Now I know why they say that Ironman Austria is one of the best destination races out there. With amost 3,000 participants, 100,000 spectators and a large part of the city and surrounding towns closed to traffic for most of the day the event just takes on a life of its own. Think Olympic village + Tour de France vibe all in one.
I signed up for the race through Enurance Sports Travel (EST) again. Ken Glah’s group (world record 29 Kona finishes) provides incredible service and I highly recommend them for any destination Ironman and Ironman 70.3.
The swim takes place in lake Worthersee. One of many gorgeous lakes in the Carinthian region of Austria. It is the clearest and cleanest lake I’ve ever seen. It puts many Caribbean beaches to shame. 2,700 participants line up on two sides of a pier and prepare for a mass start. This race had many more people than last year so they created a 1st way of 400 elite to go off right after the pros at 6:50. For the rest of us mortals the gun went off at 7:00 AM and the usual madness ensued. Surprisingly I experienced minimal contact during the swim. About 150 yards out they set off red flares to add to the ambiance. Swimming by it and inhaling the smoke with every breath was not pleasant, but that only lasted for about a minute or so. The water was a perfect 70 +/- degrees and like I said crystal clear.
It’s inevitable to get a couple of gulps of lake or sea during a race. It’s usually nasty and results in a few seconds of coughing. Swallowing this water was literally like drinking out of a Poland Spring bucket. Think of it as an on demand aid station. I got off pace a few times because I was enjoying it so much. The scene was breath taking. Breath to the left and you see towering mountains, stroke, stroke, stroke, breath to the right and see hot air balloons supporting the race. Their version of the Snoopy blimp. Simply beautiful!
The signature mark of the swim in this race is the canal finish. The last 400 yards was through a beautiful but narrow canal that ended on the beach by the SeePark hotel. The canal is crystal clear during the day and looked like it was going to be very enjoyable swimming through it. Well thousand of feet and arms tend to stir up the bottom a bit so it was like swimming through liquid quicksand. Regardless, the cheering spectators made it an enjoyable experience. The early signs of a cramp in my righ hamstring did take away from the enjoyment a bit. I rarely cramp up during the swim so it was a bit concerning. It didn’t come on fully but I knew it would later.
Finished the swim in 1:28:51. Could have easily gone harder but it was sincerely hard to concentrate because the environment was like no other and I really enjoyed just taking it in. I’m usually quite winded after a 2.4 mile swim but felt awesome coming out of the water. I usually wobble but for the 1st time ever I ran strong all the way into T1. I easily found my bike bag and went into the tent to change. Surprisingly there were no wetsuit strippers. Not sure why I have a hard time taking mine off but the attemp brought out the cramp in hiding and another in the left leg too. I had to stop and stretch a couple of times before continuing. Unfortunately my T1 time of 7:50 was as slow as ever.
Ran to get my bike, ran it out of transition and it was off to the course. Less than one mile out I hear a crash behind me followed by a lot of screaming. Don’t know what happened but the two involved were not off to a good start. Turning my head back caused me to vear to the right and come within inches of the curb and my own crash.
The ride started off fantastic with beautiful views of the lake. 15 miles of mainly flat road with some minor rolling hills resulted in an average speed of 19 MPH which for me is huge. I was going to take it easy for the 1st 56 mile loop then see if I can go a bit harder the 2nd time around. That didn’t quite work out. My rear derailleur decided to malfunction and I could not get into the gear that I wanted for the rest of the ride. After some nasty noises it would land the chain in a gear or two harder and nothing that I did would make a difference. I know little about deraileurs and rely on my LBS for all tunning. I’m sure the adjustment needed would have been minor but lack of knowledge and a tool meant that I had 97 miles left without the use of all my gears. This should be fun.
The course is simply beautiful. Rolling hills in the Austrian country side going through cute little towns all filled with cheering spectators having a great time and very vocally showing their support. All you would hear is them yelling Hop!, Hop!, Hop! German cheer for Go, Go, Go!! They were all genually into every rider zooming by.
The course had 2 pretty serious climbs. One was about a 13% grade but not too long and the 2nd was twice as long at about 10%. The crowds on these climbs were incredible. The closer you got to the top the rowdier they got. It was very Tour de France’esq with people on both sides of you cheering almost in your face as you’re muscling your way up the hill. The 2nd climb actually had one of those round blow up entry ways with a band playing and a full out party going on.
I did all I possibly could to take in the great weather, 75-80*, beautiful mountain and meadow scenery and awesome crowd support but I was struggling big time with my gears and seriously overworking my legs. Hills are my kryptonite and doing them without the right gears was torture.
With no signs for over 2 hours at mile 50 my little cramps from before decide to show up. It hit me like a ton of bricks. First the right leg, hamstring and calf and a few seconds later the left thigh. Super painful and tight. I tried unclipping my shoe so I could stop and stretch but I couldn’t move my feet with enough force to unclip. It was really bad. 30 seconds later they left as quickly as they appeared. I knew this wasn’t the last of them but there is nothing you can do so I just biked on. A minue later a couple of motorcycles sped past me. I knew that meant the pro’s were approaching. They were finishing their 2nd lap. It was amazing seeing them go by. I was doing 20 MPH at the time on a flat and they past me like I was standing still. #1 Andreas Raelert, the eventual winner in 7:59:51, was 3rd at the time. If he was 3rd, I didn’t feel too bad being like 2000th at the time.
I got back into town and was dreading having to repeat another 56 miles and over 3 more hours on the bike. 3,000 more feet of climbing with derailleur issues and the threat of nasty cramps coming back added to the feeling.
During loop 2 my front derailleur decided to join the party. I could’nt go between the large and small ring without looking down and carefully shifting. If I shifted with a bit too much force the chain would fall off. And it did, 3 times. Once to the inside, twice to the outside. Very frustrating having to stop, get off and put it back on each time. As tough as this day was getting I was praying that nothing too serious would go wrong with the bike. Even with my goal time being impossible to reach at this point I really wanted to finish this race.
The crowd was a bit more inebriated and cheering even louder at this point. Especially at the top of the tough climbs. I decided to get an even louder rise out of them and popped a wheely at the top of the 1st climb. I guess the legs still had a little left. They responded with a loud applause which was a much needed boost because I was starting to really hurt.
The 2nd climb came again at mile 90. It took me 16 minutes to get to the top. 3 to 4 MPH, butt in and out of the saddle and it taking over 1 second to rotate the crank each time. This climb was the nail in the coffin for my legs. There was a woman from the UK struggling right behind me and panting very loudly. I felt her pain too but it got quite amusing after a few minutes. I’ve never heard so much panting for so long. I almost offered her a cigarette when we got to the top.
One good thing about a hilly course like this are the long downhills you’re rewarded with throughout the course. There were some super long ones where I could rest my legs and just cruise at 25 – 30 MPH. This is the only part of triathlon where my weight offers an advantage. Thank you gravity. 112 mile bike completed in a quick 7:21:11.
When I was riding back into town I started really freeking out about having to run a 26 mile marathon after this brutal bike split. With the cramps lurking inside my legs I truly felt that I would not be able to stand when I got off the bike. Well I was able to stand but the muscles needed to bend and take my bike shoes off and put socks and sneakers on brought back some cramps. These weren’t too bad though. Stretching helped but T2 turned into a long 7:16.
Jogging gingerly out of T2 I was pleasantly surprised, actually amazed that my legs still worked and I actually fealt fine. Wasn’t sure if it was real or just the euphoria of being off that bike. I took off at a good pace and the memory of the ride from hell started to fade. When my watch beeped after 1 mile and I saw 8:30 as the pace I was blown away. Must slow down! Mile 2 was 8:45. I started getting very happy. I wasn’t supposed to see Steph and Ro until the finish but there they were on the run course by the lake. I felt incredible and told them to be at the finish line in 4 hours. Silly me.
The run course was totally flat, thank god! It was devided into 2 out and backs. One through a really ritzy Lake Front community and the other up a canal road lined with mansions and looping through downtown Klagenfurt into the main town square filled with outdoor restauraunts that were packed with cheering fans. Two loops through the above and you’re done. This is a very spectator friendly run course. Your family and friends can camp out on the grass, by the beach, in restaurants or on benches by the canal and see you 4 times during the run.
So I get my pace under control and finish mile 3 in 9 minutes flat. I am on cloud 9 at this point. If I can keep this up I will have a sub 4 hr marathon. I slowed a bit for mile 4 and 5 thinking I would make it up later since I’ve been successfully negative splitting during run training. Mile 6 is when the big one came. This time it decided to stay for a while. A long while!!! Run/Jog combo turned into Jog/Walk by mile 10 which turned into let’s just walk the rest since my legs refuse to run and there is plenty of time left till midnight. I started doing the math of what time I would get to the finish walking 20 min miles. Even simple math is not easy at this point in the day.
The wheels completely fell off and I was having my worst run experience ever. Total meltdown but there was no way I was dropping out. With 10 miles left I was so exhausted I think I actually fell asleep walking. I kept thinking how much it would suck for Larisa who was listed as my emergency contact to get a call from the medical tent if I passed out. That thought woke me up.
On my second of 4 passes I asked Ken’s daughter to call and update Steph and Ro. She had them come down to the EST tent that was set up by the canal.
With 6 miles left I saw them by the tent waiting for me to pass. I fealt really bad that they were waiting around for so long. Told them that I was really sorry but I refuse to quit. They both told me to shut up and keep going. They actually had a great time spectating in various spot throughout the day.
I was just going to walk the rest of the course. When I saw my Garmin hit 13 and a half hours I got really mad. That was my finishing time for Ironman Lake Placid. Every minute from this point forward would be a minute slower finishing time. The competitive switch in my head clicked on and I started to run again. Well more like jog. The crowds in the restaurants in town square were incredible. If someone was walking they would yell words of encouragement to get them to jog followed by applause if they did. When someone jogged by there was a small applause of support to keep going. I decide to do an all out sprint through restaurant row and jump over a cone at the end. That got a huge rise out of them. My legs didn’t appreciate that stunt very much and I walked / jogged the next mile.
With two miles left you can start to hear the announcer, the crowd and the party going on at the finish line. It just got dark and Ironman puts on a great party for spectating the after dark finishers with the energy of the party rising every hour towards the cutoff at midnight. The applause felt great in town so I dug out the last ounce of juice left and ran all out at full speed down the finishing chute. The crowd went wild. It was my personal exclamation point to a very long day. Run time ended up being a record long 5:27:02.
Ironman #2 is in the books with an official finishing time of 14:36:10. Almost to the minute 1 hr longer than IMLP. With the obstacles encountered I am very pleased with the time. No more long tri’s planned for this year but I am really looking forward to doing the NJ State Tri Sprint with Stephanie in a few weeks. Next big race will be the NYC Marathon where hopefully the wheels won’t fall off again followed by the Philadelphia Marathon with my sister. Can’t wait!
Thanks for reading!