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One Nation.
Editorial by Tom Demerly.

Tom Demerly Running Race.
The Big Week. Ironman week. First week of March, 2004
Here in Taupo, New Zealand the town is abuzz about two things: The 20th Ironman Anniversary and The Lord of the Rings winning eleven Academy Awards.

I’m really enjoying this week before Ironman. It is a coming together of minds, a meeting place. People from all over the world with one common goal are here to do this race, the 20th Annual Bonita Banana Ironman Triathlon. Ironman New Zealand is the second oldest Ironman after Hawaii. It is the second largest International field behind Hawaii with over 45 countries represented. New Zealanders are mad for sport and they love anything to do with cycling, swimming and running. Everyone in Taupo is a fan; everybody is a part of the race. That gives everyone something in common, so it is like a big international party.

There are about 120 people in the group I traveled here with, all with Deepak Patel’s Premium Plus Sports. This group includes almost every American in the race, mostly from California but a few from the Midwest and New York and Florida. I got on the plane in LAX by myself and got off the tour bus in Taupo with 120 new friends. Most of the way here, when we weren’t sleeping on the plane, we were talking about the race, what races we’ve done, how our training has gone, what music is on our I-Pods, where we’re all staying. I think the other people on the airplane, the non-athletes, felt a little left out of the party.

This morning at breakfast here in Taupo I sat down at a table for four by myself but got up from two tables of four people with a few people milling about in addition to the group we had started mid way through breakfast. I met Dana from Manhattan Beach, California. He is a fit, animated man who sells mortgages and once turned down a job offer because it would have interfered with doing Ironman. His associates are a man with a British accent named Steve who works for Cisco and a girl named Hillary who has just turned pro. Her boyfriend can do Ironman in 9:11:00 but she confesses a minor crush for the dashing German pro, Norman Stadler. Norman is rumored to breakfast here on the Taupo lake shore so we are in no hurry to leave the table, hopeful we may get a glimpse of the top pros.
We’re breakfasting at Burbury’s on Roberts Street at the Lakefront here in Taupo. Jim and Di Burbury own the place. It is the morning hotspot for triathletes from everywhere in the world. All around us conversations about races around the world are taking place in different languages. There are tri bikes leaned against every surface outside and athletes are meeting to begin or end a training ride. More athletes with wet hair are filtering in after their morning swim.

The man waiting our table is Robin. He is an older gent, late 60’s I suppose. He rides a Softride bicycle. Robin started a 160 km bike race around Lake Taupo some 9 years ago with 28 of his mates that have since grown to a group of 9,000 riders. The ride Robin started is now the biggest cycling event in New Zealand, and he is quite proud of that. Robin keeps our water glasses full and is keen to find out what bikes we are riding. He gives a thumbnail lecture on the geology and volcanology of Lake Taupo, an expose’, I imagine, he delivers with some frequency.

From the outdoor dining patio here in front of Burbury’s you look out on the lake. You look at the length of the swim course and count rainbows arcing up from the green, rolling misty morning hills of Middle Earth and the snow capped New Zealand Alps that were the backdrop for Lord of the Rings. I listen to Robin give us the lay of the land while I dig into rolled up pancakes stuffed with fruit and slipping around my plate in fresh syrup. Robin does not interrupt his lecture to refill my coffee cup.

I told myself I wouldn’t drink coffee the year before Ironman. Then it became the month, then the week. Well, I won’t drink any the day before at least. But this coffee is too good to miss, and it beats the misty chill away after the morning swim.

We’re here a bit early in the week it turns out. The bulk of the athletes arrive tomorrow. The Aussies, athletes from Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, all over Europe, Brazil, the U.S., Mexico and of course a lot of Kiwis will all roll into town in the morning. I suspect it may not be so easy to get a table for breakfast then. But Robin assures us he’ll look after us.

While shopping around Taupo I notice an interesting book store. One of those sort of out-of-the-way places you only find off the beaten path. In it I meet a man who was a political journalist and now owns this store in the quaint shopping district. And what a store it is. If you’ve ever seen security camera footage of what a bookstore looks like after an earthquake then you have the visual. There are books strewn everywhere. Old, dusty wooden bookshelves are the center support for mounds of books piled willy-nilly and stacked precariously on top of one another. God forbid you should want one near the bottom of any of the stacks. There are books on the floor, books stacked inside the water closet, books piled on what may be a counter- I can’t tell, too many books. Books everywhere.

“Do you reckon he’ll do it again, Mate?” The man asks me, leaning one arm high on a book shelf.

“What? Who? Ironman? Cameron Brown?” I wonder if he is asking about the three time Ironman New Zealand winner Cameron Brown.

“No, Mate, Georgie- Your man Bush. Do you think he’ll get re-elected? What’s the buzz stateside?”

“Well,” I tell him, slightly concerned over being sucked into a protracted political diatribe. I’m here to race, not banter politics with a foreign national.

“It’s tough to say.” I tell him, “My inclination is to say that he will. Once they catch Bin Ladin I think there will be little reason to vote against him. Americans vote their pocket books too, and right now the economy is on a tear.”

“Right,” He switches arms, glancing out the front window toward Lake Taupo. “Your man Kerry seems like a right type feller. I reckon he’ll give your Georgie a fair bit of a race for it, what ya say mate?”

We spend the next thirty minutes discussing the interim government in Iraq, the government in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Malaysia. He shows me the headline from the Haitian revolution. He is amazingly astute and his views refreshingly balanced. I could have listened to him all morning. He must have been a fine analyst in his day.

I buy a book from him on Sir Edmund Hillary and give him a stack of Kiwi dollar coins for it. It was one of the books at the top of the piles.

After the morning swim I have a massage appointment. The massage tent before Ironman is where you learn what is really going on in the race. You find out who is here to race for the win, and who is here just for appearances or to fly their sponsors’ flag. Karen is my massage therapist for the week. I have booked appointments with her each day I am here. One of the great luxuries of our sport is that massage is almost a necessity, especially after 21 hours in an airplane seat. That’s good because my feet have been really sore this week for some reason. Maybe because I ran 50 miles last week. Karen is from Auckland and made the trip down to Taupo for Ironman week to work on the athletes. “You’re all crackers if you ask me, the lot of ya.” That’s what she says to each athlete as they describe a shopping list of aches and pains from their training.

Next door to the massage tent the Nike Ironman souvenir tent is doing a brisk business selling just about every manner of Nike Apparel emblazoned with The Ironman New Zealand logo. I’m in there buying T-shirts for the guys back at the shop.

Inside the expo event sponsors are hawking everything from Bonita Bananas- the official race sponsor, to creamed rice, which was an awful looking concoction with the consistency of snot. Apparently the Kiwis this concoction. The Bonita Banana crew are excited to demonstrate the various varieties of bananas, especially after I explain we really only have one type back in The States. I’m pressed to a taste test of each type. Biomechanical technicians from Nike put a selection of different shoes on my feet and make me run on a treadmill while a high speed video camera analyzes my gait. They show me which shoes will and won’t work for my running style.

I stop in and visit my friends at the Orca wetsuit shop on main street, right on the bike course in Taupo. We talk business for a while and I try on some wetsuits and talk with some customers about wetsuits and how to wear them. The Orca guys and girls are doing a fine job here and the store is packed with people buying suits and Orca race clothing. I leave with an awesome new Orca P-Flex wetsuit to test in the frigid waters of Lake Taupo along with my other wetsuits.

It seems like the week before Ironman all one does is eat and get massages and do too minimal physical activity. This is tough for people used to training for Ironman. When your body is used to the volume of exercise required to do even an average Ironman performance a five-mile run is barely a warm up. So you have a lot of time on your hands the week before. That time here in Taupo is usually spent sitting in front of a sidewalk café with a bunch of triathletes discussing your conditioning (or lack thereof), your expectations for the race and what the weather will be like.

Every meal is a social event in Taupo. For every athlete here there is a story. Steve says he has a cold, so he is doing no training at all this week. Dana says his training has been minimal but he is confident nonetheless. Hillary is here to avenge what she says was a marginal performance in Kona last October. Athlete after athlete steps up to our table to contribute something to the conversation. It is an improvisational congress of triathletes. This is a meeting of people from many countries who form one nation: The nation of Ironmen.

The thing that strikes me about this week is how small this community is. Spread all over the world the group that makes up this nation holds congress several times a year for the ten or so days wrapped around Ironman. It is remarkable that people from so far apart can have so much in common. While we may come from different locations we all come from the same place- the place where common experience and ambition unite us as one nation this week in Taupo, New Zealand. Next month in will be Australia, then another country after that. Whatever country it is, it is only one nation: The Nation of Ironmen.

 

 
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