Saturday, 11 July 2009

Photos & Video

Video from Austria

And here are the 'official' photos taken during the event:

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Ironman Austria 2009 - Race Report

Having written this now it is more of a race story than a race report!!

Race week
Race week started on Monday morning as we loaded up the car and headed to Folkestone to catch the Eurotunnel. We had an overnight stay in Stuttgart booked and apart from a few roadworks, the odd crash holding up traffic and torrential rain in Luxembourg the drive was fairly uneventful, day 1 included England, France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany so quite a little European tour! The drive on day 2 was shorter, Stuttgart to Klagenfurt via Munich and Salzburg involved some spectacular scenery through the Alps, we arrived in Klagenfurt at about 2pm. The rest of the week went as planned, some light training including swims in the lake to check out the canal entrance and a couple of rides up the main climb of the bike course included. Here’s the canal entrance, nice and narrow quite shallow:

Race day
I wasn’t too nervous on the actual morning, I know that I have trained as best as I could and was looking forward to getting on with it. The start was between 3 piers at the Standbad and they had said that ‘faster’ swimmers (sub 70 minutes) should start on the right, slower ones on the left. My plan was to start towards the back end of the right side, therefore hopefully avoiding too many slow swimmers and maybe picking up some feet that could pull me around in close to 70 minutes.

The pre-start was cool with music blasting and helicopters circling, before long the cannon fired and we were off. Mass starts with approx 2,500 people are never going to be much fun and this certainly felt pretty congested, plenty of arms and legs clashing with heads which continued to the first turn buoy at 1,400m.

As I was on the right side I had a nice clean line around that buoy and glanced at my watch to see 27.xx, not fast but nothing to worry about. Luckily on the Friday I had swum round to the entrance to the canal that we would swim the final 800m up so was confident with my navigation into that which definitely helped as the majority of the field seemed to be swimming too far to the right, that meant that I wasn’t really getting much of a draft but was enjoying a little bit of room in the water . That was rudely interrupted when I swam into the full force of a breastroke kick from someone swimming on his back. He hit me right on the right eye and sent my goggles flying, I hadn’t even seen him ahead so it gave me quite a shock. Not much to do other than keep swimming so I put the goggles back on and carried on, had to stop again in a couple of minutes to clear out some water as well and definitely had a sore face! (after the race there was a slight war wound, sadly it didn’t swell up too badly as I think a black eye would have made me seem really tough!!)
I went straight into the canal and although this was narrow, the first 400m were great with loads of supporters on the banks and I seemed to be amongst swimmers who were moving at the same speed. This picture doesn't have me in it (much more crowded in the water by the time I got there! but shows how many supporters there were on the banks of the canal):

The last 400m was not as nice but with the end in sight it was bearable. I was pleased to see the exit ramp, swim split was 1.11.45, about what I though I would do and I didn’t feel too tired. I looked fairly happy on my way out of the water:

T1 took quite a while as I was careful to top up the sun cream before heading out to the bike, time 6.22.

We drove the bike course a few days before and it looked amazing so I was happy to be heading out. The course has a reputation for being fast but it is certainly not flat, here is the ride profile that they had up in the information tent:

The first section around the side of the lake was flat and quite fast, the first major climb was amazing, hundreds of people lining the road really gave you a lift and my legs were feeling pretty good. The goal for the ride was to keep my heart rate in the 130-135 range. Despite practicing my nutrition plan time and again my stomach started to feel a bit ropey after about 90 minutes, and that was to continue until well into the run. It was nothing unbearable but a bit uncomfortable and something I could have done without, maybe I should have gone with the nutrition plan I saw of a guy in transition who had 2 croissants taped to his bike!
Erika, Glenn and Ty were planning to see me about 60km into the ride and I went past them with about 1 hour 50 done and it gave me a nice lift in advance of the major climb (Rupertiberg).

The climb has a DJ at the top playing a mixture of cheesy music and German house tunes shouting out WELCOME TO RUPERTIBERG I-RON-MAN AND I-RON-LAYDEE!!! There were plenty of supporters on the hill again and having got to the top I knew that it would be a fast run for home, the last 27km of the first lap only took 40 minutes and I was feeling ok despite the ongoing stomach issues, I was still putting my nutrition in and it wasn’t getting any worse. The first lap took 2:49:34. The turn around point was amazing, my support crew seemed to be the loudest bunch out there which gave me a real lift and I wish the crowds and music at the turnaround point could have followed me the whole way around!

The second lap was a fair bit slower, the heat was starting to build up and the thought of my first ever marathon to come was never far away so I was taking some breaks on the downhill sections and also found the final climb up Rupertiberg very tough going with 150km in the legs. They even seemed to have put more uphills in the final 27km section as I’m sure that on the first lap it almost felt as it if was downhill the whole way! The second lap took a touch over 3 hours for a total bike split of 5.51.25, that was about on target time and I hoped that as I had kept my heart rate in check that I would be able to run a decent marathon but I was starting to worry about how hot it was getting.

As I jumped off the bike I felt quite tired but nothing that I haven’t felt during my training and I got through T2 with minimal fuss, another sun cream application and a toilet stop again slowed me down a little so total time was 7.59.

Out onto the run and the first km I was focusing on getting my heart rate to the target of 140, I went past the 1km marker in 5.30 and had my heart rate under control at that point but that was about as good as it got on the run! Mentally I had broken the run down to the 8 out and back sections so was focusing on getting to the first turn at Krumpendorf that was about 6.5km away but I felt terrible, my guts were hurting still and it was seriously hot. I think I got to the turn in about 38 minutes but I was slowing dramatically and I couldn’t keep the heart rate where I had planned. The run back to transition was worse, I was feeling really crappy and finding the prospect of another 35km very tough to deal with! Back past the lunatic support crew in the transition area was brilliant and really gave me a lift, 2 out of 8 sections complete.

The run from transition area into the centre of town and back was a bit shorter and had more shade and I found myself getting into a bit more of a rhythm, albeit a slow one! I was walking the aid stations to make sure that I got my nutrition in but was being quite good at getting running again. Ty ran along side the course for a few minutes and it was nice to have a bit of a chat, helped me to realise that I wasn’t doing too badly.

Before too long I was at the turnaround point in the town square. Just before that they put up a bell and will donate €1 to charity to every athlete that rings it, sadly they had set it for 6’5 Germans and I didn’t trust my calves with a Jordan-esque leap so I’ll just have to donate some money myself! Ty had told me that Glenn was at the town square so it was good to see him, told me I was looking good, I think I gave him a quick summary of how I was feeling but won’t repeat that here! I was pleased to be turning back towards transition again though, 3 of out 8 bits done. At this point, any major concerns about my finishing time had pretty much gone, I was only looking at about 2.20 for the first half marathon, the same again would only just see me under 12 hours and there was no way that I could see that happening. I saw Ty on the way back in again and was moving along ok, walking every aid station but at least making progress, it was tough to be running past the signs that said 38km knowing that you still had 21km to go until you were at that point! I talked to him about my time and to be honest, really wasn’t too worried about the finishing time, I just wanted to get that medal, although more importantly, get on to my final lap! I joked with him that I could do with a bit of rain (the skies were still clear and sunny above us) and as we got back nearer transition, I could see a bit of a storm cloud brewing. Even if I didn’t get rain, it would be nice for a little bit of shade from the burning sun.

As I went through the half way point of the marathon (first half in 2.22.16) I jealously looked at the turn off to the finishing shoot, next time round I could go down there! It was good to be on the last lap, that meant that generally the people still on the course were moving slower than those that were finishing in 9 hours and something so I started going past a few people for a bit of a mental boost.

The rain started falling on the way back out to Krumpendorf which was nice, and I had managed to keep up a steady if slow pace and didn’t feel like I was getting too much worse. My stomach was not giving me as much trouble and although nothing at the aid stations was particularly appealing, I kept throwing down coke, gels and water.

As I got to the turn point my hope was starting to come back that I could salvage something from the marathon, although as I turned at about the 26km point and started back towards transition I could really feel the fatigue in my legs. My calves felt on the brink of cramping up and it was a real mental challenge to keep running when every part of you is telling you to stop and walk. I’m not really about quitting though so just kept going, trying to get to each km marker, not even looking at how long it was taking, but as the km’s done got higher and the km to go dropped it helped the mental state. Going through the transition area for the penultimate time I don’t think I could have asked for any more support from friends and family, they were going absolutely metal, it was brilliant seeing how much they clearly wanted me to make it and were giving every piece of encouragement that they could. My dad’s comment stuck in my head ‘you’ve broken the back of it’ I knew what he meant but those last 10km still seemed like an awfully big challenge.

In the run up to the event I’ve read plenty of advice about an Ironman, one comment stuck in my head about the Ironman marathon was that it is 20 miles of hope and 6 miles of reality, well here I was about to hit reality!

Having maintained a good rhythm for the middle section I was starting to try and calculate what sort of time I may come in at, I needed a toilet stop though so at the next aids station I had to take a minute out to deal with that. Once on my way again I worked out the times, I estimated that with the walking at the aid stations I was taking about 7 minutes per km, that would have got me home in about 12.05 or so (mental arithmetic wasn’t brilliant at this point) so it was then that I had a bit of a talk to myself, by this stage I knew I was going to get there but I didn’t like the sound of 12.05, so I had a decision to make, try and push to go sub 12 with the risk of blowing up and coming in on 12.30 or sticking with my current pace. I decided that 12.05 or 12.30 didn’t make too much difference so I though I would have a crack, you never know what may happen in life and I may never find myself in that situation again so I thought to hell with it, I’ll give it a go. I decided that I would try and stick with my pace and walking the aid stations to the final turn point in the town and then I would try and pick up the pace for the final 4.5km and run through the aid stations.

This hurt like hell, my legs were in agony and I felt on the brink of cramping with every step. I managed to bring my heart rate back up to 140ish and as each km went by I could see me getting those 5 minutes back, you could see other people in the same position as me, some were going for the sub 12, others resigned to missing it and walking so I was making up plenty of places. I was grabbing water through the aid station but kept running, heart rate was up in the 150s now and the 38 and 39km signs went by. I thought I missed the 40km marker, and so thought I was well back on top of the clock but a couple of minutes later there is was so not as much time in the bank as I had hoped. I kept pushing, I saw my Dad and sister just after that, by that point I knew that I had nearly done it, I had about 15 minutes to cover the last 2.2km and as I went past them I felt ok (relative to the situation!).

Then it started to get a bit shaky, my fingers started to tingle and my vision started to get a bit blurred. I’d had this before at my first half Ironman and that had forced me to a walk but this time at least I knew what was going on so slowed down and just tried to keep moving. The 41km mark came and went and I was still worried about completely shutting down so was seriously focused. Finally I got to the point where you turn for the finish shoot and it was only then, with about 200m to go that I was confident I would get to the line without keeling over. As I turned into the finish area I saw Glenn and Ty in the stands going crazy and for a brief moment the pain disappeared. I was totally elated and going a bit mental down the finishing shoot punching the air as I could see 11.58.xx on the clock. It was a magical moment, and before I knew it after 11 hours, 58 minutes and 25 seconds I could stop…an Ironman! I’d managed to negative split the marathon doing the second half in 2.18.37.

Post Race
I walked down from the finish line and had a medal put round my neck. Although elated, I felt pretty awful so kept moving towards the finishers tent. There were people everywhere and it was hot but I made my way to the drinks area and picked up some coke and water. Felt terrible so just found a seat and sat down. I’m not sure how long I sat there for but I found a foil blanket and wrapped that round me to try and stop the crazy heat fluctuations that I was feeling. Eventually I decided that it was too hot in the tent so walked outside to try and find the support crew. It was good to see them all and I was really grateful for the support, I would definitely credit them with the 1 min and 35 seconds that I snuck under the 12 hour mark by.

Seeing them was great but I still felt awful so spent a few minutes just walking around trying to bring myself back to life. The family went off to get some dinner, and I sat down by the side of the road with Erika, Glenn and Ty. After a few minutes, they all decided that maybe a trip to the medical tent was for the best as I was feeling really faint and was struggling to put any food or drink in. I had finished over an hour ago so reluctantly hobbled over. It appears as though I passed the medical examination though as I could stand up so they turned me away. After sitting down for a bit more I went and changed into some clean dry clothes and started to feel a little bit more human.
I had wanted to stay around at the finish until the cut-off but was so tired that I decided that was probably a bad idea, so went and collected by bike and bags and loaded up the car for the drive home.
After thoughts
Now that the pain in my legs and back is starting to ease I’m really proud of what I have achieved, 12 hours is not the fastest time going but I definitely struggled in the heat on that first lap and also with the mental challenge of being 9 hours into a race and still having to run further than you have ever run before.
I don’t have any urgent desire to do another one, I’ve come a very long way as a triathlete in the last 2.5 years and I don’t think there are any shortcuts to faster times, you need to have years of running and cycling in there, something I don’t yet have. Whatever happens, I’ll always have that medal. Doing an Ironman is certainly not the most important thing in life but has been a lesson in what can be achieved if you set your mind to it.
I’m not sure what is next for me, I will definitely be having a bit of a rest from the training and will then probably do some shorter races to keep fit.