It’s been a while since I had completed an Ironman, August 2016 at Iroman Copenhagen to be exact. 2016 was the year of my big accident and I wanted to get back into training. 4 surgeries later and deferring Challenge Roth in 2017 and I had accepted that my body needed more time to heal. I finally got back to a decent season in 2018, lots of shoulder rehab, running rehab and just getting back into finding what my body could do. In 2018 I had done fairly well and had was peaking at about 17 hours per week of training. I turned around to my coach and told him that I wanted to do an Ironman in 2019, it was time.
Several members of my club, Berkshire Tri Squad (BTS), were also keen on doing an Ironman. A group of us had committed to Austria. There were some other that chose other races, but there was a solid group of us training and racing together. I missed running across the finish line and being awarded with, ‘YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!’ The run has eluded me in every race. I had spent time with my run physio Andrea focusing on form, form, form…pace would come. I felt I could nail it this year.
Race week arrived and no matter what you do, you never feel prepared.
We landed in Slovenia and drove to Austria, the views were stunning
Klagenfurt is a town placed on the end of Lake Worthersee, it was going to make for an epic background come race day
I made some friends while in Klagenfurt, and one of them, Nenden was also staying in my hotel. She had the most amazing purple bike that I’ve ever seen, total bike envy (I forgot to get a photo of the bike…oops). I was amazed that she had come all the way from Indonesia to race!
Nenden and I talked about our race strategy for the day, also running into my friend Mark and his wife, we were all very accepting that due to the heat, this would be a non-wetsuit swim. What does that mean? It’s too warm to swim in your wetsuit, else you’d bake like a piece of meat in the sun. I never use to swim in wetsuits until I moved to the UK, it’s colder here, I get that. I find that most people rely on them, as a comfort blanket, so there are mixed reviews amongst my peers about a non-wetsuit swim. I wasn’t really concerned, but I know I swim faster in a wetsuit.
Race morning was a 4am alarm, the husband is always thrilled with this. Nutrition in, get dressed and get down to the race start. Nothing like several thousand nervous athletes in one area, all having to use the toilets.
We walked to the swim start, I ran into my fellow clubmates, all of us feeling nervous yet very excited.
I stood on the shore and watched the atmosphere; I love watching the enthusiasm and excitement from the crowds. They were lining the piers and cheering us on.
The gun went off for the pros, then it was our turn, the age-groupers to line up. I was stood next to my friend Chris and he couldn’t stop talking from the nerves. I listened, thought about how I had to pee and just wanted to get going. The husband caught up with us in line and supplied much needed hugs.
I entered the water gently, getting my goggles setup. That extra 2 seconds always saves me grief during the swim. The water was definitely warm, it was 24-25C and it was cosy. I just took my time and swam. I wasn’t in a rush, there’s a long day ahead. I took a backseat and found a comfortable pace. The last 1km of the swim you enter a small channel, the water went from beautiful green to murky brown. On the side I noticed my husband, he could tell I was taking the race seriously when I started waving like a seal.
I had had enough of the brown, murky water and was happy to be back on land. My watch read 1hr 25mins for the swim, not what I wanted, but I had taken my sweet time. I had been training for about 1hr 13-15mins, but without a wetsuit that was not going to happen, I had accepted that. The swim doesn’t make the race.
I went into T1 with a new tactic, eat. I had a rice krispies bar, not bad, but it was easy to pack, but hard to chew on the fly. Noted.
Got onto the bike with the sun shining. This year was the new bike course, a bit hillier than previous years, I was excited to ride the full course. The first 20 miles my legs weren’t with me, not sure why, they decided against working properly. I saw my club mate Gemma on the bike very early on, both of us were enjoying the flat terrain. The flat terrain turned into more of rolling hills. My tactic was to ‘ride easy’ my coach James wanted enough in the tank for the marathon. My power meter also decided to not work this day. All the practice we had with riding by power went out the window, welp…time to ride by feel…old school.
We cycled through so many villages and everyone was out to cheer us on. I waved to every single person that was cheering, I gave high fives to all the little girls offering them on the climbs. I hope that a high five will inspire those little girls to get out there on a bike too. It’s humbling to see so many people, I was loving the support! I had stuck to my pace, I think, and when I hit the halfway point the roads got quieter. Less people were out to cheer us on at the second half, but it was still a beautiful course. I had been intaking my nutrition to plan as well. Tailwind at my 15-minute intervals with water and then alternating Clif Bars, all was going well.
I was about 70 miles into the bike and noticed that the heat was feeling oppressive, or maybe it was humidity. I looked ahead and saw some very very dark clouds. I was welcoming rain at this point, it would kill the humidity and cool me off. I got my wish about 10 or so miles down the road. I felt the wind pick up, which meant I turn into a kite on my race bike, so I have to proceed with caution. The rain then came down in sheets, with sleet. Thunder and lightning were all around us. So just to be clear, we’re talking wind, sheets of rain, sleet, and lightning. The roads were flooding with such a high volume of rain, so I had to slow my pace heavily. I was getting blown sideways when crossing a bridge or overpass, that wasn’t fun.
I saw a couple people head for shelter, but the guys around me all kept going, so I did too. I saw some police in their cars not telling us to stop, so I didn’t. I went through a feed station and the volunteers were still out there handing out food and drinks, absolutely amazing of them! The rain finally let up, the roads were wet, so I had to watch my speed on descents, but the hills just kept coming. The road profile published in the race pack wasn’t as flat as I had hoped. I was now wet and slightly cold and was looking forward to some downhill, there would be downhill right?
The last 10k of the bike course are all down hill (thankfully) into town. I cycled right near my hotel, I did consider stopping and having a nap 😊 I got into T2 and hung my bike up. There were thousands of dollars/pounds/euros of bikes all over the place from the rain. So many bikes had been blown off the racks, yikes!
T2 was uneventful, as I like it. I usually debate my life choices at this point, but you just have to keep going.
I got out onto the run with my flask of Tailwind and just focused on the plan. This was it, I needed to nail this run. I saw Mark shortly after entering the run, due to an injury he pulled out, but said his wife was not far from finishing the bike. A quick thumbs up and I kept going. My hamstrings felt a little tight, but they tend to loosen up with a bit of movement. I was plodding along the run, seeing more club mates in the other direction.
The run is great, there are people lining the streets and paths to offer up lots of encouragement and high fives. The vibe of the crowd keeps you going. I got about 5k into the run and something felt very very off. I started to walk and then thought, ‘this isn’t part of the plan’. I thought I would get through the half marathon before I even considered walking. Nope, my body had other plans.
I felt nauseous, really nauseous and dizzy. I just thought ‘suck it up and run’…or…’puke and rally’. I couldn’t. This where I broke down mentally. I just couldn’t maintain a solid pace. A lot of walking and jogging and I came up to about 10k and the other side of my stomach decided to make its presence known. I got to the feed station at 11km, no toilets…this is my hell. Across the path is ‘special needs’, where I had a bag waiting with more tailwind, salt tablets, etc. I ran up to a volunteer and asked for a toilet. There wasn’t one on that side of the course and you’re not supposed to cross over. They sent me to a green outhouse thing, I barely made it. I entered back into the course and started running, feeling like utter crap, but running/jogging. I had hoped removing all demons from my body would let me run now.
I turned a corner a few minutes from the feed station and the husband yelled, ‘where’s your band?’ I didn’t get the required lap band. I hit the floor and cried. It was all falling apart, and now I had to go back. I ran back through the course, crossing the timing mat. Found an official and told them I missed the lap band by about 2 feet, I just didn’t see them. They sorted it out after 7 or so minutes and got me a band. Because I had doubled back, I completely messed up the timing mats, that wasn’t my concern at the time. For anyone tracking me, they would have seen my times just disappear. Oops.
I kept trying to run, my club mate Gemma came up behind me and offered water, anything. I was in a bad place. She kept going and I was super happy to see her running well. I kept walking with a slow job intermittingly throughout the course. More stomach issues arose, it wasn’t my day. I had worked so hard to nail the run; this wouldn’t be my year. Negative thoughts take over, this is where it gets tough. I kept going, despite wanting to quit. I didn’t want to walk; I didn’t want to take however long to finish. I was in an endless circle of frustration. There was a guy power walking and we kept passing each other, humorous, but soul crushing.
With about 15km left in the run I started picking myself up and jogging more. My attitude improved and I knew I could do this. I saw my husband and I could tell he was concerned and annoyed I kept him out on the course so long…. LOL. I picked myself up and thought, 10km left, you got this. By this time my legs hurt, I want to just be done, but I jogged through. I rang the charity bell in town and knew…the home stretch was on its way.
I made it. The guy behind me collapsed. But I made it. All those surgeries later, all the hard work…I had done it.
Looking back, I was a bit chilled out on the swim and I know I had more in the legs for the bike. I need to sort out my stomach issues. My focus now is nutrition. I will nail this run. I am an Ironman.