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Gina Crawford 6x wins Challenge Wanaka Champion


Last weekend I raced my 7th Challenge Wanaka event. This event has become incredibly special to me over the years. Not only it is just the most beautiful location for a triathlon (actually it now has been awarded the title of "Most Scenic Triathlon"), the course is very challenging and it seems to suit me better than any other. I certainly have had more success in this race than in any other. The combination of tough conditions, very hilly terrain but not technical and a complete individual event with no interference with other competitors seems to suit me very well. I often say how lucky we are in Australia/New Zealand to have so many events of such high calibre. Challenge Wanaka is always extremely well organised and a real joy and pleasure to take part in. Also for me, I not only pick events to do for myself, but for my family. If I am going to force them to watch and cheer me on all day, then I want to make sure they have a good time too. I never know, what my result will be, but whatever happens in my race I want Brett and Benji to come away for a great holiday in a family friendly place with lots of activities for them to do outside of the race. Wanaka definitely ticks that box!!

This year the race was moved back by about 4 weeks from mid Jan to mid Feb. This was mostly so the participants could enjoy some less crazy weather! Over the years Challenge Wanaka has thrown everything at us. Crazy, crazy winds, heat, rain and last year intense cold. I didn't tend to be bothered too much with the heat, or wind but boy did that cold get to me last year. February generally is more settled (however this is New Zealand you could get anything in any month!) and this was definitely the case this year. The conditions this year were by far the most pleasant we have ever had. A lovely calm lake at a balmy 18 degrees, very little wind, and it heated up to high 20's on the run which was nice. Having the race that much later also suited me, as it gave me that much more time to prepare for an iron distance event. If I think back to last month on the weekend that the event usually would have taken place, there was just no way I would have been prepared to race a full distance.

So to the race. We started with a beach start which I find a little tricky competing against the pro men. It always means I have a very bad start as I just can't run in the water as nearly as fast, so once we get swimming I always find myself a long way back. Once I got swimming I saw a pack of men a hundred metres or so in front, so I worked really hard to catch them, which I did just before the first turn buoy at around 700m. Theoretically as I had caught them so easily I should be able to just blast past them and keep going, but from past experiences I have learnt it never works that way. Often in the past I have tried and can not drop a group once I catch them, and it just wastes my energy trying to do so. So this time, I got onto the back of them, and just stayed there for the rest of the race conserving energy. My Roka wetsuit was fantastic as per usual and I came out of the swim first women in just over 50 minutes.

Unlike last year where we had about 11 degree water temperature and about 2 degree air temperature to start the day, this day was much more comfortable with a low of about 12 degrees. So I didn't need to waste too much time in transition putting on warm clothes, and I instead opted for my long sleeve SOAS racing top (which I already had under my wetsuit). I felt good on the bike for the entire ride. I absolutely love the hilly terrain, and I must have gotten my nutrition spot on thanks to Powerbar as I had absolutely no low patches at all, all day. There was 3 points on the course where I could see the gap to my competition and I could see I held very similar splits to Laura Siddall, and Michelle Bremer who were riding in 2nd and 3rd. I ended up with a 5.12 bike split (fastest women) with a 6 min advantage over Laura and approximately a 9 minute advantage over Michelle. In 2013 I had biked a 5.08 bike split on a very windy course, so on this day I biked a little slower, but in 2013 I really put absolutely everything into that bike, and finished feeling a bit shaky with very little in the tank to start the run. This time, I rode more conservatively, but I ended up feeling very, very good with plenty in the tank in case I needed it for the run, which I think was a good thing. Thanks Ceepo (bike), Rolf Prima (wheels), Rudy Project (helmet and sunglasses), Cobb (saddle), Keywin (pedals), Sweetcheeks (anti chafe creme), for helping me feel so comfortable and fast on my bike for the entire 180k ride!

Onto the run and I felt good. I always wear Asics DS racers when I race, but not on this course as it is so off road with very heavy gravel. I think in the entire 42km I can only think of about 7km where it is not on the gravel. The run course has changed a lot over the years. It used to incorporate a lot more on road through the town of Wanaka and used to be a bit faster, but now it is nearly all off road, which is good in a way as it is always a very easy marathon to recover from compared to when you race on the hard tarmac, but it does lead for a long day out on the run course! So I opted for my DS trainers, which are a little more sturdy to help me through the gravel and sand. The run course is also strikingly beautiful, especially the section travelling along the Clutha River. My rule is never, ever to look at the river. It is so enticingly blue, that if you do, all you can think about is taking off your shoes and having a paddle! So I never look at that view, just the path ahead of me. I ran conservatively. I didn't have that great a lead, it started at 6 minutes and ended at 12 minutes, but I think often when you are in that situation, the only way you are going to be beaten is if you fall apart, and so best to be conservative and not do anything stupid. I really enjoyed the run course. It did feel quite hot, and the aid stations are quite far apart. I would recommend to anyone doing this race next year to walk through the aid stations and get all the drink they can at each one, as some of them are 3.5-4k apart. Of course I don't do this. I have watched many great athletes walk through aid stations in hot races, sensibly and end up with great results, and although I know this option is the most sensible I just can't do it. I turn into a robot who just can't stop, and so if I miss a drink I just plod on. So this did mean that in between some of the aid stations my mouth was so dry that I was struggling to even swallow. I was pretty glad when I hit the home straight and the crowds in the final km and could enjoy my 6th title here. Something, very, very special!! Congratulations to Laura Siddall for taking 2nd in only her 2nd iron distance race, and Michelle Bremer for taking 3rd. All three of us were wearing SOAS, so it was a bit of SOAS domination out there!! Laura is also coached by Matt Dixon from Purplepatch, so it was a very good day for the team!

So three days post race I have recovered really well. I actually feel a lot better after this race than I did in my previous race at Ironman Geelong 70.3, and I think that is thanks to my new Normatec Boots I have become a bit addicted to them I think!! but it is absolutely amazing the difference they have made. Also I have Compressport to thank. I raced in the compression socks and put them on directly after the race, in the hope of aiding my recovery.

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