Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Study of Kiwi Triathletes

Hello from lovely Auckland. I'm actually typing this from a little cafe, looking over this here harbor, which was also the site of the swim during the Auckland 70.3 which I did this morning....and it went great!

And I will write a little race report soon, but here are the highlights--- I had the best overall long course race of my life (of course there are always places for improvement but this is as close as I have ever come to a perfect long course race), swim was lovely and in salt water with wetsuits so I floated like a little bobber and felt so. very. buoyant; bike was technical and rainy and scary and windy and I was a big fat baby with all the wet turns; run was great except for the fact that it was long by almost a mile and that was mean but who's counting, and.....I got a flipping Kona slot, and I am so very excited.

But more on that later.

For now, I've been being a little anthropologist during my time here and observing the innate and learned differences between American triathletes and Kiwi (and Australian, lots of them here) triathletes. And here are my findings.

  • Triathlon is a national interest in New Zealand. People, normal people, like not triathlete people, actually know the names of the big triathletes. I watched the news last night, and they devoted FIVE MINUTES to triathlon coverage. I am not joking. This was the normal newscast, not some specialized sports channel. They covered the Challenge Wankaka, which happened yesterday, and the Auckland 70.3, which happened today, had interviews with Gina Crawford and Macca, and pronounced everyone's name right. And, they have triathletes pictured on cereal boxes.
  • That said, Kiwis don't seem to really give a hoot about the Ironman brand. They are not M-Dot aficionados. The Challenge series is a bigger deal. The Ironman Auckland 70.3 was very competitive (the pointy end represented, as they say here) but that's because (I think) the WTC made it the Asia-Pacific Championship and gave Kona slots, but the numbers overall weren't huge. And unlike in America, where the line to buy all the M-Dot gear and Finisher's Gear is usually longer than the registration line, here was the crowd looking to buy Ironman gear when I checked into this race:
That one girl standing there was an employee
  • You have to wear your helmet (with the strap buckled) as you enter the transition area. Even if it's just when you're checking your bike in the day before. Safety check or something, I don't know, but it feels pretty dorky. And they scrutinize bikes much closer. As I went to check in, an official took my bike, inspected it, tested the brakes, spun the crank a couple times, and then handed it back to me. 

  • Bathrooms....are hard to come by at Kiwi triathlons (or this one, anyway). No lines of 30 port-o-potties. Just a random onesie bathroom here or there. Better take care of your business at home (and thank goodness I did). Actually I saw this in Lanzarote, too. Maybe we Americans are just a little more bathroom-obsessed/ needy than the rest of the world? 

  • In terms of the cycle leg of the triathlon, rules are different in New Zealand. Or....just not followed. The drafting I saw on the bike was ridiculous, and very, very frustrating. Admittedly, New Zealand has a smaller draft zone (7 meters), but it still seemed like everyone was riding on each other's wheel. I saw packs of men (including, and actually mostly, the pros) riding in what appeared to be pelotons that were ESCORTED by course marshals. And I saw girls in my age group drafting off each other, which also got my blood boiling, but hey, I can only control my race, and I'm NOT going to draft. Maybe that was the 1min 30sec that kept me from winning my age group?? 

  • That said, I can criticize the race officials, but I will say, I escaped a (non-drafting) penalty, and I have their leniency to thank. You know that whole driving on the left side of the road I've complained about in New Zealand? Applies to cycling, too. And there was a stretch of the bike where I spaced out, and didn't get as far left as I should have. Getting left to ride just doesn't feel natural, and I screwed up. I didn't actually block anyone, there was no one around, and that was probably the thing that saved me. The officials were nice enough to pull up next to me and remind me to stay left instead of giving me a penalty, and this American girl appreciates it because really, I was just being a ditz (no excuses). But the "lecture"/ warning did get my heart rate up a little. 

  • There's no "back of the pack" in New Zealand. Sure, there are people who finished in the bottom 25%....that's just a mathematical fact. But it's not like America, where most races have a large contingent of "just trying to finish" or "bucket list" participants (and I am, in NO WAY WHATSOEVER, downplaying the accomplishments of those participants). Here, everyone seemed extremely well-trained, fit, experienced, and competitive. It was expected that you knew the rules of the sport....the pre-race meeting was a short video, shown every 30 minutes or so that basically said: "this is a technical course, be very, very careful, don't draft, thank the volunteers, don't forget to check out how awesome Auckland is after your race." It could be because this race was significantly more expensive than the many other races in the area, and thus drew a more experienced crowd with different goals. Just what I observed. 

  • Triathlon in New Zealand is ridiculously expensive. It's a little like an island nation, New Zealand is shipping in a lot of stuff. That stuff includes triathlon gear. At the expo, GUs were being sold for....$8.00. EIGHT DOLLARS FOR A GU. That's not far off of what I've seen in the shops I've stopped in as I had my typical pre-race flat tire paranoia (hey, you, Bike Tire Expert, please look at my tire and just tell me that it looks OK or I'm going to freak out until the race start and even if you tell me it's OK I'm probably going to go to the shop across the street for their opinion anyway). When I was getting ready to come to New Zealand, I asked my host/friend Adam if he needed anything from the States. His request? Asics running shoes. They're more than $200 here. (Sunscreen was his second request, also ridiculously expensive). How one could be a triathlete in New Zealand without serious sponsorship, I don't know. And I'm actually starting to stress about my own stock of training and race nutrition....I brought a lot, but not enough, and buying more here might break the bank. 

  • Triathletes in New Zealand have cooler accents. I love it. As do the spectators....and they say charming things like "good on ya," all that time. That brought a smile to my face every time I heard it. 

  • Triathletes in New Zealand go to the awards ceremony even when they're not receiving awards. Packed house, there.
So there you go. My anthropological comparison. Coming up, a race report. And then, I am going on VACATION (holiday) to the South Island of New Zealand and there will, without a doubt, be amazing pictures. I might even go bungee jumping. Just kidding, Mom. (Actually, not kidding at all).

South Island, here I come

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