IRONMAN First Timers

For a small, but growing number of triathletes, Kona is their first IRONMAN. New Zealand’s Vanessa Murray is one of them. by Annette Lee

It was not like New Zealand’s Vanessa Murray had planned. The talented age grouper had dreamed of a solid introduction to endurance triathlon, working her way to IRONMAN New Zealand and, hopefully, to ultimately qualify for Hawaii.

But for this 28-year-old Aucklander there was no two-year IRONMAN plan and no steady build when she finished won her age group at IRONMAN 70.3 Auckland 12 months ago.

The inaugural Asia Pacific Championship event carried a select number of 30 IRONMAN World Championship qualifying spots. Murray earned a spot, which called for a hurried decision after the race.

“I always wanted to step up and give an IRONMAN race a go and my plan was to make my debut in Taupo at IRONMAN New Zealand 2014. I had a few halves under my belt, but when I qualified my plans changed,” says Vanessa.

Her decision to take the qualification slot wasn’t taken lightly and, whilst she knew she was ready mentally to step up, the whole experience was going to be something pretty special.

“I have a very supportive partner and I knew that my coach Walter Thorburn would be able to get me ready. Also, to some degree, not having done an IRONMAN race before meant that there was an element of naivety which took some of the fear away. Having no experience of the distance meant I could put 100 percent trust in Walter and the training plan.”

But were there moments of doubt in the months leading up to Hawaii?

“To be honest, no. The Auckland race was the last of a successful season and I was just really excited about the new goal ahead. I had seen myself grow as a triathlete so much over the previous year that I couldn’t wait to see how much further I could go. Of course, there was that little voice in the back of my head reminding me that I was doing my first full at Kona, but if anything it got me more excited about how much the race would mean to me.”

So how did you train for your IRONMAN debut?

“My training for Kona involved a combination of smaller focused training sessions, some big weekend sessions, lots of recovery and altitude training where I spent two one-hour sessions each week at the NZ Altitude Training Centre.”

Her coach, Walter Thorburn, a highly regarded former pro who had also qualified as an age grouper for Kona, believes in the benefits from the simulated altitude training. He says that training at simulated altitudes can achieve up to 30 percent more cardiovascular loading for the same effort at sea level, while the simulator provides a time efficient means of achieving fitness goals and minimizes the chance of injury.

Murray also left herself plenty of time for acclimatization to the heat and the hype of Kona.

“I was able to get a couple of invaluable training weeks in on the course before things started to get too crazy. Certainly arriving early on the island helped me get my head around things and meant that when other athletes started to arrive I wasn’t intimidated.”

Throughout race day, Murray had no idea where she was fairing in her age group, as her focus was just completing to the best of her ability.

“I had no idea what time I could do in my first IRONMAN race, let alone set times for Kona. It was only during the last 10 km that I realised that a sub-10-hour race was possible and that was my focus from there onwards. I was pretty emotional when I crossed the line. I sat down on the grass by myself and had a wee cry. I was just so overwhelmed with what I had achieved.”

Murray would receive one more shock. She saw other finishers receiving their split times, so decided to check. Written on her card was: “Swim 58:00 Bike 5:07:35 Run 3:43:47 Time 9:55:19. Placing: 3rd.”

“I told the guy I thought he’d got it wrong. I was so shocked.”

“On reflection, my first IRONMAN experience was just amazing,” says Murray. “I was very nervous come race morning, but it’s funny how you almost go into automatic pilot once you are in transition and the nerves seem to ebb and flow before the canon goes off. I had a race plan and I stuck to it from start to finish, something I can’t recommend enough to any IRONMAN triathlete especially when you start to get tired.

“I told the guy I thought he’d got it wrong. I was so shocked.”

“The run is where I needed to work hardest, so executing that plan, running within myself and digging deep when I needed to was crucial to getting the best time.”

It was not all clinical and analytic though.

“Those last 10 km were pretty special though. Coming down Palani was when it really hit home that I was about to become an IRONMAN for the very first time. I can’t really explain what that felt like, especially with it being the IRONMAN World Championship. But in those final few km I took everything in and that feeling is unexplainable. It will be with me forever.”

Where to now for Murray, who had only planned on ticking off Hawaii on her bucket list?

“I think it’s fair to say I have picked up the IRONMAN bug. The 30th Anniversary IRONMAN New Zealand is now locked and loaded.”

Her mantra of “Go big or go home” seems to be working out just fine.

Vanessa Murray is the Acting Marketing Projects Manager for global fitness organisation Les Mills New Zealand, who are one of her sponsors. Other sponsors include Rocketmail and Saucony.

Originally from:

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