I have dabbled in triathlons in Winnipeg and when I saw posters advertising a triathlon at our local beach, I figured it was time to pony up and try one in New Zealand.
The Sovereign Tri Takapuna triathlon is the final leg of a triathlon series that runs through the summer all around New Zealand sponsored by Sovereign Insurance. Takapuna Beach is just two kilometers from our house so it was easy to make the commitment to go. One of the big negatives about triathlons around Winnipeg is that they involve getting up very early in the morning to drive at least an hour to make an early morning start time. My start time here was 11:30 and Dennis started at 1:30 so we were free to sleep in, have a normal morning, and then ride a short distance to arrive at the race venue. Easy!
I haven’t been training much here. We are on our bikes often but I haven’t been swimming or running with any regularity, so I was apprehensive. In the end, I only committed to race on the final day to sign up. I immediately had that “oh, what have I gotten myself into” feeling.
It had been raining rather heavily the day before the race. It was the aftermath of Cyclone Winston which had struck Fiji, finally finding its way to New Zealand. This was giving me another cause for alarm. I was anxious about the biking component of the race on narrow, twisty roads which would now likely be wet as well.
I mentally waffled back and forth for the 24 hours leading up to the race, hoping the rain would be really heavy at race time, giving me a “valid” excuse to pull out. Well, no such luck. Though cloudy, it wasn’t raining in the morning and I nervously went to the race.
My goals for triathlon are fairly straightforward. I don’t want to be last and I don’t want to feel like I need to barf at the end. I managed to reach my goals and have some fun and new experiences along the way and learned a few life lessons.
At the start line, I met an 85-year-old women who was in my race and her 85-year-old husband who would race later with the men. Lesson 1 – There are people out there doing some fabulous, admirable things like racing at 85. Suck it up, sister! Don’t be such a wimp!
The swim leg went well enough. I was a little off course once or twice. One of the skills of open water swimming is to swim in a straight line so you are always on course and not adding extra distance by zigzagging along the course. Lesson 2 – I need to work on better sighting technique in the swim.
The cycling leg was a different experience from other triathlons I had been in. It was 12 laps around a fairly tight course with some technical cornering whereas the triathlons in Manitoba are usually long out-and-back rides where it isn’t necessary to keep track of your laps.
A standard triathlon cycling leg is 20 kilometers. For some reason, this one was only 17 kilometers, a rather odd choice. I didn’t have an elaborate plan in place on how I would count the laps. Instead, I would rely on the trip meter on my bike to tell me when I had reached 17 kilometers. I was a little rattled at the start of the race to see the women beside me had a giant post-it note taped to her bike, with the numbers 1 through 12 as rip-off tabs to track her progress.
I decided to mentally keep track of my laps as well as my total distance. Somehow in the heat of the race, I lost track of the fact that I needed to do 17 kilometers and thought I needed to do 14. I thought I had messed up somehow because I was on lap 10 and I had already hit 14 kilometers. Shouldn’t I be finished by now? What should I do? I figured I should just keep riding what I thought was 12 laps and if I cycled too far, then so be it. If I didn’t cycle far enough, I would be disqualified, so accidentally going too far seemed like a safer choice. Lesson 3 – Make sure I know the distances if they are unusual. Write them on my hands in big black letters, if need be! It was a rookie mistake.
The run leg was three laps around the periphery of the cycling route, 4.3 kilometers instead of the standard 5 kilometers. Easy enough, but in my agitated state from the confusion on the bike and likely my overall fatigue, I started to think “Is it three laps or four?” I am reminded of lesson 3.
In the end, none of this worrying mattered. I wasn’t first. I wasn’t last and I didn’t feel like barfing. Dennis was there to greet me at the finish line and the Sovereign people took our picture.
As part of the race series, Suzuki, one of the sponsors, was giving away a car. At each of the seven races throughout the summer, one contestant’s name was drawn. Out of these seven people, someone would win a Suzuki Swift. First, they needed to select the final qualifier from the Takapuna race. Dennis and I had talked about this throughout the day. How funny would it be, as the lone Canadians in the field, if we won the car?
The announcer commented, “Someone will be driving home a new Suzuki today.” Wouldn’t you know it? My name was drawn! I commented to the announcer how difficult it would be to drive my car home, given we were from Canada, thinking perhaps that this might be an exclusion in their draw. He got a rather worried look on his face. “We need to check our contest rules,” he said. As I somewhat expected, I was ineligible as a non-resident of New Zealand. They drew a new contestant from the crowd to represent the Takapuna race. My moment of excitement came and went in little more than a minute. As a consolation prize, they gave me a Garmin Vivofit activity tracker which I have been wanting for some time. I didn’t win a car, but I was a winner, none-the-less.
They asked me to sit in for a contestant from another race who couldn’t be present for the draw but was following it by phone. So, here was my conundrum. Would I be happy or sad if the Takapuna racer whose name was drawn in lieu of mine won? Would I be happy or sad if the girl on the phone who I was sitting in for won? As they eliminated people from the draw, one by one, this question grew in magnitude in my mind. In the end, it was either me or one other contestant. I would like to think that I would be happy for this faceless person on the phone, had she won, but I really don’t know the answer to this question. I didn’t get a chance to learn this lesson, because in the end, she didn’t win. It was the other guy. Here’s the video to prove it. Here!
The big lesson for the day came quite by chance. On the bottom of the photo that the Sovereign people took of us at the end of my race was the caption “Action Trumps Excuses.” I had been looking for every excuse not to do this race but in the end, it was a great experience full of fun, fitness, interaction with new people, the excitement of almost winning a car, a really great consolation prize and the opportunity to learn some life lessons.
Another great day, courtesy of my bike.