Austria IronMan 2007 Race Report
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (July 06) I took a look at the exploits of a father of one of my daughter’s friends (Colin Bradley TT’r take a bow) and thought... I could do that. The ‘that’ was, of course, an IronMan triathlon and as he’d done Austria it seemed a good place to start. I stayed up late, entered on line and thought very little of it until coming back from a long summer holiday in August. After all, I’d run a couple of marathons. I’d be okay... wouldn’t I?
Actually, I realised in late August that I had two options. One was to be standing in a lake in July thinking “I’m glad I trained”. The other was to be standing in a lake thinking, “I wish I’d trained”. The other was too awful to contemplate so I set about my preparation.
Coach Mark Kleanthous – a (then) veteran of 28 IronMen competitions was hired, despite initial incredulity about this 44 year old bloke with no triathlon experience telling him he was going to do an IronMan in July. A bike was bought and bits of gear were gradually amassed. I even did a triathlon – a sprint event at Roade, Bedford – which I enjoyed.
Time to knuckle down to some serious training.
I ran the Amsterdam Marathon in October and knew I had my running legs as I’d turned in a decent PB of 3:22. Swimming and biking were a different matter, though. I’d never swum (swam?) more than 20 lengths before and couldn’t breathe underwater. Likewise I’d never cycled. But, with the fear of option 2 (remember - lake, no training, cold sweats) banging in my brain like a repeater firework I set about practice, practice, practice.
My first timed swim was 34 mins for 1500m... not exactly covering myself in glory, but a start nontheless. The bike was a little easier to get into and I began to enjoy the longer trips, working up to 35 miles quite quickly.
Training continued through winter and I was noticing improvements in time and distance. I’d earmarked two triathlons in Spring/Summer which would be my only tri prep pre IMA. New Forest (near) Olympic was a near washout and Shropshire was a carbon-fest, full of long muscled ten stone fitness machines. But I completed them and enjoyed the experience. Especially as I’d bought a wetsuit at the end of April and was getting into the Open Water Swimming thing.
Before you could say ‘mine’s a powerbar gel’ I was boarding the plane operated by the licensed bandits that are Ryanair and heading to Klagenfurt in the land of Austria, world of Pain.
I was there with my dad and my brother who were acting as support team, staying at Hafnersee, some 12km from Iron City. ShaunW, fellow TT’r, was also staying there and it was great to put a face to an online presence after so long. Likewise it was great to meet Helen, Smiler666, XML, RTYD, Sam, Lizzie, Redbeer and all the other TT’rs at the pre-organised swim on the Friday morning. TT had played a big part in my build up, giving me a sense that I wasn’t alone and ... you know what... suddenly I truly wasn’t.
I could have taken or left the pasta party. The highlight was my dad pinching a bread roll from the table next to us, only to find ten minutes later that it belonged to the second favourite male pro as he was called to the stage. Alas, he didn’t make the top three of IMA... due, no doubt, to a lack of carbs !!
I did, however, love the race briefing. I felt the Canadian presenter made us all feel special and peppered the informative briefing with some really funny moments – notably telling us to watch out for Austrians going to church on the supposedly closed roads – “make sure it’s them that go to meet their maker... not you”!
I always say that time is like a concertina... you can stretch it so things seem sooooo far away or you can compact it so they’re practically on top of each other. In the blink of an eye, August 06 had crashed into July 07 – where the interim had disappeared to I have no idea. I only know that I was stood by that lake and I was glad that I’d done my training.
The swim was going to be my weakest event. That I knew. It wasn’t helped by the weird start (enough of that elsewhere) and the fact that there were only two buoys instead of three. I positioned myself on the far right, figuring I could let the fast swimmers go first and find some clear water behind them. As it happened I just started swimming and got into some kind of groove. Yes, I was interrupted by elbows and feet and occasional breast strokers (what’s that all about?!) but I figured it was the same for everyone. Bottom line is I was comfortable and relaxed and, once in the canal, pulled for home. In fact, the only time I swung an elbow in earnest was at some bloke behind me on the ramp who was trying to push past me. He came round to my way of thinking and, in true British style, formed an orderly queue. Couldn’t believe my watch when it told me I’d done the swim in 63 mins. A PB by some considerable margin.
Okay. I’m going to level with you. Transitions aren’t my strong point. Having done only two Olympics I’m not used to ripping off wetsuits and dressing and flying right out the door. I’m more of a ‘get my breath back kind of guy’. So don’t laugh, but T1 took 9 mins 30”. Okay, you can laugh.
I’d targeted an average of 18.4 mph which would have given me a bike split of 6 hours. Thought that would have been fine with my ‘strongest event’ (note the ironic inverted commas) still to come. Tom, HelenT’s other half, had given me valuable advice not to go balls out on the first lap, so I took it easy and enjoyed myself remembering to drink well and eat those awful PowerBars. I found Rupertiberg hard going, but at 6’2” and the thick end of 15 stones I’m not built for hills and just grit my teeth and get on with it so applied the same technique to the big Austrian. First lap was completed in 2 hours 55 mins... job done.
The wind had got up on the second lap, though and I noticed it the moment it turned. I began to work really hard to keep my average speed up and whilst I was still keeping my liquids up, my food intake (with hindsight) was negligible. I also had the dreaded Rupertiberg on my mind and could hear the Schwarzenegger soundalike DJ from 20 miles away, exhorting “IRONMEN” and “IRONLADIES” to get up the hill. Finally, I saw the writing on the floor and, with the thump thump thump of the music driving nails into my brain, I began to climb. How I made it I don’t know... I think I was at that point where I simply couldn’t stop or I would have toppled over. My thighs were popping, sweat was streaming into my eyes and my hands were slipping from the bars. Crank... crank... crank... up and up I went on. If I looked up (which I didn’t like to do) I could see a line of cycling ants inching slowly up their hill. Nobody passed me, so I guess everyone was feeling the same... but man, it was hard. I remember seeing that someone – instead of writing a name on the road – had drawn an ejaculating male member and I remember cursing them as I started to laugh and broke my breathing routine.
It was easier going all the way to Klagenfurt and I hopped off the bike in 6 hours 05 mins. Fine... nicely on schedule.
Don’t laugh... you know what’s coming. Oh, okay... giggle away. 9’55” !! What the hell was I doing in there? I remember trying to get a twin skin running sock on and couldn’t as the inside layer kept getting caught up in my foot. But I felt good.
Feeling good, I jog out onto the course with an American bloke from Texas Tri. I chat with him, exchanging pleasantries about how I expect to run a 4 hour marathon. I have my Garmin on which tells me I’m running 8’30” miles. Perfect. Relaxed, comfortable. I wave to my father and brother in the crowd. I head off on the first loop. Ironman Schmironman !
Then, at 1.5km... kebang. Smack. Pow. Wallop. I’m punched in the face by the Mike Tyson god of distance running. Everything stops. Everything. Nothing left. Head spinning, legs buckling, double vision. I collapse to the floor. Bemused. Giddy. Confused. Can’t think straight. What to do? What to do? What to do? How can I possibly run a full marathon? I can’t. That’s obvious.
Truth is... nothing was obvious and the important thing was realising that I wasn’t thinking properly, wasn’t playing with a full deck of cards. I figured that was what I had to fix first... only then could I evaluate and make decisions on the future. I lay by the side of the path and elevated my legs in a tree, letting the blood flow back to my head as much as possible. Seems like I was there for half an hour but it was probably ten minutes. I realised it was nothing to do with fitness, it was fuel. I’d obviously under fuelled grotesquely on the second leg of the bike and well... this was payback. I concocted a plan to somehow make it to the next aid station, suck down a couple of gels a cup of water and a cup of Powerbar drink and begin to jog to the next station where I would repeat the process.
So that’s what I did. For the first 10k it was agonisingly slow and confusing as my body and brain screamed at me to stop. After around the 10k mark I began to find some kind of rhythm, eventually dropping into just over 9 minute mile pace. I was determined not to be greedy and try to claw back time... I figured that would leave me in even more of a mess.
I continued in my rhythm through the end of the marathon, finishing in 4:44 which, considering my self-inflicted disastrous start, wasn’t the nightmare it could have been.
I ran down the finishing straight, back buckling, arms raised as high as I could get them (hands roughly at ear level) and I had become an IRONMAN in 12 hours 10 minutes and 44 seconds.
It wasn’t until I’d had my marathon experience that I realised why I’d done an IronMan. It was to challenge myself, to find out new things about me relatively later in life. Did I do that? Absolutely. Was I surprised by what I saw? Yes, I was. Would I do another one? Absolutely not.
Did I sign up for Austria 08 the next morning? Of course I did!
Well done everyone. A word often used but rarely in the right context. This time I think it’s appropriate.