“The joys of high-level sport. You get odd day where the body completely revolts.”
Carterton professional triathlete Scott Harpham found out the hard way, retiring from Taupo’s Ironman NZ on Saturday, the race he had targeted as his main goal of the season.
The 30-year-old, who only turned professional last year, went into the 3.8km swim, 180km cycle, and marathon with “a huge amount of confidence and excitement” after some encouraging training sessions a fortnight before the race.
Although not totally sure what went wrong in the race, he felt the signs might have been there after two shorter training sessions the week before Taupo when his body did not recover as quickly.
Harpham’s confidence was high after a strong swim, coming out of the water in 56 minutes and 34 seconds, but things started to go wrong early in the cycle.
“I was very happy with my swim. I got out, and for the first time, I was leaving transition with a group of people such as Cam Brown and others, and I was thinking to myself, ‘I’m on here’.
“Then I got into the bike, and in about the first half an hour or so, the carbohydrates drink that I had and the gels I were taking just weren’t staying down,” Harpham said.
“That normally happens during the race once or twice, so I thought I would see what happens, and the deeper we got in, the more fuel I took in, the more I was spilling, and my stomach was clearly not absorbing it.
“At about the 150km mark on the bike, I thought, dammit, I’ve well and truly run out of go, and I’d crawl back home, and that was pretty much my day.”
Harpham started the marathon run positively, in the hope that his body would come right after the traumas of the 180km cycle, but it was obvious early on that he was in trouble.
“I settled into my pacing, and the actual speed that I was running felt really comfortable at around four minutes a ‘k’, and I thought if my body settles, this will be fine, and I will still have a really good race, but I got to the second aid station about 4km, and my guts started cramping up, and instead of running tall and relaxed I was sort of bent over a bit. It went from bad to worse, and I had to start to walk and run, but I would get the same cramp again, and my back started to tighten up and ended up walking pretty much the majority of the 21km I did and then pulled out.
“I go into these things, and my own personal belief is that you finish what you start, and I was dead keen that if I have to walk this, I would walk it, but the worse I got and the more I was thinking about it that if this is your job, this is just compromising your ability to get back on the horse and race again in a month or two months time, so get out of the game.”
Harpham believed that the hot conditions on the day had not played a part in his demise, having regularly trained in 25-30 degree temperatures, but it was more a case of the body and mind not being in tune on the day.
“You need a huge amount of mental toughness and mental strength to do endurance sports, but at some stage, all that mental toughness in the world means nothing.
“If the goal was just to finish, then I would have suffered and walked the rest of the marathon and finished, but if you’re trying to compete, you need both your mind and your body to line up, and if you have one and not the other, you’re nowhere near where you need to be. When it [your body] revolts in the one race you want to do really well in, that’s a bit of a pain in the ass.”
Harpham is taking a rare week off from training to plan his next assignment, likely to be Ironman Australia in Port Macquarie, NSW, in May, or the Asia Pacific Champs in Cairns, Queensland, in June.
The race was won for the second time by Mike Phillips in a stunning time of seven hours 56 minutes three seconds, while Els Visser was the first woman home in 9hrs 5mins 42secs.
Several other local athletes completed the gruelling event. In the 55-59 men’s age group, Destry Gourlay was 16th in 12hrs 36mins and 15secs, and Neville Biel completed his first ironman in 15hrs 53mins 50secs.
Richard Parkes was 26th in the men’s 50-54 age group in 12hrs 16mins 25secs, perennial competitor Neil Cameron was 11th in the 65-69 men in 15hrs 48mins 43secs, and former Greytown man Dean Southey was 39th in the 45-49 men in 12hrs 24:01.
In the supporting races, Team R-S, made up of the Rossiter-Stead family, of Anna [swim], mum Catherine [cycle], and Robert [run], were 15th in the 70.3 Ironman mixed relay in 5hrs 51mins 11secs.
Many of the competitors are likely to compete in the Wairarapa Multi Sports Club’s Mountain Duathlon based at Mt Holdsorth on April 1.