Part 4: Ironman Austria
As I lined up for the swim start, my strategy was very easy. Take it really, really easy on the swim (basically see it as a recovery swim from yesterday’s Salzkammergut Trophy), stay out of the usual fray and see how everything goes. With a little luck, I hoped to score a 1:30 swim, a 6 hour bike and survive the marathon.
I usually lined up fairly far in the front in an attempt to swim away from the mass brawl, but this time I remained way at the back, and lazily walked into the Wörthersee lake for the swim start. As the gun went off, everybody went crazy and turned the lake into a human washing machine — business as usual.
In contrast to the last time I’d done Ironman Austria (in 2005), the swim had been changed back to one single loop, straight out for 1800m, and two 90 degree turns back towards Klagenfurt and into the Lendkanal channel for the last 800m.
The long straightaway swim made navigation almost trivial of course, but it also meant that there were no turns where the huge groups could be possibly drawn out a bit more. Even though I tried to stay out of the trouble, I got whacked on the head a few times, but had a fairly good swim apart from that. The battle continued after the two left turns, and even intensified as we were approaching the entrance to the Lendkanal. At one point, some guy that had been swimming alongside to my right suddenly veered way to the left and swum right over me. What the hell?!
Once inside the Lendkanal, the swimmers create a significant current, and you don’t even have to swim hard and still make decent progress. Since the swim exit is to the left and everybody wanted to get out as quickly as possible, I kept way to the right of the channel and just swam along easily.
As I got out of the water, I caught a glimpse of another athlete’s watch and estimated a 1:12 or so swim, not fast by any means but much better than my expectations, especially given the limited time I had spent in the pool in the previous months. I took my time to change completely into bike gear. I usually just stick with a tri-suit for the entire race, but this time I expected rain and fairly low temperatures, and after the the long day before I preferred to be more comfortable on the bike. So, after a fairly lazy transition of about 10 minutes, I hopped on the bike for a little ride.
Once on the bike, I tried to get up to a decent pace, but didn’t really know what to make of my legs. They felt fine at a base level effort, but it was way harder to actually push the pace than it usually is. Even the parts of the course where it’s fairly easy to go faster then 40kph felt awkwardly slow. Not that it really mattered, of course. I’d just stick to my plan, hope that I don’t go slower than 30kph on average (for a 6hr bike split) and see what happens.
So I rolled on, starting early on the coke (hardly surprising, I did feel a bit tired from the day before) and grabbing the occasional gel / half PowerBar / energy drink. Speaking of PowerBar, does anybody find the Cookies&Cream ones even remotely palateable? I hate them even more than the Chocolate flavor, and that’s not easy. Yuck.
I managed to stay well out of any drafting groups, but did see a few others who were a bit.. reluctant to keep the mandatory 10m distance. But overall the race officials did a fairly good job most of the time. As I approached the extra loop to the Faaker See, we did encounter the top riders going in the other direction, and there were some massive groups of obviously drafting riders right there. Hopefully that was only because it wasn’t possible to safely enforce the rules on this section of the course, and the groups were broken up later on. Anyway, this loop features a few climbs that are considered ‘tough’, but quite honestly I kept waiting for the steeper climbs until I realized that I’d already passed them. The Rupertiberg, usually thought to be a fairly long and cumbersome climb, also didn’t really show up on my radar.
Note to self: after 7000m of climbing the day before, most Ironman bike courses can be considered flat, and 39×23 is all you need.
After the Rupertiberg, the course continues with a few rollers before a long descent down towards Klagenfurt. There’s a straight section of maybe 2-3km of slight downhill where people usually go into the biggest gear they have and mash the pedals. I didn’t feel much need for going 45kmh instead of 43, so I tucked down and just rolled.
43.. 44.. 45.. 46.. 48.. Somebody needs to tell people that aerobars don’t automatically provide the most aerodynamic position on a bike.
This actually happened pretty frequently on other descents, too. People mashing by on the downhills, but almost coming to a full stop (relatively speaking) in corners that you could just roll through without even touching the brakes.
That applied to the first lap only, though. On the second lap, we got rain. Lots of rain.
It cleared up in between, but when it came down the sky really opened its flood gates. Apart from that the second lap didn’t hold any surprises. I stuck to my base level pace, got passed on the flat / fast sections by people on aerobars and returned the favor on the climbs. As I was going back down towards Klagenfurt it rained really hard again, and I pushed a bit harder just to keep warm.
Rolling back towards the transition area, I checked my bike split and was fairly happy. Hoping for about 6:00, I had rolled in with a 5:40 bike split. So a leisurely bike ride translated to a (roughly) 31.7kph average. Nice.
Since I had changed into bike gear, I had a relaxed second transition. It was still raining, so I decided to play it safe and went for long tights and two jerseys. I didn’t know what to expect about the marathon, and running out of energy in heavy rain would be a surefire way to become hypothermic and DNF.
One big advantage of the relatively bad weather was that the parts of the run course that were usually completely exposed to the sun and uncomfortably hot were no trouble at all. I quickly settled into a pace that felt sustainable, clicking off km’s somewhere between 5:30 and 6:00. Of course I got passed very often early on the run, as people tend to start much too fast and slow way down as the fatigue sets in…
Another problem I often see, especially in running races, is that people tend to eat way too much. You don’t do yourself much good by eating more than the stomach can handle, which isn’t much if all the blood is supposed to go into your muscles. That was actually hard to avoid, as the aid station workers were all but forcing the athletes to pick up gels, bars, fruit, etc. I stuck to coke and the occasional gel (about one every 30-40 minutes) and sometimes a piece of melon.
The rain subsided rather quickly, and I soon felt a bit overdressed. I took off the inner jersery but kept carrying it in case the rain came back.. that helped some, but at this point I would have preferred my usual running shorts. A guy I caught up with also made a statement about me being a bit overdressed in the surprisingly fine weather… well, he was wearing shorts and those ridiculously looking compression socks (that seem to be the latest fad, despite having dubious effects at best), so the only difference between us was that he had bare knees.
Sometimes I get the feeling that triathletes really are more susceptible to marketing fads and expensive toys than the average guy…
Anyway, the compression socks didn’t seem to work really well for him, because he had to end our little conversation and walk for a while, so I continued to plod on, making progress towards the half-marathon mark. I was pretty stoked about that, because even though my running time wasn’t all that great I hadn’t had to walk so far and felt pretty good, considering the circumstances.
There was a charity bell near the turnaround at the Lindwurm fountain in Klagenfurt, and I jumped and rang it every time around. That didn’t seem such a great idea the second time around, but I did manage not to cramp upon landing, so all was good.
I saw a few other guys on the run course, including Hannes Polak (who had a terrific performance and ended up fastest overall amateur with an awesome 8:41 race!), Yvonne Raffeiner and Christoph Pistek, and they all seemed to have a pretty good time.
At the beginning of the second lap I grabbed a gel at the aid station in Krumpendorf, and although I had taken care not to overeat my stomach didn’t feel so happy about the extra work. I didn’t feel like suffering through 21km with stomach cramps, so I decided to add a little walking to my plan, and skip the aid stations (except for a little water) until things got better. It took a while, but as I returned towards Klagenfurt I felt much better again and decided to try and run (or what passed for running at the time) the remaining 14km or so.
That actually worked quite well, and I figured that if I could hold a semi-decent pace I’d stay below 12 hours, well within my half-serious goal of ‘negative splitting’ and taking less time for the Ironman than for the Salzkammergut Trophy.
The only time I had to walk once more was the short uphill section at the end of the Lendkanal back up to the walking path.. but by then I was already well within single-digit km’s to go, and the rest was easy sailing. Back towards the transition area, a few more bends and then the 41km sign.. I knew there were others behind me, and I wondered if they were thinking about a finish line sprint. As I turned off towards the finish with only a few hundred meters to go, I saw that I’d possibly run up and possibly pass one or two guys ahead of me. I didn’t feel like maybe ruining their finisher photos, and I didn’t really care about mine, so I slowed down a bit and and remained behind them.
As I was crossing the finish line, I waved a ’10’ to one of the photographers to declare this my 10th Ironman finish (out of 10), in 10 years of racing. Of course a perfect score would have been a 10h finish, but I actually preferred taking the challenge to the next level with the Salzkammergut Trophy on Saturday.
A volunteer asked me if I was fine, and I had a hard time convincing her that I was actually quite fine and did not need any assistance, thank you.. walked over to pick up my street clothes, grabbed some food and and stood in line for the certificate and finisher t-shirt. Met a few familiar faces, and hopped in the jacuzzi for a little while.. unfortunately it wasn’t really warm, but it still felt pretty good, and it sure beat the showers (where they seemed to have issues with the boilers, 20ºC water doesn’t feel so good after a long, fairly cold day).
Later on I met a few fellow triathletes, and we drove into Klagenfurt for some real post-race food, and to talk about the previous day before heading back to the finish line to welcome the last finishers home. As always, that was a great experience indeed. Those guys had been out there for nearly 17 hours, and most certainly had a much harder time than I did. Awesome.
Then, as everybody went back to their hotels to catch a good night’s sleep, I also went back to my car, once more cuddling up across the front seats for a few hours.
• Because I can •