ITU Triathlon World Championships – Auckland, New Zealand

Downtown Auckland portion of bike course.

Downtown Auckland portion of bike course.

Mission Bay portion of bike course.

Mission Bay portion of bike course.

Run course with iconic Auckland Sky Tower in background.

Run course with iconic Auckland Sky Tower in background.

39th place finish at the World Championships.

39th place finish at the World Championships.

On October 22nd I represented Team USA for the 19th time in my racing career.  This trip took my wife, Laurie, and I to Auckland, New Zealand.  In 2003 I had raced on the South Island, so 2012 was our chance to enjoy the North Island. 

We arrived in Auckland on the 18th so I had a few days to acclimate.  Parts of each of our first 6 days had some rain so I was a bit anxious for the race.  The weather was pretty cool so I had reason for concern.  The worst race conditions for me would be a cold rain.  It rained during bike check in on the 21st, but thankfully was dry for my race on Monday. 

The 1.5K (.93 miles) swim was mostly contested between 2 wharves in the Auckland Harbor.  The first and last sections of the swim course were pretty easy, despite the 58 degree water.  The tough part was the middle half of the swim that was not protected by the wharves.  The water was very choppy and they did not have enough buoys for us to sight on.  Swim times were all very slow because of the rough water, but I did swim straight.  My swim time was 28:51 which put me in 34th place.  That’s a really slow time for me, but I was satisfied with that. 

The bike course was wonderfully smooth with plenty of challenging climbs over the 40K’s (24.8 miles).  I had ridden the course 2 days prior to the race so I knew what to expect.  We did 2 laps from downtown Auckland out to a town called Mission Bay.  It was all very scenic with much of the course near the water.  The winds were a bit of a challenge as it blew up to 20 mph, but nothing overly dangerous.  I did my best on the bike, but could only muster the 66th best bike split, 1:14:15.  These guys at Worlds are so good on the bike! 

The 10K (6.2 miles) run almost went really well for me.  The course was 2 laps of a 5K course.  I missed a turn to finish the 1st lap of the run so I probably ran an extra 300 meters & cost me a full minute – a few others made the same mistake.  My mistake took me into the stadium by the finish line.  I had to run out of the stadium with my tail between my legs.  The stadium announcer said, “there goes Craig Zelent from the United States.  He must have missed a turn.  Just look at him – he is in such despair”.  He was so right!  Picture that being said with a Kiwi accent.  It was pretty embarrassing and pretty funny.  I watched the whole thing on the gigantic stadium tv screen.  Despite the blunder, I still had the 7th fastest run split, 38:00.  I finished 39th out of 94 men in the 50-54 age group.  That is a pretty good result for me at the world championship level of racing so I was satisfied with my race.  I was the 6th of 6 Americans to finish in my age group.  A 7th American dropped out during the run.

Click on this link to view my photos and 2 video clips (swim finish and run finish) from the triathlon:

One of the highlights of these Team USA trips is being reunited with faraway friends.  We had a great time seeing Tim Yount, Kyle Welch, Team Wade, Trish & Don Kimper among many others.

The day after the triathlon we took a tour of the Maritime Museum. It was drizzly when we did that so it was a good thing to do at that time. Afterwards we watched my Chicago Bears beat the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football in an Irish bar – food was really expensive everywhere in NZ. From the time we came out of that bar the weather was quite good and it kept getting better the rest of the trip. 

The next day we took a bus tour and saw a lot of sights for a very fair price.  We started with the Waitomo Glowworm Caves – that was totally unique. Then we stopped at the Agrodome where we saw a sheep shearing and sheep dog demonstration.  This was ok, but we preferred the sheep show we saw in Queenstown in 2003. Then we went to Rotorua where we saw geysers, geothermal steam pools (hot mud), a Maori song and dance performance.  I love the Haka!   It was a very structured day, but it was great to just sit back and enjoy the beauty of the New Zealand countryside. 

The next day we took a walking tour of Auckland. That worked out great as we were the only people on the tour. Our guide was great. We had already seen a lot of Auckland on our own, but this guy showed us so much more. I’m glad we did that. And afterwards we were just hanging out by the harbor and enjoyed seeing about ten 8 year old boys do the Haka while they waited for their ride. That was so cool! 

We were in New Zealand exactly 1 year after the Kiwi’s won the Rugby World Cup. We hiked up to the top of Mount Eden, a suburb that overlooks Auckland and the stadium where the Kiwi’s won the World Cup.  We could see for miles in all directions.  The next day was just an ordinary day around town for us. I did do a 3,500 meter swim workout at The Tepid Baths which was a 4 minute walk from our hotel. 

The next day I swam another 2,100 meters at The Tepid Baths and then we caught a ferry ride to Coromandel – 2 hours each way. There was a big bike ride starting in Coromandel that day. We arrived at 11am and watched for an hour as the 100K ride got started. The 200K ride had already started at 7am. After that we were pretty mellow as we enjoyed a gorgeous day hanging around Coromandel.

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