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Challenge Wanaka 2013 - my race report.

Challenge Wanaka is a long distance triathlon (3.8km swim - 180km bike - 42km run) in New Zealand's South Island which has been on my "must do" list for a few years. The previous week had seen heavy rain (and snow) in the area so the lake was very high (and very cold; 15.3 degrees). Thursday morning I took the opportunity to have a short swim in the lake to steady the nerves; see just how cold it was and test out my recently purchased neoprene swim hat. All went well but noted that with cold hands and feet after only 10mins in the lake it was going to be a slow transition to the bike leg! Then time to put the bike back together (note to self: remember how many headset spacers go above the aerobars next time!!) In the afternoon, number #1 supporter and I went for a short run along the lakeside trail which forms the start of the two lap run course. The whole course is impossibly scenic and is a great distraction during the event.
The briefing was held on Friday morning where we were informed that the section of the run course alongside the Clutha River was still flooded and we would be running a modified two lap course. A pity as this section of the trail is the most scenic part of the run (i.e., its even more impossibly scenic than the lakeside section). The elevation gain/loss was unchanged so although we weren't running up Gunn Hill, the gravel trail that replaced it was just as "entertaining". In the afternoon we drove the bike course - highly recommended to gauge the hills but this did nothing to calm my nerves. There are virtually no flat sections on the course and although there are only 3 or 4 notable hills the combination of rough chip roads, rolling hills and strong winds meant that it was going to be a tough ride.


  • BigglesBiggles Posts: 14
    I have to say that I didn't sleep well the night before the race - a storm front passed through in the early hours and above the howling winds and rain I could hear the waves breaking on the lakeside across the road. After a light breakfast I wandered down to transition at 0530 to put my nutrition on the bike, blow up the tyres and join a huddle of nervous athletes peering through the darkness to see just how rough the lake was. Fortunately it was too dark to see Back to the appartment to get into the wetsuit and wake supporter #1.
    The Pro field went off at 0630 (just after sunrise). Gina Crawford who took her 5th title here later described the swim as the choppiest that she had ever seen. The age group field went off at 0640 heading straight into the chop for the first 700+ metres. About 500m I found a good set of feet and latched on. Once we made the first turn the condidtions eased a little, it was easier to find a rhythm and my "pilot fish" was doing a great job of navigating the course. The water away from the shore was crystal clear and the sight of snow capped mountains on every breath was quite special. On the second lap the waves didn't seem quite as bad but the cold was starting to play a role and I could feel my shoulders starting to tense up - the feet had long since stopped sending complaints about the cold. I was glad to exit the swim in 1H 13mins and very surprised to see that most of the gear bags were still in place for collection (I was 4th out of the water in my age group).
  • BigglesBiggles Posts: 14
    It was a slow jog/walk over the bridge to transition where the helpers peeled off the wetsuit and I struggled with cold hands to get my bike kit on; 12mins later I was wheeling the bike out to the road and ready to head out into the oncoming showers on the Glendhu Road. The road starts climbing almost straight away and it took a while for the feeling to return to my feet and ankles. The headwind on this section added to the fun but the sight of the rainbows across Glendhu Bay lifted the mood and by 10km in I was starting to get warmer and find my form. About this point the lead Pros came flying back along the road - downhill with a tailwind; something to look forward to.

    The turn comes at about 17km and then its a faster run back to Wanaka. This was fun as I got to see the other age groupers and those doing the half distance event battling into the wind and hills. The real hilly section of the bike course is on the run up to Lake Hawea and this was added to by the cross-headwind. The faster half riders started to pass me on this section and it was interesting to see those with deep dish wheels get blown across the road by the wind gusts. The payback was on the run down the other side of the valley on the Hawea Flats where the speeds picked up to 45+ kph and it was easier to get some nutrition down. At Luggate the long course riders turned left and had a fast run down towards Cromwell. However, the section after the U turn back up to the airport was seriously tough - down to 17kph into a strong wind. Then a short loop around Wanaka and back out for lap 2.
  • BigglesBiggles Posts: 14
    By this stage I'd realised that the power wasn't there (perhaps a result of doing Busselton Ironman six weeks before) so I backed off with a view to getting round the bike leg with something left in the tank for the run. The coarse chip roads cause constant vibration which seems to suck your power and lead to a series of rattles on the bike. Supporter #1 had asked before the event that I stop and check any bad rattles so at the start of lap 2, just before the fast descent into Albert Town, I pulled over to see where one particular noise was coming from. My front brake had worked loose and was hanging on by a couple of threads so it was out with the allan keys to get that re-attached!! Second lap was more of the same wind and hills and I was happy to hit T2 after 6H and 21mins; not exactly fast but I was still 8th in my age group at this stage.
  • BigglesBiggles Posts: 14
    Supporter #1 had just finished her run for her team and the advice was that it was getting warm out on the course. I really enjoyed the first lap of the run course and came through 21km in 2H 17min feeling quite fresh. It didn't last of course and by 34km I was starting to take short walks on the hills. This is where the scenery really helps.

    I ran/walked the rest of the course and came home with a 4H 53min marathon and a 12H 50min overall time for 12th in my age group.
    Its a brilliant event. Really well run with superb volunteers and unbeatable scenery. Its never going to be the fastest course (Dylan McNeice won in 8H 51min) but I would recommend it to anyone who is looking for a memorable race and isn't chasing a Kona place (however, win your age group and get free entry to Challenge Roth). Macca came third on the day and has promised to come back next year for the win! Gina took the ladies race by 20mins so she has to be favourite for a 6th win next year. Put it on your list - you won't regret doing it.
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