Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Live From Taupo

It's just about the night before the night before the big day, and I'm settled in here in Taupo, New Zealand.  The weather is beautiful, the town is buzzing, and compression-sock clad triathletes have taken over.  It's almost time!
The main drag.  Bike course and run course go here.
I arrived in Taupo on Tuesday night.  Months ago, after I'd signed up for Ironman New Zealand but well before I'd arrived in the country or really even started to think about the New Zealand leg of my travels, I decided to book my travel to Taupo with Endurance Sports Travel, Ken Glah's company.  For the non-triathlon obsessed out there, Ken was a top professional triathlete in the 1980s and 1990s, and still competes  amazingly well in the 50 to 54 age group.  He's racing this weekend with the hopes of qualifying for his 30th straight appearance in Kona.  Aside from his own training and competition, he runs Endurance Sports Travel, which puts together travel packages for races all around the world.  When I signed up to join EST, I was a bit overwhelmed with trying to make decisions about accommodations (which are generally quite different than in the States) and didn't really fancy being entirely alone in Taupo.  I've traveled to races by myself before, but it's not my favorite thing in the world, and I figured joining up with a group would make the already stressful experience a little less lonely. 
Part of the group, and Ken, getting ready for a practice swim
Although I've now been in New Zealand for almost two months and can certainly navigate myself through the country at this point, I'm so glad I chose to travel with Ken's group.  We have a nice group of 20 or so athletes and friends, the majority of whom (but not all) are American.  The experience and expectations of the participants are widely varying, from those just hoping to finish their first Ironman to those gunning for age group wins, but the common denominator is that everyone is friendly, eager to share their experiences, and laid back.  The organization is top notch,  Ken and his staff whip up delicious meals (banana pancakes for brekkie!) with remarkable skill, share their stories and experiences, and we have a bike mechanic available at any time, which helps keep my pre-race bike paranoia under control. 

Ken sharing bike course knowledge with one of group members, who is an MIT professor and member of Team Parlee with me, WattsUpKarin, and pretty much half of Well-Fit
I said I wanted to enjoy the experience of this Ironman, and thus far, I truly have.  Part of it is being with a group and having like-minded participants around to chat with, part of it is my own attempts at being a bit more "smell the roses"-y this time around, and part of it is just that Kiwis are friendly and laid back and while this town is overrun with triathletes right now, there's not really a nervous, tense energy or too many attempts to show off, but more of an excited buzz about a day that is really quite special in this country (there has been daily news coverage about this event in the New Zealand Herald, pretty cool).   
Getting set up
Much credit goes to Ken Glah, too.  Just with his demeanor and approach to the sport, he brings  perspective to all of this.  Here's a guy who won this race multiple times, was once at the very top of the sport, and when he started getting slower, he didn't walk away like so many do.  Instead, he stayed involved because of the love of the sport.  He's told us stories of Ironmans in which he's had to walk the run (broken blood vessel in his lung, how does that happen?), but instead of calling it a day, saying I'm an Ironman champion and I've done a gazillion of these, he finished the damn race.  Because that's what you do.  It's inspiring. 
Pretty lake

 Add that he's still super fast but drinks Orange Fanta and eats ice cream without hesitation just days before the race, and it makes me realize that really, you don't have to be super-extra-amazingly-regimented and monitor every vitamin and mineral and calorie to enter your body to be a total rock star.   Good to know. 

So I've been playing along with the Ironman party.  I went to the hot springs outside of town with our group and we ate pasta and drank beer (only one!) while lounging in the river.  I got through registration today and just being in line didn't make me want to cry like it did in Madison (although like in Madison, I very, very, very adamantly told the lady weighing us in that I didn't want to know, even in kilograms.)   I met up with Friendly Kiwi Triathlete Jo and had a lovely chat and soy flat white coffee.   I even almost went to the pre-race Carbo Loading Dinner/ Party, until a certain nameless fun-killer answered an email in which I mentioned that I was considering attending with a simple one word response: "GERMS."   So it's chicken and rice for me alone in my room tonight.  Sad.

Now, back to sorting all of my worldly triathlon goods into four different bags to be dropped off tomorrow, along with a little more effort at trying to get my feeble brain to figure out how to deal, clothes-wise, with a day that will start with temperatures in the high 40s and end up in the 80s.   Can't wait (for real)!
This is Didymo Dave, who is passionate about keeping didymo out of Lake Taupo and also triathlon
This is not a nice sign for the bike course
Triathlon statue at the bike turn around in Reporoa

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