Challenge Wanaka Race : How the day unfolded…….
For those of you interested I thought I would share with you my race day experience, but before I go into the details of the day itself, I just wanted to set the scene a little about why I chose this race and the preparation involved.
Go right back to September 2017…….in difficult circumstances and uncertain times with my dad’s health, energy being split in multiple directions and in all honesty my mind feeling like a the chaos of a cyclone; a full ironman distance triathlon on the other side of the world should have been the last thing on my mind… but I felt like I needed a challenge that could provide positive energy, one that got me way outside of my comfort zone again. Being truthful, since the project of putting together my studio, I hadn’t really been pushed and stretched to my limits since and 9 months is a long time to not feel scared in a positive way and is not the way to make the most of life!
Part of the challenge for me was to get my business to a point where it could run whilst I am not physically there and when I look back at some of my goals I wrote back in 2011 about how I wanted my business to look, this is very much part of it…..the show goes on no matter where I am in the world….so all in all as every self employed person knows, preparation is key and this is where you are especially grateful for the people you trust in charge of “your baby” when you are away.
So why this race…it’s iconic….one of the best races in the world with almost unrivalled scenery. Wanaka, situated in the South Island of New Zealand is a beautiful place and this course has a reputation for being tough, and if it needed to be, greater than the sum of its parts. A massive lake that when the wind gets up is choppy and can cause the 3.8 km swim to be tough for many. The 180km bike course, out of this world in terms of scenery, is again massively affected by the changing weather conditions you can get in mountains and if not massively technical, is rolling in terms of undulations and doesn’t give you much chance to get comfortable and into a rhythm. The 42.2km (marathon distance) run is around 75% trail around the lake and Clutha river and 25% road as you head up the famous Gunn Road “incline”. If you imagine paradise as you lay on a sun lounger with your non alcoholic mocktail, yea its like that except you are sweating, cramping and burning in the sun…..sold it to you yet?……. Ok….I will carry on trying….
How do you prepare for an event like this? For those of you not familiar with triathlon….. normally athletes in the UK do this length of triathlon in the summer when the days are long and the weather favourable for long rides at weekends. So this is a little back to front really, trying to do a race of this length with preparation in the cold, wet and short days of the UK in October, November, December and January……but…..nothing is impossible, you just need to find a way to make it work. Many hours of indoor cycling, which in truth my coach does a great job of making “fun” so that I get it done and an unprecedented amount of swimming certainly kept things interesting. I actually picked up a little Achilles injury in Ireland back in October one morning on a run when I was over there presenting a seminar. This actually stopped me from running for 4 weeks and I strongly believe this was caused by a lack of recovery after my last race in Weymouth in mid September……….note to you all …..make sure you get massages….for that matter find yourself a decent sports therapist and see them as regularly as you can afford to! They are worth their weight in gold! So, some weeks in October I hit around 20000m of swimming as result of my inability to run, I hit lot’s of strength work, plenty of pull ups which I really felt the benefit of on race day. Many of my bike sessions indoors were around 3 hours and targeted around a specific power output that would be below, on and above the race day target to help improve efficiency at that intensity. That’s where I watch lot’s of people making mistakes when I see them post their sessions on social media sites, they spend too much time at intensities that are not relevant to their target goal….I am not saying they should never go there, but in too many cases the ladder is against the wrong wall when it comes to “going long”….. So remember to get good at going at your likely race pace…leave your ego at the door!
November, saw a continuation of the swim theme with fewer sessions but some long old sessions in there, running was reintroduced and bike continued to tough and varied.
December, the worst month of my life…..it was just about keeping going….some days I felt like I literally had the energy of two, other days I struggled to get out of bed……I just did what I could and agreed with my coach that during this month I would just do what I could, he knows me well, if I say I am going to do something it will get done. I used the two weeks off work that I had at the end of the month to get back into things and then in January I knew I was going to be in a better place and off to Lanzarote to get a really valuable weeks work done. Looking back at that week, boy I learnt a lot…..that’s why its important as I have said before to spend time with people who know more than you….my coach and I had a great time, sun on backs, just time to train, sleep (a lot…I think I averaged over 10 hours per day) and eat well. Overall we did 27 hours of training that week, 17 of which on the bike, with honestly only 35 mins at maximal effort, the rest climbing into viscous head winds for LONG periods of time….character building one could say!
So off to New Zealand we (my brother and sister too) go on February 6th with 9 days before race day to get acclimatised and time zone adapted once we landed. We stayed with Rhonda and Andrew on their farm around 30 mins from Wanaka…..wow I cant explain how grateful I am for their hospitality….. making us so welcome, lending us a car and generally making us feel more than at home.
Most of the work was done before getting there, so barring a 4.5 hour session 1 week out, it was all very race specific and low duration to preserve energy for the big day and focussed around being 100% ready with no excuses come race day! We did some awesome day trips to Queenstown, Milford Sound, Wanaka and other areas in Central Otago, so the week before was a nice blend of holiday and pre race prep, which kept it fun. Some of the days in the build up to the race were super windy which gave me a little insight into how things could transpire on the day if it was that bad! Riding across the lake Hawea dam was interesting in gusty, if bikes could move like a crab…..mine felt like it did for 300m!
This years Challenge Wanaka, saw for the first time an all amateur field, yep that’s right meaning we do it all purely for fun! Should we be mentally screened?!! All of the professional athletes were competing in the half distance race, with the likes of Javier Gomez (Olympian), Dougal Allan (NZ athlete and last years full race champion) and many other really big names in both male and female triathlon all there kicking off their seasons down under! You could feel the energy in the town rally beginning to ramp up towards race day. Two days prior to the race I got lucky and met Javier Gomez, naturally he wanted a photo, so I obliged 😉
So the race day….. usual breakfast at 4:30am, always at least 2 hours prior to race start time (6:45am). It was dark, cold, windy and spitting with rain as I went to check the bike in the morning. I was preying the wind would drop off, chatting with other athletes, they were in the same boat too! Tyres inflated to 100psi, a little lower than usual because of the rain and road surface, nutrition and fluids put on bike, in the right gear ready to get going out of transition…..everything was in place!
Down to the swim start, it’s still pretty dark, in fact we couldn’t see the sighting buoys with 15 mins to go to race time…..the sun did rise enough by 6:45am. The atmosphere was edgy and some people staying focussed, others trying to stay relaxed chatting with loved ones on the side lines…..normally I am quite relaxed and happy to chat with someone I know, but today I found myself thinking of dad, looking out as far as I could for about 2 mins prior to race start and thinking of my race plan and in particular the swim plan….stay relaxed, don’t get out of breath at any time and the relevant swim technique points for me.
That’s how the swim went…exactly as per the plan….a little slower than I hoped at the half way point, but I felt very relaxed and comfortable in the effort I had expended. I was sighting really well (swimming dead straight) and where perhaps others got tired, I felt my upper body strength and long swim practices come into their own on the second lap as I went past 5 other athletes to leave the water in 7th feeling really comfy!
Up over the bridge, wetsuit off and on to the bike…by this time it was hammering it down with rain and the roads were soaked. Not what I came to NZ for….I can do that in Devon! But within 3 to 4 miles, surrounded by mountains and lakes and the next job to do my mind was fully on the job in hand. I had power output targets to work to and the 112 mile bike was split into 4 sections for me to concentrate on small chunks. I also knew exactly how much food and fluid I would take on per hour so that kept me focussed further. I could see the other athletes ahead, I found myself creeping towards the top 5 and soon after back to around 10th as some of the stronger cyclists came past, including the eventual winner. The wind dropped off and the rain continued for the first lap of the bike and then on the 2nd lap the wind picked up and the sun came out…roads dried up and things got tougher. I had to ease off a little in the middle section of the course, just to preserve some energy in increasingly tough conditions for the marathon ahead…. I came into the bike to run transition in 7th…..exactly where I started.
The support from my support crew of Sam Young, whom I played rugby with and his girlfriend, Jake and Anna whom I have met through the shearing world, Lizzie, Charlie, Andrew & Rhonda (Jake’s mum) and Amy a friend of Jo’s who is working in NZ as a vet was vocal to say the least, and that really helps at this stage of the game…. Other people all around the course helping too, cheering you on, calling your name, telling you what position you are in etc…..
The run strategy was to walk every 2.5km for 30s (which I calculated would be 9 mins of walking) to help keep the stress down on the biomechanics and hopefully keep me moving faster overall. It nearly didn’t get a chance to happen, after 1 mile of the run, having started feeling absolutely fine, I felt horrendous, lacking any go at all….a quick walk and a gel and the next 15 miles went to plan and at the half way point I felt really good……
After that the heat and duration of the day were, well emotional…. A tough last 8 miles, but rewarding mentally were had…. I was overtaken by one athlete which pushed me back to 7th but to be fair to him, he had a blinder of a run! Coming down the finishing straight, with the crowds outside the bars cheering you on it was an amazing feeling and sense of achievement. I thought about dad down the home straight and all the things that he and I share in common and the things we have shared together, that performance was for him, I did the race because I wanted to “man up” and do it for him and all he went through in the last 3 months of his life….on that note, please don’t p**s around with the time you have here or with the people you love and value because it might not be long til you cant do all of those things you talk about…..
I have absolutely no regrets about the way the race turned out, the splits weren’t as fast as I want to do on paper, but with the course and the conditions in mind, that was my best effort and a solid performance to start the season with! A couple of weeks off now, time to recharge, meet up with some more friends and clients in the North Island and help the body heal to then look forward to prepping for the Half Ironman in Finland on June 30th later this year.
Thanks again for all the support,
Owner of Matt Luxton Health and Fitness
Voted Cornwall’s Best Fitness Instructor 2016
Voted The UK’s Most Innovative Fitness Entrepreneur 2012
International Best Selling Author of The Fad Free Fitness Formula
Author of The Hot to Trot Cook Book and The Equestrian Athlete Plan
Email: Info@fa-fitness.co.uk / Phone: 07841 136302