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Ironman Hamburg by Adam Norfolk

Ironman Hamburg Sub 9!!!!

I was quite public in my desire to never do a full distance Ironman race after racing Ironman Wales in 2022, the training took too long, I really enjoy racing halves and it felt more like an event rather than a race. But, after tracking the OTCF athletes racing in Wales and Kona the following year there felt a buzz in the longer distance events that caught my mind into thinking…

I browsed the Ironman website, searching classic events, ultimate destinations and flat courses. It takes a lot of planning to work out location, timings and an event that will be suitable for your strengths to make it a viable option. After Ironman culled a number of events across Europe I finally landed with the option of Ironman Hamburg, early in the season to give me a good block of ‘term-time training’ with the girls at school (which seemed to work the previous year at the Outlaw half), city centre location to ease with logistics and pancake flat course with a well behaved weather system!?!

I entered and tried to tempt the ‘cool kids’ into entering too but apparently being 1 week out from Kona is more important than “what events do you fancy doing next year!” And after the great Ironman cull events were filling up rapidly, which Hamburg did! So, solo it was, time to plan. I popped the event on training peaks and text Steve to tell him I’d entered an event (I like him to do some hunting work to ensure value for money with the coaching package!) with the goal of ‘lets see how close I can go to 9! I said in Wales that I’d like to go under 10 but in reality it was to just a have a ‘good’ day out, it being my first long distance and only bolting the training on the back of my 70.3 season after being bullied into entering by a load or sun tanned excitable triathletes in Lanzarote! So, with this being my first full committed Ironman I needed a good goal, the maths for the three disciplines was done and it added up to 9…and that would have to be a GOOD day! I only told 1 or 2 people my actual goal, everyone else, I played down to “yeah, I’ll just see how fast I can go”. Steve and I set the plan up, working to add to my strengths and improve the areas we thought would be key to saving time on this course. With a good long run up from Christmas we concentrated on sessions that lended themselves to the course specifics meaning long stints of time in the aero bars and hunting out the flattest trainings rides with minimal breaks in position into long runs up and down the river in Nottingham.

Ironman training blocks are tough, days just roll into one another and rest days go from weekly to just a ‘24hr rest period’ which do make your training peaks account seem like you proper hardcore. With plenty of time to prepare I had plenty of time to sort and practice with nutrition, get comfortably aero after a Bottrill bike fit and work out how much and where to store my ‘snacks for the journey’ which resulted in a couple of trips to screwfix to build some DIY carrying units, saving myself well over £100!

Having a big build is good but the event does creep up on you as it always seems like a long way off, until it isn’t! I booked my flights for £1, thanks to some air-miles, booked my bike on for free, thanks to BA and booked the cheapest, closest hotel I could find. In the final taper I felt ‘tired and old’ which normally means I’ve completed a good block and that I am in good shape! After some good chats with my brother, I now understand the taper game, it’s more of a mental battle with how you feel versus how you want to feel. You want to feel amazing on day 1 of the taper which plays with you mind, but in reality the taper is there for you to be at your best on race day. Relax, go with the flow.

The journey over is quick, definitely must be one of the easiest international Ironman to race, 90 minute flight, 30 minute tube and a couple of minutes walk. From the centre of the Rathausmarkt you can see Swim entry and exit, both ends of T1/2, the expo and the finishline. I arrived on Thursday after a little bag sorting at the airport (I’d decided to travel light but somehow ended up with a bike box that weighed 39kg!) checked in, registered and relaxed after some very good food. Fridays plan was to enjoy a leisurely breakfast, finalise the bike build and head out on the course for a cruise before the briefing at 3, however the weather didn’t play ball, so, I  Headed down to the briefing, held outside, in the pouring rain and did my course check later than planned after the sun came out and the roads dry quickly. It doesn’t matter how much of the course you can look at, it’s worth it in my view, it’ll give you a massive sense of what to expect, road surfaces and road furniture etc, it also helps break the course up as you have some familiarity with it.

Race morning came after a surprisingly good nights sleep, a new lightweight breakfast sent me on my way to transition to check the bike, add my bottles and remember where my bags were hung. Starting in pairs in a relaxed rolling start it’s a large one lap swim in a lake with 3 tunnels to navigate through. The tension was building as we made our way to the swim start, sung the national anthem and it was go time! (…with no AC-DC! Which kind of threw me a bit!?!) My swim has been lacking recently, so I was hoping I’d be able to put something together to keep me in the mix with where I wanted to be. It felt good on the way out, found a few feet but just concentrated on my line with the spotting boys taking us out up the lake. The way back felt harder into the wind as people seemed to drift side to side, it’s very confusing when you bump into someone swimming 90 degrees across your path! The final few metres dragged into town but I exited in 1:05 (a little disappointed, 5/10) and set off to claw some places back through the 800 metre T1, wetsuit off, socks and helmet on and it was off to choose a bike…I wish!

The bike has a new look to it after a moto incident the year before, still flat and scarily fast, but now a loop instead of an out and back along the river. I hopped on my bike (missed one of my shoes but still over took 3 people on the mount line 8/10) and set off for a 20km loop round the city, it felt good, I was pushing strong as I had planned to do on this section ready to head out of the city and onto the down wind riverside section. We had a nice little group going and we were cruising along with the tailwind at 28/29mph, it was so fast and felt so easy! I was eating and drinking well and ready to turn into the wind and head back, although, as I snaked back I never felt we had sustained periods of headwind which felt good to end lap 1 in 2:15. I doubled it and added a bit on to set my mind for what needed to be done on the second lap. I carried on fuelling well, took a few more back stretching position changes when I could and tried to concentrated on aero discipline when needed. It started to drag around 4 hours in as I approached the 100 mile mark coupled with the increasing wind made the end of the bike tough, but I eventually made into T2 for a 4:36 bike leg (A Huge bike, good discipline and a confidence to push from the speed I was travelling 9/10).

A long run through transition to shake the legs out, quick shoe change, fuel grab and I was off. Maybe a little too quick, but I was trying to calm it down into a comfortable pace that I had been working on in training. My watch kept beeping, I had no idea why or what it meant, 1:17, 1:19, 1:19? (I’d set the auto lap times to 0.2 of a mile which I though would annoy me but it was actually a helpful beep to keep on pace with a quick glance) Lap pace was good, so let’s just try and hold them and limit the drift. The laps felt long and my legs started to feel heavy but I felt good up top, breathing well and feeling confident. The crowds were good, plenty of groups on the way out with music blaring and cheering and a packed course through the city getting louder and louder as more runners joined the course on each lap. It’s good feeling as more people join, it means more people to overtake with the smug thoughts of ‘I have more lap bands than you!’. The lap times drifted slowly but surely but I was holding, the legs were super heavy but I was still feeling good and ‘trying’ to hold my form. I had a moment on the last lap as a German techno track was playing that the girls and I listen to on our playlist in the car (found by Erin searching bla, bla, bla!), this coupled with the fact that I knew I was going to accomplish my time lead to tears with a big grin on my face! This helped me up the pace as I headed into town for my last lap band and a dance on the red carpet for a 3:05 marathon (A good strong run after that bike, need to think ‘technique’ more often 8.5/10)

So, there we have it, it seemed to be over in a flash, I had a little sit down, a few random snacks, the nicest post race shower one could ask for thanks to a Bora-Hansgrohe shower display truck!?!…and a little massage. All post race tasks were completed…slowly, and I headed back into town for a cheeky Guinness, a bit of food and to then cheer in the final racers as the music rocked and crowds bopped!

I had a plan, a dream, a big ask, but with good planning, ‘some’ hope and a trust in the training that put me in a position to push to a sub 9 hour time coming home in a time of 8:55!

What’s the plan now, well, lets start with never a full Ironman…again!

Good day.

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