Thursday, April 14, 2011

Some of my best friends are triathletes

Ive always been a fan of the sport of triathlon from the early days of Erin Baker and Rick Wells. I often wished I could swim so I could give it a crack, but a lack time and a propensity to sink had me sidelined. My most recent attempt in learning to do freestyle resulted in a completely munted back and a withdrawal from a half finished learn to swim course. I could think of plenty of other ways to wreck my back that were a lot more fun than swimming so once again it went on hold.



My good buddies Susie Wood and Gary Milbanke had been doing the Xterra Triathlon (very successfully) for quite a few years now and kept pimping it to me as something I just had to do. A 1km swim, 29km Mountainbike and a 11km run in the Rotorua forests sounded like a pretty fun event (for someone who isn't a real triathlete), and with some prompting from my buddy Matt and a very kind loan of a wet-suit and googles his evil plan of kicking my arse in a triathlon was taking shape.

I quickly found that being a triathlete takes a lot more effort than I was used to, and the downside is that you pretty much suck at all three disciplines. I don't like sucking below a certain level, but my swim training stood me in good stead as I went completely under water at the start of the Karapoti Classic this year.

Given the time it would have taken me to learn to float, and then swim freestyle for longer than 1 length, I elected to swim breast stroke instead, which I could already do at some rudimentary level. Swimming is boring as hell but at least I could poke my head up out of the water to look around every stroke, and compared to a free-styler, I can cut 20% off the course, just by swimming in a straight line.

I ended up having two swims in the sea before Xterra, and discovered why they say “swallow salt water” if you eat something nasty and you need to expel it. Yuck. The water in Tikitapu (The Blue Lake) was like Perrier compared to Scorching Bay!

Dr Seuss using her dial-up, our link to the outside world
Susie and Gazza had organised a salubrious crib for us at Lake Okareka, only minutes from the Race HQ, and proceeded (each day) to pick up a collection of training partners from Nelson from the airport. Being the perfect hosts, they then showed them all around the course. Susie was on fire in the single-track in what must be some of the most fun trails in NZ. Split Enz, Huckleberry Hound, Corners and G-Rock were all part of the MTB course and there was plenty of medium ring climbing for the elevation gain, all in all, a very honest MTBers course.

Our crib-mates Lyndon and John had some pretty serious palmares, some more recent than others. We were all waiting to see if Lyndon would unleash his 4.05 minute mile on us at some stage. John elected to pre-ride the whole course the day before, including one lap of the run. I don't think he managed to sneak in a swim though as it was getting late in the day.

Cleetuses freak-mobile sporting Geax Akka rubber
The weather was picture post card perfect on race day. Apparently the water was cold and the swimming rough, as far as getting clouted around the ears goes. I guess I was too far out the bum to notice. I really enjoyed the swim only dropping 3 mins to the majority of our camp who surfaced in around 13 mins – except for John who cranked out an 11 minute swim. Awesome! I discovered why Susie oiled her calves with baby oil when my wet-suit became stuck on my ankles! Bugger....My transistion took 2 mins 24 seconds... Compare that to Richard Ussher's at 41 seconds. Mind you, I also put on gloves and socks, a real no-no for the Pros. There were some very nastily blistered heels and toes in our camp at the end of the day I can tell you. There was just no way I was going to try to use gripshift with wet and potentially sweaty hands, and apparently the well meaning locals had just resurfaced the transistion area so it was covered in loose sharp gravel, I got a stone in my sock as it was.

I treated the MTB a bit like a Cyclo Cross race as I desperately tried to pull in all the punters on flat pedals and toe-clips before they got into the single track to thwart my progress. It wasn't too bad and I reckon that after an hour I eventually caught up to Matt Farrar, Lyndon and Matt Gerstenberger, the later two both on 29ers, Matt's being of the rigid drop-barred variety. I was surprised to see Matt who I thought would have had a massive lead from the swim, not so, but he was riding really well on some very technical trails.

Just before catching Matt I had caught up with Catherine Dunne and gave her some gentle sledging. “You are going pretty well for an old lady” I yelled, and surprisingly I got no response until I pulled up beside her. Catherine was on her best behaviour and I rode with her for a bit until I managed to pull away somewhere.

Sometime later I heard a very polite womens voice.. “Hellooo”, “Hellooo”. Cripes, a lady had caught me, either she was in a very fast team or she was a very crap swimmer! (It was the latter...) It was the legendary local Anikka Smail. She rode away from me without even pedalling, such was her mastery of the trail. Pumping it without braking. Impressive. 

It was time for a Gel and to think about preparing myself mentally for the run. Crib-mate Lyndon is a physio and I started doing some exercises that he suggested while descending down to the bike-run transistion. It must have worked, because when I eventually found my shoes and got them on, there was none of the back-spasm induced duck-shuffle that I had experienced in previous transition training attempts.

The 11 km run was a beauty, two laps with a real varied mixture of single track, a set of stairs, a gentle climb, a gentle descent and more singletrack. Just into my second lap I think I started to suffer a bit more and someone yelled out “Your'e going alright for an old man!” It wasCatherine Dunne, I let her past and she took another 2 mins out of me in the last 5kms of the run : ) A number of runners were passing me now, compared to none on the first lap. I rolled my ankle badly about 1 km from the finish but it didnt matter. It was over, 2 hours and 57 minutes of swimming, biking and running in a stunning location. 

Susie shows how its done for 2nd place.
It was a long way from the winner Richard Usshers time of 2.17, and still a long way from camp mother Susies 2.43 !

Susie, got her fourth podium in as many years with a 2nd place, after recording the fastest womans MTB split and getting run down by national MTB champ Karen Hanlen on the last lap of the run. Gazza got bumped from 3rd to 4th when another competitor decided he didn't want to be a pro after all. John was 3rd, Lyndon 14th, Matt 7th and myself 6th in our respective age-group categories.

John was on a brand new, (until then), unridden Jamis Carbon 29er, Lyndons was an alloy Fisher 29er I think. Matt was on his usual mount, Singular 29er with rigid fork and drop-bar. Susie Gazz and myself were all on Santa Cruz 26ers, them, Carbon Blurs, me the Superlight.

I didn't even have to win to get a tatoo!
I am not sure if tires make a lot of difference in Rotorua, but you are definitlely best to err on the side of "fast". Matt's Geax Akkas were obviously way faster than the 2.4 inch Conti monstrosities he usually totes around Wellington and he lost no confidence in going to the faster tire. Gazz was on the light and minimally treaded Furious Freds, Susie had a bit more tread on her tires, Continental Speed King Supersonics I think, but it didn't slow her down measureably, the only one of us riding faster splits than her being Gazza. I had the very minimally treaded Stans Raven on the back and the Vredestein Spotted Leopard (seriously thats what its called) on the front. I had no problems on the back at all, but had a few slides on the front while trying to keep Susie in sight on the front in training.

So there it is. If you ever wanted to do a Triathlon, cant swim, and like MTBing, then this could be your next fun thing to do. http://www.xterra.co.nz . The trails in Rotorua are so good, we rode everyday we were there.

I had a real treat ready for me when I got back to Wellington, but thats another story....