I raced the world famous Challenge Roth Triathlon and want to give you a summary of how my race unfolded
“Nothing comes easy, if you want something bad enough, you will get it, but don’t wait for it to come to you, you have to get up, get going and go after it.”
When the nerves kicked in a couple of days before the race, I always reminded myself of the hard work I have put in to get to the start line. I trusted in my training and I knew I was fit and in good shape. The excitement was definitely higher than for any other race I have done so far and my lead up to the race was good. No big setbacks like injuries or sickness, I could follow the training plan through which gave me enough confidence to race. But anyway, I was nervous and excited, which I think is normal and a good thing, as long as you can use it for your advantage. Alright, let’s jump into the race and how it all went. It was a long day in the office for everyone, not just me. My whole support crew did a massive job as well in supporting me throughout the day. I think without them, the race experience would not have been the same! You guys know who you are, so a very big Thank You at this point! You are legends!
Picture credit goes to Pia Dirnberger and Gernot Wiesinger http://gernot-wiesinger.at/
Race morning was very well planned, so I felt relaxed after an early 3am wakeup call. The last thing you want is a bad surprise that messes up with your plan. A little something usually happens to me, so I was prepared. Well, this time I couldn’t find my race watch for the bike mount. It somehow disappeared and I spend a couple of minutes in the transition area trying to find it. It somehow slipped into one of my bike shoes. Luckily I checked again before I left transition and found it. A few deep breaths and I was ready to head to the swim start. I did my run warmup, toilette stop and then headed to the start where I did another swim warmup. After that it was time to give one last hug to my family and friends. I was running a little bit late, so I missed the queue for my rolling swim start wave. It wasn’t a big deal, I only had to start in one of the later waves and had to wait a bit longer. It didn’t really bother me too much. I was very calm, relaxed and focused. One thing my coach told me is to deal with the immediate task at hand. Don’t worry about the outcome, focus on the process. I think this is a great mantra for every triathlete. We tend to start asking our self a lot of questions during the race and lose focus on the immediate task at hand!
I felt relaxed entering the water and my plan was to start smooth and controlled. I focused on my stroke, breathing and sighting for the first few minutes. I found a good rhythm quite quickly and settled into a solid and strong but controlled effort. There were plenty of buoys on the first 1.3km going out so sighting was quite easy. I overtook a lot of swimmers and felt good coming to the first left turn. After the first turn I picked up the pace a little bit to reach the next turn which was about 500m away. After the second turn we were already heading back and we had the sun in our eyes. That made it really hard to sight, so I followed a huge group of swimmers which were about 100 meters in front of me. I sighted more often on the way back to make sure I stay in line with the group. The gap to the group got smaller and a few hundred meters away from the shore I could spot the flags which mark the entrance to the lend canal Once I hit the canal I noticed the people lining up left and right of the canal. About 100m in the canal I could hear voices shouting my name. What the hell?? I turned to the right and spotted my whole support crew!!! I was literally swimming 2 meters beside them, all the way until the exit of the swim. Without much thinking my stroke rate increased and I was speeding past a lot of swimmers. I was in the zone! It felt awesome and the cheering helped me a lot. It was fun and I was thinking to myself, boy this is going to be a great day! After the last sharp right turn there was already the swim exit. I slowly walked up the carpet which led you out of the water before I started my run into transition 1. A quick look at my watch confirmed my good feeling. A 1hr swim! Bang, game on!
It was a long run to the transition zone. I quickly located my transition bag and entered the tent to change into my cycling gear. I took my time. I wanted to make sure everything is in place before I got on my bike for the 180km ride. That was intentionally. Don’t rush and forget something, this is not a sprint distance race. After more than 5 mins in transition I was on my bike. Looking at my times after the race I think I left a little bit too much time there:-/
My plan was to stay on the conservative side on the first loop and be vigilant about my fuelling and hydration. I wasn’t pushing any big gears on the first 15mins of the ride. Focus was to get comfortable on the bike and focus on pedalling and form. First it felt strange riding my bike after swimming for 1h and it took me a while until I found my legs and the power. I waited with nutrition and hydration for 30 mins. After that, I consumed water + food every 15 mins throughout the ride. For the most part I had solid food in the form of energy bars. No gels! Just real food and water and electrolytes. I pretty much stuck to that until the last hour before I introduced fluid nutrition (gels + carb diluted water). I was able to follow my nutrition plan throughout the ride and didn’t have any weird gut issues. It was all looking good. The first 20km were mostly flat with a few little inclines before we hit the first climb after km 30. Nothing too bad really. I kept a solid pace, my heart rate was in the right zone. The only issue I had pretty much right from the start was my neck! Damn, it was sore from the swim. This was bothering me and I tried to stretch it out to release some tension. It got a little bit better as the ride went on but it was still quite annoying. On the flats I kept the cadence high and made sure I had good tension on the chain. On the climbs I kept the power a bit higher but avoided heart rate spikes. The course is very technical and varies a lot in terrain, so you need to adjust and use all the tools and skills you’ve got. You can’t ride that course with the same power all the way through. The course gets really fast on the long and steady downhill sections, that’s where you need the big gears. My body composition didn’t really provide an advantage here so I had to work harder than the bigger and stronger riders on the downhill. I knew this is where I can make or lose a lot of time. I thought the first 90km took ages. I felt ok but not great! After starting my second lap I checked my time and pace. My avg. speed was about 34.5 km/h. That gave me confidence for the second lap.
Going through lap 2 I felt better than on the 1st lap. I tried to stick with some of the stronger riders on the flat sections. Towards km 140 rain set in. It was pouring down quite heavily which made the downhill sections very dangerous. I was surprised how some of the guys speeded down on that slippery and wet road. I saw the ambulance twice and I intentional took out the speed on the winding downhill sections. The risk of an accident was just too high and not worth it at any cost. I stayed conservative and my plan was to get to T2 in one piece. The last 2 climbs on the second lap were tough. I could feel my quads burning going up the Rupertiberg. It’s not a very long and steep climb but it’s still enough to suck out a lot of energy. Once I reached the top of the last climb it was time to take in some more nutrition before I made my way back to the finish. With 30km to go it was one more time to put in some solid effort on the descents coming into Klagenfurt. On the last 10km my focus was slowly switching towards the run. I tried to stretch out my back, got out of the saddle a few times and kept the cadence high to prepare my legs for the run. Before I reached T2 I had a quick check on my second lap time, it was slower than the first one which I expected considering the rain and some drop of power on those climbs. I was feeling good though and was glad to get off the bike and start the run!
Similar to T1 everything went smoothly. Maybe I took a bit too much time tying my shoe laces and putting on my running socks. There is definitely some time to shave off in those transitions. But hey, I was a first timer 😉
So there I was, approaching my Ironman run. Some would say that’s when the race starts. The swim and bike was the warm up, now it’s time to get into the pain cave for a couple of hours. I was mentally prepared and ready. I did a lot mental preparation beforehand and went through some worst case scenarios and how to deal with it. My mantra was. Think positive, move forward, don’t stop, and keep going. I am strong, I have worked hard for that, I can do it. Let’s get going, have fun and embrace the pain! The first 15 mins are crucial in the run, it sets you up for a good or bad day. My coach told me to focus on form, posture, food speed. Run upright and don’t worry about your pace. Find a comfortable rhythm, have good posture and form and the legs will come to you automatically. That’s exactly what I did and I got into a good rhythm very quickly. I felt good, really good and I was running smoothly. After 2.5km I had a quick look on my watch. It was all looking good. I was sitting on a 4:40min/km pace and my heart rate was right there were it should be. All good I thought, if it continues like that this will be a walk in the park I thought. Well let me tell you this, things changed pretty quickly and I was up for a rollercoaster ride.
After the second aid station I felt some urge to do a toilette stop. No big deal I thought, I have practiced that in training. Stop and go. I was a little bit worried that I took in too many calories on the last part of the bike. Hence I avoided any calories on the run for the first 40 minutes or so. I had water, electrolytes and watermelon at the aid station. After my toilette stop things started to get worse. My legs felt stiff and heavy. I was struggling to get back into my rhythm and my pace. It was getting harder and harder to keep my target pace. From km 5 – km 20 it was an up and down. For a while I felt good but then my mood went down pretty quickly and the mind games started. I knew that if mood drops, it’s a sign of a lack of calories. So I topped up my calories with gels at the aid stations. It was too early for coke. Not yet. I can still manage it. From km 20 onwards things got worse. It was soo damn hard to keep the pace, it dropped, and I was forced to go a bit slower than anticipated. At that point I didn’t give a damn about my time or pace. All I wanted to do is to keep going, even if it’s slow. Don’t stop, keep moving forward. I can’t recall too much between km20-30. I was in big struggle town. I walked through every single aid station! The way I split up my run was to run from one aid station to the next. Set small goals. The support on the course was phenomenal. Everyone was cheering you on and every time I came past my family and friends my mood went up and I felt proud to take part at this crazy event. On a few occasions I was laughing to myself, thinking we are all a bunch of idots doing such a stupid race.
I watched other runners as well and I didn’t find anyone who was not struggling. We were all in this together. My crew was amazing, they pushed me forward. I was loving it that they had fun. I tried to look good when I passed them, didn’t want them to think I am struggling. It’s all good thumbs up. (Yeah if they knew in how much pain I was) I got this. When I started the last lap at km mark 32 I knew I will make it. I got a rush of energy from somewhere. At this point it was the first time I had a look at my overall time. Where was I sitting, what’s the time? I quickly did some calculations in my head and thought, well if you keep running with that pace a sub 10hr is no problem. Just keep doing what you’ve been doing. That’s what I did on the last 10km. I enjoyed it, I got comfortable with the pain. It was still bloody hard and painful but manageable. 5km until the finish line, that’s awesome. Enjoy it. I saw my folks one last time before I took the turn towards the finish chute. We high5’d, everyone was soo excited, pumped up. What an achievement. The last 100m before I crossed the finish line were epic. It’s hard to explain what it feels like. It’s a rush of adrenaline that goes through your body. It’s that mix of pain, fatigue, relief and pride. For a few moments you feel like a hero. You have accomplished something special, all that hard work you’ve put in over the last months pays out at that very moment. This was a special moment and I enjoyed every second of it. I gave high 5s to people on my way to the finish line, goose bump moments.
After I crossed the finish I needed something to hold on to. I spotted me sister, she was at the fence waiting for me. I was totally exhausted and tired. After a few minutes my legs shut down and I could barely walk to the support tent. Once I reached the tent I just lay down and relaxed for a few minutes. I was so glad that it was over and done.
I spent a very long time in the tent, eating and drinking, taking a shower, relaxed my legs in the cold water. I fully enjoyed this moment. I was proud of what I have achieved. After the race it was time with my support crew, we exchanged stories, laughed and just had a very good time all together. I think everyone enjoyed the day, it was great, everything just came together nicely in the end. Thanks Ironman Austria for organising this amazing race, thanks to all the volunteers who put in such a good work. I was so surprised of how friendly and helpful the people were. You could tell, they had as much fun as we had. I am sure I will be back racing in Klagenfurt once again but maybe not next year 😉
REFLECTIONS AND OUTLOOK
People asked me a lot about my target time. I answered them that I don’t have one, I just want to enjoy the day and give my best and then we will see what’s going to happen. This was not quite true. I indeed had a time in my mind that I thought would be realistic. I thought I can go sub 10hrs. In the end I missed it by just 2 minutes. I blame the 2 minutes on my toilette stops, the long transition times and my watch that was showing the wrong time. Had I known, I would have pushed harder on the last 10km to make it happen. There was still something in the tank. Well I guess for my next Ironman I have a pretty clear target 😉 I learned a lot in this race about my limiters and weaknesses and what I have to work on. There are things to improve but this will take time. Time and consistency is the key in these long distance races. So I will be patient and keep working. I think if I keep training consistent, next season could be a really good one for another Ironman attempt.
Before the race I wasn’t even sure if the Ironman distance is a good distance for me. I think it is, I did well and I am quite surprised how well my body recovered after the race. It took me a couple of days until the sore muscles were gone. I didn’t suffer any injuries. A week after the race I am back to normal, feeling really good. No sign of post-race blues. I am quite amazed how well my body handled all that stress. I think my secret is that I really looked after my body. I want to be fit yes but not at all cost. Being healthy is way more important. My nutrition has played a key role here. I have noticed it during training, I’ve hardly suffered from hard workouts for too long. My body bounced back really quickly. During all that training I haven’t had any injuries or sick days. Again nutrition and proper recovery is key.
Often people are quite surprised when I tell them that I live on a plant based/vegan diet and train for an Ironman. They raise their eyebrows and get worried. I get the usual questions but I find it entertaining, yes sometimes a bit annoying as well but I am happy to share my experiences and tell what works well for me. If I can help someone else that’s great but in the end it’s up to everyone else to find out the right nutrition for them. Moving forward I’ll take two weeks off training to recharge the batteries before I move into my last build of this season. I have still 3 outstanding races (1 Olympic distance and 2 Half Ironman races) where I want to perform well. I am looking forward to do more speed and higher intensity work again and I want to have a good crack at the next races to get some new PBs. Will I do another Ironman? Yes I will but not this season. I will look into some races for mid/late next season. My big goal is Kona one day but I think it will take some time to get there. But that’s fine because I enjoy the journey and training. The right time will come one day so until then I keep moving forward and take one step at a time in the right direction. I hope you enjoyed reading, please feel free to leave a comment and some feedback.
IRONMAN AUSTRIA TIME SPLITS
SWIM: 1:00:24 BIKE: 05:18:04 RUN: 03:32:05
Division Rank: 73/337
Overall Rank: 342/2862