I decided to take a break from the North American winter this year and headed down to Australia (for training) and New Zealand (for racing). This past weekend I took part in Challenge Wanaka (3.8K/180K/42.2K) located in the Alpine region on the South Island of New Zealand. Its an amazing place to host an event with snow capped mountains surrounding you in every direction.
The night before the race had all of us a bit concerned as it began to rain around 8:00 pm. That rained continued all night long and had still not let up by the time we woke up in the morning. Nevertheless, it had begun to back off a bit and by the time the race actually started the rain had been reduced to a light sprinkle.
I hopped in the water about 20 minutes before the start to warm up and the conditions were ideal with flat water. Then, amazingly enough, in that 20 minutes the wind began to pick up and we actually had a pretty good chop when the gun went off. After 15 minutes of swimming there were two distinct packs (me in the second one) working together in fairly rough swim conditions. I was bummed that I missed the split, but I could see my buddy (and eventual winner) Chris McDonald in the group so I knew I would be in good company at the start of the bike.
Everything was going smoothly until about the 3K mark when my swim cap popped off. This might not be a big deal under normal circumstances, but I am currently sporting a bit of a Florence Henderson haircut so sighting became rather difficult. It was about the equivalent of trying to swim with a mop on your head. I exited the water about 30 seconds down from the group, but I hoped to hustle through T1 and catch up. Unfortunately, I did the opposite, and actually let the gap get bigger as I struggled to put on a little extra clothing in the change tent.
I got out onto bike course and was pretty frustrated that I had stumbled so much in the previous five minutes. The bike course begins with a short out-and-back so I could see everyone up the road and I knew that the gap in front of me would be hard to close if they got organized. As we passed back through town and out onto the core of the bike course I got a split of 2:30 to the front group. I started to find a rhythm and was trying to ride a solid tempo in hopes of simply neutralizing the gap.
To my surprise, the gap had come down to about 90 seconds at 60K and by 85K I had actually closed to Luke and Keegan. Unfortunately, Chris and Petr had ridden up the road so I was forced to continue to chase. I finally made contact with Chris and Petr at 120K and soon Chris and I rode off the front. We rode together until about 160K when I had a bit of a bad patch. Unfortunately my bad patch was coupled by Chris having a good patch and he put about 90+ seconds into me coming into T2.
I hustled out of T2 and hoped to try and close the gap before the midway point of the run. I found a nice rhythm, but it seemed Chris had found a better one as he put two minutes into me at the end of lap one (of 2). I kept pressing on in hopes that things might change, but as I neared the 30K mark of the run I could feel the effects of my efforts on the day. I was still holding it together to my best abilities, but it was not enough to hold off Keegan and Petr who both passed in the final 10K of the race. I did hold to finish in fourth place and I also set a new bike course record as a result of chasing everyone all day long.
My decision to race in New Zealand this year was a great one. My first Challenge race was a fantastic experience and I hope to race here again.
Now I’ll be heading home to take a bit of break before starting all over again.