My Ironman Journey: Ironman Austria - 26th June 2016 - Richard Evans
by Richard Evans
Race Build Up:
So the day had finally come. I was about to dive into the turquoise water of Lake Worthersee. Getting to this point had taken a huge amount of work and commitment. I joined 7oaks Tri club 18 months ago in January 2015 at which point I could only swim front crawl for a few lengths of the pool without being completely out of breath and hadn't ridden a bike since I was 17 years old (and that was a BMX)! But I'd decided I wanted to be an Ironman so these minor shortcomings would need to be addressed! Joining was a great decision - it’s a great tri club with such friendly and incredibly inspiring people. I hope to remain a member for years to come.
Training had gone well overall with some 100 mile rides under my belt and huge gains in the pool with 3 swim sessions a week under Tom's coaching. My weakness, due to niggling injuries, was running. I'd decided that being conservative was therefore the best approach for the last few months and stuck to regular 10k's rather than long runs (I'd managed a half marathon back in April). This meant I had no injuries at the start line but knew I didn't have a 42km run in me - the marathon would be a case of survival!
I picked Ironman Austria as it was meant to be one of the most beautiful Ironman courses in the world. On arrival in Austria 4 days before the event and seeing the mountains basking in the sun I knew I wasn't going to be disappointed. It's a stunning place.
It was a nervous build up in the days leading up to the race with a surprisingly busy schedule involving collecting my bike (couriered by Raceforce who were great), registration, checking out the expo, swim and bike course reccies, the race briefing and bike racking. My anxiousness wasn't helped by the fact everyone young and old looked like a pro athlete making me feel like an office worker that had taken a wrong turn on the way to the gym.
I'd slept ok the night before the race considering but I just wanted to get it underway and finally get rid of the nerves. I ate a big breakfast of porridge, bananas and coffee which felt slightly unnatural at 3:30am. I was blessed with perfect weather as the temperature had dropped 5 degrees from the early 30's it had been all week.
Arriving at transition just after 5am my final bag and bike checks somehow took me an hour of anxious tweaking and tinkering. I can also confirm that the toilets are as disgusting as I had heard! We were treated like stars by the cheering volunteers (even at such a crazy hour of the morning!). When I finally emerged to walk to the swim start my wife was panicking thinking I had missed her on the way out.
It's a 10min walk from transition to the 'Strandbad' (location of swim start). I had a nice little warm up in the lake which helped with the nerves. The water temperature was around 22 degrees and we'd been told in the briefing it was a wetsuit swim. The pros set off at 6:40am (after a false start!). I was glad 'Rinny' (Miranda Carfrae, the eventual pro women's winner) looked as nervous as I felt!
The rolling start worked pretty well. I'd conservatively seeded myself in the 1:10-20 pen as I didn't want to be swum over and would rather do the overtaking myself. There was therefore no washing machine start that I'd heard about in other races. It felt great to finally start the race I’d put so much effort into training for. I got into an effortless rhythm right from the start and felt completely relaxed, helped by swimming in such a stunning lake.
The only challenge in the 1 loop swim came when heading towards the 'Lend Canal' (a narrow canal the swimmers are funnelled through for the last 800m) as the sun was directly in eye line making sighting almost impossible. The crowds were excellent in the canal and it's great having your supporters walk along next to you as you scrap your way through with the other swimmers.
I exited the water in 1:09.44. Not my quickest swimming but happy with that.
In T1 I got fully changed into my bike gear as I wanted comfort and was prepared to take a few minutes for it (I took about 9 minutes actually!). I felt great on the bike and smooth roads and long descents would make for a quick 2 loop course. I was aiming to hold a 30km hr average to give me a 6hr ride which given the 1680m total climbing certainly felt possible.
But one of my fears hit after just 10km of cycling - I got a puncture (only the 3rd in 18 months of cycling!). I didn't panic (much) and switched the tube over getting oil all over me in the process. I didn't take up the offer from a sympathetic local to hold my bike in case it constituted outside help! In my haste though ('race brain'!) I hadn't fully inflated the tyre, hadn't checked the inside of the tyre for anything sharp and had also managed to bend a cable onto the tyre. This meant when I got going again my rolling speed was like having glue on the rear wheel and there was an awful noise whenever I changed into the big ring! Not knowing what was wrong and thinking my race could so easily be over I decided to stay in the small ring (spinning away and coasting down hills!) until I found a race mechanic.
I finally found a bike service stop - at 90km! I'm sure I saw a halo above the mechanic's head as he pumped up my tyre and bent the offending cable wire back. I felt like a new man once my bike was back in good order and my legs felt completely fresh. One more lap to go and I could start the marathon. All back on track. The rain provided a nice cool down and I found the climbs no worse than those around Kent (Hubbards Hill provided great training!) albeit steep in places (11%). The feed stations were well stocked but I discovered Peanut Butter Powerbars are like eating chalk! The support was generally excellent, especially on the biggest hill, the Rupertiberg (although the rain shower had put people off a bit). I was so relived to get to T2 safely after the bike drama. With my time of 6:31 I figured I'd lost at least 30 minutes but hey that's Ironman I suppose and it's not meant to be easy. Seeing the time was 3pm meant that 'all I had to do' was complete a marathon in 9 hours and I'd be an Ironman. I knew therefore I would make it at that point and it became more about what time I'd complete it in.
I was secretly hoping to go sub 4:26 which is what I got in my only other marathon (London back in 2007!). I felt really good off the bike and started running (too quickly). It was hotter now but having been acclimatising for a few days I didn't feel it too much. It's a flat two lap course but it's more like 4 smaller loops, first heading out along the northern shore of the lake next to the railway track and then heading back into Klagenfurt along the canal. Happily this meant I could see my cheering wife 5 times in total which really helped my morale. The locals are in full swing by this point and make a real day of it in the bars and cafes!
As I'd predicted the run was where this race really started to hurt. After about 15km my legs were letting me know we were heading into unfamiliar territory. No nutrition was making me feel much better. I got a severe case of 'band envy' where I would longingly stare at the runners on their second loop who had two bands on their arm!
By 25km even walking was getting tough! I adopted a run/walk strategy starting with 5 minutes running 1 minute walking. This soon deteriorated into 3-1 then 1-1! At this point I had adjusted my run goal to a sub-5 marathon as it was getting so painful just to be moving at all!
I ticked down the KM’s and finally I was heading for the finish.
The finish is amazing. Ironman really do put on a great show. There was a huge stand, excited cheering, a big screen and loud music. I let out a massive roaring cheer which almost surprised me it was so loud and ran down the red carpet (with a run time of 4:55). After a year in the planning with all those hours of training I finally heard those words!! RICHARD - YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!! I crossed the line in 12 hours 54 minutes which I was really pleased with given that earlier in the day I thought my bike may ruin it all! Without knowing it I had fist pumped the air in celebration and this was captured on video (I got a bit of ribbing for that from friends!). I'm sure I could go a lot quicker on the bike without taking much more out of my legs if my gears had been ok and with better running prep take a chunk off the run - but I guess that's what makes these races addictive! It must be so rare (and fortunate!) to have a 'perfect race'!
We stayed to watch 'heroes’ hour' and the fireworks. I even managed to meet the winner (and Ironman record holder) Marino Vanhoenaker as he was leaving.
So would I do another? My wife suggested it's probably a bit like childbirth, the pain makes you say never again but you soon blank that out when it's all over. I hear Challenge Roth is amazing! For now though 70.3 sounds much more sensible!