2004 Ironman New Zealand is history, a shadow in my memory not to be
I went there knowing that I was a bit soft compared to my 5 previous IM
races. I evaluated the known competition and in reality did predict that I
had a chance of being on the podium in second place behind Richard Clark.
That prediction was based on all things going precisely as planned, no
mechanicals, no body injury, good nutrition on the course, just a good near
Well, things did go wrong, very wrong and I suffered through the day, not
intent on a podium finish but intent on completing what I had began.
Race morning was cold, very cold. Air temp was a chilly 34 degrees. Water
temp checking in at 58 degrees out at the start line off shore. A
thermometer near the shore indicated 60 but in 30 feet of water it dipped
two more chilling degrees. Wet suit or not that is cold for this Hawaiian.
I stood there looking at the surreal conditions, fog generated by
evaporating water enveloped the surface to a height of two to three feet.
The buoys obscured from sight by the early morning twilight and fog when
eyes were at water level. Surface of the water was a steel black,
rippleless out to where it disappeared into the "Lord of the Ring"setting.
The upper bodies of those in support kayaks could be seen but the kayaks
were vague or invisible in the floating cloud of condensation.
I was chilled not only from the air and water temp but also because I was
running a fever of 101 from a bad chest congestion , flu or both. Both my
eyes were pink and oozing fluid from the illness or contamination from a
couple previous swims. I did not look nor feel like an "Ironman". I told
myself it was not smart to start, I should drop out now but that was not in
my plan. I came to New Zealand to do an Ironman. I did not come to quit
before starting, I would go until I could not. I took a 400 yard warm up
swim to adjust to the cold shock. I heard it announced that we were 5
minutes from "GO". A count down began , reached a point where the
announcer said 1 minute to go. Immediately with no other warning and with
the word 1 minute still in the air the Canon was fired. Big surprise for
many, I was 100 meters back behind the main group just heading that way.
So What, I was not in any condition to really care as the flu was
overpowering my will to do anything fast. I swam easily and tried to get a
good glide, slowly working my way from near last to about mid pack.
Navigation was a breeze as the bottom was 30 feet down but easily seen.
Wave patterns in the sandy bottom were like lines on the bottom of the pool
making looking up necessary only every 5 minutes or so. Had enough elbow
room in Lake Taupo for the 1400 starters and only took one serious hit. The
person responsible apologized. I joined a group which was a comfortable
pace and stuck there till my cramped legs, numb feet and fevered body felt a
bottom I could stand on. Passed my chip over the mat and into T1 at
1:16:21, 8 minutes slower than my training times. My position was 827th
out of the water and second in age group.
Time did not matter, I had my feet on solid ground. We had an extra
special needs bag at the swim exit because the swim course had been changed
do to high water. The 600 meter segment down the river had been cut and the
course extended along the lake shore. The special needs bag carried my
extra running shoes for the added 600 meter run down a road littered with
gravel and little nuts from the gum trees lining it. Well, what else
could go wrong? My special needs bag could not be found. I waited two
minutes and then elected to go bare foot to T1. It was slow but it gave me
time to get my thoughts organized and some of the flu fuzziness out of my
head. The water vapor from the swim helped loosen up the crud in my
congested chest and I was able to unload a little along the path.
I had positioned a nice warm long sleeve polypro jersey in T1 at the advice
of Alison Cunningham just in case it was cold. That was a life saver.
T1 was slow but all too soon I was making my way onto the highway with the
bike. The course through town was a bit hairy and narrow. Crowds lined
the course and people were darting across in front. I just slowed to a nice
safe speed for survival. My fever clouded brain did not need a panic
reaction to maneuver around an unexpected obstacle. About a mile out the
course turns left up a moderate hill lined with spectators, toward the back
country and I could see nothing but black clouds covering that zone. I was
dreading a long day in the saddle in rainy 40 degree weather feeling as I
did. A little luck came along and I hit no rain, just some very wet roads
and slippery white lines. By the time I had traveled 20 miles the clouds
were blowing off and a little sun was coming along slightly warming the way.
I had expected a great deal more bunching up but to my surprise the bike
course supported the numbers quite well. I came up behind a few packs but
in reality seen very little drafting situations. Riding on the left hand
side of the road is a bit challenging on fast outside corners or when
utilizing aid stations. We had a tail wind on the way out boosting my
speed to 40 MPH on the gradual down hill out to the forest. I knew this
would be a toughie on the way back and we had to do it twice as the course
is two laps. Nothing on the course is very challenging, all hills are
gradual and the rout is well marked, policed and not too technical. But
don't get the idea this is a flat course as it is not. You will feel the
grades as they are long and wear on you when bucking into the stiff wind of
the second lap.
I had planned on using the race drink, gel and bars with the exception of 5
ounces of GU I had in a gel bottle.. That was a mistake. The supplied
product was not at all to my liking, none of it set well with me. I have
been a major advocate of bringing your own stuff and relearned that lesson.
I basically did the entire bike segment with the 5 ounces of GU and my
first two bottles of my favorite drink. When that was gone I lived on
water only, hoping to replenish with bananas on the run.
Normally I excel on the bike but this day it was not to be. I simply could
not get enough oxygen into my lungs with my chest so congested. I would
normally race with a 150 hr but I could only muster 130 so just settled into
that zone. While on the second lap I had thoughts of dropping after the
bike. I was feeling very bad, dizzy for awhile, head aching, chest
burning, chilled through from being cold and ill. Wiser persons would have
dropped but for me quit is the foulest of four letter words and one to
It took 6.14:48 to get through the bike. I had planned on 5:35 to 5:45 so
was well off schedule. It was not important, I just wanted to finish,
knowing full well that winning was out before the start. When I got off
the bike I was 557th so did manage to recover a few places, still second in
Generally I dread ending the bike as it means I will have to run. Today I
was very pleased to enter T2 and start my stroll to the line.
The sun was now in full force so I stripped the polypro and went with only
the skin suit, unzipped it to the waist and trotted off with a banana in
hand. I took 4 grams of vitamin C hoping for some miracle. The lack of
food intake on the bike was taking its toll. My HR would only get to 115.
30 minutes after a couple bananas and the "C" it climbed to 130 BPM.
This run is also everything but flat. It is 26.2 miles of rolling hills
mostly along the highway leading south. It was not very interesting once
away from the lake shore. If I were to change anything on this Ironman
course it would be to add more lake shore miles. Perhaps there is much
more there to enjoy if I had not been coughing crud and aching with fever.
I have never worn socks before but I had them on to keep my feet warm on the
bike. At the 14 miles mark I could feel a *** blister between my toes
where the damp sock had done its damage. I saw a nice piece of lawn and
sat down in a shaded little corner of someone's yard. Removed the sock and
was off again. I could muster no more than a ? mile jog then a 1/8 mile
walk. I just alternated like that till near the finish where I could hear
the announcer giving finish times. Damn, it was still a mile away and I
heard him say 12.51 for the person just finishing. Damn, I did not want to
go into the 13 hour mark no matter how bad I felt. I pushed as hard as I
could and when I entered the very long finish shoot I could see the clock
click over to 13 hours.
It was a long day, one that I will remember, one that I hope to never
repeat but it was a satisfying moment when I passed under the clock. I
went to NZ to reclaim my Ironman Status after a 6 year break. I overcame
not only the distance but additional adversity. This was not a fun race
but a race to complete what you set out to do, a challenge to the inner
self, the pain of illness on top of all the normal race stress to the old
body. I was still burning with fever, my chest clogged and my head ached
but it was done. The line was behind me. I was the oldest competitor in
the race, finished 714th overall, second in age group behind Richard Clark,
though more than an hour behind my schedule at 13 hr and 53 seconds.
Race support was excellent, plenty of aid stations all the way through, all
manned by people wanting to help. The course was well marshaled with no
chance of taking a wrong turn. Thousand of spectators were present to
keep you motivated with lots of cheering, most cheered you by name. I
would highly recommend this race to anyone wanting to be an Ironman. I plan
on returning to challenge it while healthy and fit.
"Quit is a four letter word" it is not in the
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