A year ago, Queenstowner Tracey Woodford could barely swim a lap of the pool.
Last Saturday, she managed to swim 3.8km of a fiercely-choppy Lake Wanaka as part of her gruelling solo iron-distance Challenge Wanaka triathlon.
Woodford then went on to complete a 180km cycle and a 42.2km off-road run in a time of 12hr 48min 23sec. She was the fastest local female competitor to complete the full-distance course.
Queenstown’s Niels Koervers was the fastest local male, finishing in 10:55.57sec.
Thirty-six-year-old Woodford has a running background but has always wanted to give swimming a go.
“In June last year I decided I wanted a new challenge,” she says.
She dusted off an unused road bike in the garage and began a tough training programme.
Last Saturday’s windy weather conditions didn’t make the swimming – her weakness – any less daunting.
Athletes were vomiting in the water from motion sickness.
“The water was pretty choppy so my tummy felt a wee bit strange at the start,” she says. The running conditions weren’t much better, the contestants battling with intense heat: “It was brutal.”
Another local triathlete, Bridget Goldman, loved every minute of her iron-distance race, despite it being a really tough day. She completed the course in 15:56.36sec and was elated to cross the finish line.
“A lot of the worst bits have been erased from my memory already,” she says.
Queenstown artist John McCormack, 55, stepped in to swim for a team with only seven days’ notice, after another member dropped out.
“I just trashed the pool for seven days in a row to get myself accustomed to the pain I was about to experience,” he says, adding it was a massive buzz.
“I’m still trying to wind off it actually.”
A record 1500 athletes – including dozens of locals – entered the annual event, which comprises the full iron-distance, the half-iron race and a team’s category.
The full-length Challenge men’s race was won by Christchurch triathlete Dylan McNeice and Gina Crawford took the title for the women’s category. Wanaka’s Braden Currie and Dunedin’s Sarah Bryant won their respective Challenge Half titles.