After completing 2 full Ironman races in Langkawi, Malaysia, I wanted to come out of my comfort zone and do an overseas race. Obviously, I was scared as I have heard many stories about people travelling overseas and spending so much money attempting one and yet, they could not finish. I didn’t want to be that person. So I kept my training and race preparation for Ironman New Zealand (IM NZ) on the low profile.
Personally, I have always wanted to visit New Zealand as a travel destination. Neither I or my mom have ever been there. I read many good reviews about IM NZ. So I did my research and signed up for it.
Having had done 2 full IM in Malaysia, I had an understanding that the logistics getting to the race destination do require some planning. Based on my past experience, the planning from the flight/transport to accommodation are very crucial.
There are a few things that I have learned from travelling to a foreign race location (New Zealand in specific):
- Timezone – If there are more than 3 hours time differences, you may want to plan to arrive at least 3 days prior to the race to adjust and recover from jet lag. New Zealand was 5 hours ahead of Malaysia. Because I am used to waking up early, so the time differences did not affect me as much.
- Food – As you have been training for several months now, and if there are certain types of food that you are unable to stomach it, you’d probably want to ensure that you are eating clean and what is familiar to you. Never, never try new things before and on race day.
- Bike Mechanic Check – Anything can happen to your bike during flight/transition, even if you have already sent your bike to service back home. Never assume! I had a last minute bike mechanic issue where one of the spoke on my rear rim broke and that affected the alignment. I was lucky to discover it a day before the race (on bike check-in day) and managed to get it fixed at a local bike shop. Bike test is important; have at least 2 days before the race to have a good check through. I wouldn’t advise taking any risk on this.
- Race Item Checklist – To ensure that you do not miss anything, always prepare a written checklist and check them twice. Have a mental run through of the things that you would need for your pre-race to actual race and post-race. When you are in a foreign country, finding sport-specific items can be tricky. I.e. The local pharmacy may not sell items such as salt sticks. And the local bike shop may not carry a Polar V800 charger. I have forgotten to pack my Polar V800 watch charger and had to track down another Polar V800 user at the event. Luckily, I was fortunate enough to find one. (The last 2 examples were true stories)
- Sunscreen – Never, NEVER underestimate the UV from the sun no matter which country you may be racing. You would rather be safe than sorry. The aftermath is never pleasant. I made a mistake by not applying sunscreen throughout the race, thinking that the UV would be the same as Malaysia and I got really burned as a result. I laughed at the western participants that applied sunscreen and looked like ghosts. But I was the last to be laughed at for looking all burnt. So not funny at all.
- Nutrition – Always stick to the nutrition plan that you have trained with for the past 3-6 months prior to the race. Nutrition is the 4th discipline of the sport and should not be taken lightly. You may be able to run a marathon, but if you ran out of sodium or electrolyte, you would end up crashing down. I miscalculated my calories plan and got really hungry towards the end of the bike course. Thankfully, the aid station had plenty of food.
- Travel & Logistics – Most of the Ironman races around the world are not situated in the capital city. Often it is held at a small island or town which will require a second flight or several hours of drive. Arriving a few days early can help ease your mind in getting everything ready for the race. I came across Tri Travel while researching for travel packages to Ironman New Zealand and that helped me sort out the travel and logistics from Auckland to Taupo and back.
- Accommodation Location – We all know that the Ironman triathlon is not a cheap sport and some of us would try to save on accommodation. I personally would suggest staying in a better hotel, 2-3 days leading up to the race. That way you can be sure to get quality rest and wake up fresh and ready for your big day. Location can be subjective, provided you have a sufficient transport. However, staying as close to the race location as possible can make things a lot easier after the race. I.e. If (touch wood) you had a mishap during the race and could not drive, the last thing you want to do is to walk miles to get back to your room.
Ironman New Zealand Race Overview
The Ironman New Zealand (32 years in 2018) is the second oldest Ironman race after Ironman Kona. The event was very well received and supported by the locals (yearly). This year, they had over 2,200 volunteers signed up to help – that is about 4 volunteers to 1 triathlete ratio. The locals at Taupo were very warm and friendly. The volunteers came from all ages; from school kids to elderly in their 80s helping out at the race site.
In our race packs, there was a hand-drawn/written note from the local school kids with encouraging words to the athletes. That really melted my heart.
At the Welcome Dinner night, the athletes were welcomed by the Maori with their cultural performances, which gave us a good insight of the native culture.
That morning, it was forecast to have good weather and that helped calm my nerves for the swim leg. This was the first triathlon race that I have raced with a mass start. For any inexperienced swimmers, we were advised to swim closer to the shore if we did not want to get swan over by other faster athletes.
The swim was one huge loop and then the U-turn at approximate 1.8km. I personally enjoyed the swim. The water was so clear that I could spot swimmers 10 meters ahead of me and I could see everything beneath me. Water was cold but after few meters into the swim, I managed to warm up and get into my rhythm. The Ironman buoys were placed about 400m from the shore and there was plenty of space for swimmers to swim without getting swam over.
I came to race without setting an expectation for myself for the swim leg, as all I wanted was to complete the swim within the cut off time and move on to the next leg.
I was quite surprised that I swam about 3 minutes faster compared to Ironman Langkawi. This is my PB so far for the 3.8 k swim distance.
After I got out of the water, there was a long run along the boat harbor and up a super steep ramp before I got into the transition tent. There were so many volunteers that in the transition tent that I had 2 volunteers assisting me. One was helping to get my wetsuit off while the other assisted me with my transition gear.
By the time I got to my bike, there weren’t many bikes left. I tried not to let that get into my head as I reminded myself that the Ironman race is all about racing against myself and I should always stick to my race plan.
Approximately 2 km into the bike course, I approached a long hill climb that lasted about 12 km. The hills at Taupo was nothing compared to Langkawi bike course. However, don’t be deceived by the false flats and winds as your ride through the large open farmland. Not to mention the asphalt road was too bumpy for my liking. There were many instances that I was afraid I may get a puncture.
For the first lap, I reminded myself not to rush into it and to take it easy. While on the second loop, it was already noon. The sun was up and the course started to get very windy. I was riding against the headwind for easily 45 km before the second U-turn back. By that time, I had very little energy left to peddle my way back. Usually, I do not mind the heat as I am used to Malaysia’s humidity. However, I was not prepared and did not train to face the headwind. The headwind was a different kind of challenge altogether.
Through the bike course, I had bugs and little stones hitting me every now and then. The one that caught me by surprise was a bee sting on my neck. I panicked and had to stop by the aid station to get some spray. I got all worried that I may die of a poison bee sting! But thankfully it was minor.
I made a mistake by miscalculating my nutrition for the bike leg and started feeling hungry at about 165 km into the ride. I knew I was nearly there. Luckily, there was one last aid station around that mark. I stopped by and grabbed a few cookies because I was nearly out of fuel. It felt like the best thing I have had in a long time. I felt relieved.
Traffic control on the bike course was well planned out. The volunteers were amazing and I couldn’t ask for any better.
On the way back to the second transition, I was very happy to have survived the bike course and to begin my run. I had a glance at my watch for my bike time, it read 7 hour and 50 mins. I then knew that trying to achieve my PB was already beyond my reach as I anticipated the hilly 3 loops run after.
At the transition tent, the volunteer asked if I wanted some sunscreen but I politely declined. Which I later regretted it, thinking that the weather would be cloudy and I would be fine.
I took a short break to shake it off after I got off the bike. I knew I was certain to finish the race while it was just a matter of time. The second thing that caught me by surprise was how hilly the 1st loop of the run was, and we had to run 3 loops of it! I certainly didn’t train for the hills, as I have only been running on the treadmill back in Genting Highland. And yes, I live up on a mountain and have never ran the hills. Silly me not to take advantage of the opportunity. Anyway.
Through the run course, there were many people camping on the side; cheering, playing music, offering food and aid. I tried to draw as much positive energy as I could from everyone around to keep me going. Some even made the effort to call out my name.
Personally, I felt the run course was very mental. After finishing the second loop, you knew that you still have one more loop to go. The sun had set at 8.30 pm at Taupo. I was hoping I could finish before the sun had set, then at least I could say I finished the race before it got dark. But unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make it.
I finished my run 5 hours 39 mins, 15 mins better than previous Marathon timing for Ironman. This was my personal best Marathon in an Ironman race so far. I honestly did not expect to beat my previous timing with this hilly course, but I’m very glad that I did. Which also means my run has gotten stronger and better.
I crossed the finish line at Ironman New Zeland in 15:22 hours, missing my personal best by 12 mins but I wasn’t too upset about it as it was a challenging course for me.
|2018||Ironman New Zealand||15:22:19||01:37:15||00:09:04||07:50:42||00:05:32||05:39:46|
|2017 (PB)||Ironman Malaysia||15:11:03||01:40:07||00:06:27||07:25:21||00:04:57||05:54:11|
Travel Experience with Tri Travel
Tri Travel made my first overseas Ironman race trip a memorable one. The logistics and accommodation were all well planned and taken care of, from the arrival at Auckland to transport to Lake Taupo location and back. Tri Travel also helped to assist any athletes that required bike mechanic services at the local bike shop. I was very grateful for their help when I was faced with a last minute bike mechanic issue.
Tri Travel has many years of experience organizing Ironman race travel events which gives them an edge in knowing the event organizers and race routes. Part of the tour, Tri Travel even gave us tips and advice on how to tackle certain areas of the race route, and they drove us along the bike and run course. The best advice that I took away from them was on how to put a wetsuit on properly; which I have very little experience with as I seldom race in wetsuit condition races.
At the welcome and award dinner, Tri Travel has a special reserved area for participants which was very close to the main stage. That was a bonus!
Last but not least, we made new friends through the trip as a tour group and also shared and exchange experiences with other athletes who have raced other parts of the world. Overall, my mum and I had a good experience traveling with Tri Travel and we certainly enjoyed ourselves. I would highly recommend Tri Travel to anyone that plans to race IM NZ in the near future. Tri Travel also offers packages for other triathlon race events around the world. So do check them out! 🙂
Credit & Acknowledgement
Breakaway Training, Coach Felipe Loureiro – Thank you for preparing me for my 3rd Ironman and for continuously improving my performance in the 3 disciplines.
PushMore Fitness & Performance, Coach Jonathan Wong – Thank you for continuously helping me to improve on my weaknesses. I would not be as strong as I am today without your guidance.
N8 Sports Nutrition – A trusted brand for endurance sports. I use N8 Endurance to fuel my long bike rides and training. N8 Natural Whey and N8 Armour BCAA as my post-race and recovery aid.