Here we are a handful of days from the Tauranga Half Ironman. A long standing race steeped in history which has seen some great champions take it on over the years. There are some really unique features to this course and the climate which make this seemingly flat & fast race a very very tough event, and quite a tricky one for the uninitiated.
Over the past couple of weeks as I have been making the final touches to my athletes programmes, prepping them for this event. For some it is their ‘A’ race so we really want to minimise the mistakes that can be made, and really focus on controlling the controllable’s, to get them to the finish line within their goals. We have been talking at length on how to approach certain sections of the course and how to deal with various scenarios which may play out.
I thought I would let you in on a few tips on how to tackle this iconic and fascinating race. This is just a collection of my thoughts, and not an all encompassing list, so if you have more please add them to the comments section below.
Also if you aren’t racing the Half this year, but this blog gives your that bit of inspiration to do it (or a different one) in the future then here is a link to a 4 month Beginners Half Iron-distance training plan for you to follow.
- Get to town early – This is a holiday destination, get here with enough time to settle down, sit on the beach, hang out with the family, enjoy this awesome place. Yesterday I even went to watch a 1-Day Cricket match (International readers may want to google Cricket). If you have done the training right you can afford to, and should take a few days off training before the race.
- Sort your race kit with plenty of time – Don’t be that athlete running around the day before the race looking for a race number belt, gels, spare tubular and elastic laces. Clean and check your gear a few days before the race so you know you have everything you need.
- Parking is a premium in Mount Maunganui – If you are coming to the race venue allow a little bit more time to walk from where you park your car. This is the case for anything in the lead up to event such as registration, briefing, race morning, prize-giving.
- Swim on the course at a similar tide to the race – The proximity of the swim course to the harbour mouth and the natural curved shape of Pilot Bay means that there is a significant eddy current right where we are swimming, and this creates some unusual water behaviour at certain points and height of the tide. This is so important for people new to the race to understand, in fact even as an experienced athlete I can still get it wrong on race day. I could write a whole blog on features of the Pilot Bay swim course, but the important thing to know is the water can move very quickly in strange directions. Use the moored boats in the bay as a reference to the direction the water is flowing and make wise decisions if you have to go one side or the other of a boat. The other thing to be careful of is when you swim across the current a weaker swimmer can very easily be taken off course, and possibly add 100m to their swim leg. So keep sighting the next buoy and be prepared to make adjustments to the direction you are swimming in. Keep an eye on swimmers around you, but don’t necessarily follow their lead, the whole group might be taken off course, and you may be going with them. Often the final leg towards the finish of the swim is straight into the sun, so sighting the buoy can be very difficult, but keep using those around you as a reference to make sure you are still on track. Remember Pilot Bay is shaped in a curve, so if you keep to the line of the beach you will be swimming in an arc, which also adds distance to your swim, so swim straight to the final buoy, which means you may be heading a bit deeper in the process.
- Transition area is very tight – The location of the Transition area is such that it is very tightly packed, and there is not much room to move. The organisers do their best to give as much room as they can, but the layout of the available space and the large participant numbers mean it gets very busy. For this reason I suggest you try to minimise how much gear you have in transition, and only have the essentials for the day. You won’t be allowed boxes or bags in transition either. Make sure you are familiar with the exact location of your spot so when you are rushing in after the swim or the bike you don’t get lost. The racking is in number order so you should have a fairly good idea of where you are when running in if you look the numbers around you.
- The bike is deceptively tough – Yes it’s flat and the road surface is pretty good, but it’s also quite exposed in parts and the wind can whip up unimpeded before reaching the location of the bike course, so prepare for wind. Even if it is calm in Pilot Bay you can bet that 20km down the road in Papamoa it will be blowing. So make sure you know the direction of the prevailing wind for race day and plan your strategy for the bike leg around that. The portions you have a tailwind you may be flying along, but coming back you may be creeping, so just accept this is what it is, and keep your intensity at a level which you know you can sustain for the whole 90km, and still leave enough for the run. Stay aero and stay smooth. Because it is so flat you spend long periods in the same position, so you may want to get off your aerobars and out of your saddle every 10km or so to have a stretch and take the pressure off your back and neck.
- Don’t get caught drafting – This is a tightly packed bike course, so there’s a good chance you will find yourself in a drafting position inadvertently at some stage. Just remember the rules of the race, and give the rider in front of you enough space that you aren’t inside the draft zone. Don’t ride to the right of the lane as you will be called for blocking. If you pass someone then don’t immediately slow up when you realise it’s quite tough to maintain that effort as this will cause a concertina effect behind you and that may result in others being called for drafting. Only pass someone if it is to actually move on ahead, or you can maintain the same intensity that you pass them with.
- Them damned speed bumps – Yes there are speed bumps on this course, and they are quite abrupt. They aren’t short sharp ones, but a bit more of a roll over. However some of them have a lip at the leading and trailing edge and hitting them at speed isn’t pleasant, or good for your bike. As you approach them come off your aerobars and just lift your front wheel ever so slightly to pop up on to the bump to make for a smoother ride. Keep an eye out for ejected bottles along this part too.
- Pilot Bay crowds – Running out of Transition you will go through throngs of cheering supporters. This is awesome, but don’t think it means you should drop a 3:30 minute first kilometer. Pretty soon the crowds peter out to a steady few, and the realization of the half marathon ahead sets in. I suggest consciously ‘holding back’ at least until the first Tay Street turn before thinking about settling into your pace. You still have about 16km ahead of you at that point, and 6 of those will be around the tough Mount Track . Keep in mind though, you will be wanting that Pilot Bay crowd when you are running the final stretch to the finish as that is going to give you the extra lift you need to find the finishline, so make sure you save a smile and a wave for that part.
- The Mount Track – This is an infamous part of the course, and you get to do it twice. This is a tough section, comprising of a few short ups and a few short downs. But it’s the surface you run on, the heat, the seemingly never ending path and the loneliness that really gets you. First time round be very patient and keep something in reserve because you will need it later. When you go round here on the second lap you will be wanting it all to be over, but the only way to do this is to finish the Mount Track, so dig it in and get yourself home. Many a race has been won and lost around this part of the course.
- The final stretch – When you drop back into Pilot Bay after the Mount Track on the second lap you have about 800m left to run. This is dead flat, but oh so long. I have had many all out battles with my competitors over the last 800m here, but it’s a great way to finish a race. Cheering crowds, awesome view, and the promise of the finishline and a soak in the sea after.
- Thank a volunteer – They are your biggest fan, and without them it’s really just a training session. They are a vital part of maintaining an event such as this. If we all thank at least one volunteer during the day then hopefully each person will have an athlete say thanks to them.
- Thank a local – They have given up their neighbourhood on a saturday morning to enable us to run around doing this crazy sport. We are very lucky to be able to race in a location like this so be grateful. Also don’t drop any rubbish, apart from the fact its filthy, you will actually get disqualified, so it’s best to put it back in your pocket.
- The prizegiving – Always a great part of the day. This is where you get to share war stories, celebrate the successes of your fellow athletes, have a cold beer and a steak sandwich and watch and listen to day’s champions as they recount their performance on the stage. The end of a great day.
If you are interested in how Foot Traffic Coaching can get you to the finishline of this race next year, and many others of course, have a look HERE. We have a 14 day free trial for subscription members so you can sign up risk free, have a look to see if you like what we offer, before pulling the trigger. At $35US/month it’s a real bargain. Sign up HERE. For more information on our Subscription and Custom Coached Memberships have a look HERE.
If you are racing on the weekend have a great day out there, enjoy the experience and the privilege of being able to take part in a very unique event.
I’ll see you out there.