Ironman New Zealand – A First Timers Race Report

In his first Ironman experience, Karl Hayes embraces the challenging yet rewarding course of Ironman New Zealand, highlighting its exceptional crowd support and his minimalistic training approach.

Ironman New Zealand – A First Timers Race Report
A warm welcome! What a great experience.

Many people who have been in the sport for years told me that Ironman New Zealand was one of the best Ironman races in the world. Whilst I have only spectated and reported on Ironman races in Australia and Kona this was the best one I have been to for a few reasons.

One is that I was racing my first Ironman. This could have made me slightly biased.

The Unique Ironman Experience

But if I step away from this fact and look at what makes an Ironman so great it still stacks up. The swim was in a lake that looks like an ocean the first time you see it. It is almost as big as Singapore in area (616 sq km compared to Singapore’s 716 sq km) and on race day in 2014 it was as smooth as a ‘lake’. The next great thing is that the water is crystal clear and you can even have a few mouthfuls while swimming to keep hydrated. And the crowds. They are everywhere. More supporters than I have seen at any Ironman before. On the bike course and run course they were everywhere. They never stopped cheering all day. There was nowhere in the race where you felt you were on your own. I know there are a couple of big races in Europe that attract massive crowds but I am talking about races in our region.

Three of New Zealand’s triathlon greats started the run together. Bevan Docherty, Terenzo Bozzone and Cameron Brown. Photo: Sophie Hayes

Training Philosophy and Approach

With my minimal approach to training the instructions from my coaches Spot Anderson and Deb Hazeldon of Bondi Fit was to take the entire race easy and make sure my heart rate was low. Through Trizone I have come in to touch with so many people who have let training for Ironman take over their lives. I used to look at the training that people were doing and could see that many age groupers were doing similar hours to some of the top pros. I wanted to enjoy the whole Ironman journey.

Influences and Training Approach

I have been lucky enough to be able to spend some time with Pete Jacobs on many occasions over the years either as Trizone or as the person that has rebuilt his website a couple of times or even as his ride back from Forster once. The one thing I have always heard from Pete, as many of you have, is to train to feel and make sure you are recovering and resting well. So with this in mind my plan was to have a life while training for my first Ironman. I was not chasing a Kona spot or a PB so there was no pressure. Of course there were plenty of people telling me I was going to do this time and that time. All much faster than what I had planned.

Swimming Training

To put it simply I did one 2km open water swim a week in Wollongong Harbour with Alex Price’s AP10 squad. I went to Sydney once a week for the three weeks leading up to Ironman New Zealand to do a pool swim squad with Bondi Fit just to make sure I could do 4kms and as much as it pained Spot to acknowledge it I passed the test. He never said so but there was a faint smile as I dropped Reidy in the 20 or so 100s we did in one session. Sorry Reidy, but it makes my story sound better. I’ll leave the 50s swim off story for another day.

Bike Training

My bike training consisted of one long ride per week with the maximum distance being 156kms. I did my first ride over 100kms on Nov 24 and then didn’t do another ride over 100kms until Dec 26. I did a couple of 80-90km rides each week during December. My first proper long ride of around 140kms was on Jan 1st just 8 weeks before IMNZ. I then did one long ride a week during January. I was working 7 days a week in my new shop so going for long rides was proving difficult. Luckily my main employee David Mainwaring offered to open on Wednesdays and hold the fort which took the pressure off me having to open the shop and I managed to get a 140-150km ride in each week.

Run Training

My run training started on January 6 with a very, very slow 10km run after having two months out with an achilles injury. In total I did 5 long runs of 17-23kms. I also did another 3 10km runs and a final 13km run with Spot and Deb 12 days before IMNZ.

The Ironman Challenge

I did do one serious day of training the Sunday after I did Challenge Melbourne with good mate Josh Henry in Nowra. This consisted of a 2:15 bike, 30min run, 1:00 bike, 30min run, 1:00 bike and a final 30min run. It was a tough and hot day with the temperature in the late 30s. All the running was done at a very slow pace as my Achilles was still giving me grief.

The Balance of Training and Rest

A fairly minimal training program to say the least but that was the plan. I never trained the day after a big session. The other thing I did well was sleep. I made sure I was getting 7-8 hours a night. I have an awesome memory foam mattresses from Ergoflex. These mattresses are amazing. They are hard to describe except to say that they are like one of those dream beds in a nice hotel that you wish you could take home. They are not overly expensive and you can buy them direct from Ergoflex for around the $900 mark depending on size.

Ironman New Zealand Race Day

On to IMNZ. I started the swim to the extreme left where there were mainly the people who were more intent on keeping away from the mayhem that goes on in a mass swim start. This worked perfectly. I had clear water for about 1km until I slowly moved in to the swim line. At the half way point I stopped and took a gel which I had slipped in to the back of my wetsuit. This was the other aspect of the day that I was not going to get wrong. Nutrition. Darryll Griffiths from Shotz Nutrition had given me a good plan and I knew from my race in Melbourne at the beginning or February that it should work.

Swim start IMNZ 2014 – Photo: Stef Hansen.

With about 500m to go in the swim I had clear water and was just cruising along. At this point someone started to tap on my feet and then on the back of my legs. I don’t mind people tapping on my feet but when they are almost on top of your legs it gets a bit annoying. So I stopped for a second to let them swim past. Big mistake. The reason I had clear water was that I had a line of about 20 people sitting on me. Then I spent the last 500m in a swim brawl with everyone trying to swim within a 3sqm area.

Transition to Bike (T1)

The run to transition was more like a hike but everyone had to do it so what did it matter! The crowds that lined the run to transition made it seem a lot easier. This was to be a pattern for the day. The crowds I mean. No matter where you were on the course the were crowds of supporters cheering you on. Keeping with my low heart rate strategy I mostly walked to transition and just let everyone else pass me as I enjoyed the moment.

T1 was my first experience of an Ironman change tent. I swum in togs, budgie smugglers, speedos, whatever you want to call them under my wetsuit. I had never ridden 180kms before so I wanted to make sure that I did not come off the bike with rashes that were going to bother me on the run. So with this in mind I wanted to ride in my cycling gear that I had always used on my long training rides (which maxed out at 156km). My T1 took forever and finally after 9mins I was out on to the bike course. On the bike I wanted to keep my heart rate as close to 140bpm as possible for the first 10kms. I am sure I was passed by half the field in those first 10kms as I gently cycled away from Taupo. I chatted for a bit with a few competitors and rode with Kristy from HPT for a bit at the start. Kristy had a great race by the looks of it.

Bike Course Experience

I was told by many that the bike course in New Zealand was tough. A bit of undulation, a couple of decent hills and apparently the road surface was rough. I found the hills, a bit of head wind but never found the legendary rough road surface. It was no where near as bad as the straights at Port Macquarie and the road between Nowra and Braidwood on the South Coast of New South Wales that I did all my training on was rougher. I was happy with what I found in Taupo.

My coach Deb caught me at about 8kms so I decided that if I rode with her for the bike that would give me the pace that I was looking for. It was great to be able to ride with someone you knew in another country. Although, we are both Kiwis so it really wasn’t another country. We ended up in a pace line that stayed together for around 135kms until the final turnaround. I still had plently of energy to burn so I decided to try and put some time in to Deb as I knew at the pace I was planning on running she was going to kick by butt on the run. Most of the guys that had been riding with us had been pushing the limit so they slowly dropped off as the pace picked up in to a head wind and uphill on the way home.

I passed 156km and then was riding in to uncharted territory. I wondered what it would be like when I finished the 180kms. I felt great though and my heart rate was staying between 145 and 160bpm which is very low for me. Over shorter distances I would normally be in the 170-180 vicinity. I ended up leaving a couple of gels out as I just did not feel like I needed them all.

Out on the bike at IMNZ 2014

Right throughout the bike course there were crowds of people at every intersection in the countryside and at the far turnaround. There were campervans , cars and people that looked like veterans supporters. It was like no Ironman I had been to in Australia. It is something you have to experience to see what I mean.

Run Course Experience

I came in to T2 and my legs felt fine. The first few steps were a bit wobbly but by the time I had grabbed my bag I was good to go. In the tent I changed in to my Skinfit two piece trisuit. I went for this because the pants are unbelievable to run in. They have a decent pocket at the back and are silky smooth. I have never had any rubbing in them. The Skinfit top also has a couple of great pockets. I put my shoes and new socks on, then realised I had forgotten to put my vaseline on. So off they came. I was in no rush so it didn’t bother me. I grabbed all my stuff. I took a full cap instead of a peak so I could put ice in it to keep my temp down on the run. This is something I do on all hot long runs and find it helps considerably. We wrote a great piece on keeping your body cool in hotter races.

One more ‘stop’ before I left the transition then as I turned left out of the tent I discovered the buffet at the aid station in the bike area. There were chocolate chip cookies, chippies, pretzels, lollies, coke all laid out on these tables. I suppose IMNZ was celebrating its 30th birthday so why not put on a birthday spread. After taking advantage of this bounty I headed out on to the run. I ran at 5:50 for the first couple of kms until I felt comfortable then settled in to a 5:30 run pace that I planned to do for the marathon. The only flaw to this plan was that my other strategy was to run very slow with small steps up each hill so I wouldn’t overload my achilles and possibly blow it up. The flaw in this plan was that there were numerous hills on each of the three 14km laps. This took some of the wind out of my rhythm. I also bumped in to a couple of people I hadn’t seen for a while. Unfortunately they were both walking so I felt obliged to stop and have a catch up. I was in no rush so why not.

The crowds on the run course were unbelievable. The Kiwis and in particular the people of Taupo certainly knew how to throw a party and make the event as memorable as possible for the athletes.

I saw the 30km sign come up and felt great but wondered if I was going to hit some mysterious wall. I didn’t and just kept turning my legs over with small steps but a higher cadence. At no time in the run did I hit the wall. In hind sight I wouldn’t have taken the nutrition belt with four bottles. I just wasn’t burning enough fuel to really need it. The on course electrolyte probably would have been sufficient.

Knowing that there were my favourite New Zealand chocloate chip cookies at each aid station I made sure I grabbed one each time. Not sure Mr Giffiths would approve but I was doing my first Ironman and having a ball. Mr Giffins would have been happy.

In the final two kms on the run I happened upon Gordon Bell, one half or the brains trust behind the Nepean Triathlon. We chatted for a bit and got Gordon running again as he tried to get rid of the cramps that he was struggling with. He then started to surge on me with a km to go. What was he thinking? Then cramps took over again and we finished our own races.

It was great to have so much support from friends and family during the race especially on the run. I had my family from Australia and New Zealand there. I think they were more excited about the whole thing than I was.

I pulled up well the next day with no stiffness in my legs and was walking fine. That was until I got stung by a bee under the foot which then proceeded to swell up and I could hardly walk.

For the record I swum 1:06, T1 9min, bike 5:37, T2 8min then a 4:17 run. As I said it was a cruisy day with the plan to take away a wonderful memory.

Over the next week I did the Illawarra Triathlon Clubs aquathon on the Wednesday night, the Kembla Joggers Cross Country on the Saturday (which my business sponsors) and the Olympic distance triathlon in Wollongong on the Sunday. The sole aim of this race was to beat my coach. Coach Deb did the Wollongong triathlon as did Tony Golden who was also in New Zealand racing the Ironman. Time for us all to take a chill pill I think.

Anyway nothing is going to happen over the next couple of weeks then it will be a focus on Port Stephens Olympic distance in May to battle it out again.

A huge thanks to Ironman New Zealand for giving me the opportunity to experience my first ever Ironman on home soil.

Mizuno for some great running shoes. Their new range is one of the biggest sellers in my shop now. Because we let all of our clients test run before they buy the Mizuno’s are selling themselves.

I love training with Bondi Fit when I can. Coaches Spot Anderson and Deb Hazeldon have been great to work with. Not sure they would say the same the about me. I am not sure I am an ideal athlete to coach. But they give it a good crack.

I still love my Cell Bike TT. I have had 6 bikes from Cell now and never had a problem. Their latest top end road bike is pretty damn good and getting some good reviews. The engine on the bike is the biggest thing.

I firmly believe that my Huub Archimedes wetsuit is the main reason why I swim better than I should based on my training. I have been swimming in them for a couple of years now and I always come away with a better time in races than I really should. I think that annoys Spot a bit.

Finally Shotz Nutrition is another reason why I come through my races in much better shape than I really should. I competed in Melbourne at the start of Feb and off two long runs, cruised the race. I firmly believe that my nutrition plan, which is very simple, sees me come out better than expected.

Until next year when I will attempt to go faster…