps up to my base pace and she is barely noticing the run! The others feel the same way. Some drop back or go back to their hotel. I stay with the group because it's a nice day and it's nice to keep up the positive sensations going (as my coach would say) of running fast. I'm only going 30 min so it's no big deal. I do feel good that my body does feel fairly decent after the short run - a testament to my hard-won fitness in the months leading up to the race.
I get back to my room, shower, and go grocery shopping and get some dinner.
After dinner, I put together my bike and notice my rear derailleur is a bit out of whack. Ride-able for tomorrow's short tour of the bike course, but definitely something to get checked out after we get back.
In my room, I am frustrated that I cannot dialup to the internet on the room phone. It may be my modem, but it is most likely the phone system is digital. So I type this in hopes that somehow I can post it at an internet cafe in town later in the day.
Time for bed.