Ironman European Championship Frankfurt – The Race That Chose Me

This was the Ironman that chose me. In 2019, I raced Ironman Austria en Klagenfurt. After that race I said, ‘Never again.’  My friends, never say never. You can read about the race report from Austria here.

I received an email in 2021 from Ironman telling me I had earned an entry into the Ironman European Championship in Frankfurt, Germany in 2022. I sought advice from everyone, more specifically my coach Richard Laidlow. His response was, ‘it would be rude not to.’ So….I registered.

Ironman is about the journey, the intestinal fortitude and constantly facing adversity. The plan was to train hard and race easy. Life usually has other plans. In late 2021, I lost my mother very fast from stage 4 cancer. Life fell apart emotionally and mentally. I kept on training because I didn’t know what else to do. It’s impossible to run and cry, btw.

Early in 2022 I spent a few weeks over in the US clearing out my mother’s possessions and helping to settle the estate with my stepdad and spend some time with Sir Titan, the Great Dane who would be soon flying over to the UK from the US.

I have had some major health issues for over 6 months, I pushed through them and found some ways to cope. Or just adjusted my training to deal with whatever crap-tastic things my body was doing that day. I won’t go into any details around them, but most sane people would have stopped.

I am persistent and wanted to find a way to honor my mother. To do this, I had ordered some awesome custom F*ckCancer.Org kit in honor of my mom, and to all those close to me that fought cancer. Custom kit always takes a couple of months to print, etc. Best intentions from the folks at Zoot, the shipment got delayed and I wouldn’t be wearing it at my race. I was a little annoyed, but I got over it and wore different kit. I also had a trial and error of run shoes over the past 6 months, I may have churned through 12 different pairs until finding the right ones for race day. Comfort is key (and yes, I spent a small fortune on shoes alone).

Let’s recap the past 7 months: mom died, I inherited a Great Dane (which also included UK customs and international freight), an extremely busy and demanding work schedule, and a multitude of health issues that are still on-going.

Persistence is key here. I don’t stop. Won’t stop.

As race day approached, I had to be extremely organized as I would be spending the week before my race working in 2 other European cities giving keynotes and various talks for work at different conferences. Rest and nutrition would be my primary focuses. As many know, carb loading is what we all talk about before a race. I really struggle with it. As my training was hitting 20 hours of training a week, I did not carb load. I would eat one meal with potatoes or rice the day before, but I didn’t shovel in carbs like the world was ending. The week before race week was crucial to get in the right types of carbs and sleep properly.

I landed in Frankfurt and I can honestly say, Frankfurt has previously been my least favorite city in Germany. Prior to Covid, I regularly visited for work or transferred via Frankfurt Airport. I was never in love with this place, it felt a bit too industrial. Thus, my pre-race excitement was not there, and I was feeling more doubt than anything else. Being able to enjoy a course makes the mental side of Ironman much much easier. I didn’t know if my stomach would hold up, I was exhausted from training and wasn’t sure I could perform, and I didn’t think the route would be great. I needed a boost of encouragement, that’s for sure. The task ahead was feeling a bit daunting.

As the days neared towards race day, my excitement grew. I landed on the Thursday before the event and had dinner with a friend. I started to get my head in the game and think about finishing. When I checked into the race venue on Friday, the excitement hit. Seeing the race venue, grabbing your ‘free’ Ironman backpack (the most expensive backpack that you will ever buy), and grabbing my race pack.

I knew at this point that I was ready. I had a confident and calm head but started to get excited around the event. On that Friday, I rode part of the course with my friends and once you leave the city, the scenery is amazing. I knew I was going to love the bike route. A gentle bike ride to calm the brain is always welcomed. With all the emotions and tension, getting in a ride calms me down and brings up my confidence.

There are a lot of logistics around the race day – Checking in your race bags, racking your bike, resting, and eating all the carb. The day before the race the same group of us rode from the city (Mainkai) to T1 to do our bike check in, along the busy city roads and almost highways (oops). It was pretty warm out but the lake looked stunning. We were slightly concerned that they would not allow wetsuits, while I am a decent swimmer, I know I swim much faster in a wetsuit. I racked my bike and due to the heat, I had let out some pressure in my tires to avoid a blowout (I’ve had that before, never again). That just adds undue stress on race morning.

My trusty steed was racked and I was ready to go for race day. It was back to the hotel for rest and a nap.

Race Day

My alarm was set for 3:45am, but I was wide awake at 3:30am, I decided to just get up. I wasn’t really going to sleep anymore or feel any better for doing so. Anyways, extra time on race day will not hurt. I had my bags packed and I shovelled in my traditional pre-race meal: Pastries. Along with some electrolytes and water. I figured I was ahead on time, so would do my pre-race stretch routine at the venue. Ha.

If you’ve ever wanted to see the most colorful side of any city, walk through it at 4:15am. While it was only a 10-minute walk to the buses, we were stepping over glass, needles and addicts doing heroine in dark corners. It’s a rough scene, experiencing society at its rawest point.

Got on the bus and expected a nice 25 minute drive to the start. We got there, then waited…and waited… and waited. There was a queue of buses just waiting, going absolutely nowhere. They were not letting anyone off, nor driving to the drop-off point. Add in a bunch of anxious triathletes who just wanted to get to the starting line, so we just got off the bus after being on it for about an hour. We had a nice little 2km walk to transition…and I had to pee. It was a fast walk.

Got to transition with 30 minutes until they closed it. For anyone that hasn’t seen a triathlon, you must be out of the area promptly, and the Germans are prompt. I loaded up my nutrition onto my bike and found a nice human with a bike pump to inflate my tires. I was ready to drop off my bags, but then suddenly realized there were only 15 minutes left until they closed transition and I needed the toilet BAD. I hustled to the special needs tent and dropped off my bike and run special needs bags (all pre-sorted for race morning). Handed over my morning bag and queued for the toilets.

If you’ve ever stood in a line waiting for a port-a-loo before a race, you’ll understand the tension that sits in the air. Anxious athletes all waiting to poop, fearing the start and what lies before them this day. I used this time to stretch a bit, as I knew as soon as I got out of the toilets, I would need to be at the beach asap to start the swim.

I left the toilets and bolted to the beach ready for the race start. Athletes are everywhere saying goodbye to their loved ones. There are tears abound, myself included in that. It’s hard to even just make it to the start line. Life happens and just lining up is a huge accomplishment. I thought about everything: my mom, the struggles and the emotions that I poured into this day. It’s hard.

I ran into the starting pens for a rolling start, where we line up based on predicted swim time. I landed in the wrong pen. I looked around and realized I was in the wrong place. As I wanted a strong start and didn’t want to have to topple over others, I needed to move up a pen to be in the correct pacing group. My swim plan was to swim strong, that’s it. Simple.

I found some friends and jumped into their pen, the sub 1 hour 15 minute pen. I had found my starting place. Many nerves and jitters could be seen, as with ANY race. One friend almost threw up from nerves and she didn’t want to start, she looked terrified. A few words of encouragement and a hug goes a long way. I waved goodbye to those on shore and lined up to start. I readied my goggles and focused on the start. No more emotion, it was time to get down to business.

The Swim

Swim strong. That’s it, that is my race plan for the swim. If I try to swim fast I start flailing like a drowning rat, as I have zero grace when trying to enhance my speed in the water. I follow the buoy line and just focus on swimming strong with a wide pull (for those of you that have prescribed to SwimSmooth, I am an Arnie).

Thankfully, they allowed wetsuits as the water was just above 24 degrees Celsius. It was going to be a warm swim, but the wetsuit is extremely advantageous. I followed the buoy line and just enjoyed the swim. The first leg of the swim was 1.5k with an Australian exit then directly back into the water. The short break was welcomed, I could relax my arms and prepare my head for the second part of the swim.

The second part of the swim was about 2.3km in the water, it felt like a super long way out, and it was. Once we hit the final turn it was a short run back into the swim finish. You could hear the beat of the music and the crowds cheering, it really perks up your mood to know that there are people there, not just the sound of you breathing and kicking.

Just before I hit the beach, I felt a bit of stomach discomfort (oh no, no, no). I decided to exit the water and find the port-a-loos. I was so happy to be done with the swim, my arms were a bit tired, and I felt like I swam well. Looking down at my watch I had aimed for a 1hour 20-minute swim, but noticed I hit 1 hour 14 minutes! Making this my second ‘official’ Ironman swim, but honestly, it was my fastest. My other swim was 1:13, but it was down river. Considering this was in a lake without a true current, I consider this my fastest IM swim. YAAAAS!

It was a great start to the day, and it lifted my mood. But… The swim is the shortest part of any Ironman (or any triathlon really) and it’s the coolest part of your day (no heat and the water keeps you cool). I had more work to do… there isn’t really time to celebrate.

I hit the port-a-loos in T1, no dice with the stomach, false alarm! So, I kept on going.

In T1, I get my cycling kit on and took my time. Go slow to go fast. Lube, socks, shoes, helmet, bar and hydration before I get to my bike. Got to my bike and jogged my way out of T1.

The Bike

I exited out of T1 and managed to hit the wrong button on my watch. Doh! I launched myself onto my bike and reset my watch, sorted. Can’t go on a ride without recording my data 😊

I started the bike and it was completely pancake flat for the first 10k. I cruised along and just loosened up my body from the swim. My stomach didn’t feel right, but I just kept going. I hit 20km and stopped at the feed station. Jumped into the port-a-loo, nada. Just random stomach discomfort. Great. Wasn’t looking forward to this.

I hopped back onto the bike and kept on cruising. This course was going to play to my strengths, some great easy climbs with fast down hills. I could sit and spin on the uphills, then smash the downhills. The course was absolutely packed with people.

There is a not drafting rule in Ironman, but you absolutely could not avoid the other athletes. You either had to ride out in the ride, to the side, or finagle a way to not draft. It was really really tough because the course was so busy. But this is what you get with almost 3,000 athletes in a race.

I cranked through the miles and felt pretty good. I had a slight discomfort in my left side, that was new. So I kept going. At the top of the course I was getting a bit bored and was hoping for something to take my head out of the dark place it started to drift into. A random guy came up behind me and started chatting. He knew of my tri club and we started chatting about the most random stuff. I was happy, it took my mind off everything and my pace picked up. Thank you Jon for keeping me entertained! Interestingly, he had just lost his dad 3 weeks prior to the race. I told him I was sorry for his loss and I started to tear up, knowing exactly what was driving me.

Jon and I cranked through a bunch of miles passing people and just passing the time, it’s what you have to do during an Ironman. Just keep pedaling. I left Jon when I had to stop at a feed station and finagle my powered drink mix into my hydration system. I had to stop, but it meant I needed to go slow to go fast.

As I took off again I saw someone I knew, I actually couldn’t catch her….weird. I’m usually a bit punchier on the bike, it’s my strength. I hit special needs with her in sight. I reloaded up my fig bars and chews, realizing I was behind on my nutrition. This is never a good place to be. I felt fine…for now.

A few miles into the next bit my head went into that dark place again. Crap. I slogged out some miles and started to not feel great. My trapezius muscles got really sore and I started to feel a migraine hit. Awesome, this wasn’t what I needed. Really nasty nausea started to come into play. It’s been an ongoing issue for me, but not like this. I very gently pedaled around and started to feel pretty sorry for myself.

What I’ve learned about triathlon, shit is gonna happen. First, acknowledge the ‘thing. Second, process and think about it. Third, execute a plan.  This also applies to everyday life: Acknowledge, Think, Act. Simple.

I started to take on more water and salts, I puked ascending a hill. Not good. I needed to settle my stomach AND my head. I ‘found’ some paracetamol on the bike (I won’t say how, but I did). I felt that start to work within 15 minutes and I became a whole new person.

Unfortunately, the nausea, puking and migraine made me feel pretty weak. I held on and got back, but it wasn’t pretty. My pace dropped below where I would normally ride, but I felt confident I’d get to the end of the bike. Weirdly, I was looking forward to the run.

I landed in T2, so happy to be off the bike. Racked it and ran to grab my run bag. Again, going slow to go fast (sort of). I carefully put on my socks, grabbed my nutrition and ran out.

The Run

The run was packed with runners and crowds, and I for once I was happy to be on the run. Personally, I don’t think of it as a marathon, my brain cannot compute that when I’m starting out on the run course. I have to think of it as 4 laps, that’s it. I had my hand flask with Tailwind and my plan was to drink 500ml every 10k (i.e. 1 lap). Simple right?

I started strong and felt pretty good, then felt my stomach do a turn for the worse. This isn’t what I wanted, at all. I worked so hard at my nutrition plan, and EVERYTHING was fine in practice during my half Ironman and metric Ironman.

I got through lap 1, learning the course and distracting myself from the task at hand. Focusing on keeping one foot in front of the other. Walking the feed stations to get nutrition in, remember: go slow to go fast. If you don’t get that nutrition in, things will go downhill pretty fast. I also had a bit of calf cramp/knot that developed on the bike. I took a short time to stretch it and it went away. That was great news. I could keep on trucking.

When I finished the first lap, the course brought me back around transition and past ‘Special needs’. This is where I stashed a few essentials: Body Glide, Compeed, more Tailwind and Imodium. I threw down some Imodium, salt tablets, lubed up my leg that started to chafe, and grabbed my Tailwind. Everything would get better…right?

Nope. But I kept running, my stomach was churning bad, and I was getting frustrated. I had to slow my pace down for fear of what my stomach would do. It’s also good to note, that when your stomach goes, you’re losing salts, nutrition and hydration. It can get pretty bad, really fast. This is how people pass out on the course or get carried off into medical. About half way around the second loop I dumped my Tailwind. My stomach was not improving, I switched to my go-to of Coke, a bit earlier than planned.

I felt better immediately from drinking Coke. What else is better than sugar and caffeine when you’re wiped? Nothing. I was still having stomach issues, however, accepted that I just had to keep going and accept that twice a lap I’d have to stop for the toilet. Isn’t triathlon fun?

On my 3rd lap my stomach was ANGRY. I watched a woman pass me that had actually shat herself. She was running with shit streaming down her legs. I’m sorry, I don’t want to be that person. I can sacrifice a few seconds on the course to ensure that I don’t look like that. We all remember what Paula Radcliffe is known for?

I made what would be my final toilet stop at the second half of the third lap, I felt like my stomach eradicated everything and there was literally nothing less. I had to focus on water, Coke and to just keep on trucking.

When I hit the 4th lap, I was ecstatic to just get this thing over with. The crowds had thinned, and this is where you have to dig deep. The course gets much quieter, and I could still see people on their 2nd or 3rd laps, they have true grit and determination.

I neared the end of the 4th lap and at the last feed station one of the volunteers yelled at me, ‘Hey April, I have a drink for you. Water? Coke? Iso?’ I shouted back, ‘Nein, danke! I have a beer waiting for me at the finish line!’ I finished that last mile at a steady pace, things were hurting, having to dig deep to keep myself upright. It’s the forward momentum that keeps you going.

I rounded the corner to the finish line and heard the crowds. I started cheering and screaming. That time down the finishing carpet is your time. Take your time, enjoy the crowds and lavish what you’ve done. Don’t go blasting through that finish line…

I finished. I was done. I was barely upright. I was all smiles but absolutely wrecked. The world was spinning and I had to have assistance to stand. I didn’t pass out, but I should have been in the medical tent with an IV bag. I held on and crawled my way to the food and beer tents. One sip of beer sent me into nausea and almost puking. I didn’t want to puke again.

I cried, I laughed and yet again I’ve said: ‘Never again.’  Until the next one…

I had a lot of struggles on the course, I trained hard and wouldn’t have completed it if my fitness hadn’t been so strong. The course was a pleasant surprise and I absolutely loved it. The volunteers were amazing and the whole city showed up to show their support, thank you to everyone and the city of Frankfurt. I had a lot of obstacles for the last several months. The whole race I heard my mom in my head cheering for me with her pom-poms. She got me though this, we did this mom. Fuck Cancer.

I am an Ironman. Ich bin ein Ironman!

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