6am came quicker than I had anticipated. I understood we were waking up at 6am, having coffee and then going to the race. To me this meant that I had about 30 minutes to get around and get ready because I don’t drink coffee. What it actually meant was that at 6am everyone was up and by 6:15 we were all out the door and headed downtown. That being said, I was learning how to fit in with the kiwi women. Make-up was unnecessary; you’d either sweat or swim it off by noon. Mascara was a bit excessive and definitely don’t touch your hair because the humidity will restyle it anyway. I had learned already that sunscreen was the ultimate accessory, especially for glow-in-the-dark-pale-white people like myself. Oddly enough I saw several people who were as pale as me in New Zealand. Why we were all gathered in the most easily sunburning place in the world, I will never know, but I decided secretly that we were all part of a tribe, the Pale Power People.
Before the sun was up Johnny, Maaike, Misha, Elise, Matthew and I were all rushing towards Lake Taupo with thousands of others. We made our way through the crowd where we stood against a fence at the top of a hill overlooking the lake. Johnny told me I could stand in front, right against the fence because I was the most vertically challenged. It was here that we saw the Maori row in on a waka and then perform a traditional dance that invited the athletes into the water and onto the land which the Maori owned. By 6:20 there were hundreds of athletes warming up in the water and about a thousand more on land doing stretches. Everyone was full of anticipation as we waited for the race to begin.
Amanda and the other pros began at 6:45 and 6:46, while everyone else had to wait until 7 to begin. The pros were fast and flawless and out of sight before I knew it. The following fifteen minutes were very interesting. Over a thousand people were wedged into a small piece of water. The crazy ones had swam out a few hundred feet and were treading water for ten minutes before the race even began. The shy ones, I learned, would stay towards the shore where they could easily touch bottom and bale out if they needed to. I was also anxious about the twenty or so people who waited until the announcer was counting down to the final thirty seconds to get into the water.
When the cannon went off I squealed with excitement and the entire crowd cheered and yelled as what looked like a million little fish swam towards the destination. Johnny had completed an Ironman in years past and was explaining that at that very moment many of those people were getting swam over, wacked in the head and kicked in the gut. The sad part was that at least three people dropped out of the race before they had even swam 50 meters. While it was easy to ask “Why start the race and pay thousands of dollars if you couldn’t even get past the first race?” it was explained that some people have unexpected health problems, others could have slept wrong, stretched wrong, ate wrong, or any number of things.
I really enjoyed watching a misplaced duck, swimming a few meters from the swimming blob of athletes. The poor duck realized what was going on and luckily made his way to shore before getting clobbered.
After a few minutes our crew walked down to the transition out of the water and got to see the first few pros out of the water. When they announced Amanda Stevens as first out of the water, everyone in the group looked at me with surprise and said they didn’t realize my cousin was that legit.
After cheering Amanda out of the water, Matthew and I sprinted across a hill and behind a building where we caught her just as she was riding off for her five hour bike ride. After the transition we realized we had five hours to kill before we would see Amanda again. Johnny and Maaike invited us back to the house for breakfast. Because we got lost trying to get back to our car, we missed the group breakfast but Maaike was nice enough to make us breakfast separately. The menu…traditional Dutch pancakes which were out of this world amazing. They were about the thickness of a crepe except filled with ham and mozzarella cheese. Maaike explained that the Dutch syrup went in the middle of the pancake and then we were to roll it up and eat it with a fork. The taste was very unique and delicious.
After breakfast we spent several hours on the free wifi figuring out the next few days of our trip. It took us a few emails to figure out that I had mixed up the days and we actually had one more night in Taupo before having to drive back up to Auckland for our flight to Australia. During this time period we accepted a job offer and made our plans for traveling across Australia to our new job. These plans would be completed over the next two weeks. I booked cars, accommodations and flights and by the time I was done we were starving and ready to head back downtown for lunch and Amanda’s next transition.
Lunch was downtown at an adorable little cafe Matthew and I wandered into. Pacolli I think was the name of it. I had a Spinacolo, which was a kind of spinach and cheese pastry cut into a pie shape. The man taking my order had told me that my entree came with a big, huge salad. When I got my plate I was reminded once again that everything was bigger in America. The salad was very tasty, but about the size of my palm. I did get full, however. Every time I have mentally criticized the portion sizes over here I have been pleasantly full and realized that there are certain reasons why America is fat. Another example is that the entire four days I was in New Zealand, I only saw one soda fountain. Another reason is that everyone is always outdoors doing stuff, rather than sitting around, working, sleeping or watching television.
After lunch we walked down to the bike transition and watched the top males come in, followed by the top females with Amanda coming in around seventh or eighth. We were so proud of ourselves for finding the transition and being able to cheer Amanda on as she began her 26.2 mile run. After getting her started we ran across the park to the main road where the runners would be crossing by six times. It was here that during her run, Amanda saw Matthew and I cheering and threw her biking gloves at us. The people next to us automatically thought we were pretty cool and so did I. That was, until we asked them how many miles the first leg of the run was. The man laughed and said, “Miles! You aren’t local are you?” He joked with us and then explained the run to us and we all converted the kilos over into miles so Matthew and I could figure out just what was going on. Because we were either super friendly or super lost, the man helping us offered to meet Matthew for a beer later. I have been constantly surprised with the friendliness of the kiwis. I love their cheerful hospitality.
All afternoon we would cheer on Amanda when she ran by, and then sit and wait in the sun for 30 minutes until she ran by again. Towards four o’clock we camped out by the finish line and watched the first, second and third place males run in. One of the males broke a record on the bike. Meredith Kessler was first in for the women and she broke her own course record by quite a bit. Amanda came in fifth place with a time of 9 hours and 12 minutes. It really is fascinating to think what all the human body can accomplish in just 9 hours. It is even more fascinating to be downtown at midnight and see other human bodies doing the same thing in 17 hours.
We heard that there are a lot of people who don’t finish until midnight and that Ironman has a big midnight party at the finish line to cheer people on. We were too tired to find out.