Rotorua Half IronGIRL by Ness Gundry
Through out the year I have entered in a variety of events ranging from mountain biking, trail runs, road riding, a woman’s adventure race and a women’s triathlon. These have all been a means to achieving my end of year goal to complete my first half ironman.
Because there was a such a diverse range of events I had entered in Ray set up a training programme that targeted the specific disciplines. Although I diligently chipped away at my training, I did however have countless concerns worrying if I was ever going to be ready for the Rotorua Half ironman. I couldn’t visualise completing a 2km run, 90km bike ride and a 21km trail run. I had no idea of the terrain. Sure the race profile outlines the maximum elevation. But that is an indication only. It means nothing unless you know the course.
Assimilating the event into your training rides/runs is quite a challenge too. Ray said to me trust the programme Ness. I know I’ve had these countless conversations with Ray before, and he has always been right.
5:15am I make my way down to the lake to rack my bike. My husband Dave carries my gear. I smell the fresh clean air and start to focus my thoughts on the swim. I glance at the lake. The water is dead calm. I feel a sense of relief. It’s only a 2km session. I can do this.
The race organiser gives the final call to the competitors, the race will start in 5 minutes. Now I start to feel uneasy. I’m suddenly feeling overwhelmed, with a real sense of dread.
Then the reality hit, I’ve never swam in a lake before. Swimming is my weakest discipline. I looked back at Dave and said, “Oh my god what have I signed up for. I feel like I could cry.” He was very reassuring and gently pushed me back towards the competitors lined up at the waters edge ready to go.
The hooter went and I momentarily forgot my fears. This is a race, I ran into the water. I was expecting to get a cold rush through my wetsuit. The water was surprisingly warm. People were pushing passed me in their haste to get to the front. Then when I stretched out to take a stroke, I panicked and started to gasp for air. I couldn’t swim. People continued to push passed me. I put my head back in the water and take another stroke, I still couldn’t breathe. This was crazy.
A million things ran through my mind. I told myself “I can do this,” I’ve been training all year. I told myself to relax. But no matter how hard I tried, I could not relax. I noticed a female competitor on my left was having the same problem. She soon bailed. I don’t quit, but I also don’t like being last and then the next reality hit that I WAS the last swimmer, I nearly threw in the towel. If I quit I will let myself down, and I didn’t want other people to feel disappointed in me particularly when I have had such great support over the year.
I just had to get over myself. One of the life guards in a kayak suggested I get on my back to open up the airways. I tried this several times through out the swim, but when I did get my breathing back to normal I just couldn’t get over my fear. This young man stayed with me for the entire swim.
An hour and two minutes later I exited the water. What a relief. As I made my way to the transition area I noticed the pros undoing their wetsuits. So I immediately reached around for my zip and as I did this my feet went out from under me. I landed on the wet grass with a thud. The wind was knocked out of me. I lay there stunned for a while (probably only a few seconds), but it felt like ages. I was in a state of shock at the fact I fell over in front of so many people and other athletes. How embarrassing. Competitors stopped to help me. I refused their help even though my chest was sore and my pride had been hurt.
I pulled myself together and continued to make my way to the transition area. I stumbled across another tiny minute problem. No I didn’t fall again. It’s just that I have a slight sight impairment. I am extremely short sighted, and trying to find my bike without my glasses was a challenge. I had racked my bike in the second row from the front. It was the second bike on the rack. That shouldn’t be hard to find, eh?
Well, when I found the second row I discovered there were a million other bikes on the ground at the end of the row. This just changed everything. I thought someone had taken the rack down and moved my bike. So I ran around transition like a mad thing trying to locate my bike. I momentarily thought I should’ve put a red flashing light on my bike as a locator beacon. Surely my eyes would pick that amongst the sea of bikes. I finally found my beastie of a bike. I had no time to lose. I’d already lost precious time with the swim and in transition.
I got out of my wetsuit and into my bike shoes quick as lightening. “Ha” I thought so many friends from home would be really impressed if they saw me right now. I scoffed down some baby food, grabbed a banana to eat while exiting transition.
My whole perspective about the race changed once I was on the bike. I was in control of my thoughts and actions. I can ride a bike. Nothing is going to stop me or slow me down. I need to focus on this next part of the race. But my chest was hurting. I thought I must have pulled something in the water.
The 45k ride to Lake Rotoma was stunning. About 3km before the turn around I spotted a Qwik Kiwi team member heading back. I waved out, but she didn’t see me. That was one, now there are two more to find. When I hit the half way mark I was feeling good, but my chest continued to give me grief.
At one stage I thought I must have been having a heart attack. I realised it couldn’t be a heart attack, the pain is on my right side, not my left. Okay I’m blonde, I don’t mind admitting that. Needless to say I wasn’t going to stop. I figured if I’m still breathing and moving, I will be fine.
I was cruising along and came across Louise Amey (another Qwiki Kiwi member). I said hello. She asked me if I was Di. “Nope, I’m Ness.” I biked passed her after that. Not one bit offended she had mistaken me for Di. Further into the ride as I was approaching the Tikitere Saddle a happy fellow called out, “Hello Vanessa. So you’re the other Qwik Kiwi member.” I said, “Yes. Who are you.” He replied, “I’m Humps.” “Aargh,” I said, “so you’re Humphries.”
He took off passing me at an alarming rate up the hill. I thought right, I’m not going to let you beat me to the top of the hill. He did. I caught up to him on the descent. I was right behind his wheel and noticed his bike frame bending. I thought “hmm I’m getting out of here” so I passed him. That was such a great feeling over taking Qwik Kiwi’s renowned athlete. I knew Hump’s would soon catch me and he did. We had a quick chat about his bike getting the speed wobbles. Then he was gone.
I really enjoyed the ride back. As I climbed the final hill, I felt a bit disappointed that the ride was soon coming to an end. I pick up speed descending the hill into Lake Tikitapu. One of the officials blows their whistle and tells me to dismount my bike. I hastily make my way into transition.
This time there is no confusion where to rack my bike. I suck on another packet of baby food. I grab my back pack and decide to tip my water out of my bladder and add the electrolytes. While changing shoes, hats etc I chat to a competitor waiting for her team mate. Banana in hand I take off for the last leg of the journey.
Dave looking like the paparazzi is positioned on the lake shore taking photos. He runs alongside me for a 100m and peels off. I tell him I’m feeling fresh for the run. Surprisingly my hamstring feels fine. No pain there. But the pain in my chest didn’t ease. I pass a spectator. He asks me if I’ve got lunch in my pack. I look at him. Really? I tell him I’ve got a picnic and race on. 5km into the run I cramp. I knew that the next 16km was going to be a slog.
The run out to Green Lake is beautiful, I manage to get glimpses at the stunning scenery. On the return I see Helen, Qwik Kiwi member. How I know this, is she’s wearing the same Qwik Kiwi outfit as me. I shout out some encouraging words to her.
By this stage the cramp was getting unbearable. I had nearly used an entire bottle of cramp spray. Later on with only 2km’s to the finish, I stumble on a root. A really nice person asks me if I was okay. I explain my cramp dilemma. She offers me a chomp. I think that kind girl was Louise one of the Qwik Kiwi members. Thank you Louise.
As I make my way to the finish I hear Humphries call out some encouraging words too. YAY Half Ironman complete.
What an awesome day out. There were so many friendly competitors. I had time to reflect on how I will race the next Rotorua Half IronGIRL:
(1) My goal for 2017 is to feel confident swimming in open water. Lots of swim sessions to plan;
(2) DON”T try anything new on race day. I didn’t practice getting out of my wetsuit while running. I need to master this task before the next event so as not to deal with another embarrassing moment;
(3) Wear either contact lenses or goggles with prescription lenses. This will ensure no confusion in the transition area when locating my bike;
(4) I like to run with a camel pack, but on race day have electrolytes ready to go in camelbak;
(5) LAST of all, I would not change my training programme or my Coach. Regardless of how I went in the water I was pleased with my overall performance.
Ray’s approach really works. I am sold on his scientific approach to training.
Post race I was diagnosed with cracked ribs. Had I known that at the time I doubt I would’ve continued racing.