Ironman Austira Pre Race
It’s 4.00am, the alarm goes off, I have never needed an alarm call less in my life. I feel like I have been awake all night, this is the morning I have thought about almost every day for 9 months… I have run in the rain, the wind, the ice and the snow, I’ve done 6 hour bike rides up mountain passes in the lakes with snow at chest height on either side of the narrow country lanes and I’ve swum in icy cold mountain lakes and got out so cold that even after 20 minutes in a red hot shower I still haven’t been able to unzip my wet suit… And it’s all been about one day and today is that day.
We have a taxi booked at 5.00am to take us down to the race start and the bathroom time has been carefully allocated, I got the 4.00am to 4.05am slot… 5 minutes, but I’m out in 3 and Helen has the other 55 minutes. I check my kit again, must be the hundredth time in the last 24 hours, while Helen gets ready, she is fast and we are down in reception a few minutes early. I’m itching to get down to the start, I seem to have been waiting to start the race forever and I just want to get going… the last couple of hours before the start are always the worst.
We get down to race transition by 5.10am, it’s a nice calm, clear morning but it’s going to be hot on the marathon this afternoon. We seem to have just beaten the rush… there are about 3,000 bikes racked and the nerves are really kicking in now…big time! I focus on checking all my kit again, the bike bag, the run bag, the street bag and finally I check the bike all over… it helps to kill some time and gives me something to focus on and then I go to find JP and we head to the exit of transition to meet up with Helen and Dave. On the way out we bump into Jamie & Max, its ‘high 5’s’ all round… everyone is pumped up and ready to go.
As we exit transition it’s getting really busy, glad we got there early and have avoided these queues. We all walk down to the race start together, we are trying to joke around, but it’s all getting quite serious now… there are thousands of athletes slowly walking to the race start, it’s like a slow death march. We drop our post race kit bags at the Irondome and I join the queue for the toilet… it’s a complete zoo and I start to get stressed that I won’t get out of the toilet with enough time to get my wetsuit on and make it to the swim start on time…I bump into some ‘Team MK’ers’ in the queue, Ollie, Rob, Eddie, etc. who are all looking as nervous as I am.
Jeez… those toilets ain’t good, but needs must… It’s getting very close to the start of the race and there are about 3,000 very nervous athletes milling around the main road outside the Strandbad in their wetsuits… it is quite a sight. I ‘lube up’ and get into my wetsuit and then give Helen a kiss, shake Dave’s hand and give JP a big ‘man hug’ knowing he will be 15 minutes behind me at the start so this could be the last time I see him again until the end of the race. I give him one last piece of advice… “stay safe, and take the race at your own pace, there are no medals for doing a fast swim or a fast bike, only for finishing the whole race… it doesn’t matter how long it takes just try and finish”. I head into the entrance of the Strandbad and its absolute carnage and I begin to panic as I realise that there are about 2,000 triathletes in my way and I need to get past them quickly as I am in the “elite athlete” wave going off 15 minutes before all these guys… after a rough few minutes… a nice warm up for the swim to come, I make it to the beach. I head to the right hand side of the beach following my pre-race plan to swim what is going to be the long route, but which will hopefully avoid the vast majority of swimmers who opt the for the straight, short route and hopefully lead to a smoother swim…until the first turning buoy anyway…well that’s the theory!!
I head to the lake to rinse my goggles of the demister liquid which is really irritating if you get it in your eyes, but I get stopped by the marshals… b**ger! How am I going to rinse them out? I call into the crowd of spectators to ask for a bottle of water and after an initial silence, a British accent pipes up and reaches over about 5 heads to pass me his bottle of water… I have no idea who the guy was, but I’m really grateful to him as that could have been a disastrous start to my race.
Five minutes to race start and its exactly as Ollie’s email said it would be… the beach is packed with nervous, wetsuit clad triathletes all trying to hold back their emotions, the crowds are huge and loud, hot air balloons float above our heads and a TV helicopter is hovering above the lake in front of us, while either side of the swim course is littered with a flotilla of packed boats. I desperately look around one last time trying to see Helen and Dave in the crowd before I start, but the crowd is huge and I have no chance… they play the Austrian national anthem…60 seconds to race start booms over the tannoy… is this what the soldiers felt like as they climbed over the top of the trenches to charge the enemy I wonder??… the longest 60 seconds of my life…
Ironman Austria triathlon Swim
BOOM… the cannon goes and we are off! It’s absolute mayhem as we all run into the clear waters of the Worthersee lake, I keep to my plan, stay right and its working, virtually everyone has gone left to take the shorter, more direct route… result! I quickly settle into a rhythm and target a long straight diagonal course to the first turning buoy… I can see very few other swimmers in front of me or to my right, but hundreds on my left, the first buoy is going to be manic I think to myself…and it is, but I swim wide and I am soon round it and on my way again, its busier now that I’m in the main flow of swimmers, but not too bad. Round the next turning buoy it get’s rough again and at one point I actually see a swimmer stop, reverse, swim against the flow and punch another swimmer… my head fills with thoughts like… what a ****-head, what a waste of energy and how the hell does he know who to punch!!!
I start the long swim back to shore and the entrance to the Lendkanal but we are all now swimming directly into the slowly rising sun and all the bi-lateral breathing in the world ain’t going to help when the sun is straight ahead and sighting properly is virtually impossible… I have no option but to follow the crowd and hope that whoever is at the front is leading us all the right way… if he isn’t, we are all heading for a mass pile up on the beach.
I eventually get to the entrance to the Lendkanal and it’s everything that it’s reputation would lead you to believe… the crowds are immense and even though your head is in the water, you can hear the shouting, screaming, horns and bells. The canal is very narrow and packed and it’s a real battle, all is going well until I get kicked in the face and lose my goggles… a brief panic before I realise they are caught on my swim hat and I’m only swimming in about 4 feet of water, so I just stand up, put them back on and carry on swimming. As I had been told by many people, although the canal is about 1 km long, this part of the swim will go in a flash and it does…
Ironman Triathlon Transition Box
I reach the beach with a slightly disappointing feeling as I don’t think I have swum hard enough, it felt too relaxed… then I see my watch which reads 58 minutes and I can’t believe I felt so good swimming so quickly… I instantly feel great and run across the lawn of the Seepark Hotel, ripping off my wetsuit, run into the tunnel under the hotel and out the other side… into blinding sunlight and deafening crowds… I run up the narrow, fenced off runway with crowds on either side… I hear my name called and its Helen, can’t believe she has got such a good spot and has seen me… I want to stop and give her a huge hug… but time is tight so I give her a ‘high 5’ as I run past… then I see Dave who shouts me on.
Into the transition tent, strip off, lube up again, grab a gel, sunglasses on, helmet on…dump kit bag… run to bike… grab bike and race to transition exit… shit… gone the wrong way… how the hell do you get out of this bloody place? It’s huge! I’m wasting valuable energy, but eventually I’m out and on my bike and set off on one seriously long bike ride!
Ironman Austria Bike leg
Shortly after mounting the bike I approach the u-turn which I get round safely and then I get my feet into my shoes and settle in for a long day on the bike… I wonder how Jamie and Max are doing… they should be nearby if I swam 58 minutes, but I’m not sure if they are just ahead or just behind me on the course. As I head out on the out-and-back to the football stadium Max flashes past me and shouts out, but he’s gone before I realise who it is, he must be 2-3 minutes ahead of me so he has pulled out a great swim… good lad… now I have to chase him down… I will probably run faster than him, but not by much, so I can’t let him get too far ahead. I haven’t seen Jamie at all so he has either had a nightmare swim or a stormer and is ahead of Max.
I turn onto the lake road and now the race is really on, so I settle down and focus on the 5-6 hour ride ahead. The road is pretty busy and I’m worried about drafting. I seem to be continually braking to maintain the 10m gap but even so, my Garmin say’s my average speed is 24mph… too fast… I need to ease off a bit. There are lots of female pro’s on the road who have swum about the same time as me and one in particular ‘Camilla’ is proving to be a right pain-in-the-****, sitting on my wheel on the flat, I manage to drop her every time we hit a climb and then she comes back to me on the downhills… she is really annoying and I want the draft busters to penalise her.
I feel good on the bike and I am keeping a steady pace knowing that the big climbs are still to come. I’m through Velden and Rosegg and I haven’t needed anything from an aid station yet, but as I approach the aid station on the climb up to Faaker See, I realise I have found something that I haven’t trained for… how to grab a bottle with one hand as you fly past on the bike… I miss the first guy who is shouting “ISO, ISO, ISO” and grab the next one along, take a mouthful to check it, but its coke… too early to resort to coke, so I chuck it and carry on… going to have to nail the next aid station as I am now a bottle down.
I ride on through St Niklas, Ledenitzen, Mallenitzen and then St Peter and as we approach Rosegg again the draft buster finally decides enough is enough for Camilla and gives her the black flag to signify she has to take a 6 minute drafting penalty at the next penalty box… thank god for that, rid of her at last… but she starts shouting and gesticulating at the marshall as if she doesn’t know what she’s been penalised for … yeah right. She then continues past the penalty box and annoyingly, the limpet remains firmly in tow.
I hit the latter part of the first lap and I’m approaching the big climb of the course, the Rupertiberg. The crowds are bigger now and as I take the final sharp left turn that gets you to the bottom of the climb, I hear my name shouted out… it’s Helen and Dave who have somehow managed to get all the way out here since they saw me come out of the swim… I can’t put into words how pleased I am to see them and how grateful that they made the effort to get out onto the bike course… I’m so pleased I give them a big wave and thumbs up and nearly come off the bike… then I’m onto the climb… I’m focused on the road looking for where Dave, yesterday, painted the message “Go JP &…”, before he ran out of paint. I’m half way up the climb and even though the road is covered in messages, I see it… a great boost which along with the crowds, the shouting, the cow bells and the manic DJ, all help me to get to the top… I feel good, grab a drink and a couple of bananas for the ride downhill back to Klagenfurt, get my head down and I’m flying… the speed really picks up and I am back at the start before I know it… half way… but now I’ve got to do it all again.
As I approach the u-turn at half way I see both Jamie and Max coming towards me, so they are both ahead of me, but now its only about 30 secs, so we are very close. I begin the second lap, turning onto the lake road for what I know will be the last time, I think to myself on this lap everything I do will be for the last time… thank god. I settle in for the second lap… the annoying Camilla is still following closely behind, that’s 2.5 bloody hours she’s been tailing me now and she still hasn’t taken the 6 min penalty she got from the draft busters…according to the pre-race briefing that’s a DQ!!!
I see Jamie ahead and a few minutes later I catch him and we have a quick chat… I explain my Camilla problem… I slow down, he speeds up and she jumps onto Jamie’s wheel, she’s his problem now!!! We too and fro for about 15 mins with me going ahead on the small climbs and Jamie powering past on the downhills and flats… “It looks like your new wife has left you and hooked up with me” he shouts as he passes me again with Camilla firmly in tow.
We eventually get to the hillier part of the course and I pull away from Jamie and catch Max at the top of the climb out of Velden… I’m still feeling reasonably good and I am well into my second lap… I carry on through Rosegg, Faakar See, St Niklas, and back to Rosegg and then on the climb back to Velden, disaster strikes, half way up the climb I drop down into the small chain ring, the chain jumps across and rather than being caught by the chain catcher… which is its sole purpose in life… it jams under the chain catcher, locking the back wheel into a skid and bringing me to a juddering halt. I jump off the bike, my heart rate now feels like it’s at 200bpm and in a blind panic and I try to fix the chain, but its completely jammed and a very unscientific yank on the chain doesn’t help the situation very much!!! A marshall’s motorbike stops to check I’m ok and I explain the problem…he says he can’t physically help me as he’d then have to DQ me… but he can help me mentally… Great… I think to myself what the **** use is that to me now! Actually it turns out to be very useful… he says…”walk away, take a few deep breaths, calm down, the chain got stuck there on its own which means you can get it out” so I do what he says and I realise I also have a rear flat… b**ger. Jamie comes past me on the climb and shouts to check that I’m ok and I have everything that I need… I’m really grateful for his offer but there is no point two of us being stuck on this bloody hill so I wave him on… I whip off the rear wheel and change the inner tube in no time and now that I’ve taken off the rear wheel, the chain falls free, obvious when you think about it, but panic caused me not to think clearly… I have the wheel back on and I’m on my way, heart rate still too high and I’m covered in oil, but I’m back on the road. I try to stay calm and find my rhythm again and try to avoid going too fast, too soon, in an effort to make up for lost time. Although it felt like a life time at the side of the road, my Garmin says it was only 3 to 4 minutes… it could have been much worse.
I get back into my rhythm and I catch Jamie on a climb just before the Rupertiberg, but Max is long gone and I don’t think I’ll see him again on the bike. I reach the bottom of the Rupertiberg, the last big climb of the day and then it’s the long descent back to Klagenfurt… I’m starting to feel tired, but ok and I can’t wait to get onto the run and see if all that training is going to pay off.
I get to the dismount line, safely jump off, run into transition, rack my bike and run into the changing tent, quick change, put on a cap… I have never run in a cap before so I am breaking all the rules by doing something for the first time on race day… but its going to be hot so I think it’s worth the risk. I’m out of the tent and onto the run… the first few 100 metres are the big test… the legs feel ok.
Out of transition on to the Run
As I run down the barricaded path down the side of the Seepark Hotel, Dave shout’s out “You are doing great Rich… Max is 2 mins ahead, chase him down” and then I pass Helen and give her another high 5… its so good to see them both again because I know its going to get really tough now. I’m worried about my hamstring which has been giving me problems for a couple of weeks and I just hope it holds out for 26 miles!!! I run down to the Expo Village, the Garmin beeps the first mile speed, it 6m 35s… too bloody quick, slow down I shout at myself in my head, so I do, or at least I feel like I do… mile two is 6m 33s… so much for slowing down. The crowds through the Expo Village are huge, the biggest of the day and very noisy which is great, its really buzzing… I get lots of shout’s from people who either know me or who just recognise the Team MK kit.
I run out along the lake to Krumpendorf which is mentally draining as it’s both the start of a long run and also because the race organisers have put the run right through a series of outdoor lakeside restaurants… they have literally just cleared tables out of the way, so while the support is amazing, seeing hundreds of people having a nice cold beer in the shade, when you know you have 24 miles left to run is not good.
I’m in a rhythm now, hamstring is sore, but it’s holding out and I’m hitting regular miles at 6m 50s which is a 3.00 hour marathon, bang on target… its getting fairly warm and I take advantage of every aid station, to take drinks and cold sponges and run under every hosepipe being sprayed by the local support. I’m bloody pleased for the hat and glad that Helen insisted yesterday that I buy one as I wasn’t going to bother… but its comfy and I’ve had no problems with it. In no time at all I’m back at the Expo Village with 8 miles done. The crowd seems to have got bigger and louder and Dave and Helen are now on the grass bank by the Expo Village… Dave shouts “Max is only 30 seconds ahead”… So I know I’m gaining about 10-15 seconds a mile on him so I should catch him soon… then I see him ahead and close him down. It’s great to catch him and we run together for the next 10 miles or so, pretending its just a regular pre-work run together… Although as we both know, it is far from it, but the plan works and the miles click by as we fly through the field up into Klagenfurt main square and then back down to the Expo Village again. As we run we see lots of Team MK’ers running in the other direction… as tired as everyone is, we all shout for each other as we pass on the course. We are half way now and as we run through the Expo Village our support crowd goes mad as they see Max and I running together… its big shouts and high 5’s for Dave and Helen and Nicky and her friends. As we exit the Expo Village we run through an ice-cold mist spray which is fantastic, then back along the lakeside to Krumpendorf again.
As we approach the Expo Village again with only about 6 miles to go Max says he needs to slow down and I start to pull away as I want to maintain steady miles at 6m 50s and run a sub 3.00 hour marathon. Dave shouts that JP has just got off his bike… which is great news as there is always a high risk of accidents on the bike in a race like this… and as I run through the park, I see him coming down the side of the canal towards me… he looks in good shape… we smack hands as we pass and I tell him to keep his pace steady.
My hamstring is really giving me grief now and I stop to take salt tablets and some pain killers and to stretch it off a little… and then I’m on my way again. I know I’m on for a great time if I can just keep it going for another 5 miles… I grit my teeth, nothing is going to stop me know… back up to Klagenfurt main square and round it, then head back to the finish at the Expo Village… where’s Max I think as I double back out of the market square, he can’t be far behind me… and there he is about 2 mins down. I don’t think he will catch me now as there are only about 3 miles to go and I’m running 6m 45s so he would need to do around 6min miles to catch me.
I run down the canal, back through the park… so bloody close now I can hear the crowds. I see Dave and Helen and I’ve only got a few hundred metres to go, although it feels like a lifetime… through the ice-cold mist spray… wonderful… and this time I turn left to the finish line while everyone else goes right onto a 13 mile or 26 mile marathon run. I run along the finish shute by the lakeside and then turn 90 degrees left into the stadium. The atmosphere is unbelievable and the noise is deafening… It’s only then that I look up at the finish clock and see that it reads 9hrs 9mins… that can’t be right… I felt I was on for a good time but I thought it would be around 9hrs 30mins… I cross the finish line and I hear the tannoy announce “Richard Ashton of Great Britain finishing first in his category… Richard you are an IRONMAN and you are going to the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii”. I have lost count of how many times I have thought of this moment on all those brutal training sessions… was it worth it?? Abso-bloody-lutely!! I turn back to the crowd, punch the air in delight… and then my legs give way… I have absolutely nothing left.
Post Race - triathlon recovery
I stumble through the finish area, grab a huge drink and sit on a bench in the shade. For a split second I think of the days of triathlon training in the horrendous UK Spring weather, the support I’ve had from Mark who has given me so much good advice, the Team MK’ers who I’ve trained with, but particularly Helen who has put up with a lot through it all and my first place finish, Kona slot and time of 9hrs 9mins and I’m just so bloody relieved that I haven’t let anyone down and that all the effort has been worth it… I can’t help it, but my eyes just well up with relief… the medical team interpret it to be that I’m in distress and race over to me but I tell them that I’m fine… just a little overcome by it all… the lady smiles and says “If I’d just done 9hrs 9mins and qualified for Kona, I’d be a little emotional…” I just smile and nod, too knackered to speak and think back to the motto that Dad had stuck on his study desk all those years ago “He wins who from the first tries hard to succeed, not he who at the last strives hard not to fail”… very true I think to myself after 9 months of hard triathlon training.
After a few minutes, I wander through the finishing area and see Max (Fusion sport team) who finished a couple of minutes after me and then I see Helen and Dave through the fence… I’m buzzing again… Max and I share a drink from the massive winners beer glass… it tastes great. We all head down to the lake for a quick swim to cool down and then head back to the course to cheer on JP and the rest of the Team MK’ers. Dave is tracking JP via the Ironman Austria app so we know where he is and when he comes past, we are screaming at him, he looks in good shape and is in a steady rhythm… I’m not sure he even knows we are there as he looks very focused and ‘in-the-zone’ as he goes past… we shout to every Team MK’er we see… Jamie, Eddie, Alex, Rob, Mike, Jez and many more. It’s great to see everyone, but especially so as we have finished.
As JP is on the final part of his run we move to the finishing shute to cheer him on. We wait for what seems like an age, but is probably only a few minutes and we start to get a little worried, but its great to see him when he comes round the corner… he looks shattered, which isn’t surprising… but he is about 50 metres from finishing and then we hear over the tannoy…”John Paul… YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!”… we race round to see him, well Max and I hobble… and I give him a huge hug when I see him, which with hindsight turned out not to be such a good idea as he screams in pain from his sunburnt shoulders and back… but it’s all over, 9 months of hard work for all of us… job done.
We are both now very tired and very relieved IRONMAN!!!
9 hours, 9 minutes, 47 seconds
12 hours, 55 minutes, 07 seconds
Doesn’t know…doesn’t care!!
KONA HERE WE COME!!!