The day of the Lake Hayes Women’s Triathlon was beautiful and sunny, dammit, so I couldn’t use the weather as an excuse not to enter!
I’ve done it a couple of times before – a long time ago when I was fit (2003 & 2004). Now I’m really not and it hurts to know that I had it and then I lost it. If ever there was a supportive and encouraging way to try and get back into it, however, it is the Southern Lakes Women’s Triathlon.
This is its 18th year and also incorporates a duathlon for those without the time or inclination to add another discipline to their training regime. In the past, starts have been fierce (I have been scratched, gouged, had my goggles kicked off and received a nosebleed) so it was a welcome addition to have two starts for the swimmers. We began on either side of the big tree and there were two buoys out in the lake so those on the left could swim round one and those on the right picked out the other.
I had swum in the lake the previous week and found that it was plenty warm enough. Also, the distance is only 300m so at current fitness levels, that should take me approximately 8 – 9 minutes. It takes me about that long to wrestle myself out of my wetsuit, so I decided not to wear it. The water really was fine and although my feet went numb, they always do.
The run up to the bikes is the toughest part of the course – you’ve just come out of the water; you’re disorientated; you’re not breathing properly and you’re faced with a gravel hill to run up in bare (numb) feet. Because the entrance and exit point is the same, there was a flag to run around to make sure that everyone went the same distance. My transition was not too bad and I was soon on to my bike and out on the course. Here I merged with all the other disciplines – those who had paddled kayaks and those who had run 1½km as a start to their duathlon.
The bike ride begins with a gravel track that I travelled over very gingerly – I don’t want to puncture my tyres at the very beginning of the bike leg. (One girl got three punctures on this ride.) This would be the only 100 yards or so where I would have been pleased to be riding a mountain bike.
When I watched the World Triathlon Champions in 2003 (the swim was right here in this lake), a Canadian girl in mid-race mode yelled out at us, ‘Where’s the mountain lion?’ At least that’s what I thought she said – it made some sort of sense that in her adrenalin-fuelled delirium she thought she was back home and being pursued by big bobcats. It turns out she was asking the whereabouts of the ‘mount line’ – the point at which you are officially meant to get on and off your bike. I think of this every time I do a triathlon now, and it makes me smile – you find your pleasure where you can...
I like the bike ride on this course – there are no hills, which is always a positive for me. Today there was no wind and the speeds could crank up quite high. Generally drafting is illegal in triathlons so, although this event was pretty low-key in that regard and no mention was made of it in the briefing, I decided against doing it. Not so a couple of others (the only person who passed me on the bike leg did so after sitting on my wheel for a good third of the leg) but that’s up to them.
Back having racked the bike, changed shoes and run round the flag again, it was off on the run leg. Now, this does have hills. It’s on a section of the excellent track that circumnavigates Lake Hayes. By now it was hot and the gravel track was dusty, making it hard to breathe, and it felt like a bit of a struggle.
I was pleased to take on some water at the turnaround. Incidentally, there was a bottle of water in our race packs, but I would have preferred cups at the finish – when you cross the line on a hot day you want a drink immediately, not after you’ve found your vehicle and rummaged around in your bag. This is merely a minor quibble – everything else about the event was very well organised.
I walk around this lake nearly every Friday with my friend and I never think it is particularly tough. Admittedly we usually stop to throw sticks for her dopey dog, and there wasn’t a lot of that going on today. The views are still breathtakingly scenic, however, which could be another handy excuse for lack of breath.
I am not a runner and admire those who are – some of these ladies were skipping past me on the way back when I was grinding my way out. They looked fresh and shiny in their running kit while I was a heaving sweaty lump, and I was gasping by the time I thankfully saw the finishing chute.
We waited and applauded as others came in – each with their own personal achievement. That’s what I like about this event; everyone has a goal and they are all different.
Some are national triathletes down from Auckland to get in some extra training and win the race in what the papers described as a ‘blistering pace’; some are simply comparing their times with the previous year.
Some are entering with a group of friends to have fun and work on their fitness; some are hoping to win a spot-prize (the girl who won the great prize of a Giant bike generously donated by Veritgo didn’t actually own one previously).
Some see it as a perfect opportunity to try out their first ever triathlon or duathlon and they are right to choose it. Everyone there has done well, and by the smiles on the faces, they have had fun too!