Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Ironman Austria – July 3, 2011 Race Report

Race Details:

Swim – 3.8K
Bike – 180K
Run – 42.2K

I signed up for this race a year ago when I got an email from Personal Best saying they were taking a group of about 70 to Austria. I had heard a friend of mine from Baden, Patti Warr was going, so after a bit of wavering, I decided to sign up and take a slot. This would be my first Ironman, so I thought I’d make the first one a memorable one, and go as part of a group to Austria to partake in it. As it turns out, it was a great decision.

Leading up to the race, I was feeling pretty decent. I did at least 3 180K rides, and I definitely was doing more running (at least 5x week) since the Boston marathon.  I wasn’t doing too much distance running, as the longest run I did post Boston was a 30K.  I had done a number of 25K runs though.  I figured training and doing Boston gave me a good running base, so I didn’t want to push the run distances and times for fear of potential injury. In the end, I think this was a good decision.

On Tuesday, June 28th, Deanna and I drove to the Toronto airport to catch our 8pm flight to Munich, Germany, where we would then catch a flight direct to Klagenfurt, Austria.  I’m not a great sleeper on planes, so I didn’t get much sleep on the red eye flight to Europe. When we landed, it was approximately 9am local time.  After a short layover, we got on our flight to Klagenfurt and arrived around 1pm.  For the first two nights in Austria, we stayed at a hotel in downtown Klagenfurt called the City Hotel zum Domplatz.  It was small, but provided us with everything we needed, including breakfast in the mornings.

After arriving, we made our way over to a small town just outside of Klagenfurt called Krumpendorf.  This is where our bikes were delivered to.  We took the bus over there which was simple enough.  After getting my bike assembled, I rode it back to the hotel and Deanna took a lot of my gear that we stuffed in the bike box when we shipped the bike.

Over the next few days, we did a number of easy workouts to stay loose and keep fresh for the race on Sunday.  I did two swims down at the lake (around 2-2.5K each) with other members of the Personal Best “Team Canada” group. In addition, I did a ride with Sean Bechtal, who was along to act as one of the coaches for the group, Claudia Johnston and a few other members of the group.  We likely rode the first 15K or so of the bike course before turning around and coming back.  I knew right away this was going to be a fast and very exciting bike course.  The roads over there were so smooth and fast. Much better than most of the roads here in Ontario.

Pictures while driving the bike course

Team Canada Group

On the Thursday night, all of the Team Canada participants and family members met for a group dinner at a restaurant called Gastof Krall.  It was a good time and there were a couple of guests that Barrie Shepley had arranged for us.  The first was Kate Allen, a former Olympic gold medalist in triathlon and former podium finisher at Ironman Austria.  The other guest was another excellent triathlete named Marko Albert. He was a former ITU racer, but has done a number of 70.3 races.  He was participating in this year’s Ironman, which was his first as well.  He sat right across the table from me and we chatted a lot.  As it turns out, Marko would end up getting 3rd overall in the race this year and was actually the first athlete out of the water.  He had an incredible first Ironman race!

On Friday morning, we checked out of the City Hotel zum Domplatz, and checked into a seasonal hotel that was just opening called the All You Need Hotel. This place serves as a student residence for Klagenfurt University during the school year and converts to a hotel over the summer. It was conveniently only a few hundred meters from the transition zone, so it worked well for race morning.

On the Friday night, Deanna and I, as well as most of the Team Canada group attended the race organized pasta dinner.  It was ok, but nothing special.

On Saturday morning, I did one last short ride on my bike and a short run to make sure everything was working ok and that I was staying loose.  Everything felt good and at 10am, we all attended the English version of the race meeting.  Nothing surprising came of this, and after the meeting, I was certainly very excited to get the race going.  A short while after the race meeting, I took my bike and my transition bags to the transition zone to be checked in.

The race machine

After this, Deanna and I headed back to a restaurant just outside of the hotel to grab some dinner before turning in early for the night.  Due to the time change, I still hadn’t really gotten into a good sleeping routine yet, so I was hoping I was tired enough to get at least a decent night sleep before the race. I believe we were in bed by 9pm, and lucky for me, I don’t think it took long before I fell asleep. I actually don’t believe I even woke up much that night, and before I knew it, it was 4am race morning when I decided to get up.

As usual, I stuck to my normal oatmeal, whole wheat wrap with peanut butter and a banana for breakfast.  The hotel opened the dining room early at 4:30am, so I was able to grab a bit of coffee as well.  After eating, I headed down to the transition zone which was only a few minutes away.  I got all my bottles and food ready on the bike and pumped up my tires.  It was actually pretty chilly race morning with low’s around 8 or 9 Celsius.  The sun was coming up though, so it wasn’t going to take long to warm up thankfully. After getting everything ready in transition, I headed back to the hotel to chill out a bit.  A little while later, I grabbed my wetsuit and post race bag and made my way to the swim start.  After dropping off my dry clothes bag, I headed to the water to get my wetsuit on and get in a quick practice swim.

I thought for sure there would have been way more people trying to get a quick warm-up swim in, but it wasn’t too busy. After a quick warm-up, I made my way to the starting line. The Austria swim start is pretty generous. All athletes start between three large piers that had about 60-70 meters in between each one. Since we had to make a slight turn to the left halfway out, I decided to start on the right hand side. I was told that if you think you could go 1:10 or less, that you should start near the front. My goal was somewhere around 1:03-1:05, so I took my chances up front.

Just moments before 7am, they told athletes to start moving into the water to the starting line. I think I heard them say something like 30 seconds to the start, so we all started swimming out to the line.  I was thinking we had to stop in the water and wait for the cannon, but what actually happened was that the race started as soon as we got to the starting rope. I scrambled to get both my Timex watch and also my Forerunner 310 GPS watch started as we crossed past the starting line.

I must say, I remember thinking to myself that the first few hundred meters weren’t too bad. I was able to just swim, and was able to get on some feet right away. This would soon change though, because when we got about 500m out and near the first slight turn to the left, it jammed up pretty good. It was like we hit a wall and couldn’t move forward much. However, everyone from behind just kept coming. There were people climbing over top of me, and I think this might have been the worst experience I’ve ever had in a race.  At least I was expecting something like this, so I didn’t panic too much.  It didn’t last long, and we were able to get going again fairly quickly.  The first real turn on the course wasn’t for about 1500m, so I was able to get on some feet and draft pretty well.  Once we hit the first turn buoy, things seemed to jam up again.  Like last time though, I was able to get out of it fairly quickly, and again, find some feet to get on.  The second turn buoy was about 200m past the first, and after rounding this one, we were headed back to the canal.  What is interesting about the IM Austria swim is that the last 800 or 900m are up a canal not more than 8 or 10m wide.  As we headed back towards land, things seemed to be going well.  I did a fair bit of drafting and didn’t seem to be working very hard at all.  I thought we were going along at a decent pace, but when you’re drafting, you don’t really know.  You just sort of hope you are following somebody that is a bit faster than yourself.

The swim up the canal

Once we reached the canal, the final 900m or so seemed to go by very quickly. This might be one of only a few races around the world where you can get some serious motivation from the crowd during the swim, as they lined the banks of the canal on both sides.  Finally, we reached the Linder Hotel and the swim exit.  Once out of the water, I took a quick look at my watch.  It was just over 1hour and 4 minutes. This was right on my goal time, but honestly, the way the swim felt, I thought maybe I’d be closer to an hour.  Later, looking at the results, I would come out of the water 500th overall (out of about 2600 starters or so) and 80th in my AG (out of about 375 or so).  Not amazing, but decent enough and I was happy.

Swim Exit Video

Swim Pics

Run to T1

We had a decently long run back to transition.  I’d say it was about 400-500 meters or so.  At least it gave us enough time to easily get our wetsuits off, as there were no wetsuit strippers at the race.  Once in transition, I took my time and went to the washroom and quickly put on my cycling gear (which included putting on bike shorts).  I don’t normally do this, but I also wanted to make sure I was as comfortable as possible for the 180K ride.  I felt like I didn’t “doddle” around in T1, but my time seemed pretty slow.  I eventually got on my bike and started the ride, feeling very good.

The bike portion was a closed to traffic, two loop 90K course.  I had driven it with some other athlete’s in our group a few days prior to the race, so I knew what to expect.  In addition, a bunch of us rode the first 15K or so of the course before turning around and coming back.  As a result, I knew that it was going to be an amazing ride with tonnes of great scenery, smooth roads and some challenging hills with fast long descents.  I closely watched my heart rate and power and tried to keep the power below 240 (on average) for the whole ride. It was almost impossible to not go above 300 on some of the hills, but as long as I quickly settled back into a comfortable range on the way back down, I was not going to get concerned. I found myself in and out of groups on the first loop. There was some definite pack riding going on, but I wouldn’t say there was any clear cheating.  Guys would just get jammed up a bit on the hills and everyone would move around until it would open up on some of the descents or “flat” stretches. Most of my rides this spring were solo, so it was so much fun to get out there and ride 180K with lots of other fast guys.  With incredible mountains and lakes all around, the time just flew by.

My nutrition plan was pretty simple and one I’ve followed in training. I started with a normal concentrate Infinite in my aero drink bottle and I had 2 double concentrate bottles in my rear hydration system.  This was the equivalent of 5 bottles for the ride.  I supplemented the double concentrate bottles with water from the course and took a few bananas and gels throughout the ride as well.  In addition, I likely took about 8 or 9 saltstick capsules.

I’d say there were 3 significant climbs on each loop. They were definitely challenging enough, but the crowd support and music blasting made them much easier to deal with.  As you reached the top of two of the climbs, the road narrowed due to all the fans, and it was like doing the Tour de France.  It was incredible.  What made this course fast were the descents after the climbs.  Instead of picking up crazy speeds on hard downhills, they were long and gradual.  My Garmin 500 is setup to record every 5K split that I do.  On each loop, I had at least one split where I did 5K in 6:14. That works out to about 48kph.  I completed the first loop in about 2:24 I believe.

Onto loop #2, things continued to go pretty well.  I actually found myself biking all alone for a period of time, which was definitely not as good.  Time seems to go along much faster when you can get in with a group of guys and work together (non drafting still of course!).  The hills on the second loop weren’t much harder to get up and over compared to the first loop, so I took that as a good sign.  I continued on getting my nutrition and simply enjoying the day.  It really did seem to go by fast.  The last 20 or 25K back into town after the last big Rupertiberg climb were awesome. It seemed like we kept going down and down.  It was nice for the last 5K to be flat so that we could spin our legs to get ready for the run.  I finished the ride in 4:54:57.  I believe the course might have been a few K short, but hey, still a decent ride where I averaged 35.7kph with an average HR of 142 and an average power output of 234 watts.   I finished 223rd overall on the ride which moved me up to 48th in my AG.

Ironman Austria Bike Split Garmin Data

Bike Pics

Into T2, I quickly racked my bike, took a port o potty break and grabbed my run bag. I changed out of my bike shorts and into my tri shorts and was off for the final leg of the journey. 

Like the bike course, the run course was also a two loop 21K course as well, that took athletes out to a small town outside of Klagenfurt called Krumpendorf, which was across the lake from where we swam earlier. From there, we come back past the tents and finish line in Ironman city, and traveled into the heart of Klagenfurt and around the Dragon/Lindwurm monument before coming back to Ironman city along the same trails, just to repeat the same thing all over again.

The run course is 99% flat, as there were only a few small hills as we made our way out of Klagenfurt city centre.  In addition, a good part of the run course was shaded as we ran along the tree lined canal into the city and through the Europapark.  Most of the course was lined with spectators and cheering fans which was totally awesome and motivating!

I felt pretty good for the first 10K averaging about a 4:35/K pace. I didn’t carry any nutrition with me on the run other than some saltstick capsules.  I decided I would use what was on the course, alternating between cola and water.  In addition, I likely took in about 5 or 6 gels and 6 saltstick capsules throughout the run.  The aid stations were plentiful, so getting nutrition and cold sponges were not a problem.  The sponges were great.  I’d stuff them down my back and shirt and wring them out on my head quite often.  It wasn’t scorching hot, but when the sun was out, it was definitely warm.  At least it didn’t seem too humid.

After making my way into the city and around the Lindwurm for the first time, I had a bit of cramping in my hamstrings as we climbed one of the few hills on the course.  I stopped and stretched out my hamstrings which seemed to help and then carried on.  I don’t recall too much muscle cramping from that point on.  I finally made it back to Ironman city where the finish line was, completing my first loop and feeling not too bad.  The pace continued to slow down a little bit, as I averaged 4:41 for the first 21K.  It was at about this time that I started to get some cramping in my lower stomach and intestines. It wasn’t a show stopper, but it was making me feel uncomfortable.  The last half I started taking a few walking breaks whenever I felt a bit too uncomfortable.  They were never for a very long time, but just enough to give my legs and muscles a break/stretch.  Running the whole marathon was never my goal, I simply wanted to get through the marathon as best I could, and if that meant I had to stretch or walk for a short period of time, then so be it.

From 25K on, it was just a matter of survival and getting to the finish line. The last 15K the pace slowed down a lot to about a 5:18/K as I took quite a few breaks.  Eventually though, I saw Barrie Shepley and some of the coaching staff with about 2K left.  At this point, I knew it was almost over.  There were tonnes of crowd support in the final few K, and then I finally got to the finishing chute.  Firstly, you had to run along the lake for a few hundred meters before turning left for the final 50 meters in front of the bleachers and down the blue carpet to the finish line.  Unfortunately for me, I saw that I was still under 9:30 and I thought that I might have a shot at going under this. I ran really hard through these final 50 meters to try and go sub 9:30 rather than soaking it all in (looking back, that was just dumb!) I don’t even recall them saying my name and saying I was an Ironman! In the end, I came across the finish line right as the clock hit 9:30, and I was super excited.  So much so, I think the next 10 minutes were just a blur!  My official run finish time was 3:21:17, but similar to the bike course, I do believe the run course was a bit short. Possibly up to a full K.   After finishing the run, I had moved up to finish 199th overall (out of close to 2,800) and 41st in my AG (out of close to 400).

Ironman Austria Run Split Garmin Data

Run Pics

Overall, I was VERY pleased with my effort and how things went during the race.  Not knowing the course very well and how I would do in my first Ironman, I was targeting a finish time of about 10 hours.  So to beat that by a full half an hour feels very good.

After the finish, I made my way to the Ironman dome tent, where I grabbed my dry clothes bag, took a quick shower, had a very nice massage and then grabbed some food.  On my way out, I ran into Deanna and we hung out for a bit at the finish line before walking back to the transition zone to get my bike and head back to the hotel to get cleaned up.  After grabbing some dinner at the hotel, we walked back to the finish line area and watched more finishers come in.  The atmosphere at the finish line was amazing, and we hung around for a few hours.  At about the 15 hour mark, we decided to head back to the hotel. It would have been amazing to stick around till the end, but we were both pretty tired.  Lying in bed at midnight (unable to sleep still), I heard all of the fireworks go off at the finish line. It sounded loud, and I am sure it was insane.  As it turns out, the last finisher in the race was a Canadian, Susan Cole as part of our group. I was told she was personally given her medal by Marino Vanhoenacker, the winner of the race.
As for me, it will be nice to not have to worry about putting in the long training days on the weekend for at least a little while.  I have signed up for Ironman Mont Tremblant in Quebec in August 2012.  I will be doing the Muskoka 70.3 again this September, so I’ll start to get back into the training groove shortly, but I won’t need to put in the same amount of hours as I did for Austria.

Some other interesting stories/finishes that came out of our “Team Canada” group in Austria were:

• Ex NHL player Scott Thornton who was part of our Team Canada group finished the race in 11:38:22, and in the process now holds the record as the fastest Ironman by an NHL alumni by besting Pat Lafontaine’s old record of 11:54:05;

• Patti Warr, a friend of mine from Baden got 2nd overall in her AG (45-49);

• Claudia Johnston from Ontario got 3rd overall in her AG (35-39);

• Robert Knuckey from Ontario got 2nd overall in his AG (60-64);

• Hans Porten and Sue Akenhead both owned the top of the podium in the 55-59 AG

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the wonderful race report. The bike course sounds incredibly difficult, but all the other factors seem to make up for it. I did Texas IM 2012 and are looking for my next IM for 2014. Good luck in your next IM!