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IMNZ race report: Russell Cox
Posted by: Editor
Posted on: Wednesday 10th March 2010


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Russell Cox (www.trainstravels.co.uk) had a very busy 2009, chasing a Kona spot which he achieved at the last minute via Ironman UK. Things are slightly different for 2010, as shortly after Kona 09, Russell secured his Kona 10 start almost a year in advance at Ironman Western Australia 2009. He kicked off his 2010 iron-schedule last weekend at Ironman New Zealand, and reports on his race here.


It's been a while since my last race report. Unusually I've allowed myself more than two months between events. All part of the bigger plan for 2010 with an emphasis on more time training and less time racing. Gaining my Kona slot in Western Australia has given me the luxury of focussing on that race for the year.

It also put me in the new position of starting an Ironman without the pressure to qualify. I'll admit that over the last few weeks there have been times when I've struggled with motivation. Hawaii is a long way off and to a large extent Taupo is an early season training race. Fortunately the need to race as fast as I can kept me getting out there and come race week I was putting together some goals. After my recent string of successful races I'm always aiming to finish well up the field.

As I walked into the lake on race morning one goal sat well above the others. Throughout February I've spent many hours in the pool working on my swim. It's my weak link in triathlon and improving it is long overdue. Taupo was a chance to really test if things were heading in the right direction. The fact the swim tends to be fast could only help!

Conditions were perfect. The lake was dead calm and 19 degrees, ideal for wetsuits. I lined myself up on the second row not far off from the buoy line. If I wanted to swim well I needed to be confident in my abilities. No conservative starting positions even if I'd been told the swim here tended to get a bit rough.

The New Zealand Prime Minister fired the starting cannon and we were off. I aimed to go out strongly, but not too hard not wanting to blow myself up on the swim. It had happened before and put a serious dent in my race. After a few minutes I was pleasantly surprised that I wasn't being overtaken by hundreds of triathletes and I hadn't experienced any of the anticipated melee.

I settled into a comfortable pace keeping a strong focus on feel for the water. Each arm stroke I was ensuring I pushed against as much water as possible. At the same time I tried to keep myself on a decent pair of feet. Drafting was easy and would help me spend less energy reaching the beach.

Of course if you're drafting the swim feels a lot easier and you can't help wondering if perhaps you're going too slowly. Then somewhere close to the turn point I found myself bored! I wanted the swim over with. I was worried this was a bad sign. I've had the feeling that the swim was dragging on before and it might mean I was taking a long time.

All you can do in that situation is keep focussing on the process. That feel for the water, that strong catch and pull and those feet ahead of you. I brought my mind back to the task in hand and kept going picking a group taking a straight line home whilst most people seemed to follow a curve.

I was out of the lake with a time of 57 minutes and some seconds on the clock. Fantastic, an Ironman PB and a great start to my race. I'd been hoping to have a time comfortably below an hour and for it to have felt that easy. No time to celebrate T1 starts with a long run up from the lake and some stairs thrown in on route.

As I ran up from the beach I started to remove my wetsuit. The last time I reported on a race I complained of the difficulties I had getting the wetsuit off. After that struggle 2 Toms (www.2toms.com) very kindly sent me some free samples of their SportsShield Roll-On lubricant (www.2toms.com/products.html). I'd amply applied this to the arms and legs of the wetsuit before the swim and now I'd get to find out if it'd help.

I'd stripped the wetsuit down to my waist in no time and no new nicks or tears this time. In fact the whole of my transition went smoothly and by my standards felt fast. Usually I feel like I struggle or fumble over something this time I was straight through. Maybe not the fastest, but I was feeling good about things.

Out on the bike and as usual my heart rate was far too high. I've come to expect this. The adrenaline and excitement of the race along with the dash through transition elevates it and usually it's a good thirty minutes before it settles. I focussed on keeping a decent effort and watching that I wasn't spiking my power into silly figures.

The bike starts with a hilly section through Taupo. The roads are open to traffic and with plenty of excited triathletes things are busy. Once I was out of town and had the building South Easterly wind behind me I started to push. Combine that with a few kilometres of downhill and speeds soon pick up.

I moved through the field well until I found myself caught up with four or five other athletes. I was relatively far up the field and these guys were working well enough to stay with me. They had a frustrating habit of over taking me, forcing me to drop back and then slowing.

After five kilometres of this I was growing frustrated. I'd tried using it as an opportunity to take on some food, but this was killing my even paced riding. I was either having to push round these guys or back right off to avoid drafting. I decided to make a move, pulled round the lot and got on the front. Almost immediately someone came round me and then a draft marshal told me to pull over!

Russell Cox after his PB swim hits the bike course

New Zealand has a standing draft penalty on the bike. You pull over when told and stand down for four minutes. We'd all been warned the time started when we stopped talking. I didn't say a word till the marshall spoke to me. Frustrating as I didn't know exactly why I'd been picked. I'd not intentionally drafted. Sure there had been moments when the group had bunched, but I'd backed off. I'd just been moving round everyone too.

I accepted the penalty as best I could, chatted with the marshall once the timer had started and saw it as a chance to properly digest that Powerbar. Once he let me go I focussed on settling back into a consistent and steady pace. After the far turn around I got my first experience of the headwind. What had helped me on my way out was now going to punish me on my return.

I'd not chosen Wellington as my training base for nothing. A headwind wasn't anything new to me. Just settle into the work ahead and focus on keeping the power up. Even so the second quarter of the bike ride felt a bit flat. I arrived back in town not sure how this bike was going to go. I was fluctuating between harder efforts on the hills then going far too easy on the flats.

Somewhere around the 100km mark I ate another half of a chocolate Powerbar, downed some water and overtook my first male pro. There's something quite motivating about passing a pro that early in the race. More importantly the sugars kicked in and I pushed again. I had the tailwind to assist me at that point, but this time when I went I stuck with it. It dawned on me that perhaps I'd not been consistent enough with my nutrition in the first half.

From that point on I stuck to a tight feeding schedule. If sugars were giving me the boost to maintain this effort I just needed to keep their levels up. I moved through the field this time no one was sticking with me. A lot of people had put far too much into that first lap and we weren't even riding back into that wind yet.

I knuckled down for the return leg and kept my power up. Again I passed lots of groups and took some satisfaction in passing the guys who'd been around me when I'd received my penalty. They weren't sticking with me this time! I kept up the effort knowing that the last 5km in town was mostly down hill and I could ease off a little.

I rolled into transition in a time of 5:07 a few minutes off my goal, roughly my penalty! T2 is much quicker than T1 even for me. Grab your bag, shoes and socks out and on, gels in the back pocket and go. I still managed to take some time over it! You start the run crossing a bridge especially built to get runners over the road. From then on in the run starts properly.

I went out fast. Checking my pace at each kilometre told me I was going for a 3:05 marathon. Whilst it might be sensible to ease off I'd spent a lot of this race working harder than usual. I felt good I was going to go with this and see what happened.

A few kilometres in the pace dropped a little, but nothing too serious at that point. Out towards the turn around point of each lap the road gets hilly. Nothing too steep, but a series of sapping rollers especially with that headwind in your face. Even with these I kept the pace strong for most of the first lap. It was around the 25km mark when things started to turn for the worse.

Russell Cox on the run course

My legs ached. That was hardly surprising, but when I hit those rollers and headwind again they seemed far tougher. The pace dropped off far more than I wanted. I chatted with a woman on her first lap for a while. Took the time to make sure I got some gels in me and reminded myself there's always a low point in the run.

Just as I crossed the last hill a couple of guys in my age group appeared on my shoulder. I cursed because if I wanted to place well I had to go with them. They moved round me and I latched on picking up my pace. At the next aid station they both slowed to take in nutrition. I grabbed mine on the go and took the lead again, but it wasn't long before one of them joined me again.

We ran together to the next aid station. He slowed as I lifted my pace and kept it going. The wind was behind me, there were a few hills ahead, but only 10km to go. I didn't see those guys again, but it wasn't long before I heard some more feet closing in on me. Once again it was someone in my age group and as he passed I cursed and latched on to his shoulder.

Initially I struggled to keep him within 5 metres, but the pace seemed to settle and we ran together for the next few kilometres. As we crossed the last couple of hills I was thinking how I didn't think I could out sprint him at the end. At that point he struck up conversation with me. We discussed my races and the fact I had a Kona slot (he was pleased!). It was a little surreal to be pushing hard at this stage, to be in competition and at the same time casually chatting.

He admitted he was close to cramping and sure enough with 2km to go he pulled up with cramps. I kept pushing, friendly as we'd been this was one more place up the table for me. The last 2km were agony and I feared I was going to go the same way. On the other hand if I slowed then that was more time spent in pain. I pushed on and even managed a final surge to take one more place in the last 200m of the finish chute!

I crossed the line in around 9:31. As I'd suspected my run form still wasn't up to its best. I took some pleasure in having been able to push hard in the last quarter and hold my own. My time was good enough for 30th overall, my third top thirty finish in my last four races. Amazingly that was only 10th in my age group the 30-34 year old field was stacked this year. Perhaps most importantly I was the first Mohawk across the line!

Russell Cox post race

I'd hoped to podium, but clearly been off the mark this time. However given the conditions I couldn't be too disappointed it was a respectable time and placing for sure. I was also pleased to learn that had I needed it I would have got a roll down slot. As it was it passed on to the guy I'd raced the last few kilometres with.

As usual there's a few people to thank along the way. Firstly to fellow Epic Camper David Craig and his family for being so hospitable in Taupo. As ever my race kit was provided by Jaggad (www.jaggad.com) and did the job superbly. Thanks to 2 Toms (www.2toms.com) for helping me get the wetsuit off so quickly and to My Sporting Times (www.mysportingtimes.com) for the wetsuit itself. Also a mention to Compressport (www.compressport.com.au) as well as making the excellent compression Calf Sleeves I used they took the pictures from the course.

I'm happy with the way the season has started. It a good point to build from. I've plenty to work on and ambitious goals for the season ahead. The next stop is Lanzarote and a chance to make up for last year's race.


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