I arrived in Klagenfurt early on Thursday before Sunday's race and went to register at the "Irondome" on the shores of Lake Wörthersee. I checked up on my bike at Race Force's HQ and had a brief look around the expo before it got busy.
Over the next few days I met up a number of times with my sister who had travelled—via Venice—to support and cheer me. Only the day before the race did it sincerely dawn on me how touching and meaningful this was, as well as how much it helped having someone close by.
I had planned to take part in as much of the "Ironman experience" as possible but in practice I not only wanted to stay out of the sun as much as possible, I found that there was an unhealthy pre-race tension at the various events so I kept myself at a slight distance.
Between participants the topic of discussion was invariably the weather forecast but I avoided paying much attention as I had no locus of control; I would simply make different decisions in each eventuality. However, one could not "un-learn" that it reached 40°C on the run course in 2012, landing many in hospital.
As this was my first long-distance triathlon with a corresponding investment of training I decided that conservative pacing and decisions were especially prudent in order to guarantee a finish. Ironman race intensity is quite low but this also means the perceived difference between a sustainable and a "suicide" pace is dangerously narrow.
Despite that, my goal was to finish under 11 hours, targeting a 1:20 swim, a 5:30 bike and a 4:00 marathon.
I got to sleep at around 10PM and awoke early at 3AM, fearing that I had missed my alarm. I dozed for another hour before being woken at 4AM and immediately started on two strong coffees and waited for a taxi.
Over the next 2 hours I ate two Powerbars, a banana and sipped on isotonic energy drink. I also had a gel immediately before the swim, a total of approximately 600 calories. Many consume much more pre-race, but I had not practised this and there would be plenty of time to eat on the bike.
I got to transition as it opened at 5AM and checked over my bags and bike and then made my way slowly to the lake to put on my wetsuit.
- 3.8km / 2.4 miles
- 1:21:31 (2:08/100m)
I felt my swimming ability to be just on the right of the bell-curve so I lined myself up according to their suggestion. I'm quite good with nerves so in the final ten minutes I kept to myself and remained very calm.
After some theatrics from the organisers, the gun finally went off at 7AM. It was difficult to get my technique "in" straight away but after about 5 minutes I found I could focus almost entirely on my stroke. I didn't get kicked too much and I reached the first turn buoy in good time, feeling relaxed. Between the next two buoys I had some brief hamstring cramps but they passed quickly.
After the second turn I veered off-course due to difficulties in sighting the next landmark—the entrance to the Lend canal—in the rising sun. Once I reached it, the canal itself was fast-moving but a little too congested so I became stuck behind slower swimmers.
The end of the swim came suddenly and glancing at my watch I was pretty happy with my time, especially as I didn't feel like I had exerted myself much at all.
Due to the size of Ironman events there is an involved system of transition bags and changing tents; no simple container beside your bike. There was also a fair amount of running between the tents as well. Despite that (and deciding to swim in my Castelli skinsuit to save time) I was surprised at such a long transition split – I'm not sure where I really spent it all.
I also had been under the impression volunteers would be applying sunscreen so I had put my only sun spray in the bike-to-run bag, not the swim-to-bike one. However, I found a discarded bottle by my feet and borrowed some.
- 180km / 112 miles
- 5:30:12 (32.7kph - 20.3mph)
The bike leg consists of two hilly laps just to the south of the Wörthersee.
It felt great to be out on the bike but it soon became frustrating as I could not keep to my target wattage due to so many people on the course. There were quite a few marshalls out too which compounded this – I didn't want to exert any more than necessary in overtaking slower riders but I also did not want to draft, let alone be caught drafting.
This also meant I had to switch my read-out from a 10-second power average to 3-seconds, a sub-optimal situation as it does not encourage consistent power output. It's likely a faster swim time would have "seeded" me within bikers more around my ability, positively compounding my overall performance.
I started eating after about 15 minutes: in total I consumed six Powerbars, a NutriGrain, half a banana, four full bottles of isotonic mix and about 500ml of Coca-Cola. I estimate I took on about 1750 calories in total.
The aid stations were very well-run, my only complaints being that the isotonic drink became extremely variable—the bottles being half-filled and/or very weak—and that a few were cruelly positioned before hills rather than after them.
I felt I paced the climbs quite well and kept almost entirely below threshold as rehearsed. Gearing-wise, I felt I had chosen wisely – I would not have liked to have been without 36x28 in places and only managed to spin out the 52x12 four or five times. Another gear around 16t would have been nice though.
There was quite heavy rain and wind on the second lap but it did not deter the locals or my sister, who was on the Rupitiberg waving a custom "Iron Lamb" banner. It was truly fantastic seeing her out on the course.
On the final descent towards transition I was happy with my time given the congestion but crucially did not feel like I had just ridden 112 miles, buoying my spirits for the upcoming marathon.
Apart from the dismount line which came without warning and having a small mishap in finding my bike rack, transitioning to the run was straightforward.
- 42.175km / 26.2 miles
- 3:54:21 (5:33/km - 8:56/mile)
The run course consists of two "out-and-backs". The first leads to Krumpendorf along the Wörthersee and the railway, the second to the centre of Klagenfurt along the canal. Each of these is repeated twice.
I felt great off the bike but it is always difficult to slow oneself to an easy pace after T2, even when you are shouting at yourself to do so. I did force my cadence down—as well as scared myself with a 4:50 split for the first kilometer—and settled into the first leg to Krumpendorf.
Once the crowds thinned I took stock and decided to find a bathroom before it could become a problem. After that, I felt confident enough to start taking on fuel and the 10km marker on the return to the Irondome came around quickly.
Over the course of the run I had about three or four caffeinated gels and in latter stages a few mouthfuls of Coke. I tried drinking water but switched to watermelon slices as I realised I could absorb more liquid that way, remaining moving and gaining a feeling of security that comes from simply carrying something.
The first visit to Klagenfurt was unremarkable and I was taking care to not go too hard on the downhill gradients there – whilst going uphill is relatively straightforward to pace, I find downhill running deceptively wearing on your quads and I still had 25km to go.
The halfway point came after returning from Klagenfurt and I was spotted by my sister which was uplifting. I threw her a smile, my unused running belt and told her I felt great, which I realised I actually did.
At about 23km I sensed I needed the bathroom again but the next aid station had locked theirs and for some bizarre reason I then did not stop when I saw a public WC which was clearly open. I finally found one at 28km but the episode had made for a rather uncomfortable second lap of Krumpendorf. I did run a little of the Klagenfurt canal earlier in the week, but I wished I had run the route through Krumpendorf instead – there was always "just another" unexpected turn which added to the bathroom frustration.
In a chapter in What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami writes about the moment he first ran past 26.2 miles:
I exaggerate only a bit when I say that the moment I straddled that line a slight shiver went through me, for this was the first time I'd ever run more than a marathon. For me this was the Strait of Gibraltar, beyond which lay an unknown sea. What lay in wait beyond this, what unknown creatures were living there, I didn't have a clue. In my own small way I felt the same fear that sailors of old must have felt.
I was expecting a similar feeling at this point but I couldn't recall whether my longest run to date was 30 or 31km, a detail which somehow seemed to matter at the time. I certainly noticed how uphill the final return from Krumpendorf had suddenly become and how many people had started walking, lying down, or worse.
32km. Back near the Irondome, the crowds were insatiable but extremely draining. Having strangers call your name out in support sounds nice in principle but I was already struggling to focus, my running form somewhat shot.
In the final leg to Krumpendorf, the changes of gradient appeared to have been magnified tenfold but I was still mostly in control, keeping focused on the horizon and taking in something when offered. Once I reached Klagenfurt for the last time at 36km I decided to ignore the aid stations; they probably weren't going to be of any further help and running on fumes rather than take nutrition risks seemed more prudent.
The final stretch from Klagenfurt remains a bit of a blur. I remember briefly walking up a rather nasty section of canal towpath, this was the only part I walked outside of the aid stations which again seemed more important (and worrying) at the time. I covered a few kilometers alongside another runner where matching his pace was a welcome distraction from the pain and feelings of utter emptiness and exhaustion.
I accelerating away from him and others but the final kilometer seemed like an extremely cruel joke, teasing you multiple times with the sights and sounds of the finish before winding you away—with yet more underpasses!—to fill out the distance.
Before entering the finishing chute I somehow zipped up my trisuit, flattened my race number and climbed the finish ramp, completely numb to any "You are an Ironman" mantra being called out.
- Total time
I spent about 15 minutes in the enclave just beyond the finish line, really quite unsure about how my body was feeling. After trying lying down and soaking myself in water, Harriet took me off to the post-race tent where goulash, pizza and about a litre of Sport-Weiss made me feel human again...