Garth Barfoot – An Inspiration

I don’t usually put other people’s race reports up on my website but I will make an exception for Garth as he is such a legend in this sport, he has also personally been an inspiration to me.  He recently represented New Zealand at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Mont Tremblant and is also racing today in the ITU Long Distance World Championships in China… all after being hit by a car earlier in the year and having a hip replacement, talk about determination!

Garth’s view of the Mont Tremblant 70.3 World Championship. “Because it would look great in the finish line photo” I knew as soon as I had said it that I had said the wrong thing. I felt like a rash young man rather than a mature senior citizen competing in his tenth World Championship event. It was an understandable reaction. I had spent the evening before laying out my kit for the morrow. Pride of place went to the tri top that had been made for the New Zealand team. Naturally it was in the Ironman colours of black and white with red trim. Alongside that I lay my own tri shorts which were black with white and red trim. I could not do quite as well with my running shoes, black with red laces, but by wearing white socks colour coordination was achieved. The Velcro that secured the chip around my ankle was black, my hair was white, the identifying numbers on my arms were black with red outline so the only thing that clashed was my identifying wrist band. Could not do anything about its colour. As I looked into an imaginary mirror I thought Adonis, the mythical Greek god, would have been proud of me. “We cannot let  you continue the race until you warm up, and it is that wet tri top that is keeping your body temperature down (34 instead of 38), why don’t you want to change it?” I was in the medical tent in the swim bike transition having been escorted there by a concerned official who no doubt thought I looked like a very old man. The external aids were there, preheated blankets and a row of heat lamps, but results were slow, time was ticking by. Despite cramp in the coolish water I had beaten the swim cut off by 10 minutes but the bike mount cut off was getting closer. They helped me take off my sodden tri top. [Fortunately I had packed a long sleeved polyprop. My wife had remonstrated with me “you can’t take that dear; it must be 15 years old and has a hole in the shoulder that needs darning”. I explained to her it was just emergency clothing so would probably never be seen.]  Someone produced a cup of hot soup and I held it rather clumsily to my lips. The effect was instantaneous; it could just as well have been the elixir of the gods. The medics, seeing a bit of colour in my cheeks, took my temperature again. “You are cleared to go but you have just 3 minutes before cut off, the transition director will show you the way.” I ran with him like a puppy let off its leash. A transition area built to hold 2500 bikes means there is a lot of distance to cover but at least I had no trouble finding my bike, it was the only one still there. I went over the bike mount line with 24 seconds to spare, The race winner Javier Gomez of Spain had spent 2 mins 43 secs in transition some nine times better than my time. I think I am a pretty good cyclist or at least I have spent enough money on my bike to make me think I am a pretty good cyclist but on the day it just came down to a battle to keep on the right side of the various cut off times. At one stage the official car pulled up alongside me and said the French Canadian equivalent of “get off your arse”. I did as I was told, it was a long uphill at the time so it near exhausted me, but at least I made the next timing mat, albeit with just 12 seconds to spare. After the race they told me that even they were surprised by my reaction, they were preparing to make room in the vehicle for me and my bike. What they did not know was that there is a secret weapon inside me, fear. I had participated in the first ever ironman on that Mont Tremblant course two years earlier and had missed the bike cut off by 3 minutes. I feared that if I missed that bike cut off again I would be receiving a reality check that I did not want to receive. It worked, I might have been the last cyclist home but I made it. The race is structured so that every athlete has at least 3 hours for the half marathon run, 3 hrs is a fairly slow time. I had done 4 half marathons in preparation for this race but my times had only got down to 3 hours 7 mins. But just as when our kiwi athletes go to a world championship we expect them to pull something out of the bag on the day so I expected my body, or more accurately that part of my body that belongs to the North Shore Hospital Board, to pull something out of the bag too. The tail end charlie shared my optimism. “You can make it, you have the time but you must keep at it” The run course director however was more realistic. At the half way point she came up alongside me, introduced herself and said “you realise you are not going to make it, you can pull out now if you like”. I nodded in response but added “I would like to keep going if you don’t mind, I want to see how far I can get. I owe it to my friends at the office, it is 9 o’clock in New Zealand now and many of them will be checking my progress on their computers. And I will try to run faster.” But no one has a faster second lap at the end of an ironman and I was not about the break the rule. Looking at my watch was a depressing experience. My tail end charlie noticed this and chided “don’t look at your watch Garth, keep moving forward, you ARE going to finish”.  Out of the corner of my eye I spotted the official vehicle, no doubt coming to get me. Just 50 metres short from me it stopped alongside a police car. I saw the two drivers talking so I tried to slip past as unobtrusively as I could. The police officer however saw me and gave me the biggest smile that a police officer is allowed to give whilst on duty. As I gathered later this was the conversation the two drivers had had. Police Officer  “I am sorry Ma’m but the times of your road closures are well past, we will have to re open the roads ” Run Course Director “Yes I know that Officer, but that man out there really wants to finish, he is 78 years old and has come all the way from New Zealand” Police Officer “Get him to run on the footpath” Run Course Director “He can’t run on the footpaths, they are already overflowing with people supporting him, he will have to run on the road” Police Officer “You are right, I can see them. I will use my discretion and leave the road closed until he is safely home” Run Course Director “Merci Beaucoup Officer”     The finish line photo above completes my story, I may not have had that black silver fern emblazoned across the outside of my chest but I was going to wear inside my head a high that would take a long time to disburse.