Monday, March 31, 2008

Stepping off

Last Thursday I had an opportunity to enjoy a classic Queenstown activity. Here's a hint:

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This is the Nevis Highwire Bungy, 134m (440ft) above the Nevis River in a gorge near Queenstown. They've built a pod suspended by cables above the river and have a little tram car that shuttles people out to the pod itself.

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The bungy pod, the gorge, and the river far below

Part of the pod has a see-through floor. One terrified girl was even stepping over this part of the floor!

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That's a person way down there

I trusted that it was a safe endeavor and was certainly excited, but never felt scared. That being said, it looked like a LOOOOONNNGGG way down! They count down from 5 but they don't push anyone off; I could tell it was pretty tough for a few people to step off.

I've stood on terrain in the summertime that I've stood on strapped to my snowboard in the winter. No big deal in the winter; I've found myself terrified without the proper tools in hand in the summer. As such, I don't know that I'd have been able to stand on the platform without being harnessed to the cords, but I did it without a second thought all harnessed up.


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See ya!

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Big dive out!

The initial fall is 7-8 seconds. The river came at me awfully fast! And the feeling of the bungy cords loading up and slowing me down as the river got closer and closer was awfully cool. After two bounces they send the winch down and it's time to get a closer look at the sides of the gorge on the way up.

Of course, it wouldn't be complete without video:

Many thanks to Evil E for the hookup and to the whole crew for taking care of me. I'll get to do another one at the historic Kawarau bridge either this week or next, and I'm really looking forward to it!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter and a little jog

So yesterday was Easter, here in this land just west of the International Date Line. When I got up yesterday, I hadn't gone for a run since Taupo.

OK, that's not entirely true. Let's back it up to Thursday afternoon. I had just eaten some killer Indian food with a guy I'm doing some engineering work for, and we had moved over to the Pig & Whistle for a beer. Sitting out on the deck, enjoying an Erdinger, and watching the world go by, my attention drifted upwards to the banner across Ballarat St. advertising something called the Arm Run on Easter Sunday, with a 14km option and a 26km option. Curiosity piqued!

I hadn't been running since Taupo for a variety of reasons: mangled toes, mild stress fracture in a foot, generally over it, etc., etc. Friday I went out for 3-4 miles just to see if my little injuries had gone away and if I could even consider doing the run on Easter. Everything felt fine, which was encouraging.

Sunday morning rolled around and I figured "why not?" so I hopped on the bike for the 10 mile ride out to Jacks Point where this run started. It ended in Queenstown, so after I got to Jacks Point I faced the simple task of finding somebody to schlep my bike back into town for me.

When I got out there sometime after 9am, the sun was still hiding behind the Remarkables and it was a chilly 43ยบ. About 10 minutes before the start, the sun finally peeked over the mountains and it instantly warmed up.

40 or so of us started out there for the route that climbed the hill up and over Jacks Point to the shores of Wakatipu. The track followed right along the lake for nearly all of the 26km, winding through Kelvin Heights and the golf course on the peninsula, along to Frankton, towards Queenstown, and finally around the Gardens to the finish at the beach right in town.

The weather was perfect, the views were consistently great along the lake, and the first 8-10km was a repeat of the idyllic trot I did with Ethel before she left town. Good memories! I went out pretty hard for the first 10km or so and had to back it off a bit for the middle 6-8km. My hamstrings were quite angry as was one of my IT bands, all reminding me that I hadn't run in 3 weeks...

I had my little camera along with me, and I probably would have paused for some more pics, but I sure didn't feel like getting passed, so all I managed was one horribly motion-blurred and tilted shot. Rather that spending fruitless time making this picture semi-passable in Photoshop, I've instead decided to preserve its hastily conceived form as an apt reminder of my approach to the whole day. :)

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Not winning any awards with this shot...

I had gotten near the front with the hard opening effort. As the kms ticked by, we strung out, and I didn't see anybody for a long time. I was able to keep track of my placing as there weren't too many of us, and I caught the 4th place guy right as we were leaving Kelvin Heights. I had recovered by then from going out so hard, so I just let my legs go for the last 10km... I caught one more guy right as we came into the Gardens and finished strong, 2:02 and change for the 26km (7:35 miles).

A dip in the lake was great reward! The reality of what I had done to myself slowly started to set in...3 weeks of no running...then going hard and acting competitive for 26km...on a whim...I suppose it's kinda my style and I don't regret it one bit, but let's just say that I wouldn't recommend this approach to anyone who values their mobility. :)

All that being said, I greatly value being able to do stuff like this without getting all worked up and training specifically for it...just going out and doing it, even though I definitely ran too hard yesterday. Being a little impulsive and a little reckless is good sometimes!

Beyond this run, Easter weekend has been good in Queenstown. Amazing weather all the way through; lots of hours at work; time-and-a-half plus whole extra vacation days on Good Friday and today, Easter Monday; and lots of cool people in town enjoying the last big holiday before the quiet season. Quite a good vibe all around.


Saturday, March 15, 2008

Acrofest '08...sort of...

I took a leisurely ride out to Kingston yesterday just for the heck of it. I remembered when I got there that this tiny town was hosting Acrofest '08 this weekend. I should have remembered far sooner as I personally put up a poster for the event in Monty's a few days ago.

Anyway, I watched raptly as lots of paragliders threw down the steeziest tricks in the biz. Bummed that I had forgotten about the event and hence hadn't brought a camera, I vowed to return the next day to capture this airborne talent, along with some hang gliding, wakeboarding, BASE jumping, and freestyle BMX.

So this morning I loaded up my smallest daypack with both cameras, an extra lens, and some socially acceptable (read: non-spandex) clothes and headed back out to Kingston. It was a little breezy all the way out, but right as I got into town, the wind reared its ugly head and started roaring.

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Clouds above the launch

Chances of seeing anything airborne dwindled quickly, but pilots were antsy and keen to play around on the beach.

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Venturing onto the wakeboarders' rail with a speed-glider

There was a great little crowd out there and I ran into a few mates, so that was a nice surprise.

Caked in sweat from my ride but changed into boardshorts, I seized a great opportunity to rinse off when the MC announced he'd give away a free ski-field lift ticket to the first person who was willing to jump in the lake. :)

Our little sheltered harbor was too choppy for even the wakeboarders, as the wind was steady at 35-40+ km/hr all day. The only action that could happen was the freestyle BMX, and even they had to time their runs between gusts.

The pilots were waiting at the launch high above for a break in the weather, but it was never to come.

So the telephoto intended for the paragliders stayed in my bag and I shot BMX for a while.

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I eventually got bored and headed to the cafe to watch Formula 1 Qualifying for Round 1 in Australia. F1 without traction control (new for this season) is awesome.

But I digress...I'm glad I got to see the acro stuff yesterday but I'm pretty disappointed that I don't get to share what I saw. It's a cool event and I'm glad that they had two days of good flying weather before today.

And then I got hammered by the wind on the way back. Badly.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Post-Race Adventuring

I still had 5 days off of work after the race, so let's make the most of it, right?

After leaving Taupo Sunday morning, we head north to Rotorua and check out some thermal activity (that didn't charge admission) like mudpots, boiling lakes, and lots of fragrant sulphur.

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Boiling Lake in Rotorua

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Steam wafting up through a walkway over the boiling lake

We then wander further north to Whakatane and to Opotiki. Goal for the night was Gisborne, the long way around the peninsula, but it's quickly obvious that the line on the map conceals how slowly we'll be covering kilometers.

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Surf crashing into the coast on the way to Hicks Bay somewhere near Otamaroa

We cut our losses and stop in Hicks Bay, far short of Gisborne. The proprietor of this motel has a tiny little Beta helicopter that he uses for grocery shopping, hunting, and sightseeing parked on his lawn and also happens to be a world-class marathoner. Close to 60 now, he has placed as high as 4th in Boston, has run for New Zealand several times in the Olympics (as recently as 1988), and has 2:11 as his fastest marathon. He understands, then, the extent of my hunger and feeds me well.

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Waves slowly rolling into Hicks Bay

Freshened by a night of sleep, we keep heading east along the peninsula and come across some seals who are sleeping on the rocks right along the road.

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About a dozen baby seals playing in a tide pool

Further along, shortly before Gisborne, we take a stop at one of the most idyllic beaches I've ever set foot on.

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Near Gisborne...

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...and I never...

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...want to leave

We make it to Wellington that night for another stay with Diane and Aled and some tasty homemade soup and bread (thanks again guys!).

After crossing the Cook Strait on the ferry the next morning, we head south to Kaikoura and stay there for the afternoon and night.

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Quick panorama looking out from the Kaikoura Peninsula

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Some seeds on an oceanside cliff

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Approaching rainstorm, aquamarine water, and fresh snow in the mountains

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Kaikoura Peninsula...yes, this place is real...

Then it's another day of driving back to Queenstown through Christchurch, Tekapo, and along the Kawarau. 3200km for the whole trip including the drive from Queenstown to Taupo...lots of ground covered and many beautiful places seen!

I'm back to work in about an hour; life in the "real world" has gotta continue sometime!

Ironman New Zealand Race Report

Race week began for me on Tuesday with the rental of a miniscule car in Queenstown and a 9-½ hour drive to the ferry in Picton at the very northern tip of the South Island. After a late-night arrival at Diane and Aled’s house in Wellington, I slept, caught up with them for a few minutes in the morning and then pressed on for another 4-½ hour drive to Taupo. Driving into town, I pass Kiwi legend and six-time winner of IMNZ, Cameron Brown, on his bike.

Not long after checking into my cool little hotel, I discover that Paul and Mike, two of my fellow Epic Campers, are staying at the same place! With 1200 athletes spread between a couple hundred hotels and motels in town, the chances of 3 of the 5 competing Epic Campers picking the same hotel is almost as small as my rental car.

I sneak in a short ride Wednesday evening and a short run Thursday evening. The rest of Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday manage to get filled up with the simple tasks of registration, bike inspection, mandatory wetsuit cleaning, race meeting, and gear check-in. It amazes me how these few obligations have a way of consuming an inordinate amount of time. After these and eating, it seems like there’s barely time to relax.

A few weeks back, my helmet got a light squish in the hinge of a car trunk. After manhandling the helmet over his knee, the bike inspector finds a hairline crack and fails the inspection. I have no choice but to go to a local shop and pay not only New Zealand prices, but also Race Week prices for a new helmet. This equates to over twice the US price, and this is not factored into my bartender-wage budget. I’m not happy, but it’s done.

I had started my carbo-loading on Wednesday and topped it off with lots and lots of pasta Friday night. I go to bed about 9pm and fall asleep pretty easily. Race morning begins at 3:45 with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a Clif Bar, a banana, and some tea. My gear was all checked in on Friday, so I actually have some time to relax after breakfast and to keep my head in a good place.

I make it to the transition area around 5:45, get body-marked, and air my tires. With the activity buzzing all around me, I find myself relaxing more and more; I’ve got all day to get excited and I’m not exactly keen to start the race nervous and jumpy. I head down to the water at about 6:40, pull my wetsuit on, stretch, and surrender my dry-clothes bag to the volunteers.

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Suiting up

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Ready for fun and games!

Most everybody is already in the water, so I wade in and find an open spot to warm up for a couple of minutes. This will be my first large mass-start swim (remember, 1200 of us), and I’m pretty sure that I don’t want to get kicked in the head, so I hang out about 40-50m back from the line, out of the crowd, and bide my time. I’ve found a shallower spot that I can stand on, and with just a couple minutes to go, I feel the loose skin from a weeks-old blister on my heel flapping around; I had forgotten to trim it back. I spend the last minutes before the gun goes off picking at my heel underwater.

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The famous washing machine

And we’re off! Even though I’ve started back from the group, it’s still mayhem. I very actively work to ensure that I don’t get knocked out and work my way through swimmers until the groups shake out and a pace develops. The water is calm and the weather is good, and the kilometers fly by. I come out of the water in 1:05, and I couldn’t be happier. I feel fresh and that’s a time that’s quite good for me.

We’ve got a few-minutes-long run up to T1, and they’ve got a narrow strip of carpet laid down. Passing anybody would require running on an unfavorable surface, so I just get in line and jog. T1 goes smoothly and it feels good to be on the bike.

The breeze has started to pick up, and we’ll have a headwind for our first and third legs out to Reporoa and a tailwind for our second and fourth legs back into Taupo. With 1200 people on a substantially flat course, it’s inevitable that there will be some drafting, especially at the beginning of the bike before people’s paces level off. Many people are taking pains to ride legally 7m behind the next bike, but many are not. Before long, technical officials start handing out drafting penalties. I’m glad for this, because enforcing drafting penalties seems to be the only way to break some of these groups up. I do see many groups, more so near the front of the race, that are riding legally, spot on at 7m spacing.

Within about 30km on the bike, my hip flexors are starting to complain and so is my lower back. I start coming out of the aero bars to stretch far more often than I’d like; I haven’t even been riding all that hard. Then I remember that I entirely neglected to adjust my seat height to accommodate my much thinner race shorts. To a non-cycling reader, a quarter or three-eighths of an inch may seem like a pittance, but it’s actually a huge change in position and will affect my riding quite a bit. I realize that I’ve made a pretty silly mistake and press on into the wind.

Just before the end of the first lap, at about 85km, it starts raining. Coming into town, one rider goes down on a corner close enough in front of me that his wheel is still spinning when I get there. Leaving town, another rider goes down on a corner close enough in front of me that he’s just rolling into the fetal position and going into shock when I come around. I stop at special needs for my second 1000-calorie bottle of Infinit and head back out for the second lap. The headwind is stronger now and the rain is intermittent but far more present than absent. My hip flexors and lower back are pretty unhappy by now, and I’m a bit off my desired pace, but everything’s pretty under control. The last leg back into Taupo is substantially aided by the tailwind and I capitalize on the free speed to pass 30-40 racers who are using the last 30km of the ride to freshen their legs for the run. I’m just feeling warmed up. I reach T2 after 5:44 on the bike and with 6:55 on the race clock.

It’s raining steadily when I get to T2 but there’s not really anything I can do about it. With 6:55 on the race clock, I realize that a 10-hour race will require a pretty incredible run. Being realistic tells me that a 3-hour run may be beyond my capabilities, but my slower ride has left me with lots of energy and I decide to find out just how fast I can run a marathon. Not more than a kilometer into the run, Cameron Brown and Kieran Doe come towards me on the start of their second lap. When I saw them last on the bike, Kieran had about 5 minutes on Cameron, and he got it up to 7 minutes by the end of the bike. Now, halfway into their marathon, Cameron has caught Kieran and has a couple hundred meters on him, and Kieran looks knackered. I get my legs under me within about 2km and realize that I feel pretty good.

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Lining up my first pass as we leave T2 and head over the highway

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Less than 3km in and my legs feel great

I had changed my socks in T2, but it’s raining hard enough that my socks and shoes get wet quickly. Within a few kilometers, I can feel a big blister forming on the ball of my right foot. Soon, I can also feel pressure on my maligned left toenails, reminding me that I also forgot to trim a couple of them back. Our run is two out-and-back laps along the lake, and now we have the wind at our backs on the way out and a headwind coming home. With the wind at my back, I really feel like I’m flying along, and I’m picking slower runners off one by one. One guy passes me, but by the end of the day, we’ll have run side by side for a while before he runs away from me a few km from home. Coming back into the wind on the first lap isn’t enjoyable, especially with the persistent rain, but I’m able to keep my pace up and I make halfway at about 1:39.

The spectators seem to be pretty fired up by the mohawk and I get to have fun with lots of them. All the support from the crowd definitely brightens the soggy mood!

Going back out with the wind at my back, more than halfway home, I focus only on keeping my speed up; there’s no risk of bonking now. Just a couple km before the last turnaround, with 12km left to go, I feel a sickening rip at the front of my left shoe as one of those toenails tears itself out. Within a few steps, I decide that slowing down or stopping to attend to it could be the end of me, force myself to keep my pace up, and ignore the pain.

The last 10km, all into the wind and driving rain, are difficult, as my energy reserves have dwindled fast. I’m able to maintain my pace by virtue of having lots of people to pass and bring it home with every last bit of energy I’ve got.

It’s a 3:21 marathon and I cross the line a few seconds before 10:20 rolls around. I managed to pass 166 people during the run and only got passed by 1. Into the tent for food, massage, food, and a painful unveiling of my toenails to the medical personnel. Afterwards, it’s back to the hotel for a couple beers and a glorious Double Whopper, the first fast food I’ve eaten in New Zealand after nearly 4 months.

So all in all, I had a better swim than I expected, not quite the ride I was looking for, and a better run than I ever could have imagined. I missed the overall time I wanted by a bit on a day with tough weather conditions. I wish I hadn’t made the mistake with my seat height as that likely affected my bike time, but I see it as a learning experience. Any disappointment I have, though, is more than made up for by that fantastic run.

Not sure what my next race will be but I’m sure enjoying some relaxation and naughty eating habits! 5 days after the race now and my legs feel fine but my cardiovascular system is still shattered.

Here’s the rundown on my fellow Epic Campers who raced:

Aussie Andrew- Had a strong day with a good swim and a good bike but tailed off a bit on the run for 11:05.

Cardiologist Doug- Won the 45-49 age group! Blazed the swim and the bike and finished off with an equally impressive run for 9:42 and a slot at the World Championship in Kona.

Policeman Mike- Had a great swim and started off like a freight train on the bike but crashed around 110km in the rain and DNFed. Clearly a disappointment for him as he was planning on retiring after ending this race on a high note. We may see him again…

Roto-Paul- Clearly in a class of his own. Goes sub-5 on the bike and backs it up with a 3:10 marathon for 9:08 and 13th overall. Wow.

So that’s it for Taupo and Ironman New Zealand! I’ll add some more pictures when they’re available.

Past Detritus