Kapiti’s Wanaka Ironman Heroes

By Roger Childs

The words “Ironman” and “easier” should never be used in the same sentence. First-time Ironman Bruce Jenkins, January 2014

Big business for the tourist town

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The Wanaka summer Ironman and Half Ironman events are a huge attraction in an idyllic setting.  The popular Central Otago tourist centre pulsates with the fit bodies of competitors and legions of supporters who are in town for these challenging endurance events in mid January. It is very hard to finding a parking place, let alone a spare seat in one of the many restaurants, bars and cafes.

Shopping at the local New World is a step into a chaotic world of dash and grab. Without competition from other chains, the prices at the supermarket are higher than a Kapiti corner dairy. The event is tailor made to bring in big money for the local accommodation, food, retail and tourist businesses.

A huge challenge in a superb setting

The triathletes are here in force to put themselves through the agony and the ecstasy of

  • 3.8 km swimming
  • 180 km cycling
  • 42.2 km running (a marathon)

SAM_0737 (2)They compete in a setting straight out of a Beautiful New Zealand coffee table book. Wanaka is situated at the southern end of a lake of the same name, in a valley carved by huge glaciers tens of thousands of years ago.

It is a landscape where water and mountains dominate and the highlands soar high above the lakes, offering challenges and exhilaration for mountain bikers, trampers, rock climbers, mountaineers, skiers and snow boarders.

One of the closest high points is the appropriately named Mt Iron, from the top of which the hundreds of daily climbers can enjoy superb views in all directions.

However, for the triathletes, it’s swim in the lake, bike the roads of the hinterland and run the streets and tracks of the town and suburbs. All for the achievement of completing one of the toughest sporting challenges and the thrill of hearing the announcer call Joe/Jane Bloggs, you are an Ironman!!!!

A strong Kapiti presence

Jan 2014 Wanaka holiday 044 Kapiti Running and Tri Club athletes Dave Chandler and Bruce Jenkins (pictured alongside before the swim. Chief supporter, wife Kate, is on the left.) were in the 150 strong full Ironman event, while Daryl Rutter competed in the Half Ironman and son Mitchell did the cycle leg for a team. All four had been coached by Raumati Beach identity Murray Ashley.

Dave had experienced injury worries during the first half of 2013, however his later training went according to plan and, competing in his second Ironman, he was in good shape to do well.

For Bruce it was a different story. He had been plagued with recent leg injuries and had not been able to do the necessary running training. Approaching D Day, wife Kate and daughter Jess wondered if Bruce was up to the challenge. Kate observed on the Friday, he’ll be fine in the swim and on the bike, but I don’t know about the run.

 There was no lack of support for the Kapiti competitors. Thirteen family members and friends were all set for a long day out on the beaches, streets and tracks cheering the boys through their multisport challenge.

Classic conditions

 2014-01-18 06.30.16 (2)The weather leading up to race day had been a mixed bag, with a lot of blustery winds scuffing up the lake. But in the early light of Saturday 18 January, as the moon rose behind the magical Mt Aspiring, conditions were cool, calm and clear.

Although the water temperature was only 14 degrees, the lake surface was like a millpond and only the occasional low swooping TV camera-toting helicopter ruffled the swimmers.

For the spectators it was a rather cold sub 10 degrees as the swimmers started the event prior to 7.00 am. However, by the time the triathletes were biking out to Glendhu Bay and back, conditions were warming up. For the marathon run in the afternoon temperatures had climbed into the mid 20s.

It would a long day for all the competitors. The winner, Dylan McNeice, who repeated his last year’s victory, it was 8 hours 38 minutes and 48 seconds of flat out effort. Women’s victor Candice Hammond came home in 9.33.54.

Times for other competitors stretched out to over 17 hours.

Kapiti heroes

Jan 2014 Wanaka holiday 054 Diamond Dave (pictured alongside) swam, biked and ran a consistent race and finished with a numerologist’s dream time of 12.12.12. Through the magic of modern digital technology, his wife Catherine was able to track where he was on the cycle and in the marathon run.

The support team, complete with smart phones, was consequently able to be in the right place at the right time to encourage the club’s competitors. Bruce was always going to trail behind Dave, so the focus was on keeping moving.

For everyone, the toughest leg was the two lap run over 42.2 km and toughest of all was going out of town for the second time. After running on flat tracks for about 10km there was a nasty climb up Gunn Road to a major residential area above the lake.

Bruce remained cheerful throughout and paced himself well. The light was fading as he emerged from the gloom on the track back into town with one kilometre to go. While the Phoenix were scoring 5 goals against the Melbourne Victory, the support group cheered Bruce through and he finished in a very creditable 14.52.08.

Earlier Daryl had completed the Half Ironman in 6.14.18 and Mitchell had done a fast ride for his team.

More to come?

 At the celebratory barbeque the next afternoon the war stories were told in graphic detail. There was of course speculation about whether the lads would do it again. The rigorous Ironman training is very time consuming for the athlete and also takes its toll on families.

Catherine Chandler commented wryly I don’t know whether I’ve got another Ironman in me!


(Photos by Pam Childs and Sally Ashley.  Click on the photos to enlarge.)