Ironman New Zealand 70.3 at Taupo (‘Toe Paw’) is a fabulous event. There are 3 or 4 times more competitors for the full Ironman than the 70.3.
Lake Taupo is a caldera (collapsed super-volcano). Whilst geologically listed as ‘dormant’ (the last eruption being about 1800 years ago) it has produced some of the most violent eruptions in earth’s history and forms part of a number of volcanic peaks in the area that have shaped the surrounding landscape.
There are not enough adjectives to describe the scenery. But over and above the scenery there are not enough words for the crowd and volunteers and the support they give. There are masses of volunteers at the aid stations. There are supporters lining each stage of the course. There are people saying how proud they are of you and how strong you are looking (even though you probably don’t look it and definitely don’t feel it). There are the IM bells and Didymo Dave (a bit of a legend for IM Taupo) banging on his saucepan.
There is a Maori welcome and blessing of the lake before the IM start and the Maori’s paddling from the lake down the Waikato River in a longboat. The Ironman race starts before the 70.3.
The swim has a mass deep water start and you self-seed. The lake is quite shallow for a fair bit out so you can start touching the bottom if you want to. In the 70.3, with fewer competitors, there is heaps of space (except if you are at the front) to find your spot and avoid elbows and kicks. Each start begins with a shot from an artillery gun and you’re off with a very loud bang.
The lake is crystal clear and you can see the bottom the entire course. Look for the golf balls on the bottom that get hit from the lake foreshore to a ‘hole in one’ pontoon. On race day we had beautiful conditions in the water. We were shivering on the bank (Net had her jumper on over her wetsuit) and our feet were freezing without shoes and were bracing ourselves for frosty water. We were very pleasantly surprised with the water temperature. Water was perfect temperature and not choppy. The swim for 70.3 and the Ironman is an out and back. The ‘back’ is faster with the wind with you. You exit the water after swimming 450m up the Waikato River at the boat ramp and a 400m run (plus stairs, well it is NZ) to T1.
Uncertain of how cold it would be after the swim we had plenty of extra clothes (bike shirt, sun sleeves, gloves) at T1 but didn’t need it. The bike course for the 70.3 is an out and back to Reporoa. There is a hill at the start (known as ‘heartbreak hill’ to the IM competitors as they do it twice). There is beautiful scenery, a plane in a paddock, what looks like a nuclear power station and after the first hill it is fairly downhill to Reporoa.
But Tāwhirimātea (Maori god of weather, including wind) who is known for being angry, was either cranky or having some ‘fun’ with crazy IM athletes and created a head wind and cross wind for the ride home. We were so grateful on the ride that we weren’t doing the full IM. As one of the IM signs said ‘It’s just a hill, get over it.’ That plus the wind sums up most of the ride home. Spin up the hills and you are fine. The last few kilometres to Taupo are downhill and quick and gets you into T2 feeling good. Two stages done and one to go.
The run for the 70.3 is a 2 lap course mostly along the foreshore of Lake Taupo, plus hills (well it is NZ). Harder to enjoy the scenery at this point but definitely a welcome distraction when you are in the pain cave. If you look out across the lake you can see Mt Ruapehu and Mount Ngauruhoe (both active volcanoes).