First of all, thank you to everybody who has supported me in my training, has sent me off with well wishes and was following my race online or in spirit! I was thinking about you during the race and am lucky to have such great friends!
Ironman Austria (all pictures here) was the most scenic and best-organized race I have done. I can’t even recall all the little details they had worked on and provided to the racers to support them and make the day easier. The location is spectacular, in the Kaernten region with Lake Woerthersee in the background (and as swim venue). Even though it was hazy we could see the high alpine peaks in the distance.
Well, the race. Certainly a day that needed perseverance and “brute willpower”. The scenery and the organization might have been perfect but the weather just didn’t really cooperate. It was forecast for the hottest day of the year, at temperatures the region doesn’t see very often. The morning started at about 22C, maybe 24C by the time we jumped into Lake Woerthersee. With a temperature of 25C in the water, I enjoyed the non-wetsuit swim but it was very busy, not much space (2700 people mass start). I never got my goggles kicked off or got pulled under but there were always lots of people closeby and I certainly could rarely “stride out”. The course was lined by hundreds of boats. Out into the lake we swam, turned left, left again and back towards the shore. We swam right into the sun on the way back so I just followed people, which made for a bit of zigzag 🙂 The last stretch of the swim (800m) goes up the Lend canal which is cool because there are spectators all around you very along the shore. Overall my swim was great (1st in my category) and I felt good.
Onto the bike and the bike course, 90km of completely closed to traffic, very scenic roads through numerous small Austrian villages. Not a single car was driving there, all day long. We must have passed about 15 villages, and every single one had a party going, with music and the locals cheering all day long. Really, they never tired! Some were sitting in front of their houses, some in restaurants and beer gardens, but everybody encouraged and cheered for the cyclists. There were loads of spectators on the two big hills, Tour de France style. The course is quite hilly which I usually like.
The first loop was great, we even got “hop hop hop” from Chrissie Wellington in two spots! I finished it in a good time, got back into town to the turnaround near transition, and turned to go back out for a second loop. The temperatures had risen and by 11am it was about 32C. That second loop was a different story! It got really hot, and it was impossible to keep up the water and salt intake, even though I was eating all I had, mixing double sodium drinks and grabbing iso drink bottles at every aid station. I felt my body getting weaker and finally got bad cramps, something I have never had in training or racing. I had to slow down, stand up, even stop and stretch. Not a great feeling!
So when I finally made it back to transition, I was sure I couldn’t even stand on those legs. I took it easy changing (ever tried putting on shoes with cramping legs??), then decided to postpone dropping out and walk out on the run course and find Graham. By then it was about 36-37C. Amazing how your body shuts down when it is being worked too hard! We also hadn’t had any hot temperatures back home to get used to so my body wasn’t acclimatized at all. Anyway, once I started walking I decided I would try to walk the marathon, even though it turns out that a 42 km walk in heat is quite an accomplishment in itself 😉
The first loop is about 13km out and back to the next village, and has no shade. Apparently the med tent docs said it was 40-45C out there! Ambulances and helicopters were going non stop all day. The other loop is about 8km into the heart of the city and a bit shadier. Soon after I started, my lower abdomen started to hurt and actually felt too cold/wet (was putting ice in the sports bra, ran through all garden hoses etc). I just wanted to get my wet shorts off so had quite a few lengthy bathroom stops to catch a break. Luckily I had some ibuprofen and the pain got better about 30min after I took it.
The heat stayed the same, and I was only able to run maybe 5-6 km of the course. It’s a long long walk 😉 In the end I was happy I decided to walk it as the course is great. In town, you run past restaurants and coffee shops full of people cheering on everybody. The spectators really were amazing. When they saw my name tag, they would chant “Biggi Biggi Biggi …” or “hop hop hop” or “Bravo!” or “Go Canada” or sing “Oh Canada” and always encourage me to keep going. Anyway, in the end, after a very long walk in incredible heat, I made it to the finish. Not the time I expected to have but certainly a day that taught me a lot more than an easier day would have. You really can do what you put your mind to!
I’m glad I didn’t give up, and I really loved the race. The scenery, the organization, the spectators, the course … it all adds up to an amazing experience. I would recommend it to anybody. For tri geek details: they actually have hooks for each gear bag, nothing sits on the floor in transition; the bike racks are actual bike holders (you slide your wheel in); they have free bike covers for overnight protection from the dew; there is a chip in your wristbands and in your bike number that they scan and then take a picture of you and your bike at check in, then compare at check out; no bodymarking, 3 helmet stickers and all the others; etc.
I was completely exhausted after the race and moved quite slowly around Scotland for the week after the race (check out this Edinburgh panorama on a hike we did there as well as a full-blown bagpiper in the middle of nowhere!). Now, 4 weeks later, I still seem to get tired after even not-so-hard workouts but I’m sure that’ll get better. The muscles are fine, just some tweaking on the neck and hamstrings but no injuries. The worst pain came from my shoulders that got burned in the hot sun, despite putting on sunscreen in T1 and T2.
While we were in Scotland, my mom who broke her ankle on our drive from Germany to Austria (fun driving, click here!), got transported back to Germany and is still recovering back home. She is getting better on the crutches and is looking forward to getting back on the bike. The emergency surgery in the hospital near the Ironman site was very successful (think plates and screws etc.).
Thanks again for your support. I am happy with the effort I put into the race, without a doubt the hardest race ever. Finishing is what counts!