Race report by Rosemary and Annette Nilsson
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).
But you can’t beat the feeling of that red carpet under your feet. What a feeling!!
It was fun being on course with the pro athletes who were lapping us on the run. We saw Jocelyn McCcauley (USA) set a new women’s record in the IM of 8.53. So the wind didn’t seem to bother her!
After the event you can enjoy the rest of what Taupo and NZ has to offer. You could do a tandem bungy jump like pros Meredith Kessler and Laura Siddall. Or do what we did and head out to the hot springs and alternate from the hot pools to the freezing cold of the Waikato River. Try swimming upstream against the flow of the river and you are swimming on the spot as the current is so strong.
Taupo is a destination racing event and definitely worth considering for your IM calendar. Our tips for Ironman NZ 70.3:
Train for hills on the ride and the run.
There is a street gear bag drop at the swim start, so take water, jumpers and shoes down with you so you can stay hydrated and warm.
Soak up the scenery at all stages it helps you get through.
Spin up the hills on the ride – just gotta get over them.
Not all roads are closed on the ride – be careful and aware of traffic – we saw a couch fall out of the back of a ute and land smack bang in the middle of the lane of traffic.
Don’t under estimate the NZ sun. The UV is strong so apply and reapply sunscreen. There is sunscreen at the aid stations and volunteers can help apply.
When giving high fives (or side fives) to others be careful of the road and gutter level as there is a drop – Net almost rolled an ankle by concentrating on getting a good high five rather than the road. We decided on thumbs up as safer support after that.
Listen to your coach.
Smile heaps and thank the crowd and volunteers – they are awesome.