Firstly I will apologize for this blog taking so long to write and my pre Kona blog will be posted tomorrow. I’ll get my excuses in nice and early. The last few months have been a tad stressful. With moving house and finally starting working as a junior doctor trying to throw in a cheeky Ironman to the mix has occasionally lead to days where I question why I do Ironman and not just stick to sprints. That is till I do a sprint tri and instantly wish I could be doing a nice steady Ironman instead of trying to hold back the vomit for an hour, convincing myself that this is fun.
Many of you reading this (I say many because I know I have so many fans) will probably have little sympathy for my excuses – you already work full time and have families to look after as well. Well I have a newfound respect for you lot.
Anyway all the sucking up over and done with I will move on. With Hawaii already on the cards for this year I hadn’t actually planned to do another Ironman. However with coming 4th overall in my age group in the European rankings last year I had a free entry to any race I wanted. As such I decided that if I passed my finals I would enter Austria. I had always heard a lot about this race and after hearing how hot it was last year I thought it might be good practice for Kona. I also had the bright idea that instead of dealing with the hassle of flying my bike out I would drive to Austria. In hindsight it may have actually been a good idea to look at a map and realize how far away Austria actually is. Fortunately when I mentioned my plans to my brother Alan (my number one fan) he practically begged me to let him organize the whole thing and to let him drive me down, don’t believe him if he tells you otherwise.
So with the trip all planned down to the hour we set off, our lives now in the hands of the trusty sat nav. Unfortunately the sat nav also suffers from performance issues in the heat and decided to stop working every time we approached a junction. Not that it really mattered the whole 700 miles was on one road. It might have been boring but the scenery made up for the lack of turns. Driving the whole way down may have been a bit ambitious for one day however we made good use of the Autobahns unrestricted speed limits.
The next day we wondered down to the registration and it soon became apparent why this race is so popular. The event site was massive and the whole area was covered in Ironman signs. The lake and surrounding hills make for the perfect location.
Having already qualified for Kona the normal nervous feeling that I get when I go anywhere near the race site wasn’t there. I wasn’t eying up the other athletes convincing myself they are faster then me, instead I was just enjoying the atmosphere. In fact I was maybe a little too relaxed about the whole race and didn’t really think about how the conditions would affect me. Last year I felt that I got to the bottom of my nutrition problems and with lots of practice (yep I had to practice eating and drinking) I managed to put together some good races. However this year I had slipped back into my old habits during training and come race day I had started to regret that. The build up to race day was fairly uneventful – my bike didn’t break, I didn’t loose anything and my wetsuit didn’t start to fall apart, in fact I should have realized then that things weren’t right. The weather in the days before was also ideal, cool and not too sunny with the same predicted for race day. This was where the mistakes began. The forecast was for the same on race day with showers in the afternoon. In fact when I had been out training the days before I had felt a little cold. On race day morning I was even debating whether to put my arm warmers on. I should have realized that if you are already sweating at 6:30 in the morning its probably only going to get worse.
This year at Austria they had a separate start wave for the pros and fastest 400 athletes. Being in this wave meant that there was not the usual fight at the start of the swim and when you got to the canal section of the swim there was room to move. As some of you may know swimming is not my favorite of the three disciplines and I usually spend the whole swim wishing I was on the bike however when we entered the canal and you could see and hear the crowds on either side I loved every minute of it. I almost didn’t want it to end. In fact I was surprised to get out of the water and see a 1:04 on my watch and thinking wow this Zone 3 wetsuit is really fast and considering I could count my swim training sessions for the year on one hand.
Getting onto the bike is always a pleasure in Europe as I soon discovered they had replaced the tarmac with glass and that even the uphill’s seemed flat. Using the power meter on the bike always feels like cheating as you watch people fly past you at he bottom of the hill only to pass them as they weave their way up at the top. I soon settled into a comfortable rhythm and was actually surprised not to see any mini pelotons come flying past.
The Austria course can best be described as a downhill course with a few bumps in the middle. That is not to say it s an easy course though. The downhills require significantly higher cadences then I am use to and I actually found them quite tiring. Also being a lighter rider I was often passed by some of the larger competitors just coasting down the hills as I pedaled like mad trying to keep up. The only time I had someone sit on my wheel was on one of the long downhill sections and after I decided to share some of my drink with him he didn’t stay there for long.
I tried to stick to my nutrition plans from last year though having thought it was going to be cold and still continuing to think it would be cold I opted for energy drinks over water. As I got to the end of the ride I was still feeling fine though my legs were starting to cramp slightly. This is the first time I have ever experienced it. I felt that if I continued to push through it would get better.
Getting back into T2 with only 6 hours on the clock I was still convinced I was on for a good time. It wasn’t until I ran out of transition that it really hit me how hot it had got. I tried to hold a steady pace for the first 10k but my body was starting to really feel the heat and my legs were getting worse.
After about an hour of running I couldn’t take the cramping in my legs anymore so started to walk. Immediately I knew that this was game over for a PB and with my Hawaii spot already in the bag I was struggling for reasons to start running again. At the next aid station I tried to rectify my dehydration but my stomach was having different ideas and refused to work. Even flat coke, the saving grace of Ironman nutrition was just making things worse. Rather then force anymore sugar down myself I decided to stick to water and so took on as much as I could, throwing any formal nutrition plan out of the window. I continued on with a mixture of run walking for the next hour, taking on as much water as possible. When I reached the last 10k I decided to make a final push for home but having not eaten anything for the last 30k there wasn’t much left. I ran down the finish line feeling rather deflated about the whole race and disappointed with my performance.
It wasn’t till Alan pointed out that it was actually my second best time that I started to reflect on my race. Two years ago going sub 10 would have meant everything to me. Last year I was aiming to go sub 9:40, this year I m disappointed with a 9:34. It actually made me smile to think how far I had come since starting this sport 4 years ago.
In hindsight there where plenty of mistakes I made which could have been avoided but luckily we can learn from our mistakes. I learnt plenty about racing in the heat and the energy surrounding the whole race weekend really reignited my passion for triathlon which had been weaning a bit this year. I felt motivated to pick up my training over the next 10 weeks and hopefully get in to the best shape of my life.
Sometimes it’s easy to skip over any positives that come out of a bad race but if you look deep enough they’re there. My bike pacing has improved and given me the confidence to ride my own race rather then get carried away with those around me. Also I got a cracking tan so every cloud has a silver lining.