A musician and an amateur swimmer from Queenstown plan to show the gruelling Challenge Wanaka isn’t just for the elite.
The event this Saturday boasts its biggest field yet with professionals and amateurs among 1300 entrants in the 226km Challenge Wanaka Triathlon and 113km sister race, the Lake Wanaka Half.
Brett Strachan, 55, a self-employed solo entertainer, is back for more after doing the half last year, while fellow amateur Annie Gallaway has never swum competitively let alone covered the half’s 1.9km distance.
Strachan says the array of different experience and growth in the field is great.
“You see all sorts of body shapes and sizes doing it – so it’s no longer the realm of elite triathletes.
“I happened to be on a ride with this fat guy one day and he was wearing a Challenge tee-shirt and I thought ‘If he can do it, then I can do it’,” Strachan says.
Strachan aims to better last year’s fourth place in his age group, as he says the training has opened doors for him.
“You start enjoying the benefits of being fit and you change your eating habits, you get healthier and you feel better all round.
“I’ve never really been an active person, especially during my muso years. I suppose it’s a mid-life crisis.”
Gallaway, 53, says: “I’m still in the slow lane and I don’t care.
“I swam Jack’s Point last Saturday in the triathlon and I had an absolute panic attack. I did swim as a child but I haven’t since. It’s quite different now – breathing is different and swimming in the open water – so I’ve had to learn all of that.”
Gallaway, training since September, says although she has struggled with the swimming – especially 5.30am wake-up calls – she’s interested to see how she performs.
“There’s actually a fair amount of curiosity. I’m thinking ‘Is it going to be better or worse than I think?’
“I watched it last year and I thought I was capable of doing all those disciplines individually,” she says.
“It would be a really brilliant achievement if I put it all together and I could do it.”
Last year’s winner, Jamie Whyte – racing professionally since 2007 – has been training in Queenstown since Christmas and says it’s great to see so many people getting involved.
Whyte says the opportunity to compete in the half and even a run, swim or bike leg as part of a team attracts people who usually aren’t physical.
“It provides an opportunity for most people to be involved in some shape or form so it’s great,” the Southlander says.
“It’s amazing to see the event grow. I just love being amongst the mountains and lakes. To have a world-class ironman event on our back doorstep is pretty cool.”
The Auckland-based athlete will have tough competition this weekend with the largest number of professional athletes competing in the event’s history.
And if that’s not gruelling enough he’ll be straight into groomsman attire and off to a wedding in Arrowtown after the event.
Challenge Wanaka is one of 13 international legs of a tour.
This year the triathlon around Lakes Wanaka, Hawea and Dunstan will feature 15 Queenstowners while the half
will see 42 local athletes competing in both the individual and team races.