*** many thanks to Rod Buchanan for this race report ***

The cool waters of the dark lake promised to quietly envelope me as I looked out into the distance across the calmness of Lake Taupo towards the far mountains.  The promised winds were not about and it looked good for a wee morning swim.  Despite the 1400 other people lurking around me, the silence was comforting as I gathered my thoughts for the day ahead and …. “KABOOM”…. WTF! … we were off …

…. hold the bus, how the heck did I get to be here?

15  months ago Sheridan had just finished her first marathon.  I casually mentioned that I would like to complete a marathon as well.  Might as well make it a decent one - “I want to do IronMan NZ next year”.  “Okay” she replied.  Since Sheridan has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, walked to Everest Base Camp, as well as completing Dubai Marathon in the last few years, it was time I stood up to the mark to see if I can muster the same determination I had seen in her.

In 2015 I would line up to test my stamina, fortitude, endurance and other big words on a course of 3800m swim, 180km bike ride and then finishing in the standard 42km marathon run – all had to be done in less than 17 hours.  I would be 51 years of age and although I had a strong mountain biking background, I had little experience on road bikes, had hated swimming  at school and hadn’t run since I was 18.  So basically ready to go!  Yea, Nah, Not Really.

A road bike purchase and a few duathlons had me hooked on the race experience and soon I convinced myself that a triathlon bike would be necessary – I was discovering that the “gear drug” is almost as powerful as the exercise endorphins!  I also found out that Sophie (9yrs) and Ethan (8yrs) were just as keen as we are on the whole Triathlon experience.  We joined Starfish Swim Club to give them the opportunity to train with other kids - and we picked up a few tips along the way!  A couple of Sprint Triathlons and then I started preparation for Dubai International Triathlon – a 70.3, or Half Distance.  I had built up a fitness base during summer already so from within TrainingPeaks.com I bought a 3 month plan designed by Joe Friel (of Triathlon Bible fame) and set to it.

I found the 12-20 hours a week challenging.  Fitting it in around family life and work was not easy.  Luckily we had a treadmill at home already so I added a Home Trainer and the Road Bike was delegated to the “Pain Cave” upstairs.  The Specialized Tarmac did get the odd outing as the Spinneys 92km in November required a standard road bike.  Having a set up ready upstairs was a godsend as I could minimize the impact on home life by fitting it in straight after work or after kids bedtime.  The swims were either in a pool near our house or at a hotel beside work – a great relief to get out of the business suit and into the water for an hour or so.

Since I hadn’t really swum for many years I bought a book and mostly self-taught.  I did take a couple of lessons, one of which was during an epic day at Thanyapura Sports Club in Thailand courtesy of a work trip.  Thoroughly recommended for triathlon training if you can spare the time – or take the family and make it a holiday.  I progressed slowly but steadily with the swimming – I do recall telling a Tri friend with great excitement of a 100m warmup and then swimming 200m without stopping!  Woohoo - small steps.  Now I do a 500m warmup and then swim 3000m without stopping!  The other great progress was discovering I absolutely love the open water swims – settling into a rhythm and not bumping into concrete walls is very liberating and exhilarating at the same time.

Bike rides are mostly solo as tri bikes are not group friendly.  However a few rides with other tri people especially The Hub Cycle shop made it more enjoyable.  I also recall being out on the Specialized Shiv one day wearing an Emirates Airline cycle top and getting pulled into the Emirates Group when they saw me about half way around Al Qudra – thanks guys!  Summer rides required 0330 wakeup on the weekend to get a 100km ride done before the heat of the day, Winter brings the luxury of a 0430 wakeup instead!  Occasionally a late afternoon ride worked better for family life and I would finish 170km or so with a 30minute run and be home about 2300.

Speaking of running – not my favourite activity!  The more I read the more I realized that a long period of several years is required to really get to be capable of running a descent pace over long distances.  15 months wasn’t really gonna cut it.  However I built up good endurance and did OK at DIT then did a couple more half marathon distances and a single 30km run – 4 times around Nad Al Sheba at night.  That would have to do it and just see how the IMNZ marathon worked out.  After DIT I used another IronMan plan with Training Peaks, this time 10-16 hours a week with Gordon Byrn.  The lighter workload suited me better but meant having to accept a JTF (Just to Finish) rather than a really good time.  A compromise but perfect for a first IM anyway.

Along the way the big lessons I learnt were:

  • Plan training with family first, then tri, then work!
  • Find a good available-time, and age-appropriate, training plan
  • Get swim lessons
  • Conquer the uncertainty of open water and learn to love it
  • Get a bike fit, a good one
  • Bike fitness is supremely important to enable a run after
  • Brick sessions are vital training
  • Over 50’s need shorter periodization and longer recovery
  • TriDubai is a fantastic group that just dig Triathlon people, new and experienced

Final preparation for IMNZ included hiring a GPS tracker (myathletelive.com).  Really recommend this as it was easy to carry – size of a matchbox, and meant the family in town knew exactly where I was and when I would come around the corner to cheer me on.  Also my friends & family anywhere in the world could watch on the www as well.

I got to Taupo 6 days before the race and this allowed time adaptation and final exercise sets at leisure.  Then all the family arrived along with their bright red “Team Buchanan” caps and GPS apps installed.  Having them scattered around the course really made the day easy for me as I knew I could look forward to seeing them not far away.  It also added some pressure I suppose as they had expectations of seeing me at the finish line chute too!

Back to the “KABOOM” from the Army start canon…. Lake Taupo is clear and cold and now it turned into a gigantic washing machine as 1400+ humans commenced locomotion pretty much simultaneously.  I tried to settle into a slow rhythm early as that was my plan.  Despite that plan the excitement of the drama of finally starting an IronMan had my normally slow pulse firing at about 180 bpm.  Being of a more mature age I sensibly slowed my stroke rate down recalling the experience of doing this during a learners open water session with Tony Hchaimé (TriDubai) and discovering I could actually go faster through the water.  I latched onto some quicker feet every so often until I got bored with that and went off on my own.  Nearing the halfway point I spotted a slightly disoriented trout on the bottom trying to figure out which way to dart.  On the home stretch now and I picked up the pace enjoying passing lots of other swimmers who had tired.  Expecting 01:30 to 01:40 I was pleasantly pleased to see 01:17 on the clock as Mike Reilly called my name upon lake exit.

The 400m run up to the stairs and T1 is best fast walked to get your wits about you for the next bit.  Transition tent is well organized and helpers will pull your wetsuit off for you if you need the assistance.  A few minutes later and I was in ride mode and set off to the sound of family cheers.  My plan was to settle in through the 4 kms of town, go slow up Napier Road hill not burning any matches early on, and then a steady 160 watts and preferably not above 180 unless no choice due gradient.  Having that focus meant I could happily let riders pass me on the climbs and usually I discovered I passed them on the flats.  It was cold and I was glad of the arm warmers.  Quickly up to Reporoa for the 45 km turn.  Crowds were great as they read your name and total strangers egged you on.  Awesome atmosphere.  Aid stations were well set up and didn’t require a full-stop unless you chose to.  Bathroom stops were available but one of the useful cycling skills I had learnt was to do that bizzo whilst on the bike – every second counts!  Coming back through town for the halfway turn was a great buzz.  Roads were closed so if you wanted to hurtle through at 50-70km/hr you could, and I did!!!  Electronic mats picked up your details so the Announcers called you through as you rocketed by.  The crowds were amazing and really get you inspired.  Locals are out there all day long and spot your name and cheer you on as though they have known you for years.  Taupo sets a very high standard of crowd support – the whole town takes on the IM spirit and over 2500 people volunteer to make your day utterly awesome, thanks everyone.

The second 90 km loop was being affected by a strong NW wind that slowed everyone down.  I had already seen the Pro’s go past so focused on my planned steady Power and keeping the supplied nutrition going in.  On the return leg a slight tailwind brought up the average speed on the way back and I was pleased to see the forecast afternoon rain had not appeared – however that was not to last!!!

Back down the speed section into dismount and I found I could comfortably run with the bike into transition which bode well for the serious run bit coming next.  Leaving T2 I tried to establish the slow pace I had planned – pretty hard when you feel so good, crowds cheering you on, and fast running feels so fantastic!  Once out on the main 14km loop I did settle into planned pace.  Every 2.5km was an Aid Station & my written plan included a 30-60 sec walk to hydrate and re-establish heart rate.  This I did religiously and even on the hills kept running until the next A.S. was reached.   Stick with an achievable plan, maintain your determination, don’t ab lib, and get the work done was how I approached the otherwise very unknown marathon.  After each walk I turned over a page in a tiny waterproof notebook I carried that my family had written 18 different motivational phrases for me.  A nice surprise each time.  However the big unknown was the weather – part way through the 2nd loop now it hit, and hit hard.  I was nearly blown into the path of oncoming cars such was the crosswind.  Torrential rain required a poncho to survive the next couple of hours and luckily I had stashed a warm polyprop top at the Special Needs tent about halfway.

Nearing the end of the 3rd loop and my pace was slower than planned but I did feel good.  I reckon I could have managed another loop if needed.  Yeah right!  At the last A.S. about 500m from the finish I remembered the advice of the newbies seminar a couple of days back and dumped the poncho, tucked away my cap and checked my hair was straight.

They say it is about the Journey not just the Destination.  Well this journey was 172 km swimming, 5640 km riding, 882 kms running and in excess of 358 hours training to get to this point – now I took my sweet time jogging down that red mat to hear my Bio being called by a Kiwi Announcer and then Mike Reilly took over “Here is Rod Buchanan, completing 226km, that makes you an IronMan”.

Worth it?  Hell yes!  Do it again!  Absolutely!  What next?  Dunno yet!  Stay fit, stay healthy, and then……