Ironman Taupo 70.3 Triathlon (New Zealand)

My first race of the year was Ironman 70.3 New Zealand in Taupo. Yes, technically I already ran a marathon but…according to my objectives with a focus on triathlon this was the important step on my race calendar. Ha ha

I had 1.5 months to train for the race after my marathon in mid-January with my Coach Rodrigo Acevedo (Colombian Pro triathlete). This race being only a test for the A race I have in 2 more months, my first Ironman! EEK! The race was FaBuLoUs and full of an overwhelming amount of surprises that left me impressed by what I am capable of doing with focus and no stress.

I trained in Rotorua, New Zealand for this race, about 1 hour from Taupo by car. I swam mainly at the local pool, a decent 50m outdoor pool, between 10 am- 3pm because it was cheaper, with an occasional lake swim here and there (got 1 test run in at Lake Taupo). I ran generally near the house, sometimes exploring new streets or areas nearby and the occasional Redwood Forest or other running paths. Biking was pure exploration. My first ride for instance was around Lake Rotorua (can´t swim in it unfortunately) and when I finished I was like that was a decent hill on the other side eh. Perks of not being from the area and training is that I am in constant surprise by routes. I have no idea what to expect and am always learning as I go. LOL I obviously research or asked around but I never have details about where were the hills, if the route was hard as F*** or anything. When you got to train you just go and hope it works out.

While in Rotorua I did several local races, some to prepare but in general just because they seemed awesome. It was also a nice way to meet local athletes and doing local events gave me a deeper feel for the area. My first weekend in Rotorua they had the Blue Lake Multisport Event (2 days of triathlon type activities). I did the aquatlon, a swim run…well backwards…and my first ever with this combination. The event allowed me to meet local triathletes, start being part of the community, see weaknesses (aka aquatlon where I swim after running is hard stuff), check out the local trails and swim in the touristy Blue Lake (Tikitapu). Following this I signed up for a 20km trail race, Tarawera Ultra because it seemed like it was a pretty legit event, being part of the major trail circuit and well it would allow me to check out more of the trails in the area and I could push myself and see how the legs would do on trails. Then I did a local cycle race, Cyclezone Tour of the Valley…86km to check out more routes farther out of town, see the cycle community and again test my legs (uff a week before Taupo…rolling hills non-stop…ouch!). Training/biking in Rotorua blog.

In addition to races I did some bike packing, once to the coastal town of Tauranga for a weekend (kind of as a birthday celebration) and then finally to get to the race in Taupo…haha

The week leading up to the race my legs were very tired…enough to get me worried for the first time ever for the run….bad since that is my strongest sport, good because it distracted from the swim, my weakest…ha ha.

I arrived to Taupo on Wednesday by bike, an easy 78 km ride ha ha. I biked over because I was staying outside of town making the ride less far and ya know, I just wanted to do it. I actually spoke with my coach while leaving town since my 40km were really 40 miles but he gave a green light, so I continued happily with my support, and only promising a photo at my pit stop. The ride was awesome even if quite slow. It included a touristy pit stop to Kerosene Creek Hot Springs and the Ironman turn around.

Lake Tarawera
Bike packing out from Rotorua. This so far is my favorite Mountain.
Kerosene Creek
Thermal hot spring pit stop on way to Taupo…this was before the epic fail…LOL

At Kerosene Creek I had an epic fail…While trying to take the best photo of the bike at the hot springs a tiny gust of wind blew it over just as I was taking the shot from below and it fell into the springs, lol…I treaded water to it asap glad that it floated but worried the sulphur might do damage to it and laughing at my epic fail with no video or photo of the incident.. big bummer as that video or photo would have been ha ha ha soooo good….darn.

With only 3 days to race day I spent my days in town (remember I was not in town but 20 km out) checking out the hype around Ironman. A whole village was set up for it and the town was pumped with all stores decorated, streets geared up and IM logos everywhere. While I would only be racing 70.3 another 1600 athletes would be doing double that! (what I will do in May) For the 70.3 there were only 400+ athletes since the main 70.3 race in Taupo is actually in December…but obviously I missed that and I was super lucky they include the half along with the full in March because I have wanted to do this race for quite a few years now.

On day 1 in town I was hanging out with my friends from Rotorua (they would all be doing the full), distracting myself with all things Ironman and swimming in the lake which was choppy. I also bought some last minute items, a hem the tri suit that I couldn´t decide on the month before…lol but now it was cheaper…I know don´t try anything new on race day…well I swam in it that same day…LOL….or ya know just lube up everything just in case (good ´ol Vaseline).

Day 2 was check-in, bike drop off and pure relax. Check-in was my favorite as they had a sign that said ¨Welcome World¨ with a map and red stickers you could place on the map your location. I saw it and felt I was totally where I needed to be :D. People were from everywhere; this race being one of the most international IM races. Still visually it was very powerful! I wanted to put a sticker but Seattle was already placed…making me happy knowing at least 2 others are from there. I actually ran into one of them later at transition on race day (and the finish)…lol…what are the odds? (he actually lives in Sydney though…and has for the past 20 years lol). Then I was like well I´ll put the last place I lived in….hum Chile….there were stickers and I just didn´t feel any affinity to there… ¨Colombia¨ I said, no stickers and well it´s where I lived the longest as of recent so yeah (although I must say now not living there this was hard to place…so I kept it simple and wrote ¨It´s COLOMBIA, not Columbia¨ he he…education first). I also enjoyed meeting tons of people here, everyone was so friendly, from everywhere and all with unique stories, one girl was on her honeymoon and was racing because why not (saw her again at finish)….another was from Philippines and it was her first 70.3 outside of her country…etc, etc.

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Race day finally!

By 5:20 am we were on our way into the city. I got lucky because the lady hosting me normally volunteers for the race and her kids were athletes so she understood my needs and was ok shuttling me around for the race….only bad news was I would later have to leave before my friends finished.

By 6 am I was in transition setting up my spot, sadly too close to the traditional welcome ceremony start thus missing the waka (dragon boat) arrive and the haka (traditional war dance) welcome….but I heard it and was better off setting up for the race (the only thing we leave the day before is the bike, not the helmet, shoes, nothing).

I did finish setup before the start of the Ironman race and I was so glad I did because when I walked down to the swim start…the whole place was literally buzzing at 7 am… so many people were awake and ready to watch the Ironman…so many it surprised me.  The sun was rising over the lake now giving an orange hue to the water and the surrounding volcanoes clear as day that you could see across the lake….it was going to be a good day…. then boom went the cannon, the elite men were off, the waka leading them out…and boom went the cannon again, the elite women off…and then again as if the first 2 didn´t prepare us…BOOOM, we cringed! and those 1600 athletes were off making a commotion on the lake…arms everywhere…colored swim caps dotting the lake. Just like that the race began and the massive amounts of people tinkled off to find coffee or warmth…some would wait for the pros who´d start exiting 46 minutes later… leaving us waiting an hour before we could start.

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As the first male exited the water they called out 46 minutes, I said ¨I swim like a pro¨ ha ha my swim usually takes just that! (shhhh we don´t need to mention the distance that guy swam…yes it was double mine….it still made me feel good). Wetsuit on, time was ticking, I was running late but at the lake I ran into the girl next to me at transition and we entered together. This was her first 70.3 and when I spoke to her earlier she said she gave the bike she brought to compete to a German girl doing Ironman who´s bike never arrived and instead she rented an old road bike from a shop in town. I was like WOW, IMPRESSED by her attitude and good sportsmanship, all she said was ¨it´s just the spirit of the race, right¨…indeed it was; her example is so inspiring and soooo true. Turns out I would see her on the bike and then again at the finish….wearing a swimsuit and running shorts….simplicity at it´s finest, hard bike, no padded shorts and she did quite amazing just like that!

As I swam I felt great…although being late I actually was caught the start off guard but off I went in the mix with the others, nothing like the field for the Ironman though; we all had sufficient space if we wanted it. I had swam the course so I knew the tough part was the out and would enjoy a current on the way back… but had forgot that it also pushes you into the lake away from the bouys if you don´t pay attention (of course I did get pushed out a bit but not bad). While swimming I knew I was doing well, I kept saying in my head ¨I think this is the best I have swam, maybe I will improve my time today¨. I just kept swimming, correcting myself on the way back, happy about the turns that I didn´t stop for but swam through. I did have to stop a few times and raise my head out on the way back as I couldn´t see the bouys well with the sunlight and then on the final turn I was very confused (probably because I never looked at this part of the course before the swim…oops). I eventually made it over to the ramp and out…taking advantage of my running skills for the 400m exit with stairs to not lose more time.

Transition was quick enough keeping in mind I had to remove the wetsuit on my own. Apparently too quick though as I soon realized I left the bike pump (fingers crossed for no flats) and my energy bar…luckily I noticed at aid stations that bananas were being handed out…..yup I would be grabbing a few later since without the bar I now wouldn´t have all the energy I needed…oops and thank god for bananas!

The route was Broadlands Road where we would cycle for the majority of time. I had done it bike packing over to Taupo days before and was just hoping the wind wouldn´t be bad like when I rode in. I took advantage of the out and pushed hard but also kept in mind I still had a lot to go so not killing all power just yet. The hill out of town was a killer one but once past that all was good. The whole ride (and the run too) I remembered my friend Kirsten´s words from days before when I sent out information to follow me saying ¨I am excited to track you and watch you pass everyone while biking and running!¨ since she knows in the swim I am not strong…lol. That is what I thought while I passed each person, ha ha like there goes another one Kirsten, are you counting….just ticking them off for you. LOL

It was great on the bike to see and cheer for some of my friends (yes, as I passed them, remember they had double) out there racing…although for many that was the only time I would see them. At the turn around it was a quick awakening as the other side was definitely windy and the return would be a struggle. I felt bad for the Ironman guys who would have to deal with wind 2x…not cool! I still managed to push but much slower…I was shooting for 3 hours and I made the turn around nearly on time…so now I knew the same time back was impossible but I´d sure try. I was noticing as I still passed people that the only people passing me were those on TT bikes…..of course…the spiffy triathlon bikes all aerodynamic….luckily it wasn´t tons. The last hill into town didn´t seem bad to me and I floated up it (lol, impossible but I felt that way). Coming into town was sketchy since there was a thin strip for us to maneuver and all downhill…hard to pass…hard to go fast but also I needed to rest the legs a bit or at least feel them out and know what I might be feeling on the run, they felt fine.

Arriving to the transition zone I jumped off the bike like a pro, nice and smooth, and ran into the transition area while I heard people at the dismount area yell, ¨great transition¨ making me feel all pro..ha ha I quickly grabbed stuff for the run, cautious to not forget anything this time and throw some sunscreen on too (Pretty sure I missed a leg…lol…found out later it was the shoulders I forgot existed…ha ha). The run out felt good, in fact I felt great…I was pushing somewhere near a 6 minute mile….this pace felt soooo good …. Along the course I heard sooo many times ¨Great Running¨ or ¨Nice Pace¨, ¨Looking Good¨ and ¨Great Form¨ and that is how I felt. We had 2 laps to run for the 13.1 miles (21k) and I was just hoping they keep saying that to me by the second lap ha ha. I thought ¨could you keep this pace up for 21km?¨, to myself I said ¨I think so¨ and so I just kept pushing. For the second lap I was literally running with the pros, the lead pros, and I was like, ok slow down you´re not THAT FAST! It was very exciting to run with them though…I was super impressed watching the lead guy pass me going up the hill….he literally went up the hill as if it was flat….I was like….¨oh my how do I learn to go up a hill like that…damn!¨ The second lap also felt great and I was still getting those comments…I began to laugh…thinking…¨holy shit I might do a 1:28 half marathon….a freaking PR by oh my I am going to break one of my huge running goals¨….laughing,¨ yeah break it after swimming 1900m and biking 90km…ha ha ha that shit is crazy!¨…..and so I did it. I came shy of the 1:28 but I did break my dream time of going under 1:30….leaving me sooo impressed with myself and surprised that it was possible especially given the conditions, and no it was not a flat course.

Into the finish shoot and  I was done….yup legs would need a massage…I paid double for those 15 extra minutes…because the next day I was going hiking and with the fire in those legs when I finished I knew I they would not have let me if I had not.

After eating a bit and the massage I looked at my phone, friends were following for sure and they didn´t wait a second to let me know how I did. Turns out my run was 14 minutes faster than the first place girl in my category…I managed to finished second in my category…won a spot to the World Championship 70.3…oh and did I mention I PR´d in the 21km distance..yup that for me is my favorite part!!!

Good thing Ironman sent a message to me about the awards ceremony and my friend, Fabiola, the update on my results otherwise I would have missed it (like in Lithuania…ha ha ha) because it was only hours later…obviously I wasn´t anticipating a podium lol.

Got myself a nice little plaque for my effort :D. Then I stayed for the roll down for the World Championship. My coach told me I had a spot as soon as I finished and asked if I wanted to go, I had said ¨No!¨ but then I debated it as I saw the dates actually did work for me. I called my parents even trying to decide if ¨No¨ was really my answer. In the end I stuck with ¨No¨ because I am traveling this year and this meant I would have to train again somewhere in Asia for at least a month and buy a new bike again…it just didn´t seem to be the right timing so I stuck with my original ¨No¨ although the dates actually had me in Europe and Mom and Dad were all for Nice, France…sorry guys.

The day after the race I found myself ¨again¨ climbing a volcano (also did that after IM 70.3 Pucón)…a volcano I tried to convince my coach to let me do the week before my race…with a firm No I was left with after :D. Another early wake up, this time to make the 6-8 hour trek of 19.4 km up and over the middle of a volcano field…ha ha I took it slow obviously…um but then again it took me 6.5 hours…oops (including my photo stops…for those that know me…they can be quite frequent). The worst for me was the downhill part obviously… but again… obviously, I jogged the steeper parts to avoid extra pain on the quads…and yes I believe I was the only one up there from the race doing the hike. The hike was pretty cool  by the way…volcanos, mineral pools, views for days, contrasts all over, lava fields, Sulphur gases, Lord of the Rings fanatics, bit of altitude breathlessness, forest, heat and an endless line of people (don´t expect to have nature to yourself here…at all). After 2 days of hardcore stuff my body was tireeed…I kept closing my eyes on the last bit….and yes I will be getting another massage tomorrow….legs are over it….done…finite…muerto…dead.

I really loved this race. What I loved most was the ambiance and community around the event. The race is the second oldest Ironman (full) after Kona, a place selected by the founders and I can see why. I haven´t been to IM Kona but I think the vibe here and race itself is really similar. As the founder John Collins said after they raced the course: ¨To us, New Zealand is Hawaii in a temperate climate. It´s Polynesian, scenic, geologically young, and the people are warm and welcoming. The underlying lore and landscape of the Maori permeate the course, as do volcanos, lava, and fumaroles. inviting waters and lovely landscapes suit the endurance triathlon event we call the Ironman.¨ (found that tid bit in the local paper Taupo & Turangi Weekender days before the race and totally agree). The crowds were amazing, the views beautiful, the circuit was challenging and Taupo is such a welcoming place. This was the 35 anniversary and they will be holding the World Champs in 2020 for IM 70.3….I would totally recommend this race and I hope to be back in 2020.

5 thoughts on “Ironman Taupo 70.3 Triathlon (New Zealand)

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