UltraHumps: Challenge Wanaka – Called Challenge for a Reason!

Hi Team and welcome to Blog # 32

Coach Ray kindly allowed me to delay the write up due to focusing on Challenge Wanaka.  This is the first part of the ‘2’ of the 3+2+1=Charity, being the two Iron Distance events (226kms) over ‘2’ weeks, with the next being Ironman New Zealand in Taupo on Saturday 4 March (having completed the ‘3’ Half Ironman events over 3 consecutive weekends in December).

Leading up to the event I was on a work course.  Work was kind enough to release me two days early so I could get to Wanaka.  However the build up and start of the event didn’t go to plan.  My flight into Christchurch where I was meeting up with my loyal supporter to take with me (my mum) was delayed.  As such we arrived in Wanaka too late for Registration, which meant I was too late for the tickets for the Pasta Party, which includes a lot of great race information.  I put on my charm with my mother beside me and they said we’ll take care of registration tomorrow which is the other scheduled registration day.  Turn up tonight and see the ladies and we’ll get you in.

I was stoked, but then had to race off to the bike shop for my bike to be reassembled and then event certified.  The guy said, “I remember your phone call, but we didn’t make the booking in our computer by error and are running at full capacity.”   A young mechanic took my bike bag and I heard later he stayed after closing time, reassembled everything and certified my bike and helmet, excellent service!

The next day I handed in my bike and running bags then received a phone call saying my labels had come off as they were handed in so we need to find your bags. I couldn’t believe it.  My running bag was with my bike as per their instructions, so a quick check and relabelling and it was off to search through the hundreds of bags to find my cycling bag which contained my cycle shoes, etc.  Fortunately one of the volunteers had seen the unlabelled bag and gone through it and found my race number etc, labelled it before I got there and placed it in sequence.  Challenge Wanaka and their volunteers were amazing and couldn’t do enough to help me.

I returned to the Army Leave Centre to relax for the evening before the event then my phone rang again and it was the TV Productions for Challenge Wanaka, saying they were looking into my charity and wanted to run a segment on me during Challenge Wanaka.  I knew the documentary to screen later would focus on the pro’s, but it was a great chance to get my message out there.  They were great guys and I wasn’t too phased being in front of the TV camera.

Race Day

I felt relaxed. I knew it would be a cold swim being an alpine fed lake and a hot day.  It sure was!  I had my mother with me in the early hours taking care of business (TCB) and stood by the lake and gave her a quick hug as I disappeared for a pre-swim warm up in the water.   I then returned to the shore and turned on my Garmin.  The word Garmin displayed and then it locked up. I tried every button and nothing would reset it.  My mum smiled and asked what’s up.  I replied that it was a technical problem with my watch and five minutes to go it wasn’t budging.  The hooter went off and I did the swim deliberately staying 3-5 metres away from the buoys, being a 2 lap course and the pro’s having left 15 minutes before us.  I didn’t want to get run over by the various groups coming through.  Returning on the second leg the sun rising was straight in our eyes and a safety kayaker was using her oar to point the direction for us.  I headed in and when I stood up where I thought was the exit, I was about 20 metres to the right.  Thinking I was about to run through the spectators they were throwing their arms in the direction I needed to start swimming again.  They all laughed when I said the only thing I could think of “BUGGER” (I can just see Coach Ray rolling his eyes back).

Onto the bike and by now I had heard that a couple of athletes had pulled out.  One was a Did Not Start (DNS) and one needed medical attention due to the coldness of the lake.  After the first segment of the bike I was back into town and saw Mr Brendon Fraher and his wife Jude cheering me on.  I was absolutely stoked.  Brendon was my Commanding Officer when I was a young Soldier and had promoted me to Sergeant.  Here he was taking time out of his busy schedule supporting me and taking care of my mum for me.  I was worried that the heat would get to her and she wouldn’t leave the course.

The bike course ensured we knew why this event was part of the Challenge Family.  The hills were hard work and to make it worse my Garmin was doing nothing.  Of all times to be the first time to give up the ghost.  When I cycle I am very much a 10/45 man.  I drink every 10 minutes and eat every 45 minutes, but I had no way to gauge it.  I had to wing it for the drinks and chose to eat at every aid station as that part would be about 45 mins.  I could only judge the distance as I rolled past the distance markers every 10 kms and when I looked up at the sun being directly above me as I entered the 2nd lap I guessed I was doing okay.  The heat was intense and I had the opportunity to look forward to repeating the hills again.

Soon I was back to the finish line after seeing Brendon, Jude and my mum at various stages on the bike course and into the running shoes.

The word Challenge was to become true again.  Coach Ray had suggested I do the Marathon part as 9/1, which meant I was to run 9 mins/walk 1 min throughout.  This was two-fold.  One to protect my 50 year calf muscles from strains and two, being cautious as I have another Ironman in two weeks.

I had ditched my Garmin and Heart Rate Monitor at the 2nd transition so I had no idea how to work this out.  I noticed the course was marked every km for distance, so I decided to run for 2 kms and then fast walk for 100 paces.  I knew the 2 kms is over 9 mins but I thought 100 paces is about a minute, plus a walk through the aid stations as I needed what was on offer.  This worked great.  By now the heat was worse than when I competed in Ultraman Australia and other athletes were withdrawing (not many, but a few).  It proved to be a Challenge due to the heat and the terrain.  Where else do you do an Ironman distance event and the run is about two thirds off-road?

At aid stations I drenched myself with a water logged sponge.  The sponge would be bone dry by the next one 2-3 kms down the road.  Eventually after 10 kms I popped out from the Clutha River onto tarseal, only to see a massive hill in front of me.  I was scheduled for my walk so chugged away at it and passed a young guy.  He saw I had a ‘white’ race number which meant I was doing the full course as an individual.  He had a ‘red’ race number which meant he was part of a team doing the Marathon phase.  He told me I was nuts and after a quick conversation he couldn’t believe a 50 year old was running up the hill he had to walk.  He relayed to his support crew that I was a crazy 50 year old and they became my support crew for the rest of the run as he and I played cat and mouse at passing each other.

I counted the kilometres down and with about 6 kms to go the TV Crew showed up again just as I started my 100 pace walk. Bugger, I had to start running again for the camera and they stayed with me the whole way to the finish line!

The finish line was great.  Located down the main street of Wanaka, people were spilling out of the bars cheering me (much to the delight of the camera crew).  Then there was the last red carpet run to the finishing chute.  A medal was placed around my neck and a sponsors can of Speights given to me with my proud mum watching as I was interviewed by the film crew before heading to the recovery tent.

Humps with Team Qwik Kiwi member Robert St-Denis after the finish

The medical staff weighed me and I said “3 kilograms less, no worries”.  They said “No, 4.19 kilograms. Are you okay?”  My response was “my legs don’t like me anymore from the hill work, but all in all I feel okay”, so they hurried me off to the food area where I ate everything and anything to compensate.  My time was 12 hours, 47 minutes and 54 seconds for the 226 km’s.  I was pretty stoked as even the pro-athletes said it was a true Challenging hard course.

Many thanks to Coach Ray and everyone’s support.  It was great to meet Qwik Kiwi’s Rob St-Denis on the course during the Marathon phase. I hope to catch up with Clare at some stage who also did Challenge Wanaka.

If you wish to donate to my charity of the Children of the Fallen Heroes, which is what the 3+2+1=Charity is all about, then please use the enclosed link of which 100% of the funds raised goes to the cause.  I am paying all other expenses myself.


Regards John Humphries (Aka UltraHumps, Aka Humps)!

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