Challenge Wanaka – Good on Ya, Mate!
From the outside looking in there is nothing but absolute stunning views and warm skies. From the inside looking out the challenges this course afforded me was insurmountable. When I looked up I saw heaven, pure beauty. When I looked down I went inside myself and I saw demons. Crossing the finish line of this race truly made me realize what I was made of and how I was much stronger mentally than I ever will be physically. They say “As an athlete it is essential you are prepared for this very special event. It is an iron distance with an ‘adventure edge’ and there are several compulsory elements that you may not encounter at other events.” I now know what they mean. It was the most difficult race of my athletic career. At the end 19% of the athletes withdrew while on the course.
Wanaka has got to be the most quaint and friendly place on earth. With a population of 2,000 there were over 600 volunteers. That is 1/3rd of the population out supporting the athlete’s. They are not there to sign up for the following year, they were there to show their support and love of a non-profit organization run by a volunteer board of trustees that encourage an active and healthy lifestyle.
Race morning was beautiful but the wind was daunting. Water temp. was at 58 degrees and the wind caused massive swells bringing in a level of difficulty right from the start and draining much of my energy. But a time came where I looked up and there was the most beautiful rainbow. It actually warmed me up a bit which was nice since I could only pee twice in my wetsuit🙂
The wind picked up and the swells were harder to battle on the second loop. I could not take a breath without swallowing water and choking. I was thrilled to finally be out of the water until I realized walking to T1 that I had a nice bout of sea sickness.
After a long transition I mounted my bike and after 5 min on the bike I pulled over, got off my bike and for the first time ever in a race did not want to go on. My hamstring was cramping, the sea sickness meant I was not going to take in any hydration or nutrition for quite a while and the thought of the wind that I would be facing along with some nice climbs was wrecking havoc with my head. I had to make a decision to continue or DNF and I would have to live with that decision. I thought about my Dad after we crossed the finish line of Ultraman Canada giving me a hug and saying, “I am proud of you, baby.” That is what got me back on my bike. 10 minutes later I blew my back tire. Nice :) Someone was really testing my mental state. I took 12 min to change it and I decided to take my Garmin and put it in my back pocket and not care about my time or watts. All I needed to worry about was the self-doubt that never seemed to dissipate.
There were parts of the course that were just majestic! Lake Hawea was the most beautiful site and I made sure to just absorb the beauty as we circled around a small part of it.
The beauty was balanced out by the beast that was faced when heading out to Luggate and the out and back to Cromwell. The wind was a monster, much of the 4,500 feet of climbs was upon us and riding on the chip seal road easily dropped your speed 1-2 kph and allowed you to only inflate your tires to 90 psi with and intense vibration was all starting to take a toll on the body. I was in my easiest gear on flat road and pushing 9 mph for long periods of time and on the second loop when the winds picked up even more I had to dismount my bike and walk a hill for 8 min but I was not alone as others in front of me were doing the same.
I had passed some volunteers towards the end of the bike who screamed to me, “5K to the bike finish. Good on ya, mate!” I looked at my watch and realized I was just going to miss the bike cutoff. I did all I could to push myself to the transition and part of me wanted them to pull me from the course but another part wanted to go on. I dismounted right when my time hit 5:01pm, one minute past the cutoff. The volunteers looked at me and said, “Enjoy the run!” I wanted to cry🙂
I know I would have not gone on if my friend Marison had not been in T2 waiting for me and telling me that the run was what I loved and that was my strength and that I needed to go out and conquer it. Marison, you are my angel! It was a two loop run and the first loop I was pacing off a 65 year old man, John. He was on his second loop and he kept me going along with his support, Harlan, who was riding along the road and cheering us both on. Well, part cheering and part making fun of me stopping at every aid station to talk, eat and drink🙂
As John went to the left to the finish line I headed right to start my second loop. Thanks to my family and friends for being there to cheer me on! When I started the 2nd loop I got my mojo back. I walked all the hills on the first loop but the second loop I was able to keep my stride and run most of the hills. It finally hit me that I was going to finish. It may not have been pretty but I WAS going to finish! When I was running along Lake Wanaka and about to hit the descent to the finish I could hear the announcer, I could see the finishing lights and hear the crowds cheering. It was dark at this point and I could hear people cheering me on from the hotel balconies. I finally hit the town of Wanaka and my heart started to feel the joy I had been so desperately waiting for. As I ran by the crowds outside eating, drinking, clapping and cheering I started to tear up. This is only the second time I teared up at the end of a race. Ultraman Canada was an all out cry fest and will always rank #1 but Wanaka, you turned my water works on. As I ran through the corral of people they were clapping my hands and screaming loud for the “girl in the skirt” and I could not stop smiling.
15 hours and 12 minutes of battling the demons in my head and I finally moved from purgatory to heaven. It was an amazing felling crossing the finish.