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Ironman Austria race report
Posted on: Tuesday 14th July 2009
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Where to start? Going to get my son off the chaos that is the finish line of Ironman Austria, my legs having finally given up.
Or how about two weeks before the Race day, when I woke on my first day of my taper with a cold, in the middle of a heat wave!
My taper went well after that shock. It wasn’t a case of sitting down eating pasta! There was a bit of training too! Throw in a birthday (mine) a weekend at the beach and some frantic packing and we find ourselves at Graz airport on Thursday 2nd July, trying to find the way to our hotel.
Fast forward a day and I find myself standing looking out at the middle of the lake – trying to spot the turning buoy – a mile out! “Nervous?” asks Kath. “Honestly – no.” I was more worried about not being nervous! I felt there was no point in being nervous, I had done the long rides, runs and swims, I felt good and I was with people who I wanted to be with! As I swam out to a pontoon and back to get used to the water I felt good. It was strange not having the salty taste of the sea and I thought back to the Olympics and a story I heard that the open water swimmer David Davies drank from the lake. The water is crystal clear and warm and the surroundings are breath taking.
The Strandbad beach is a great place for families. Clean, well equipped and loads to do – trampolines, slides, shade – seeing my family enjoy all this helped me relax. This trip wasn’t just about me or all the other athletes with families. Here there were people laughing, smiling and playing – happy days.
The next few days was spent looking round the expo – chatting to people, bumping into some old friends and some new – Kiki from Infinit (as well as Michael and Emmy!). It was hot – with no breeze to cool down the crowds! 90% of people were wearing compression calf guards and the other 10% were buying them! The Germans were out in force – with shorts trunks and massive legs. I had heard about them and I was intimidated! They make you feel very inferior – fitness-wise of course! Some people obviously took this as a sign to train more – in the middle of the day – running and cycling very fast! Like last minute cramming for an exam nothing is going to get you fitter between now and race day. I did 20 – 30 minutes of swimming and cycling on Saturday and a 15 minute run on Friday – that’s about it. I was going to be doing enough on Sunday!
The IronKids race on Saturday was great fun! And suddenly it dawned on me – I’d be racing in less than 24-hours. A butterfly entered my stomach – and then left as I saw seven-year-olds having a great time! Some were taking it more serious than others – maybe down to the dad’s pressure?
We (five adults and one two-year-old) stayed in an apartment out of town in Hafnersee. Which was great - the only shame was finding out about the whirl pool and saunas after the race! A quiet night with Kath – just the two of us talking about everything other than the race and we were in bed at about ten after a couple bowls of rice and sausage!
At four I woke up and had two bowls of cheerios, a yogurt and a coffee – which I was looking forward to immensely as I had stopped having it at the beginning of the taper and was dreaming about it! I suncreamed up and got dressed. As they were not handing out gels – I thought I would do my best to scare off the German contingent and stuff gels into my shorts and socks making me look a little disfigured!
We drove down to the race and parked with no problems. There is plenty of space and good signage so you don’t get lost! I said farewell to everyone and felt a bit emotional. I had no idea what the day had in store for me but I knew I would see them on the course.
Bottles onto the bike, last minute pump up of tires and check everything was ready and headed down to the start – still not feeling that nervous! The announcer said that faster swimmers should start to the right of the pontoon. With my newly acquired swimming skills and super fast Aqua Sphere Icon wetsuit I thought I’d fit in nicely there and headed to the front row. Some people are worried about mass starts and keep back, but I’ve always thought I’d rather someone had to swim round (or through) me than me do that to them! Suddenly there was a hooter and fireworks – I guess we are off! For about three minutes I had clear water – until we got to the end of the pontoon and then our neighbours joined us! I had gone from being on the inside and having space to being in the middle of a hundred people! It was hard to get a rhythm and this continued to the first turn point. Then everyone on my left disappeared! I headed straight to the buoy and turned left again where I was rejoined by those who had disappeared! I have no idea where they went but they obviously like it there because again the disappeared! I was checking my lines and I was heading in the right direction towards the canal. Up till then I had no idea how i was doing time wise – I felt very comfortable and was being pulled along very nicely! There was a rumbling as we approached the canal entrance – it wasn’t my tummy, but hundreds of hooters and whistlers giving it large! And it’s not until you see the underwater foliage going past that you get a perspective of how quick you are going. The canal lasted longer than I expected and I was glad to be dragged out the water – a glance at my watch and where I was hoping for about 1:05. I saw 59 minutes. Bargain!
Transition was smooth. I had white arm guards on to keep me from burning and stay cool and some calf guards. Helmet on a quick lathering of Vaseline where it was needed and I headed over to the bike! You wind through the park for a bit and it is a constant corridor of noise. As you get out on to the roads you feel like an Olympian and you want to show how fast you can go – but you must hold back. My plan was to keep the power between 200 and 240 watts. The first portion is quick along the lake – and I was going 24 mph uphill at about 200 watts! The roads are great – super smooth. I settled into a routine of taking a gel with water and then 15 minutes later having some Infinit energy drink. The route rolls along before the first climb after about 20 kms - a bit of a leg opener. The climb at Faaker See follows a steep decent at Rosegg and the atmosphere as you climb is electric. The crowds are cheering you on Tour de France style and again you want to flex your guns! I sat up, took in the atmosphere and had a chat with those around me. My family had jumped on one of the buses and were at the top of the hill, which was a lovely surprise.
I could go into great details about the course and the amazing scenery and every up, down and corner but I’d rather you experience it yourselves. The draft busters were doing a great job and they needed to. Big groups of 30 riders would swallow me up and spit me out the back. I wanted this to be an individual day and do it myself so I resisted going with them and probably lost 15 minutes because of it. But I was comfortable. My power was hard to guage because of all the free wheeling downhill sections. But at the half way point I was still feeling good if a little worried that I seemed to be being overtaken rather a lot Something that doesn’t happen over here too much! The second lap was a little quieter, but I started moving back up through the field on my merry way. The second time up the Rupertiberg is a bit brutal – a real eight mile an hour hill giving it everything. And i’m sure it is longer the second time round. But the final 30km are basically downhill so you can afford to push a bit there.
I parted ways with my bike – with everything having gone according to plan. People ask what I think about when riding that distance. Usually it is singing a song or asking yourself what do you need or thinking did I have gel or energy drink last time? By the end I was actually making up German words and giving them meanings!
I had lost about 170 places over those five hours and 11 minutes but I was feeling fresh (or as fresh as I could be) – ready for the marathon. Think about it – nearly six and a half hours of exercise and then you START a marathon! I put my white compression socks on, Newton shoes on and applied a bit more Vaseline and headed out, stopping to give a kiss to Kath at the exit of transition, how romantic! The plan here was to run easy for the first five miles which would take me to Krumpendorf at one end of the run course – which is a kind of figure eight style with you entering the middle five times. It is virtually dead flat with a few times when you go underground. Sticking to around 7:15 and 7:45 minute miles I was feeling ok. The top part of the loop is rather exposed but the bottom part to the centre of town is along the canal and nicely shaded. Rumours of 35 degrees were flying round the course. Alternating Cola and gels at aid stations worked well. Just when I started to feel low – a sip of cola percked me up and I carried on.
Two hours into the run my battery on my Garmin ran out - forgot to charge it the night before - and so I would have to run on feel. Things were getting hard but I knew by then I was on for sub-10, and a sub-3:45 run, which was the primary goal. At 35 km I was tired. My legs were dull and I just wanted to be at the finish line. I was getting frustrated by people in my way, I started to miss aid stations because they were crowded, and things started to take a turn in the wrong direction. I knew I’d finish and I knew I’d carry on running but between 37 and 41 km I was digging deep. One chap (Stephan from Germany) who I’d been running with me sensed this and said “This is your first Ironman?” For the past three hours all I had said was “Cola, Gel, Wasser” and all I could muster was a “yep”. Stephan said “Wheel (Will), you have 2km to go – you can do it” and with that he took off! The final little section of a long day was spent thinking how I’d come down the finish line. I had decided on a Michael Jackson tribute - moon walking busting a few crotch grabs and then carrying a cheerleader across the line – but Oscar was thrust into my arms! I walked the final ten meters with him taking in the atmosphere – the only time I had walked during the marathon. He seemed to like it and ran up the finish ramp!
I had done it – 9:41:44 on the clock and a big smile on my face – even though my legs wouldn’t work! I finished 138th overall – but placing doesn’t matter here; to everyone (or most) finishing is the challenge. Reading race reports from a year ago and even this year – I got off lightly. Nothing went wrong and I came out unscathed. I set out to go under ten hours and I did it. There is no secret to how I did it. I worked at my weaknesses (swimming!) and also at my strengths (eating!). A coach makes a massive difference, especially if (like me) it is your first attempt at Ironman.