Austria, my second home!
Being “ready” and feeling “good” about your pre-race preparation stops when you bounce off the pavement and instincts kick in. but before I talk about that little mishap, here are some tips on racing IRONMAN Austria – btw, you should come next year for their 20th birthday!
This venue is quite perfect for an event this size and since they’ve been running this race 20 years, it’s a smooth operation. The Wörthersee by itself is a scene from a postcard. The crystal blue water basically begs you to swim, drink and relax at the Stranbad (basically the beach). Parking isn’t a pain, transition is separated from swim start by about 1k and the walk is about 10-15 minutes based on your current walking PR. What I can’t get over is the crowd support...no other event I’ve been to has come close. I haven’t raced Challenge Roth yes, but I can honestly say Austrian’s and the people who live here in Klagenfurt embrace this race. The only part about this race that would really suck for any non-climbing athlete is….a all the elevation on the bike.
My Prep & Other Thoughts
So deep down in the essence of me….I want to be “the man” more than I can really quantify. Personally, I get a bit star struck when I’m sitting with world champions or IRONMAN champions. I know what it takes to get there because I’m doing my damn best to try myself. Now, what I lack in raw talent and experience I’m trying to fix with smart, diligent training and living. I think about being on that podium all the time….and when a race doesn’t really work out in spite of my efforts, it’s definitely a bit of a reminder what I’m up against. So, that's that!
I arrived here in Austria about 12 days out from the race and it took me about 6 days to feel decent on the bike, which is usually screwed up because sitting for so long jacks my next and back. Also, when it comes to sleep aid in a new time zone, Body Health Healthy Sleep Ultra is a necessity! I’m incredibly fortunate to have an Austrian family waiting for me, who I really couldn’t get by without. Last year I really got to know the area and Pewag athletes, so this year I was happy to catch up! I climbed one of the local HARD Mountains, decided my bike position was not suited for sustained climbing and really got to work. I basically slid everything back but I think my seat height might have still been a tad high, more to follow there. My running has been actually awesome, so I was pretty confident a PB Marathon was going to happen too! I’d say with me losing some weight, eating super healthy and working in a new race breakfast/fueling protocol I had a really thorough plan. So, for me, 3 days out it was just time to relax, eat some sweets and enjoy being around my amazing Austrian friends! I think I maybe trained 2 hours per day until the last 3 days.
Race AM (0240 breakfast)
The fueling plan dictates breakfast is complete about 3.5 hours before the race since it’s a boost in calories from a 70.3, which normally is only 3 hours. I ate about 900 grams of applesauce….somehow. Think of your biggest protein shaker, then imagine it’s full up apple sauce…that’s my nightmare. I took that down with a lot of cinnamon, a banana, some Gatorade and some INFINIT Repair for some added protein/carbs. It’s actually not that bad once you’ve let it set in your stomach for an hour. It’s super easy to digest, low fiber and pure carbs. Anyway, the bike was already checked in…which reminds me, I was a bit out of it when it comes to planning this event.
For IRONMAN 140.6, transitions work differently. All of your belongings are in either red or blue bags, hung on racks before the change tent. When you check-in, you must bring your bags, race bib and helmet. Let me just say I drove 35 min into town with only my bike…and then again, with the rest of my stuff. I was seriously forgetting things left and right, like...my race day Alto front wheel! For example, guess who got another mandatory 1 mile warm-up run before the start? ME! I opened my race bag in the Pewag lounge and my little green socks were just chilling. Hmm….definitely need socks for an IM run, oh wait, only 15 min before transition closes. Hence my losing my mind. Anyway, I got back to the lounge 15 min before the START of the race, needed to put on the wetsuit and warm up for 3 blinks of an eye…and that’s it. It was on!
It’s funny what we think of right before we embark on a 9 + hour race. The dumbest, deepest thoughts pop into your head. I found myself wondering if I charged my computer since I needed to use it later and then, oh wait look, the swim course! Basically, my little deep negative voices were telling me I didn’t feel ready to start, I was too rushed…but screw them. The start was more hectic than last year, meaning I actually drank 3 or 4 mouth full of water instead of breathes of air. It was congested and choppy and after some head dunking, coughing and serious contact, I actually wondered if I was going to get spit out the back. I will say though, swimming in the middle of a pack is like, a warm up swim effort. Now, I know I could have been in a faster group but, oh well…bridging up didn’t seem necessary. This was a wetsuit swim as well given the new rules concerning air tem vs water temp. I feel like it basically makes all luke warm swims with cold air temp, wetsuit swims…not a fan. I think the air temp was 14 and the water was 74 so I would have definitely preferred non-wetsuit. Anyway with a wetsuit I would have liked faster but I was able to sit in and not over-exert. Plus this is my first IM with a wetsuit and it stresses the body a bit different. My triceps were NOT happy after! However after my 3rd wear of the BlueSeventy Helix, I was incredibly comfortable. In the hip area, which normally sucks, zero restriction. So after we all went the wrong way at the swim exit, it was time for a dizzy run to the bike.
I tell you what, I could NOT have been happier with my swim group because I rode with a few of these guys at IM Zurich and I knew we could all have some solid riding. So, here’s were it went wrong. Since I was basically mentally out of it post swim and was working at 105% FTP to catch the 6 guys who were about 200 meters away (I had a crap transision) I had a lot of speed headed into our only 180 degree turn. I can see it in slow motion, my wet right hand slipped forward as I rounded the corner. It wasn’t fast but I bounced like a ball. So, there goes that group…even 1 minute behind at this level can take 30 minutes to bridge while riding very hard! I had one last chance to make it when a friend of mine, a Pewag rider came by. I thought I could get it back until I went to shift….then looked down and saw my oversized pulley wheels were all jacked up. I had to stop and adjust…or ride in 3 gears! This was the ultimate low point where I even thought I would not be able to continue and I was missing out on what I knew was certainly an awesome position. I could have come in top 10 off the bike for sure. Trust me, this whole story gives me a heavy heart. It was at this time I realized I couldn’t put much pressure on my left wrist out of the saddle and, my low back was really hurting more than I could stand. Anytime I was in the power, for about 30 seconds after I let up, it was like a deep burn left and right of the sacrum. That quick spill cost me the day I knew I could have. I ended up taking my emergency motrin quickly but I don’t think it started working for another 2 hours because I actually mentally “quit” about 5 times when the pain was so bad and I felt so terrible. But I tell you what, every time I felt that way a group of people on the side of the road would cheer like I was their favorite athlete, and I kept going. The second loop I started to get some mojo but I lost a lot of time in the wind and debating my future. I can honestly say that somehow, in the way my weird mind works, the thought of quitting actually motivated me to keep going. It was crazy. So once I started fueling again with some INFINIT in my bottles and a little coke at the aid station, I was feeling better and thought I would at least try the first 10k on the run.
The jog from the bike to the transition tent was a bit ugly. The hips were locking up on the bike, I felt a little weak and the achilles was really tight from a quick cramp when we all changed directions in the swim…yea, I was still feeling that!! However, once the shoes were on, I felt pretty awesome. I was really feeling strong for about 22k! I was hitting a TRIPWIRE shot with water/ISO sport drink every other aid station and a little coke and water on the others. In between that I had a cliff shot block in my mouth since, for some reason having that steady source of sugar seems to keep me stable. Around 32k I hit this crazy 3 minute spot where I had to walk. It was right after an aid station and all of the sudden I was stumbling around like a drunk person. I think I saw Elvis run by me. Anyway, like the snap of my fingers, I was back running strong again out of no where. I think the early lack of fueling on the bike got to me. When I was debating quitting I wasn’t as diligent on the nutrition. So, the legs felt better as far as pain and my running form goes. But still wasn’t much faster this year. It’s a bit frustrating but all I can do is sharpen up my game…plain and simple.
The overall take away from this race is, a few minute PR and some severe respect for what the body can endure. I’m fortunate I could ride away from my little spill but it still effected me, cost me a faster bike split and ultimately means I didn’t hit my ultimate goal of a sub 9 hour IM. Racing 140.6 distance is probably the biggest emotional roller coaster ride around. I would say that for anyone who is looking for some advice and has maybe had some issue, just don’t think! It doesn’t matter how you feel in that moment or hell the day before the race. What matters is how you logically battle through the problems you are facing and most importantly, be patient. You will hit extreme lows and serious highs out there and for a little bit, you’ll feel golden and actually love the day. If you can keep going, why not try? Oh wait, I also stayed for the midnight-finish and it’s basically like a techno club!! It was CRAZY loud with tons of support!