My First Kiwi Tri by Andy Thornton
On 4th December it had been 16 months since I last raced a triathlon. Emigrating to NZ when we did meant we had a UK winter followed by a NZ winter, although a NZ winter is more like UK spring/summer. Before we had even got our NZ visas we had already signed up for Challenge Wanaka so we have already completed a lot of base training. Training has enabled us to start exploring our new home and in the past couple of months we spent a week in the Bay of Islands, mainly cycling and running and then 10 days in Wanaka completing a course recce and doing some big volume in all three disciplines. Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge, a ride around the lake was the first test of the biking legs but the Panasonic People’s Triathlon at Mission Bay was to be my first triathlon. The race is a standard distance triathlon: sea swim (3 laps), bike (4 laps) along sea front – TT bikes draft legal and then run (2 laps) also along the sea front.
The one thing that has struck me both training and participating in the limited number of events in NZ is that is a lot more relaxed and is not the same overkill on health and safety. Best way to explain this is with some examples. In UK swimming pools it is only at limited times that you can go lane swimming – in NZ it seems to be the norm to have one or more lanes available all the time. When swimming in those lanes in the UK you are not allowed to use fins or paddles for fear you may injure someone else – no such restrictions in NZ. In the UK – wild swimming is for those adventurous few who swim in bodies of water where you haven’t had to seek the permission of a land owner or complete an extensive risk assessment and emergency action plan before you can get in the water. In NZ this is just simply called open water swimming and there are buoys in the sea/lakes so you can just get on with it. In the UK the transition police are in attendance at every race checking your bike and helmet sticker and the racking used is never big enough for me to get my bike on without tilting at a 45 degree angle. First Kiwi Tri I had pre-registered the day before and got my number, swim cap and timing chip. On race morning I dropped my bike off in transition, in a location of my choosing, and there was no need for any bike tilting. In part this approach to registration and transition epitomises the relaxed and trusting way of life we are getting used to in NZ. Also I can’t think of any triathlons on public roads in the UK which are draft legal!
The other major plus points for this race and one of the key reasons I wanted to leave the UK was the better weather. The race started at 7:05am and the air temperature was already 15 degrees and all it did from there is get hotter – this is the first race I have attended where I haven’t had my winter kit with me. I won’t bore you to death with a blow by blow account of my race but here are some highlights and other observations.
The swim was uneventful (thankfully no jellyfish) and went well for me. I used Dave Metcalfe a fellow member of North Harbour Tri Club as a target. T1 went as smoothly as expected until I came to hit the start button on my bike Garmin! It was in my bag but in all the excitement I had forgot to put it on my bike, I hope no one at the mount line thought I was abusing them as I was rebuking myself for a schoolboy error! This meant no power data and although I had my running Garmin on my wrist it wasn’t easy to see my HR on the bike. Fortunately this is why I stress when coaching that during a race all these devices and metrics they provide are just to be used as a guide; ultimately you need to be able to pace your race on feel. The bike was hard and fast and although I am a strong cyclist, flat roads and drafting makes it very difficult to bridge gaps between group. For those of you that don’t know me well I do like a good spreadsheet - my latest spreadsheet told me I sat on the front of my group for 72% of the time. I was through T2 and onto the run along the sea front in the sunshine – just lovely.
Run went well and the same spreadsheet told me I overtook 19 people which ultimately meant I managed to top the 40-49 age group coming home in . It was my run off the bike that was most satisfying. In the past couple of years I have invested a lot of time and effort both as an athlete and a coach (ignore the fact I forgot to put my Garmin on my bike) working on running gait: a process of assessment evaluation and then correction which is achieved using direct interventions such as running cues and cadence; and indirect interventions i.e. a lot of functional strength work. This has led to three key benefits: remaining injury free; improved running efficiency and ultimately more consistent training meaning my run fitness has improved. For my fellow members at NHTC watch this space as I will be organising some run clinics but for anyone interested to find out more see ww.andyt.coach.
Now my final observation between my first Kiwi Tri and a UK Tri is the amount of people that stayed behind for the awards and spot prizes. In the UK my previous experience is that the awards are held after the last person has finished (this wasn’t the case at this race) and most people don’t hang around for this long. Other reasons why people don’t tend to hang around is the weather and there is no reason to stay unless you have a club member or friend winning something. From the two organised events I have completed so far in NZ – the Taupo Cycle Challenge and this race the additional incentive to remain is that the spot prizes are amazing. At Taupo the top spot prize was a car but the holiday look pretty awesome too. At the Panasonic Triathlon the top prize was a wide screen TV and the chance to go into a draw to win a car for a year. With the spot prizes the numbers/names get called out and if you aren’t there to collect the prize it becomes a redraw until the prize is claimed so well worth staying behind.
Overall I really enjoyed my first Kiwi Tri and I am looking forward to the next one in a couple of weeks at Rotorua (70.3 distance) where I get to take on Javier Gomez and explore another part of this beautiful country.
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