A full blown account of the 2013 Ironman Austria race day from a first timers perspective… maybe my experiences will encourage other beginners to go for it, to conquer their own first Ironman challenge? Who knows. I hope so. I warn you now though, this is not a short post (in fact it’s about 13 and a quarter hours long)…
Relaxed At Last – 3:30am
I got up at the alarm feeling relaxed and excited. I had slept particularly well. I wasn’t nervous at all. The nerves had come out in the two days before – the days before were good in part but mainly they were terrible.
The Ironman Expo was buzzing, but it was also an unwelcome temptation. Questions fill your already disoriented mind. Did I have enough kit, the right kit? Enough nutrition, the right nutrition? Did I need arm coolers or calf guards? Another spare or gas bottle?
And then my bike? Why was my bike making funny noises all of a sudden…?
Niggle…, niggle…, niggle…. Ironman messes with your head.
All the other competitors seemed more relaxed and better prepared. They looked fitter and composed. For me, the easiest decisions became mini dramas. They were two tough days to get through.
The evening meals with Keith, Jane and the rest of the traveling Sheds were great. The experience and knowledge of the guys who’d been through it before was invaluable, and even better, when my better half, Leese, turned up all my indecisiveness disappeared, she always gives me all the strength I need – I should probably tell her more often.
Game day is always better for me, whatever the sport. I got up, showered, got my trusty tri-suit on, put my shorts, t-shirt and hoodie (my street wear!) over the top and slipped on my flip-flops. I then did a final nutrition check… energy gels, flapjacks, pepperami (salt) and energy drinks. Followed by a kit check… googles, swim hat, sun block, heart rate monitor, GPS Watch, bike computer, race number, race tag and wetsuit. Check, check, check.
Cold Porridge – 4.00am
I met up with Johnny and Jason for an early breakfast in the hotel, I scoffed my own cold porridge that had been stewing all night in my room – Lush – the thinking is, as you get going your body naturally heats up the oats internally over time and releases energy steadily during the swim!
We’d ordered a taxi to the start the night before, better we thought than waiting for the hotel bus. We got there early and in time to make any last minute decisions, and use the loos before the other 3000 competitors! We were early but it felt good to be in control at that point, to get in and make sure the bike was still in one piece.
Last Minute Tinkering – 5.30am
Security opened the bike transition area for last minute tinkering at 5.30am on the dot. Tyre pressure checks and the general loading the bike with drinks and nutrition. We heard a few tyres go pop as over eager competitors crammed in extra PSI. I was reasonably confident I had everything. I wasn’t looking forward to the bike but I was happy everything was in good order. I forgot about the funny noises from the day before.
On the Beach – 6.30am
We got changed into our wetsuits, defogged the goggles and handed in the after the race ‘Street Wear’ clothes. We then headed to the start entrance to line up on the beach of the Worthersee – over 75% are first timers – I still feel pretty relaxed at this point, I’m looking forward to the swim, I know it’s going to be a real fight but I’m calm about that.
The Elites – 6.45am
The canon releases the 400 elite racers in silver swim hats. The rest of us wait in our commerative ’15 years’ gold tops for what seems like an age. There is a nervous energy in the air – most likely from the italian homme in front of me. A Russian chap had had a similar air of nervous energy in the hotel lift just after breakfast. Helicopters hovered over head, the hot air balloons anchored to the floor loomed impressively behind us, and the grandstand is loud and full – this is a fairly big deal I thought to myself. The PA dude is going absolutely berserk. The sky is calm and peaceful, the conditions are perfect…
Ironman Swim Start – 7.00am
The canon goes off for a second time and the rest of us go. It’s a fairly leisurely walk/run into the water but once there, at waist deep the fun starts, I’m in the middle of it… elbows, heels, fists and legs clash with ribs, heads, backs, eye sockets, cheek bones. Hats and googles are dislodged if you’re not careful and you get immediately disorientated.
You can’t see anything but bubbles and feet and black and gold. There is absolutely no space to settle into any kind of rhythm, it’s not really a swim, it’s a free-for-all wetsuit wrestling match for the majority of the 2.5 miles and I absolutely love it.
For the last 800m the race bottle-necks up a river and you are practically pulled along by the collective force of so many swimmers heading in the same direction. The crowd on both banks of the river are screaming encouragement. The exit comes quickly, a sharp right turn into a kind of bay, some people stand in front of me, I swim around them and then up a small carpeted boating ramp at The SeePark Hotel, volunteers grabbing at my arms and dragging me out of the water. I get out in 1hour 13minutes.
I see Leese to my left, she sees me after a quick double-take and then goes mental pushing people out the way to reach me. Her reaction makes me choke as I laugh out loud. We check in, I tell her I’m ok and I carry on. The swim is without doubt the highlight for me, I remember almost every stroke, dig, elbow and kick.
I remember pulling the googles out of my eye socket after an elbow shunt, turning over and defogging the lenses, seeing clearly for about 30 seconds, the sun glaring down the home straight, bumping head first into the marshal boat where I’d gone off course and, I remember staying completely and utterly calm and focused and even smiling throughout it all. Imagine that, smiling while swimming!?
Swim to Bike Transition – 8.15am
I finished the swim and there is a 200 meter walk to the bike transition area, again crowds either side are mentally shouting encouragement. The other competitors are running past me to their bikes. I walk to my bike, soaking up the atmosphere. There is thumping, high energy music and a dude also going mental on the PA, it all makes me smile. I find my bike bag gear and get changed on the floor near the rack, Johnny meets me there not long after, I’m number 2005 he’s 2004.
Changing out of my wetsuit and into my bike gear takes me the best part of 15 minutes. Putting dry socks on wet feet has been a problem for centuries, there’s a millionaire idea waiting right there! I apply the essentials generously… bike bum cream to the sensitive areas and suncream to the exposed bits, there is a bit of fuelling up and I clumsily head off, in my bike shoes, to find my bike amongst the other 3000 in the transition area.
The 112 mile Bike Ride – Lap 1 – 8.25am
After negotiating the exit of the transition area I finally head out on the first 56 mile lap of the bike in front of hundreds of awesome supporters in full voice. Its about 25c and sunny. Perfect conditions. I feel really good, conscious of the task ahead, but really good nonetheless.
I take it pretty easy on the first lap. My Garmin decides to pick up every other buggers heart rate monitor but my own and so doesn’t give me anything of any value until I get a clear stretch for it to sort itself out. The first half hour along the Worthersee is gentle and smooth, a pleasure even. But then the hills. The hills were big, bigger than I’d expected.
The support is still incredible, there are frequent crowds and house parties along the route with locals and tourists in various states of excitement, from the deck-chair glass-lifters to the all out shouting, screaming and dancing madmen. They are all brilliant.
The roads are covered in chalk messages and you wonder who number 562 is and how he or she’s getting on. There is about 2900ft of climbing per lap, the aid stations are typically at the end of the climbs or every 10-15km. You’re offered water bottles, energy drink bottles, half bananas, energy bars. I take bananas each time and I drink the lucozade sport I’m carrying on my bike, a full four bottles of the stuff.
I survive a cat running out in front of me early on and I see a number of puncture victims. I pray my tyres don’t go pop too and feel for the guys on the side of the road. Most will have repair kits or spares. I check they are not Sheds. The scenery is stunning and there is plenty of time to take it in.
Half way around the first lap, coming out of an aid station, I here a cockney voice behind me ‘Fank you’, I know Jason’s voice anywhere, he flies past me…”Mr Newman!” I shout, “Nicholas” he responds and he’s off down the hill. I see him again not far down the road just as he’s getting back on his bike, in the middle of the road,”bloody chain came off din’t it!” and then he’s off again. I don’t see him again until the run.
On one particular climb, the second of the big ones I ride alongside an American chap… “Did you order this hill?” I ask jovially, “Just one more hill to go for this lap and it’s THE BITCH!!” he says. Righto, thanks for that. I let him go along his way. I have a number of these little one liner convos with various folks from all over the world.
The 112 mile Bike Ride – Lap 2 – 11.40am (ish)
The second lap takes a bit more out of me, mentally and physically. I’m ticking off the miles in my head, a tedious past-time believe me.
56 miles to go… 55 to go… 54…, it’s going to be a long 3 or 4 hours.
The saddle becomes less and less comfortable and I spend longer periods out of the saddle stretching muscles and I free-wheel where possible. The uphills are either steep and hard or they’re gradual and long but waiting at the top are the downhills and they are fast, fast, fast. The roads are really, really smooth. I take full advantage and free-wheel to refresh my energy.
With around 20 miles to go all I think about is getting off the bike, I’m sick of Lucozade sport, sick of crunchy granola bars and I can’t stomach the pepperami sticks any longer. I’d taken five energy gels with me too, I didn’t touch one of them – I’m still not sure why. I continued with the bananas and take on more water.
The balls of my feet are numb and tingling, the muscles in the backs of my legs – behind the knees (the place with no name) – complain bitterly, my neck and shoulder blades seem to grind together every time I get on the aero bars and my quads, wow, my quads, they burn at the slightest hint of a gradient. All this and yet I’m not in a dark place, in my head I’m still enjoying the journey… I’m determined to enjoy the journey! 20% Fitness, 20% nutrition, 60% mental – this is my mantra!
My head gets a positive enzyme boost as I reach 100 miles. Adrenaline eases the pain just a bit. The furthest I’d cycled in training was 96 miles so every mile after that was a small victory. The day is all about small victories. And now with only 12 miles to go I start to allow myself to think about getting off the bike. I tell myself the relief on my arse is going to be absolutely legendary. I am even allowing myself to think about the marathon. The joy 🙂
Bike to Run… the first 13 miles – 3.30pm
I eventually get off the mother-hubbard bike after 6 hours and 42 minutes. I hurt. Bum, legs, shoulders, neck, arms, eyeballs. I spend exactly 10 minutes in transition changing out of my bike gear and into my trainers, taking socks off and putting socks back on, changing t-shirt, shunning my drinks belt as a bad decision and sloshing, now hot, wet vaseline down my donald’s. The sun is a concern until I manage to procure some suncream from an accommodating Irish chap – he personifies the spirit of the day between competitors – I cover everywhere bar the backs of my legs. School boy error.
The run is two laps of an elongated figure of 8. My marathon strategy is run/walk. Run to the aid stations, walk through the aid stations eating and drinking whatever feels right, run to the next aid station. Aid stations are at about 2.5km intervals. They offer water, Isotonic drink, coke (which settles the stomach I later find out), quarter bananas, slices of orange and water melon. I go with the water, banana and orange slices. I mix this with some energy gels every 6 or 7 miles and slurp coke when my stomach starts cramping which was about every hour.
The first five miles of the run are a bit painful. No, let me rephrase that, they are fuck, shit, cock painful. However, my pace isn’t too bad. Slow but good. My watch says 9.45 pace, I later find out it was 8.45 pace – this is not good. However, I stick to my banana and water strategy at the aid stations and get progressively slower as the miles clock over. The crowds are massively encouraging, they shout your name and encourage mostly. The local word of the day is ‘SUPER’ pronounced ‘SOUPAIR’. GO NEEEEK GO, SOUPAIR’… I love it. The brits are out in force too and I get little adrenaline rush from the shouts of ‘C’mon GB’, ‘C’mon Nick’ from complete strangers. The organisers put your name and nationality on the race numbers – a simple but genius idea.
I had mental strategies to cope with the darker times. Keith had taught me that. Before the start he’d told me on more than one occasion that the IRONMAN doesn’t start until half way through the run. The run is in fact two loops passing the finish (in the middle of the loop) four times before you finish at the fifth time of passing. The PA guy shouts ‘YOU ARE AN IRONMAN’ really, really loudly to the guys and girls as they finish – big cheers go up from the crowd. You’re head does funny things as you pass the finish area, especially for the first time, knowing that you have another 4 or 5 hours of running ahead of you. I push on through. The target is 13 miles…
Half way… 13 miles Into The Marathon – Time? F*$K Knows!
I’ve been well drilled in the fact that an Ironman challenge doesn’t start until 13 miles into the run. The first 13 miles are actually OK, not a breeze by any stretch, but OK. I do frequent body checks, starting with my feet, wiggling my toes and working my way up my body shaking off my arms and clenching and unclenching my fists and shaking my fingers. You’re arms get surprisingly heavy, the muscles down the inside of my forearms start letting me know they’re fed up – it’s an odd feeling.
I pass a few faces I know coming the other way of the loop, at the mid point they’re at least 6.5 miles ahead and the closer to the tips of each loop the closer you are to them. I pass Keith is much the same place a few times, he’ll be in an hour ahead of me I work out. I see Jane, in the zone, in her own world, I high five David, Johnny and I see Jason again who shouts “You’ll catch up with me in 5 minutes”.
I give myself a goal to catch up with Jase. I reckon he’s about 3 or 4 miles ahead of me. I do this at around 10k (6 miles) into the run. When I eventually catch him up, another 6 miles and about an hour and a half later, I’m hurting generally all over but mainly in leg department and it turns out he’s got a bit of cramp – we swap notes on pain for a while. It’s definitely devine intervention to meet up. I give him my salt tablets, he gives me a much needed excuse to walk, and we push on deciding to get through it together. He was after all the one who got me into this triathlon mess in the first place. This proves a great move and we push ourselves onwards maintaining a reasonable pace.
The miles 15 through to 20 could have been a very dark place indeed. Jase and I instead waffle on about what I don’t remember, before I’d caught up I’d I focused on my family, the kids at home and my wife, Lisa here in Austria, supporting me and giving me incredible strength.
Leese has been my rock for the last 6 months, looking after the children when I was out training, not whinging loudly at all at the general mess and vast washing piles I created through the house on a daily basis. I think about my how incredibly patient she has been with me and how I would never have reached the start line without her, her home made flapjacks and the amazing breakfast she made for me a the boys when we’d come in after our Sunday training rides.Thank you my love.
I think about the support I got from my mates and the incredible generosity from the business contacts I have, the money they’ve raised. It’s astonishing the support they provided and in such a short space of time. I’d to raise the sponsorship target not once but twice! The final total nearing £3k and that was in a week.
At mile 20/21 we hit another memorable moment. As we shuffled past the crowds around the middle of the loop, a shirtless, six-packed, mean-looking, local lad who was clearly about to let loose on us verbally, shouted as we approached… “YOU KNOW WHAT I SEE HERE… I SEE TWO IRONMAN FINISHERS… C’MON GUYS” it was just brilliant and at just the right time. We knew we would finish then.
The home straight – 5 miles to go – 7.30pm (ish)
The back of the loop takes you up into Klagenfurt town along the river, long and straight and seemingly uphill. Then through the middle of the packed-out cafe bars where you’re invited to ring the bell on the memorial before you round a monument in the market square and head back down the cobbles alongside the river, walking up and down the little inclines under the roads and into the finish area again where instead of heading off right for another lap, you turn left for the finishing shoot.
The last few miles were mixed bag of pain, relief and emotion.
You Are an Ironman – 8.30pm (ish)
We let a few competitors come pass as we headed towards the finishing shoot. The plan was to spitfire our way down the tunnel. This we thought would be a good idea. So that’s what we did, much to the confusion of the commentators. It was absolutely fantastic, those hundred yards are the best feeling you could imagine, I’d recommend that to anyone. And to top it off it turns out that both Alfie and Lola were watching on the Live streaming service when we came in. They saw the only part I’d regretted them not seeing. “What an idiot” Alfie said on the phone. I’m sure he meant ‘Inspirational Leader of men’ or something similar.
We soaked up the atmosphere, the adrenaline and excitement was intoxicating, we were IRONMAN, the noise was fabulous and although I’m not sure the commentator man actually said it out loud, I’m pretty sure it was job done.
I’ve never enjoyed a glass of cold non-alcoholic beer more than I did those few minutes after finishing. And meeting up with Fran (Jasons wife) and Leese at the finish was practically perfect.
(now go check out the video).