Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Ironman DE full report

The usual deep down, stomach churning fear as the moment drew ever nearer for the 6.45 start – but this time more so. My second year of racing the Ironman scene and with a few results behind me, expectations, and personal goals were at the front of my mind. I was out to win this one, and I had and a very clear picture what had to be done and of who had to be beaten to achieve this. Their previous performances (including a 2nd placing at Kona last year) and strengths all seemed to overshadow all the self confidence that I was entitled to feel on this cool, damp morning.

I’d been assigned to the early start wave -300 of the fastest age groupers setting off with the professional field 15 min ahead of the 2000 other competitors. This was a relief -I’d be nearer the back of this group in the swim, let them get on with it, follow the draft and avoid being punched in the nose. Whitmore, there were only 7 age group women with quick enough previous race results eligible for in this start group – making it easy to pick out my immediate competition for the rest of the race.

The previous day water temperatures in the LangenerWaldsee had been exactly border line for a non wetsuit swim – as we trod water in the small (why so small - -the lake was firkin massive) pen waiting for the final count down, I shivered with chill and thanked my stars for a cool night and a drop in surface temperature sufficient to make wetsuits optional. After an eternity of torture, the final 1 minute warning is called and with a sudden rush it’s all forgotten in favour of progressing into the churning bubbles, arms, legs, feet, bums hips …shit where are my goggles…..on the back, fix it…and dive back in to the frenzy. Focus on pushing, paranoid about being left behind and then find a small group and a rhythm to swim in. Breathing on 3, but focused on working hard. It’s not fun, but I don’t allow myself to relax or my mind to wander. The first lap is longer than the 2nd, which works for me – get that done, out the water, around the land buoy fix the goggles and the rest is easy: I’m on my way home. Not quite so - I discover a tendency to veer to the left, and now having to swim clockwise I swim a very wide course, alone. Glad that it’s over I’m running up the steep exit ramp and catch site of the clock – reading 7.45. An hour swim? Is it possible?? In theory yes it is – but I’ve never managed it before. Perhaps I‘ve cracked it. Perhaps I’m on one today. Run to the bike very fast – can’t wait to get on the road now.

Notice the bike of my ‘target’ (2nd in Hawaii) has rolled out already, smooth transition, perfect running mount and up the road. Pass 2 people fixing flats in the first 200m! The smaller swim wave means that I’m not setting off with the usual crowd of nearly fast fellas but rather neat line of riders. This makes passing a bit of a technical and tactical game – requiring quite hard surges to ensure that the manoeuvre can be completed in 30 seconds, whilst avoiding cutting in or slowing too much once the pass has been made. Positions’ changing frequently, this makes for a constant effort and good pace. We are accompanied by motorcycle race ref for the first 20 km or so. I’ve been warned about drafting penalties and their not-quite-random distribution by the local refs. Advised to race in non descript, and preferably German, race kit, I’m sorry not to be flying the Tri London flag, but note there are a number of others who’ve been given similar advice as guys of all nationalities are sporting German team kit! 20 minutes up the road we enter Frankfurt, and the start of the 2 main laps. I’m pretty hungry already, and eat more than my planned amount in the first hour. My feeding strategy is 100 cal (half a bar) every 40 min, which I will supplement with the sports drinks from feed stations along the course. Better to get ahead early I think, though, rather than pay later.

I soon catch up to one of the girls in my age group and so begins the cat and mouse game that will see us through the first lap- switching positions, each ensuring that not too many riders get in between causing a loss of contact. Being a little bigger than me, she’s stronger on the flats whilst I pass her on the inclines. The course is dominated by flat or slightly down hill riding, and she is the stronger rider on this course. I’m hurting but think that I must stay connected – it’s too early to let her go. Whatsmore, I am ahead of my target pace and feel pretty sure that we are riding in 2nd and 3rd position. Shortly before the end of the first lap, the leading age group woman comes into view. I can’t believe it! She’s not had the psychological advantage of riding with her immediate competitor never far away, so has perhaps been taking it a little easier than we have. Seeing me ride past though seems to give her a kick up the backside, and as I begin to feel the heat, the two of them manage to shake me off on the descent back into Frankfurt for the start of the final lap. I’m toasted and have 50 miles to go!! Luckily I see my Mum and sister, forcing a brave face and a bit of a boost at this point, but I do not manage to re-establish sight of the two girls ahead. SuperJo has left the building, leaving RegualrJo to fend for herself and suffer the strong winds which build up though the afternoon, without much grace. I lost 11 minutes on the second lap, the negligible hills seeming like mountains and my shoes are digging into my Achilles tendon – a little worry about the run seeps into the back of my mind, but I’ve convinced myself that fro all their power on the bike, these girls will not be able to out run me. Can’t let that go – concentrate on getting through each 40 minute interval on the bike, focus on the moment and enjoy the experience. Exchange a bit for banter with boys who all seemed to be called either Andreas and Thomas, and make the most of the constant crowd support as we ride through the small villages around the course, which are all lined with locals giving it some with various bells, whistles, horns, rattles, kitchen implements and of course free flowing beer. The most notable moment of the day, riding the harsh cobbled hill through the town of Maintal Hochstadt, named ‘The Hell’ for the occasion, the PA system is blasting Eddie Grant and ‘Gimme Hope Joahnna’ – massive grin I’m out the saddle almost feeling the bike is pulling me up the hill, singing along as the crowd see my name on the number belt and realize the significance of the song. I know that these moments will get me through tough training sessions in the future, so I absorb and lock the sensations into my memory.

So I’m finally off the bike, just missing the 5.15 split that I’d hope for but - fair enough due to a diversion the course had been stated as a mile long. And it had been windy. I’m ready to get out on the run and chase the competition down. As it happens, I pass one of them before leaving T2! Immediately I feel pretty good. The Achilles problem has succumbed to the influence of ibroprofen and I feel comfortable in my stride. I recognise a lot of the guys I’m passing as the Thomas’s and Andreas's who seemed to have flown by on the bike a long time ago. My first km splits were 4.20 ,4:28, settling around 4:30s. At the 3km turn around I caught first sight of my main target, last year’s winner and leading age group woman a minute ahead. I she looked comfortable but I doubted she was running my pace, and concentrated on not rushing just allowing myself to ease up to her. At the 8km point I took the lead, and continued to feel good, completing the first of the 4 x 10.5km laps in 45 minutes. As I pass through T1 at 7:59 race time, Chris McCormack wins the race, breaking the M-dot record in the process. I get a little bit of a boost from the energy of the crowds, which propels me into the start of lap 2. Figure I should eat, I grab a handful of apricots and eat them and worry about the effect on my guts this might have. Now I’m running scared- I dare not look back, just focus on the splits and push thoughts a cosy porta-loo stop out of my mind. At the next turnaround I can see that there’s not more than 30 second between me and her – and my lap splits have dropped to 4.45-50. And it’s beginning to feel like a bit of an effort now. By km 15, SuperJo, true to form, decided to bail out. Luckily the fear of being caught remained a true companion and the Hurt Box offered its’ generous interior. I climbed in, calculating how long the sentence would be. Just another 2 hours 15, if I was lucky. Concentrate - don’t fall apart. Eat a gel. See my mom, fail to smile at her and feel guilty. Fuck it. I want to stop. Running. Now. Ferocious screaming from Steven as he returns in the opposite direction. I want to scream back with equal support – but I can’t spare the breathe. Out of the blue a friend who lives in the city, Alyssa, runs alongside me tells me he had an awesome swim and is going well. I’m pleased to see her and pleased for the news. Lucky bastard will be finished soon, I think. She’s running and taking too fast! I’m clearly going through a bad patch – and remind myself of this: it will pass.

At the next turn around my pursuer had fallen back all of 10 seconds. So, I cannot let up the pace at all. See mum and Lotto again, feel better and now I’m halfway through. The third lap was the toughest – by now I’m tired and there’s still a long way left. Another sight of Steven – this is a great run course, with 4 turns and a couple of points with good views of runners coming from the opposite direction. He’s yelling like mad. I remind myself – you are leading the field at the European Championships, you are on for a 3:20 marathon split. Don’t slow down.
Toward the end of the 3rd lap, ,there’s an awesome commotion as Chrissie Wellington ticks into her final 2km, streets ahead of the rest of the Pro ladies. The crowd goes mad and I can see the film motorcycles out the corner of my eye if I turn a little. On the one hand, I‘d love to see her come running by, and get a sense of her run speed. On the other I’m determined that she won’t lap me, and find another reserve of energy. This little boost also brings the backside of Steven into my sights - cool. I’m determined to catch him before he peels off for the finish – he’s on for his sub 9hr time I think, nice job. And give him a pat on his good gluteus maximus as I go by. He’s only got 3 bands on though – that’s confusing - and I wonder what the system is for the final lap, then. Sudden stinging burning pain in my foot as a massive blister bursts under my toes. Chrissie doesn’t catch me, and for the second time today, I am running past the finishing chute as course records are broken and she wins in under 9 hours!

After that exciting few k, there’s no sign of any women anywhere close behind me at the next turn, but I convince myself that I cold have missed her/them and push on. I see Steven again, and it dawns one that I am actually ahead of him, I feel bad, realizing that he’ shad problems of some sort, and look out for any cuts or blood on him. I am pleased to observe I am still able to run under 5min km if I really focus and that within 40 min it will all be over. I allow myself to imagine how it will feel to win this race, running toward then finish and what I’ll eat and drink when it’s done – feel a bit woozy and rein it in – I have to remain upright and mobile for another 6km. 5km…oh hell…4km…Try to enjoy the moment. Are you fucking joking? Get me out of here. Finally the soft surface of the finisher Shute. In German my name followed by the words ‘first female age grouper’ my mom and sister positioned on the approach to the finish line, and the clock reading 9 hours 43 min. WhooooHoooooo.

Then I had to go and wait an hour to pee in a cup in front of a cross German woman but I did get to chat to Nicole Leder who asked how I got on and I did not recognise her and asked how she got on. Second. Oh, well done!!! Cool.

A great, fun and fast course with what must really be the best crowd support the entire way round a superb atmoshprere, and free beer in the atheletes garden!! I’d highly recommend this race to anyone. Fantastic races for all the Tri London posse too –and it was really nice to have a group of us out there too.

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