Andy’s Ironman 2007

Ironman New Zealand 2007 – What a Race!


In 2001 I came through Taupo on the way to the South Island of New Zealand. It was a fleeting visit but it was clear that I wanted to spend more time there. The scenery at the south end of the lake is inspirational with the mountains of the national park sitting proud against the Great Lake.

Mountains and water have long been an inspiration to me, I think it comes from the days of growing up with Goat Fell and the Firth of Clyde, Taupo is a similarly inspirational place.

On starting out in sport in 2003 and Triathlon in 2004 it soon became an interest to come back to Taupo to take part in the Ironman here. The doubts were numerous, early doors the big question was “could I swim the distance?” a 14 minute 400 breast stroke in my first novice triathlon suggested otherwise but a few years of perseverance and the swim was very much the least of my worrier.

2006 was a tough year for the Ironman in New Zealand with a freak weather condition occurring leading to a cancelled swim and half distance bike and run. This did not deter me from entering the 2007 race though as it had long been how I had timetabled taking part in this race (tied in with a number of other factors in my life). My entry was away in March just after the last race was finished and a year of preparation for hopefully a great day would abound.

Unlike many people to prepare for my first Ironman I decided to race an Ironman distance race in the UK, it would give me a feel for what was needed and answer crucial questions about my ability to go the distance. My first attempt at the distance highlighted a need for greater hydration when on the bike as coming off the bike I was unable to run last time… walking a marathon I found took a long time. Hopefully the same mistakes wouldn’t happen again.

Arrival in New Zealand

Arriving in New Zealand 3 weeks before the race gave time for acclimatisation and to get a run out on my best bike (not possible in the UK due to the damaging salt on the roads) and it also meant that any problems in the journey over could be rectified in time for the race. Thankfully I had this time as my bike got misplaced in transit and I had to spend a couple of days without it and my bags, which added to an additional 5 hours of flying due to being sent to Sydney (14 hour flight) and then 3 hours back to Auckland meant that it was a rough start to my time away.


On arrival in Taupo I found an ideal spot to stay, a Bed and Breakfast ran by a little old Scots lady, she mothered me (far too much to be honest) but this meant that I had a base for the race and somewhere that I didn’t need to think too much about who would be up in the night when I wanted to sleep and get rest before the race, and it also meant that I didn’t need to worry so much about getting clothes washed or anything mundane like that as this was taken out of my control.

Race Week

A timetable of events was set up for the whole week leading up to the Ironman and this gave me the opportunity to blow away any cobwebs that existed from a winters’ training where I couldn’t get swimming in my wetsuit at all (as Scottish waters tend to be a bit nippy in January). The first of these events was the cross the lake swim, a 4.2km swim from Acacia Bay to 3 Mile Bay across Lake Taupo. This swim would be far harder than the Ironman swim as it was a lot further out in the Lake and therefore there would be more turbulence in the water and there were far less sighting opportunities on crossing the lake than in the swim in the following week.

It was an excellent opportunity to check that my wetsuit fitted and it was fine, my swim was a little slow but I missed out on most drafting opportunities that were around and swam it mostly on my own. The traditional Kiwi post race food of a sarnie off of the barbeque was a welcome post race treat.

Monday brought another race and an opportunity to meet some other competitors in town including a very fast Irish chap by the name of Declan Doyle, meeting him on the run of the Splash and Dash race on Monday, he was more able to chat than me, but if the run was actually 5k then my 19.30 time suggested I was running well going into the race. Another sausage sarnie and we’d be getting closer to the race.

The Tuesday prior to the race was an opportunity to swim some or all of the course for competitors, I chose to swim only 1k of the course as I had a suitable number of km for the week swimming and any more and it would do more harm than good. The course seemed straightforward enough, just swim from orange buoy to orange buoy and you’d be fine. Needless to say sausage sarnies all round for yet another day.

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were the expo days at the Great Lake centre with many exhibitors from around the globe showing off their triathlon wares, needless to say I bought loads of things that I did and didn’t need. Wednesday also saw the Wednesday night 5k race as part of the build up to the race and I was there for a jog around. It was fun to see all the competitors from the Ironman just go out and go slow just to avoid the boredom of sitting at home. Think I came home in about 22 minutes, slow but not ridiculous (it would certainly do at the weekend!!!).

Registration was an increasingly nervous affair with weigh-ins and numbers and special needs bags to be arranged as well as bike numbers to be attached to bikes and helmets but I got there in the end and seemed to understand how everything fitted in.

In the week leading up to the race I’d met up with a couple of people from the Tritalk internet forum, both were called Christian and both were from the village of Tongham in England, they weren’t difficult to differentiate though. With folk to chat through in the week and others to support in the race it was great from a support basis. Chris (from Tongham… oh!) was staying in the same B&B as me the night before the race, so we knew that we had less chance of all sleeping through our alarms.

Figure 1 – Christian and Christian

Even more impressive was to meet up with the man behind the podcast, Bevan James Eyles, a Kiwi Pro and his coach John Newsome, these guys were top to speak to and I think that I’ll be in touch with them increasingly through the years. They’re from Christchurch which is apparently a hotbed for triathletes… maybe I should try and venture down there for a job?

Figure 2 – Me, John and Bevan (L to R)

The Race

Saturday, 3rd of March – the big day and time to unload everything on an Ironman experience. I loaded my bottles up on my bike and was ready to go, so it was down the 400m from bike transition to swim start at the yacht club.

In the car park of the yacht club I found my first error of the day which was not loading up my bike with food for the day, I was going to stick powerbars all over the top tube of my bike but had forgotten to do so when the transition zone was open so was going to have to grab some when I was getting ready for the bike, not a huge error but a little annoying as it would limit my choice on flavours during the ride.

Prior to the race a Maori waka (war ship) crossed in front of the 1100 swimmers in the water and landed on the shore performing a haka to the assembled crowds and nervous competitors. Believe me, you lose inhibitions about peeing in your wetsuit when you see something like that.


The race was started with the firing of a howitzer artillery cannon and we were off, a deep water start avoided any scrambling for a place early doors and I had a few metres in front of me to swim into before beginning to look for people to draft off of. My plan on the swim was just to find feet to follow all the way through, at the speed I swim I have no worries with leading or being too far off the back of the field to be on my own, so I just wanted to swim comfortable and find someone who was swimming fairly straight to follow.

This seemed to go reasonably well apart from one particular chap who was all over the place, at different times in the swim he would be ahead, behind, to the side of me but most of the time he was annoying me slightly. I’m not sure if he was the same one with a low right arm re-entry but I was at one point being slapped across the back of my head by someone swimming on my left, which was particularly odd as I was being slapped across the right hand side of my head.

Interestingly the swim is affected by the current of the Waikato river which the sponsors of the swim course (Mighty River Power, a New Zealand Power company) had essentially turned off for the course of the swim in the race. This meant that when the swimmers turned the last corner to come home there was virtually no current drifting the swimmers towards the river. This was a relief as in the pre race swim the course prior to the event we were being significantly drited to the extent that in order to swim straight you had to swim at around 45 degrees to the current.

All through the swim I felt good and was well within my comfort zone, just picking up people to follow throughout, with 1000+ folk in the water there was always someone to follow. Out of the water in a very good for me 69 minutes and to the first transition.


To get to the first transition zone there is a 400m run to be taken in before changing into biking clothes. It seemed as though everyone else thought they weren’t in a race and it was only me that was trying to use this run to make up places. For anyone that witnessed the 2006 Stirling Duathlon and the antics of Alex McPhee on the first run then that was pretty much what was happening on my run up, running in bare feet on the tarmac instead of the carpet that had been laid down in order to get up to transition as quick as possible.

Once I got to transition people seemed to be taking a seat and getting ready for a long day in the saddle, folk were getting changed into full cycling get up, arm warmers, some with leg warmers, all sorts. Didn’t have a clue what they were doing, there was no ice on the road so surely no need for arm warmers (?!?) so I was off in my tri-suit, grabbed some powerbar halfs from the feed station in the transition zone and off I went on the bike. About 5 minutes all in for that, a pretty swiftish transition with the pros taking about 3 – 5 minutes to get through there.


Out onto the bike and my next mistake of the day came just after getting onto the road. In all my need to get away out onto the course I suddenly found myself overtaking a lorry up the main street in Taupo. I was right over the white line and from my interpretation of the rules that could certainly constitute a disqualification offence if any eagle eyed referees had been watching. I knew I’d had a rush of blood to the head and needed to calm somewhat, so once I’d passed the lorry I calmed down a bit and started going a bit more sensibly.

Figure 3 – Showing some belly

The first climb of the day takes you out of Taupo, at the top of the first section of this there is a left turn which was coned off, as I came round this a girl ahead of me started veering right at an alarming rate and I called “watch out” to her, to which I got a torrent of abuse for not shouting myself through (i.e. by shouting “rider on your right” as I passed her), now in my approximation I was going to pass around 300 people on the bike, I was going to be tired of shouting at folk when out there if that was the case, so I just ignored her, she should learn to ride a bike rather than spending her time in the water!!

The bike course at Taupo is a funny beast, it’s a 2 lap out and back course, the first 28 miles after the initial climb seems to wind down at a steady rate and offers a lot of speed, the ride back conversely saps speed with a gentle incline a lot of the way. It certainly is something that you’d want to train for by sitting on your aero bars for a long time rather than using your steel winter bike… I guess beggers can’t be choosers and in my weeks of acclimatisation I was just about right for sitting on the aero bars for extended periods.

Needless to say I got a bit carried away on the first lap to the turn and seemed to be there around one hour and ten minutes, which would if I kept that pace up lead to a 4 hour 40 bike split, I knew that I’d slow down whether I wanted to or not, so took it a bit easier on the way back, I wouldn’t get the choice later in the race.

After 56 miles on the bike I hit one of those sticky patches that you know that you’re going to have in a race of this length. It was really a bit early to have a bad patch but I knew it might happen so I just kept drinking and eating through it and grabbed some orange halfs from the feed stations to break up the monotony of the powerbar diet that I had been on for the first couple of hours. Eventually I got through it and started to pick up speed again on the bike and got back to it.

Figure 4 – winding up the gears

On the final turn back to Taupo on the bike course my real problems started and I started to get twinges of cramp in my legs when climbing hills. Hindsight suggests that maybe I hadn’t increased salt dosage in my diet suitably in the few days before the race and the amount of liquid I had consumed during the race may have diluted things further, in a bid to avoid dehydration I was drinking every 15 minutes on the bike and had managed to get through 8 bottles of liquid on the bike.

On the climb past the race track my leg locked up as I tried to apply a bit of power up the hill and a yelp of pain was heard by those behind indicating that I may be struggling a bit. With under 10k to the start of the run I tried to use some electrolyte supplement that I had on me but it was unlikely to take effect very quickly so I figured I could be in for a long day out on the run course.

Not much I could do about it now, time to get down to the transition and try to do my best.


I took a bit of a risk coming into the second transition zone by undoing my shoes and leaving them on the bike, normally for short course and half ironman this is fine, but with a touch of cramp and with a bottle cage behind the saddle so an extra leg lift this is indeed a very risky process. I figured it would look best for the crowd and transition would be neater if I did it, so coming down the high street it was off with the shoes and ready to jump off.

They were off not too bad although the soles had stuck a bit to my feet in the ride and I did have a thought of seeing an insole disappearing behind me, thankfully they managed to stick in the shoes as I got off. All this excitement meant that I missed the housekeeper of the B&B that I’ve been staying in who was out to show her support to me, the cry of “Go on you mad Scotsman” was lost on me, but much appreciated.

Into the change tent and once again all sorts of people were getting helpers to deal with their every need, I just wanted in and out, so socks on, shoes on, suntan lotion on and out the tent with sunglasses and hat in hands. Straight to the food stop to find some more salt to try and get rid of the cramp… no crisps, just pretzels, hope that my stomach can handle… a quick pee, some more pretzels and off on the run.


The first experience of the run was hearing the commentary team announce that Luke Bell and Cameron Brown were about to come through for the end of their first lap. Nah, surely they have just mistaken them for me was clearly the only thought in my head. Actually it sounded like a very interesting race with Sindballe taking it out on the bike and Brown and Bell chasing him down on the run. These guys are something special and although they didn’t totally blow past me they were clearly going at a lick that I couldn’t comprehend for running a marathon.

I got to the first aid station jogging quite the thing and picked up some more pretzels and some crisps as well as diluting them a bit to try and get them down as my guts were feeling a bit nasty. Then it was along the lake front again and the amazing crowds, all sorts of estimates were put on the crowds for the day but whatever they were they were fantastic, shouting everyone along from the fastest to the very slowest, I remembered back to the Longest Day the year before with only 50 or 60 people watching but anyone who goes along and supports an Ironman is pretty special in my view, must do it one day (although I quite enjoy the challenge of doing them myself).

At the end of the shore front there was a hill and I was in between on whether to walk it or to run up it, I decided that it was a long enough run to walk the hills and try and walk everything else, this is where psychologically I was beaten I think. As I walked up the hill and then there was an aid station, I should have been running again but here was aid, so stop and walk through this. Then back to running again but I had taken a walk break so I started walking at different bits along the road… I really can’t understand Ironman running, there is part of me that says that I have walked before so why not walk again… I’m sure that this is where I must learn to just suck it up and hurt.

Figure 5 – looking so happy!

So on I plodded, walking bits and running bits, why I stopped running at times I don’t know, don’t know if it was because I was getting overtaken and demoralised or what but it just kept coming and going. OK, so I’m not going to be fast over an IM distance but I can run these things somewhat more than I did if I can get over the psychological problems. As you can probably tell by reading this I’m beating myself up about this still!

The run is a bit of a blur really, there were a few points that I remember, one was meeting fellow Tritalker Chris Rose towards the end of my first lap, he had got through the bike and was onto the run with plenty of time to get through (I was very pleased for Chris, his is a story that is well worth reading). The other person who I had enormous admiration for was the Japanese athlete with 2 prosthetic legs who was on his first lap of the run, disabled Ironmen are something else, reading the Marc Herremens story last year was inspiring, so actually see someone undertake an Ironman who was disabled was even more so. He overtook me on the run as he must have been quite fresh to start with but as things went on the pain in his legs from what I’ve heard was huge with him having to ice his stumps of legs due to the discomfort.

At this point I realised that Ironman is really about the very fast and the very slow people, those going for sub 10 hour times and those fighting to get within the 17 hour cut offs. While I could complete an Ironman fairly easily I really have to make myself hurt enough to go for a fast time. For me that would be sub 11 but I know that that is possible. I just felt a bit distant from the experience in that completing was easy and I was just being a bit lazy and not killing myself for a time.

About 4k from the line I realised that I could beat my last Ironman time which was probably my Silver Medal standard for the race and so could definitely get something from the race (well I got a lot from the race but in terms of time that was nice) and so I sped up a bit with more running and less walking towards the end. On turning towards the last straight before the finish line Jo Lawn, the ladies winner was offering support to everyone and I sort of wanted to run but felt a bit sorry for myself and didn’t, my stomach also felt terrible and running on it was tough. I later apologised to Jo for not embracing her cheers but she’s an absolute gem and a real tribute to New Zealand.

Eventually the line came up and it was more a relief than a sense of adulation, my journey to Ironman New Zealand was over and I was officially an Ironman (although I already was having done the distance before), I don’t look well in my finish line shot but did manage to get my arms aloft unlike last time. I had arranged to pick up a Scotland flag before the line but the chap hadn’t turned up, so it was just over the line with my arms aloft.

Figure 6 – from distance to hide the ill look on face

I had hoped to learn more from my first experience to take it to this one but I think the lessons I learned in my first one were learned (hydration, not killing the bike to leave nothing) and other lessons will be learned from this one (how many powerbars can you feasibly run from, what savoury alternatives can you find that will sit in your stomach, how do you get over a marathon run, should I break it down into aid station to aid station? Much to think about).

Post Race

I got to the medical tent and had lost 4kg from the pre-race weigh in, the medical team wanted me to go into the medical tent but I didn’t feel dehydrated at all, in fact I had gone through aid stations not needing anything for quite a while, sometimes just tipping water over my head, I just wanted my stomach to feel better.

I had some chicken noodle soup to continue replacing salt and then eventually wandered back to the B&B to have a shower and cold bath. I was left a little stunned by the run and certainly felt numb, I wish that I had felt worse to be honest, it is meant to be hard after all.

In the evening post race I went back out to watch the later finishers come in, I’ve got so much respect for them, whether they are not able to train as much due to life commitments or injuries or whatever reason they are the real heroes of the day. I saw quite a few of them in and then eventually Chris who had had a real tough time on the second half of his marathon, he still seemed in good spirits and had lost the competitive streak as there was someone coming up behind him as he came into the finishers shoot and he said that he wanted it to himself, good on him I thought and he milked his moment, it made finishing in the dark seem like fun.

Myself and the other Christian from Tritalk then headed to the pub, one beer was all I could manage and was quite lightheaded after that and then back to the course to see the last finisher, a local chap who 2 weeks earlier had completed the coast to coast, a 280k multisport event including Kayaking and hill running and road biking. It is an iconic New Zealand event. He was so pleased to get over the finish line and was given a bottle of bubbly on finishing that he came back and celebrated with the throng of supporters who had gathered at the finish, it was great to be there.

Figure 7 – Chris picking up speed on the finishers shoot

Post Race Party

The day after the race was the post race party, it was great to be in a room with so many people with similar goals and interests, and we ended up talking to quite a few of them after the event before we left. The race awards were great with some spectacular results on the day. Most notable was that of the 1000+ starters, only 34 dropped out or were timed out, incredible determination by all there to get round. Jo Lawn set a new record for the woman’s course and Cameron Brown despite leaking out of both ends just a few days before the race managed to win again in an epic battle with Sindballe and Bell, the rumour is that he bulked up on McDonalds on the morning of the race in order to get enough into his body, incredible!

Another amazing record was that in the 20 years of IMNZ only 8 people of 70 years old or older had finished, on this day there were 3 finishers (all who started) in the age group, if I’m still going at that age then I’d be amazed if I was doing that, incredible people.

Chris decided that he’d go round and speak to some of the pro’s after the race and they were quite incredible, I guess they don’t get much adulation in their career ever and so to be recognised for what they do is great for them. We spoke to quite a few including Hilary Biscay (who was lovely), Ain Alur Johanssen (last year’s winner and 2 time Lanzarote winner) who I was asking for tips on running the marathon off the bike, he was very helpful given that he had been forced to pull out after 2 punctures on the bike and we also spoke to Jo Lawn who was fantastic, just could have chatted to her for hours.

Figure 8 – Christian and me post race

Figure 9 – Me, Hilary and Christian

Figure 10 – me and ladies winner Jo Lawn

The post race party was the end of the whole Ironman experience and despite thinking it quite an expensive week prior to the event I found that for what we paid we got fantastic value, for our £200 we got a huge amount. I certainly hope to be there next year to suck up the atmosphere again. At times the Ironman hype comes over as a strange American religious cult… but there is something tangible to it that isn’t religious, it’s not just about believing, it’s about doing too! I’ll do a lot more of these races in the future, that’s for sure!

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