Ironman Austria: Race Day Report!

The day has come!
Sunday morning I get up after a night of fitful sleep. I didn’t want to take some melatonin as I didn’t want to risk some additional drowsiness due to drug induced slumber. And I don’t put in my earplugs for fear of not hearing my wake up call. But that means that Saturday night festivities are heard all night long, especially right out my window. There must have been many people talking and laughing at the top of their lungs in German until at least 3am. I am in and out of an awake/light slumber cycle for many hours and it’s totally annoying. I finally get up at 330a and prepare my race nutrition. I get everything together and check one last time to make sure I don’t forget anything.
At 4am, I go downstairs to eat at the restaurant, which opens specially for us athletes staying at the hotel (which is also the host hotel – the Arcotel Moser Verdino). I eat lightly but hopefully enough to fill up the gas tank for a long day. After breakfast, I go upstairs, stretch a bit, gather all my stuff, and head downstairs to the bus which my tour group has booked for us to take us over to the race start.
I am remarkably calm and relaxed, unlike last year at IM NZ. I get back put my drink bottles on my bike, and my run bottles into my Run bag. I put the rest of my gels and energy bars into my bike’s Bento box, recheck the tires and everything else one more time, and then head out with some friends to the swim bag submission area. Outside that tent, I put on my wetsuit, toss all my pre-race stuff into my Swim bag, and hand that in. We then walk to the beach and pick out spot for the swim start.
The start is a mass deep water start. I get up to the front so that I can draft behind some faster people.
BOOM! The start cannon goes off and we are off crawling over each other trying to get into our swimming groove. Sighting is almost impossible and I don’t see the orange buoys. But as I get further out, I realize that the buoys I need to look for are BLUE, not orange. Geez. They couldn’t have picked a worser color. I swim past the first blue buoy no problem. In what seems like no time at all, I realize I am angled too far left for the second buoy (which I can barely see) and veer right towards it. Going around it is a mess as we all cut the corner closely and we’re all piled on top of each other.
As we turn, I realize that we are now sighting INTO the sun and can’t see anything. It turns out that I’m following a bunch of guys heading directly for this canal where the swim exit is. BUT, unknowing to us, the next invisible BLUE buoy is not on that line; it’s about 200m to the right of us. In fact, we don’t notice where the buoy is until we get almost in line with it and we realize it’s directly to the right of us! We all veer 90 degrees to the right and head towards the buoy which we must go around before heading to the canal opening. I lose about 200m there!
Finally we’re around the buoy and sort of heading in the right direction. Still we’re looking into the sun and it’s tough to see. But we all make it to the canal and now we’re all really movin’. The canal crams us all together and shoots us down the channel very quickly. We reach the swim exit and I nearly fall flat on my face because there is a steep hill to climb up as we exit the water. I make it up and run to transition.
For some reason there aren’t enough volunteers, so we all need to go to the bags and pick up our T1 bags by ourselves. It’s annoying as sometimes it’s not easy to find your bag. I find mine and jog to the changing tent.
Very interesting; inside the MEN’s tent there are WOMEN volunteers. Maybe it’s a Euro thing but I thought people might be embarassed going commando in front of strange women. Weird.
I get my wetsuit off, get my bike gear on, and head out for my bike. Again, not enough volunteers; I pick up my own bike (versus having a volunteer bring it to me) and walk jog it to the bike exit.
I mount my bike and I’m off. The first part of the first loop I’m flying down next to the lake. After sipping on my own drink, my stomach starts to bother me. I realize it’s my solution, so I ditch both of my bottles and on the next aid station I grab two of their Powerade bottles and proceed to only drink their stuff. I don’t know why my solution is giving my stomach problems, and I don’t force it and switch to something else.
Then, I reach these damn steep hills, of which there are about 6-7 of them. I don’t want to exert too much as I have another loop to go, so I try my best to get over them fast but not too hard. On each hill, there are tons of people cheering us on. They say “Hop Hop Hop” which is their version of “Go Go Go”. They also yell “Supa David!” which I think is self explanatory. It’s nice to have supporters out there.
I get back to the race start in about 3:10 or so and think that’s pretty good given the hills. I head out again, but I feel less energetic. The day is getting warmer and I’m just drinking freely now. I am going through at least one bottle of Powerade between aid stations which are approximately 20km apart. I crest the first (damn) hill and at the top, the aid station there has RUN OUT OF BOTTLES. This is bad. I just came from the previous aid station with 2 bottles and they’re both almost empty. I pull up to the Powerade table and notice he is 3 bottles, 1 without a top, and 2 that are ok. He hands me one and I ask him for the second. But he won’t give it to me. I argue with him for about a minute and he still won’t give it to me. Geez. So I pull to the next table and grab a bottle of coke, and then further down I grab a bottle of water.
The series of hills grind me down. I am jumping now immediately to my 34/25 so that I don’t attempt to wipe my legs and I’ll just spin up the hill. But my energy is quickly disappearing. At the last two hills, I am out of my seat to stretch my legs and stress them differently. Spinning up is difficult and is causing my right quad to tighten up. I am definitely glad to have my compact cranks installed and I think my bike leg would have been even worse, had I not had them. But my time goal of 12 hours is shot and it takes me about 5 minutes of talking to myself but I manage to release my ego and focus only on getting to the finish line.
I zoom back to T2 with a 6:37 bike split. Not bad considering I was 6:45 at IM NZ, whose bike course is easier than this!
In T2, at least they grab my bike to rack and I move in to grab my Run bag. I quickly switch from bike stuff to run stuff and move out onto the run. I am very conservative as I move out to the course. I do some quick time math and figure out that I am doing about a 9-9:30 minute mile, even with walk breaks through the aid stations. I am guzzling cola and some water now, and it keeps me going. Unfortunately a few km in, my left IT band starts getting flamed up. It is annoying, but I am stopping for nuthin’.
Somewhere before half way, my left hamstring threatens to cramp. I run gingerly for the next few km and then my RIGHT hamstring starts to twitch. This slows me down more as I worry about going into a full blown cramp. A few km more, and now my right quad is doing the same thing. I walk a little more now to give my legs a break.
A few times along the way, I catch up to friends and members of my tour group. I walk or run with them and we shoot the breeze, and I chat about how we’re doing. It’s nice to give and receive some support by fellow racers.
I make it to the 10 km left mark and get really pissed. I say to myself, “I can run a freakin’ 10k! Why am I just running and walking?” And at that moment, a woman doing a modified Ironman shuffle zips by me and I decide to try that. It’s basically a compact stride, but fast turnover run style. I start doing it and it actually helps! Even though I feel that some muscle fibers are actually tight, the compact shuffle allows me to move rapidly without cramping up.
I move quicker now as I do some quick time computations and realize that I can get to the finish line in under 13 hours if I don’t dilly-dally. It is still tough going but I move quickly and walk a bit, and drink lots of cola.
As I get close to the finish line, I am thwarted by the fact that I am not on a direct path to the finish line but rather on a windy path to it. It is super-annoying – to hear the crowds cheering but yet you are not moving straight for it. ARG!
I finally get to the finish chute and some of my friends’ family is there. My cramping is controlled, but I fear it may let go before I hit the finish line. And there is a damn uphill ramp at the finish line too! I hit that little ramp and fear I may fall flat on my face before I get to the top! I advance to the top, raise my hands in the air for that photo finish….and nearly stumble onto my face going DOWN ANOTHER ramp on the other side. Geez.
I am Ironman and I will not stumble to my medal.
As I reflect on this race, I find that I have many thoughts. I thought the course was fine and I need to get my strength up as I am such a weak hill climber for both biking and running.
Also, I thought this race was very poorly managed. Here are the highlights:
1. They told us we would be body marked, but nobody was. Isn’t that dangerous as they may find you floating dead in the lake and have no idea who you are?
2. Many volunteers were leaving early. Some of the stations were getting thinly manned. I shudder to think about the late finishers and how much support they got. In one instance, the volunteer at a critical turn on the bike left before all the cyclists had come in. They went off in a direction down a hill for a while before the police chased them down and turned them around! They added 40 minutes simply because of this.
3. Getting to/from the race was tough. Especially afterwards. So many racers were riding home in the dark. Not pleasant and very dangerous as lighting was poor and racers were tired and therefore, not too alert.
4. At that one station, they ran out of bottles. They need to be more prepared for this.
5. There were no bathrooms or porta-potties anywhere! Many of us pee-d on the bike course. I feel for the spectators. Even at the race start area, there were not enough bathrooms for the crowds.
6. No glo-sticks were passed out when night fell. And the course was very poorly marked and not lit at all. Again, I felt for the late finishers who were running in near pitch black darkness.
7. In the finisher’s area, there was no food. Only cups of water being filled from a hose. Wonderful.
8. In the food area, the food was pretty mediocre. When you’re depleted after the race, you want to re-carb up. Not much food there unfortunately. Oh but plenty of booze. Guess Europeans re-carb up by drinking beer.
9. They freakin’ racked the bikes by ENTRY TIME, not your entry number! When you went to pick up your bike, you had to go find your bike by figuring out when you arrived at T2. Annoying.
10. Then they made you wait in a huge, slow moving line to get out of the bike rack area. We waited at least an hour in line. There were only two people for a line of a hundred people waiting to get out.
11. During the slot rolldown meeting, you need to bring cash. I scrambled around town looking for a damn ATM which would take my ATM card and give me money!
12. They said we would get bracelets on the run to help identify who was on the first loop of the run and who was on the second. I thought I was doing something wrong or missed the bracelet area because I never got my bracelet. On the other hand, I just ran to the finish. Later, I found out they decided to not do it. Nice of them to announce it at the race briefly and then don’t do it on a whim.
13. One of our tour group got put on an IV for dehydration after he came into T2. He was feeling not too good and decided to go for the IV to make sure he was ok. When he was done with that, the medics asked if he was ok to go out on the course and he said yes, AND THEY LET HIM BACK INTO THE RACE. Unbelievable! He could have died out on the course. They should know that no matter how destroyed an Ironman athlete is, you should never ask them if they want to get back into the race. 9 times out of 10 they will say yes, even if they are totally incapacitated. Such is the spirit and determination of Ironman athletes – “Stopping is not an option”. Crossing that finish line is everything. But incredibly dangerous as well, as they test of the limits of their bodies and sometimes…exceed them.
I am not sure I will do this race again. Too many poorly managed race issues and bad logistics. Time to head somewhere else.
But first I need to improve my hill climbing strength before I attempt a race like this again. I do not want a repeat of this cramping again. Not when it is preventable. Gotta talk to my coach about altering my training to focus on hills in the coming months. We’ll see about another Ironman next year; perhaps IM Western Australia, or maybe a break from Ironman to focus on smaller races and more strength building. Onwards to Ironman recovery…
P.S. Lots of pictures but on other peoples’ cameras. I will post them as soon as I can get them!