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  • Writer's pictureCoach G's blog

IM-NZ (repost from tumblr)

Welcome masochists and insomniacs. When people ask me about my races, I usually try to deliver a balance of facts (split times, data, total race time) and feelings (mind & body perceptions, key moments) in an entertaining yet succinct report. As usual, that often means STRONG LANGUAGE. Here goes:


A few weeks prior to the trip, I learned that I’d been selected for the “Ironman New Zealand Experience,” an online contest, administered with typical Kiwi approach by the local council. Read: relaxed, with ZERO Ironman lawyers involved. Six men and six women were selected–based on online posts–to learn a haka, perform at the athlete dinner and attend an after-race luncheon that included a presentation and performance of Maori history and traditions. 

I suspect my “pick me! pick me!” post got me plucked from a small applicant pool. Supporting evidence: of the twelve selected, two others were my training buddies from Chicago, Christine B. and Bernie Mc. SIDE NOTE: Each winner was allowed one additional guest at the luncheon–so a very special thanks to Christine for graciously counting my wife as her guest which meant I had both my wife and son at the luncheon.

Haka is Maori for “breathe fire.” Historically, hakas were performed by Maori warriors prior to battle. These days they are performed ceremonially to celebrate major milestones (marriage, retirement), honor important guests or–perhaps most notably–to intimidate opponents at athletic events (here’s a link). Outside of New Zealand, the most famous and awe-inspiring hakas are performed my the Maori All-Blacks National Rugby team prior to each match. 

I learned that there are hundreds of haka versions, each with its own inherent weight baked into the story it’s presenting. Although it was very different than the aggressive, male-only, pre-battle version the All-Blacks perform, I personally felt a tremendous honor and reverence for the one we learned.

The haka preserves indigenous culture, energetically injects traditional language into a modern forum, gathers and channels group energy by seamlessly melding ritual gesture and movement with raw emotion. It all adds up to a sum greater than it’s parts that’s simultaneously respectful and rebellious. Taken as a whole, the haka is something like how the Incredible Hulk would dance if the Incredible Hulk danced.

All of which is just to say that before I even started the race, I’d already experienced that tremendous joy that comes with receiving an unexpectedly perfect gift. IMNZ was already a success before the race even started. Now, let’s get back to facts…

Total race time = 11:33

Not a PR, but a mature result. “Mature?” you may be wondering, “Really?” Granted, few people would describe anything I do as mature, so perhaps a better word is un-deluded. Why? Because plantar fasciitis made for a “No-Run November” (all long runs performed in a pool), I hadn’t done enough resistance training, and winter holidays not only make it impossible to train, they make it nearly impossible to fuel properly. 

In his book, Elite Minds, Dr. Stanley Beecham suggests giving yourself a W when you trained your best and an L if you didn’t. My record for this training sequence (Nov-Feb) was 89-20-11. ( I gave myself T for Ties on days when training went right but something else went bad…usually diet.) In other words, a respectable-but-not-stellar W average (.741) earned a respectable-but-not-stellar result.

But still, the haka was awesome.


Slept well. Ate well. No mechanical issues. Huddled briefly with most of the training buddies and Iron sherpas prior to warming up properly in the water.

Swim (1:06 total swim time)

Clear sighting, aggressive line, good tactics (drafted when possible), and even got some help from the current towards the end. That said, the two turn buoys at the far end were both a raucous scrum. First time I ever took a hard shot to the lip. My best swim ever. 

T1 (7:49)

"T1 is a 400 meter run from the swim out…” My ass. If that’s 400 meters, I’m Leslie Jones from SNL. Plus, AFTER the “400 meters,” a winding grass staircase comparable to any third-floor-walk-up or Wisconsin helix–easily another +50 meters at an +8% grade.

Once I did get up Mount Metric Bullshit, I moved right along. Sprayed on some sunscreen, stuffed a plastic bag under the regular bike jersey with some light gloves (in case it was nippy for the first hour), shoes on in the tent. Go.

Bike (5:38, technically a bike PR)

Two loops. Windy? A tad. The outbound tailwind was so strong, I struggled to maintain target watts. Get that? I didn’t have to pedal as hard as I’d trained to because I was easily traveling +20 mph on flat sections. Ditched the plastic bag and gloves at the first aid station because it was sunny and mild and I was feeling really great. Of course, logic dictates that inbound would be a shitstorm. Which it was. Oy. Mixed with some crosswinds too just in case you, oh I dunno…tried to pee on the bike and took too long…or wanted to take in some nutrition. Nasty. I caught myself using a bastardized mantra from IMAZ, “Frontside fast side, backside strong side” which morphed into “Out bound, throw down; In bound, get down.” whenever I was tempted to chase or draft.

A word on drafting: it’s illegal in Ironman races. BUT! By slipping into the draft zone of somebody passing faster than you are passing then letting them go, you can save energy and still stay within the letter and spirit of the rule. That said, 12 meters = 6ish bike lengths so don’t be the fucko that lingers.

Repeated that song and dance inbound on both loops. It’s a terrible thing when you can’t stay in aero-position because you gotta pee but can’t pee because the wind stuffs any momentum you need to keep your leg straight long enough to break the seal. But it WILL keep you legal.

For you data geeks: Normalized Power was 197 but I AVERAGED 20 m.p.h.

Another notable: the bone-shaking chip-seal they use to pave most New Zealand roads. It just rattled my whole rig from pedals to fingertips to helmet. That shit literally rattled my Torpedo bottle right out from between my aero-bars about halfway through. I’d already taken in the nutrition so I left it (apologies to all the Tidy Kiwis and the whole leave-it-like-you-found-it philosophy) and just held fresh bottles in with my thumbs as needed.

T2 (4:13)

Efficient but could have been a tad quicker. At this point in the race, I was on plan, feeling good and ready to attack the run. Nutrition was on point. Legs were solid, stomach was a non-issue and weather conditions were near ideal. Sunny and delightful low 70s. I was actually looking forward to Run Special Needs where I’d planted a fresh shirt and an extra bottle of nutrition.

Run (4:36 aka: avg 10:39/mi)

I went sub-4 hours in Louisville under raining mid-40 degree conditions. If I could have just matched that, I’d have delivered a juicy PR of under 11 hours.

It seemed reasonable that flat IM-LOU shitstorm would vaguely equate to hilly IM-NZ sunny delight, yes? 


That three loop run over what my training bro Andrew T. would call offensive hills was having none of that nonsense. Turns out, I was woefully undertrained. My legs were just not up to the second and third loop of hills, despite biking to plan, executing nutrition properly, and taking the first loop at a very easy RPE.

In past reports I’ve shared some of the actual mental chatter that runs through my head but in this case none of my mantras were very interesting or helpful. What I have learned to do when I’m truly falling apart is to reinvest in technique. Focus on the extremely immediate present, which I used to counter punch one particularly angry and persistent neg that I just couldn’t shake. See if you can pick it out of the following scientifically gathered brainwave transcription:


On a slightly more-vulnerable note, I will share this: typically, a few tears leak out at special needs. Hormones? Pain? Mental breakdown/relief that the marathon is half over? All of the above, probably. Just a few moments of a grown man losing it. (Do NOT watch Ricky Gervais’ After Life while jet lagged. But DO watch it. Amazing. Shut up. Don’t judge my process.)

Anyway, I was all business during the Special Needs of this run but lost it right after a particularly steep descend where some guardian bros had set up an “unofficial aid station” consisting of Red Bull, handles of vodka, and liters of Jaegermeister. A runner just ahead of me had grabbed something off their card table and their robust cheering were suddenly horrific screams warning him off of chugging it. I was just tickled and toasted at the same time and it all came gushing out. Just all kinds of quads burning gasping ugly face craughing (learned that word from a tweet praising After Life, btw). Of course my male ego would NEVER allow me to overly express vulnerability in front of the drunken bros, thoughtful though they were. So I kept running. A woman running along side me kindly asked if I was okay, I said, “Oh…yeah…this…just happens,” between gulping breaths, “The good…news…is…it’s much…later…than usual.” Which cracked her up, so… y’know, pay it forward.

After slogging my way through the third loop, and making my way through the finishing chute, where the normally incomparable Mike Reilly butchered my last name, I was told that I’d been on the leaderboard during the bike and immediately fell off during the run.

So even though I did not over-bike, I did under-train. Plus, I did not need to go directly to Medical in shock, which suggests that my race plan, nutrition strategy and execution was pretty spot on. IMAZ was a PR of 11:19 and IMNZ was 11:33.



As with prior races, IMNZ yielded some incremental improvements. As I said at the top, this was a mature result, with which I am unsatisfied. I haven’t yet done my best race. I haven’t yet DONE MY BEST. There is clearly opportunity for improvements to all five aspects of my racing:

Swim was well executed. Still room for growth. Bike was properly executed. Adequate. If anything, I could have pushed more. Run. Ugh. Time to throw myself into Runner’s World and CARA and make like Forrest Gump and Prefontaine and Mo. Also, back to Hokas. Or maybe Altras. The Brooks I ran in were farts. The blisters on my toes had blisters. Not kidding.Fuel strategy and execution was on point, although I was a few kilos heavier than previous races. Holidays and too few resistance training sessions.Transitions were adequate.

Am I one of the guys at the pointy end of the bell curve? Clearly still yes. Maybe I’ve just evolved beyond a standard group training plan. Self-Coach? I’ve got the credentials and experience. Back to a previous coach? Maybe a new coach? I’d take some applications. Yes.

In the meantime, I’ll see you in Chattanooga for some 70.3 action in May, 2019. That’s only two build cycles. Ima go noodle around in TrainingPeaks.


Bernie McNally is one of those people I am just glad to have in my life. This race report would be wholly inadequate if I didn’t share how this amazing woman is absolutely unstoppable.

First, she got everybody who trained for New Zealand (at Well-Fit) a fleece.

I forgot to mention she broke her ribs in a bike accident a few months ago.

Then, in what can only be described as the luck of the Irish, she charmed her way into the “New Zealand Experience” haka class. Just showed up and got in. Turns out one of the women selected didn’t show up. Classic.

Here’s the unstoppable part: at around Mile 110 of the New Zealand Full fucking Ironman race, she hit a cone and went over her bike handle bars. Road rash up her arm, split her knee open and cracked her head/helmet on a curb. A bystander said, “Do you need some help? I’m calling an ambulance.”

Her reply?

“Just help me get my chain back on.”

So he did. And she finished the bike. The medics in T2 told her she needed stitches.  She said she didn’t have time, to just patch her up so she could get on with it. She finished the race with half an hour to spare. Words fail.

All I know is this: whenever I’m feeling like I can’t get it done–and it can be anything from driving in traffic to folding laundry to a holding pace on a long run–I know exactly what I’ll hear. 

A thick, sassy, Irish brogue doing the haka.


I’m very grateful to my lovely wife Susan and my wonderful kids, Peter and Veronica for their support. Susan, you are my salvation.

I’m grateful to have the expert professionals Coach Russ and Coach Sharone and the entire Well-Fit staff and athletes who generously share their wisdom.

I’m grateful to my inspiring and impressive training partners. Especially the seven hardcore savages that got it done in New Zealand–Adam, Christine, Dan, Kelly, Megan, Mike, Will and Bernie.

I’m very grateful to anybody willing to excuse my terrible smell, deplorable language and barbaric sounds during training.

Maximum gratitude to Well-Fit, Get-A-Grip, Fleet Feet and all the pools I use.

I’m grateful for Crushing Iron (C26), Matt Fitzgerald, Joe Friel, Training Peaks, Scott brand bikes, Apple, Ironman.

Thank you to all the on-course maniacs cheering and making signs and wearing all sorts of crazy outfits to show love and support. For strangers exercising.

I’m grateful that I’m able to race triathlons. I’m grateful to you for reading.

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