Michael "Scoogie" Snyder
New Zealand 2004
IMNZ March 6th, 2004.
First off, if I ever utter the words "Spring Ironman" punch me and remind me how much "fun" it was riding the trainer for 5-7 hours in front of the t.v. or running on the treadmill 20+ miles staring at myself in the mirror....sort of took the fun out of why I do this sport. That said, there were a 'few' pockets of training sessions this winter that I actually did enjoy...but not nearly as much as I did while training for IMUSA and was able to ride or run OUTSIDE with friends and beautiful days. The early part of my five month program (October and November), was fine, the days were still long and the weather was relatively nice still. It was the last few stages (Dec, Jan and Feb) that were brutal. With the exception of ONE weekend...the one that I spent in Florida training!! O.K. All of that said, I still had a GREAT day in Taupo on March 6th.
Marci and I left on Monday, March 1st and arrived on Tuesday evening. This gave me two full days and three nights to get acclimated b4 the race on Saturday. The locals that we spoke with in Taupo said that there had been A LOT of rain and wind over the past 2-3 weeks. But, the tracking of the weather began to change the day we arrived. Wednesday brought partly sunny skies, nice cool temps, but a nasty 15-20 mph wind which made the lake look like the ocean. Even Thursday morning when the lake is 'supposed' to be relatively calm...there were 2-3 foot swells...that could make for a L O N G, cold swim...the lake temp was 59 degrees.
Race morning brought very nice weather and the lake calmed down quite a bit...still cold (60 degree), but calmer than the past few days. The outside temp. was a brisk 44-45 degrees. But temps were supposed to rise to the high 70's by day's end. I was very anxious at the start, as was everyone else. You could feel the anxious electricity of 1400 athletes in the air. It is such a crazy feeling. It's the feeling of the unknown...not knowing what the day will bring. Will I finish strong in under 12 hours or will I finish walking in 16-17 hours, or, will I finish at all? Sort of scary in that you have prepared for five months for this one day and ANYTHING can happen.
The cannon went off and all the anxious feelings left my body. I tried to just stay relaxed and remain calm as other athletes seemed to be clawing at my feet as if trying to pull me backwards...(I'm sure the person in front of me thought the same!) I checked my heart rate a couple of times in the beginning of the swim and it was right where I wanted it to be, so that was good. At one point I happened to see the time on my watch...it read 15 minutes. It already seemed like I was out there for at least 30 minutes.....oh well, only an hour left to swim...(that's comforting). I finally found a good draft at about 25 minutes into the swim (much better!) At about the 50 minute mark I started to feel my legs beginning to cramp up from the cold. I just tried to stay relaxed to keep the cramping at bay. I wanted to exit the swim anywhere from 1:05 to 1:20. I exited the water at 1:10. I was psyched. They changed the swim a bit do to the high water in the lake. This meant that there would be a 1/4 mile run to T1. Athletes had the choice as to whether you wanted to put sneakers on for the run or go bare foot. Most athletes, myself included decided to go barefoot. I think it was a good choice, not because my feet weren't cold...(they were frozen)...but for the fact that my hands were probably way too cold to be able to put on sneakers. I heard Marci yelling from the cliffs above as I was running towards T1...I looked up and saw her. As I got to the top of the stairs, there she was to high five me with a HUGE smile on her face. She knew how nervous I was about the swim and she knew how psyched I was at pulling off a 1:10 swim.
I got to the strippers and they striped my wetsuit off perfectly...(I remembered to hold on to my tri shorts so they couldn't strip them as well). I got into the changing tent, loaded up my pockets with all my 'stuff' and ran to my bike. I got to the bike and realized that I had forgotten my glasses. I ran back to the tent and asked where bag 930 was....he pointed to a corner of the tent with about 50 to 60 bags pilled up....I decided to forgo the glasses. Hopefully the bugs will sleep in today. No biggy, it could be much worse, apparently one of the top pro women forgot her biking shoes...(much more of a problem than glasses). I got my bike, pulled out of T1 and realized that my computer wasn't working...(my only source of entertainment for the next 6 hours!!) I played around with the magnet and base for a minute or so and just as I was about to give up and just go...it began to work. About 1k into the ride, there was Marci...(she is literally EVERYWHERE!!! I don't know how she does it...it's like she has a twin helping her out) She cheered me on and noticed that I didn't have my glasses on...(this was key!)
The ride started off well. I got into a groove within about 10 minutes....my heart rate was fine and I was not cold at all. The wind was not bad either. The pre-race buzz was that the winds were to be pretty bad. Riding out to Roturia was nice. It was beautiful. This country is so unbelievably beautiful! The snow capped mountains, the green hills with sheep, and sheep herders...it was all serious eye candy. What a great place to hold an IM. With the exception of the road surface, it's called "chip seal", basically they tar the road then throw little pebbles over it and call that "paved"....it is pretty bone rattling on many sections of the course...I think that it slows you down at least 2 mph. I wonder what effect it will have on my body for the run??? I was averaging about 23 mph out to the turnaround. I thought to myself, wow I feel strong to be pushing 23 mph at a relatively low heart rate. That feeling quickly changed as I made the turn and realized that I had a tailwind the whole time and that now I had to deal with the head wind. That 15-20 mph wind that everyone was talking about the day before had showed up. I didn't let it concern me, everyone else had to deal with it as well. I just kept my heart rate in check and put my head down and tried to stay as aero as possible. The course wound you back into town where you can collect your special needs bag. The nice lady handed me my bag and to my utter delight and surprise, there were sun glasses in the bag. They were my every day street sun glasses, not my biking ones....Marci in unbelievable!!!!!!! She ran 2 miles back to our apartment, searched for my biking glasses, couldn't find them so had the where-abouts to grab my Arnettes, ran 2 miles back, ran 1 mile up the steep hill to Special Needs and 'somehow' convinced a usually very strict race official to let her place the glasses into my bag. I literally could not believe my eyes. It was so key that Marci did this for me. The bugs in the eyes thing (while it did give me something to do for the past three hours) was getting VERY old and the endless tears from the wind was a bit annoying as well, not to mention the squinting from the sun. She is so great~!
The second 90k loop of the bike was fine going out, but hard coming back. I was getting a bit tired and the wind was pretty brutal. At a couple of the sections of the ride I was pushing pretty hard only to ride 15-16 mph, due to the 15-20 mph headwind. I just kept trying to think positive thoughts. I kept thinking that I had just been swimming and biking pretty hard for the past 5-6 hours and that I only have 1 hour on the bike left.....that's it....only one measly hour. (then a marathon). Another aspect of this race aside from the pure beauty of this country, is the people of New Zealand. This Kiwi crowd had spaced themselves out throughout the whole course and is constantly cheering for everyone. This really helped keep the motivation up. As I road into town for the final 2k of the bike, the crowds lined the streets 2 and 3 deep behind barricades. It was a cool feeling. Probably sort of what the cyclists in "The Tour" feel...(sort of). Then I saw Marci (or her twin?) just b4 T2...again a HUGE SMILE on her face.
I was SO PSYCHED to get off that bike and that *%#ing chip seal ^%#. I was very DONE riding for the day. The funny (not really) thing was that I had NO IDEA if my legs were going to be able to work well enough to get me through T2, let alone a marathon. This was the big unknown. This is where you either do a sub 4 hour marathon or run/walk a 5-6 hour marathon.....this is what separates the 11 hour crew from the 12-16 hour crew. I entered T2, got off my bike with anxious anticipation to see if my legs were going to work...(so far so good). A typically nice Kiwi volunteer helped me with my needs and layered sunblock all over me. This was key.... there is literally NO Ozone layer here in NZ. The sun was shining bright, it was about 75 degrees with a light breeze.....perfect weather!!!. I felt good. My legs worked! The streets were lined three deep with cheering fans...(such a cool feeling). Then I saw Marci, she cheered me on and asked how I was doing, I gave her the thumbs up and a smile...I felt good.
I kept telling myself. the run is where I shine. This is my portion of the race. I kept telling myself....a nice even pace...no power surges. 5 min. k's were perfect, even 5:30 k's would be fine. To run a sub four hour marathon in an IM would be a dream.
It began to get difficult at the halfway (21k mark). A lot of people were walking at this point....it is really hard to keep running the same pace and try for a negative split, but I wanted it so bad.I wanted a negative split and I wanted that sub 4 hour run. I began to figure out what I had left and what my time was and figured out that if I could hold it together and run the last half marathon in about 1:45...I could beat my IMUSA time. I wanted to beat that time. This was the time that I really felt David's presence. I know he has been with me throughout my training and he is with me every day, but I could REALLY feel him right over my shoulder....it was VERY comforting.
The Kiwi crowd is unbelievable. Most of them are young, hip and having a blast cheering everyone on. I can smell the burgers cooking and the alcohol as I pass them cheering and dancing to the music they have blaring. If I had a nickel for every time a Kiwi said "Good on ya mate"...I could pay for this whole trip.
This marathon is HILLY....hillier that Lake Placid for sure. But I was running well and they weren't bothering me...(too much). I was concentrating hard on trying to stay relaxed yet focused. I was in tune with my body & it's needs. It was getting hot, I was taking in as many salt tabs as I could handle. I was drinking plenty of water. My nutrition was perfect, no stomach issues. A lot of people were walking.....I wanted SO BADLY NOT TO WALK. I wanted to finish strong. I wanted to beat my IMUSA time. I wanted it so bad. I thought to myself how hard I have trained for the past 5 months. I thought about all those runs in the freezing cold Philly winter or on that *&^*ing treadmill.
At the 29k mark...I really started to hurt. I was popping Endurolytes like candy and I began to drink coke at the aid stations. I was NOT going to walk. I kept telling myself....just get to the 32k mark, then all I have left is a 10k run...I can do that with my eyes closed. I continued to run strong and try to convince myself that I felt good. I kept telling myself...I feel good, I can do this. I reached the 32k mark feeling better. I began to pick up the pace. I was feeling really good. The sun was shining. The weather was perfect and I was having a great day. You know how they say that you get that incredible feeling as you run the last 50 meters down the finishers shoot....well, I started to feel that come on at the 40k mark. I was running so well. What a great feeling. There is absolutely no greater feeling of accomplishment in life than running strong that last 1k, people cheering, knowing Marci is waiting at the finish, feeling David over my shoulder with a HUGE grin on his face. I am about to complete an Iromman in 11 hours. Words cannot do justice or begin to describe the magnitude of pure joy and emotion running through my body at this point. Tears of joy filled my eyes as I pointed to the heavens and thanked David for his presence. I crossed the line in 11:04...unbelievable. This is the feeling that I have been working so hard for over the past 5 months...it doesn't get too much better than this.
After being weighed and checked out briefly by the medical staff, I couldn't wait to find Marci. She has been right by my side through this LONG 5 month journey. I could not have done this without her love and support....she is unbelievable. Marci is so giving of herself, always putting my training for Ironman as top priority. Her healing work and countless loving massages played an integral part in my success on the day. As I thought of all of this and began my search for Marci, tears filled my eyes. I couldn't wait to share this feeling with the most important person in my life. Then I saw her, she had a HUGE SMILE on her face. She was practically climbing over the barricade to get to me. We hugged and hugged. I wish that I could capture this feeling in a bottle and keep it for ever. You cannot imagine this feeling that I have. I just finished an Ironman in a fantastic time, I feel great, I am hugging the love of my life and we have our whole lives to look forward to. And, icing on the cake....we are in New Zealand on the most perfectly beautiful day you could imagine. Life is very good.
Till next time....."Good on ya mate".