TRIATHLON - WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS (NEW ZEALAND) REPORT
Located in the lower southern island of New Zealand is Queenstown and the Wakitipu basin. This was the location chosen for the 2003 Triathlon World Championships. Stunning scenery and huge lakes provided the backdrop of what for me, has to rate as one of the toughest triathlon courses I have raced on.
The event itself was spread between Lake Hayes, for the swim and transition 1, Arrowtown for the cycle route and Millbrook resort for transition 2 and the run. Logistically, life was made difficult for everyone as Lake Hayes was some 15kms away from Queenstown and Millbrook resort another 8km beyond the Lake. All race kit had to be placed at the 2 transition areas on the day before the race, which is quite a normal affair at big races.
However, those who had placed their run shoes in transition 2 in the morning may have struggled to find them in the same place on race day. During Friday afternoon when I was laying out my run shoes, a small tornado whistled through and blew around everything that was not nailed down. Hence, I went in search of large stones to put with my shoes to keep them anchored to the ground! Weather conditions in the lower south island can be quite unpredictable in November/December, which proved to be true as the rest of Friday evening continued with torrential rain. Since our arrival the weather had been a mixture of sun, cloud and quite windy with only the odd spot of rain. In my mind, I was going through all the different variables of race kit and what to wear on race day depending on how cold or warm it was likely to be. Rain wasn't supposed to be an option! As it turned out, race day was quite sunny although still with strong winds.
My particular wave start was not scheduled until a quite respectable 1315hrs, which again meant that the air temperature was warmer, but the winds were stronger. I sat on the high embankment of Lake Hayes and watched some of the earlier waves going off on their swim leg. I was amazed at how many people were being blown off course and were struggling in the water. I made a mental note to look up frequently and try and keep the buoys in sight.
The lake temperature was a cool 17 degrees and the strength of the wind on the water made it as choppy as swimming in the sea. After exiting the water, we had to run up a steep hill of approx 200m to the cycle transition area; this probably added another 3 minutes to peoples already slower than average swim times. Road surfaces in New Zealand are typically 1/2 inch chip seal which to a bike means bumpy and slow! The course itself followed a 7km route into Arrowtown, which included a long and fairly steep climb and then two undulating laps around Arrowtown and the Millbrook area, both of which included the first long steep hill. I found the bike route both hard yet enjoyable, particularly as much of that area is "Lord of the Rings" country with stunning scenery all around. Finally, the run was 4 laps of the Millbrook resort, a golfing haven not too dissimilar to the complex at Aphrodite Hills.
Again, the route was undulating with two fairly steep climbs on each lap. By the time I started the run my legs felt tired and heavy and each climb began to feel like a mountain! Initially, I was disappointed with my finish time, but within a very short time it was obvious from speaking to other competitors that the course was a slow one and most found themselves a good 15-20mins down on their expected finish time. On reflection, it wasn't such a bad result and my final position was in the middle of my age group.
As with any competition, the real fun starts post-race - a huge gala night had been organised for the 2000 or so athletes. It consisted of lots of pasta, entertainment and of course alcohol! This is the time when everyone analyses their race, works out how to improve next year and then forgets it all as the drink sets in! It is also "thrift shop" time as athletes from all nations barter with each other for kit swaps. It's quite comical to watch different nationalities communicating, working out if they are the same size and if their exchange is a good deal!
I took advantage of being on the other side of the world by combining a holiday with the world championships. I hired a campervan for the next 13 days and toured the rest of the south and much of the north islands. The roads were quiet, the open spaces and views magnificent and the people extremely friendly. Camp sites are readily accessible with modern amenities and relatively cheap for overnight stays. I would thoroughly recommend everyone puts New Zealand on their list of places to go; it is truly a wonderful country. If I were to travel there again however, I would build in a few days stopover. Flying for 26 hours with only a short refuelling stop in Los Angeles can be testing and become uncomfortable.
I would like to thank the RAF Sports Lottery for their financial assistance and in particular, the RAF Cyprus Sports Board who were very generous with their assistance. Travelling to a world championship is never cheap and in this case was logistically difficult and expensive for bike transportation. Bikes had to be transported by road between Auckland and Queenstown, which meant that they arrive 48hrs after we did! Apart from acclimatisation and adjusting the body by 12hrs, this was one of the reasons why we had to arrive in location with plenty of time for the bikes to arrive and still have enough time to "recce" the bike route.
Many of us even had to hire cars specifically for the race weekend so we could get to and from the various transition areas. Notwithstanding that, it was an opportunity of a lifetime, made easier for me by the financial assistance received and for which I am most grateful for that help.
I shall not be travelling to Maderia for the 2004 world championships, as the move from the southern to northern hemisphere and de-confliction with the Olympic games means that the race is to be held in May which I feel is too close to the Queenstown race. I will however, continue to train and race in the hope of qualifying for the World Championships of 2005 which have been announced as Honolulu! If you want to join me, you can start by joining the K1 Triathlon Club at Akrotiri and do a Triathlon with us on the last Sunday of every month.