Grant Harding Ironman II: Harden up, Harding


Team Harding

Shane Harrison and the Hawke's Bay Multisports Club



Plus Rehab (CHB, Hastings, Taradale, Napier)



I was the first swimmer to reach the finish line of the 49th edition of the Lake Taupo across the lake swim last Saturday.

Unfortunately I travelled to that destination by road.

To cut a long story short I freaked out in Acacia Bay on my way out to the first buoy of the approximately 4km swim. It was totally unexpected.

It wasn't the mass start. No, I was enjoying that. I was quickly into my stroke, getting sucked along, comfortable in the middle of the pack.

But as we headed out into the lake and my eyes met blackness beneath, my body shut down. I stopped swimming. An irrational fear of moving away from land in deep water had grabbed me, and I couldn't shake it loose. Swimmer after swimmer swept past me until there was nobody left.

I tried to tell myself to swim to the buoy and turn left towards the yacht club on the lake front - the course having been changed due to high winds and the start delayed by 75 minutes. Comforting land would soon be on my left. I could swim the distance, had done so earlier that week. But my mind had gone, if it was ever there. I had some serious thinking to do.

So I swam back to shore where I was met by the event director who talked me through my irrational fear on the way round to the yacht club. I tried to get him to drop me somewhere out of sight but no, he drove right into the car park.

I wanted to go back to Janet's place, but knew I had to wait for her to finish. It was utterly depressing. My mood was black. A week out from Ironman I was a DNF.

My 2010 mentor Jeanette Cooper and her husband Gillie, who were timing the event, told me it could happen. When Janet stepped ashore, after another solid effort, she was totally sympathetic. But all I wanted to do was go home and wallow in my misery - there was a hollow pain in my chest.

Instead I had breakfast at the event's normal finish at Three Mile Bay and headed to the AC Baths where I swam 3.8km (2km freestyle; 1.8km Pull Buoy). I was still depressed but at least I had started my recovery away from all those successful swimmers.

I had made many mistakes. I hadn't factored in my rookie open water status. I hadn't got wet before starting. I hadn't warmed up. That said, the water was warm, and swimming wasn't the problem. It was the top three inches.

And it is my brain that I will have to work on this week. The swim is where it starts, and it is where my concentration initially has to be. I have to get through that 3.8km swim with minimal fuss. I have to find the mental hardness of 2010. Get in the zone, get started, keep going. Then move on to the bike etc. I have spent much time this morning visualising that. I am making gradual progress.

Last week was a tough one. Exhausted on Monday I had a rest day.

On Tuesday I had to begin digesting the news that I had missed out on the editor's role at Hawke's Bay Today. Mary from Muscle Mechanix started my rehabilitation with a deep tissue massage which was - DEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!

Then I had to pick up Ally from school, as she was suffering from a sore neck.

Later I found time to hit the pool for a solid 3.8km.

The next day I went out for a 112.84km cycle. The hills over Kahuranaki Rd kept coming, and Middle Rd was worse with the addition of a fierce head wind and a rural traffic jam of 750 sheep which I eventually rode through. With my head still full of disappointment, and my legs still recovering from Mary's battering I decided to park my bike at my mother's house in Hastings rather than add insult to injury by continuing to Napier into the wind which was now accompanied by rain.

That wind was equally severe on Thursday as I ran around Pandora Pond. This time the blazing sunshine added its impact, as did the devilishly annoying and aggressive seagulls (Jonathan Livingston Seagull: "Jonathan sighed. The price of being misunderstood, he thought. They call you devil or they call you god."). Misunderstood or not, I hate those pricks. I pulled out after two of an intended three laps. There just didn't seem any point in thrashing myself, or risking being mistaken for a fish head.

I visited my chiropractor, Paul, late that afternoon, and he asked that I come back again before leaving for Taupo. I will also visit Mary for a final going over.

On leave from work now it would be nice to have a warming sun to enjoy. But the weather is still fickle. It is not helping my mood.

It is tough to come off a disappointment like last Saturday, but Ironman is tough. Especially when you have other facets of your life challenging you - and I have had more than my share since signing up for a second tilt at the hallowed distance last March.

Janet recently said that she was proud of me for just getting this far. My Auckland-based friend, James, an Ironman in 2010-11, has been sending me excited texts. My niece Stefanie and her partner CJ, who arrived in New Zealand from England on the weekend, will be in Taupo to cheer me on, as will be my three daughters - if all goes to plan.

I want to do them proud - finish, with a smile on my face. It is too late now to change what has been. All one can do is focus every ounce of one's mental and physical energy on the task ahead - 3.8km swim, 180km bike ride and 42.2km run.

I will slowly put my gear together ready for departure to Taupo on Wednesday. It will start the process of bringing my mind into line with 7am on Saturday when I will be amongst an expected field of 1500-plus athletes.

I will look at my two-piece Blue Seventy tri-suit and think how far I have come since I started my first Ironman training in 2009 - now effortlessly staying around the 80kg weight (although still embarrassed about the tightness of the gear Steve chose for me).

I will carefully pack my Blue Seventy wetsuit, goggles and cap.

I will marvel at my Giant Defy I bike (which will have its final check up shortly), and my new aerodynamic helmet. I will pack my gloves, my sunglasses, my running socks, look at the bungy chord laces on my new running shoes, and think of Janet's thoughfulness.

My body will start to fill with positive energy, while still feeling every ache and pain - most imagined.

Then as the week moves on I will run through the possible scenarios. Of course I have a goal. It is not a lofty goal. Just personal.

And keeping it personal will allow me to not get intimidated by what I see around me as everyone arrives to register on Thursday, the super-fit full of energy and excitement.

I am aware there are no guarantees. I cannot expect Ironman to be kind to me when I have had a less than perfect build-up.

But I also know that I am a survivor. And on Saturday, March 3, I will look inside myself and expect to find what I need to get to the finish line after 226km of toil.

Whatever happens I will have a kind word for Ironman, because it has kept my body and soul together in a year when it might otherwise have completely fallen apart.

IronMaori founder Heather Skipworth, who will be participating in her fourth consecutive Ironman, gave me a growling, in her own beautiful way, after reading last week's blog.

"You silly old man, stop doubting yourself to be ready. You were born ready. Blimmin heck you're an IronMaori where anything is possible if you believe. Great things happen to great people and that's you boy!"

For the 2011 Sir Peter Blake emerging leader to take the time out to offer me such positivity … what can I say? Nothing. I just have to do. It's time for the call: "Harden up, Harding".

Training Programme Week 27 of 28

Day 183 - Rest Day

Day 184 - 3.8km Swim

Day 185 - 112.84km Cycle

Day 186 - 10.5km Run

Day 187 - Rest Day

Day 188 - Lake Taupo - across the lake swim  DNF 3.8km Swim

Day 189 - Rest Day




  • The Hawke's Bay Multisports Club will be superbly represented at Ironman New Zealand 2012 by more than 20 athletes. Former World Championship (Kona) age-group representatives Ali Hollington, Brett Mudgeway and John Moriarty will again be in contention. And there are certain to be others pushing for places. IronMaori also has a large contingent taking part (see their Facebook site for the full montage), with Ironman rookie Faryn Ngawaka one I expect to burst on to the scene.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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