*** Many thanks to Paulo Costa for this race report ***

Where do I start? Maybe by saying that it was great day for me. Back in March I wasn’t able to participate in IM 70.3 Singapore due to an unexpected leg surgery one week before the race. This would have been my first Half Ironman ever, so being able to complete this one has a special meaning, and racing in postcard location like Zell am See was simply amazing.

Pre-race

I am extremely happy to have it completed, and happy with the 5:35:58 time, but at the same time I know I can do significantly better. The fact that that the three weeks before the race I travelled to 3 different locations with long-haul flights, did 2 night flights with no proper sleep, and in between I managed to move house, didn’t make my preparation easy. And not to mention that in the previous two months I had an intense travel schedule too. All the missed trainings were making me feel guilty untill 3-4 days before the race.

I’m on my first year of triathlon, and this would be my first ever IM 70.3. But I have forgotten something very important: the main goal of doing all this is to have fun. Also to stay healthy, travel a bit, and of course challenge myself. After resetting my priorities,I can tell you that I started to have lots of fun, and the smile on my face in the pics that were taken of me during the run can prove that.

TIP : There’s no point doing an Ironman race if you don’t have fun along the way.

The days before the race were hectic. On Wednesday I worked till 6pm, and I still had to collect a borrowed bike case (Thanks Venny ), disassemble the bike and pack everything for a 8:30am flight on Thursday morning. Packing started at 10:30pm and I was done by 2:00am. Next morning taxi didn’t show up, and we had to drive to the airport with 2 bike cases in the back, drop them at check-in, park the car and come back, to find out that our flight was delayed by 2 hours.

TIP: There’s never too much preparation and it helps a lot, but don’t use the lack of it as an excuse to give up.

After arriving to Munich, we still had some challenges with the rental car, but after all was sorted, we started our journey towards Zell am See, and I don’t have words to describe the scenery we’ve seen. The green mountains and valleys when we entered Austria were breath-taking. We passed for a little town called Walschee where Challenge Tyrol 70.3 will take place on September 9th. Simply amazing too, worth considering for next year.

The other great thing about this race was that I wasn’t alone, there was 7 of us racing: myself, Anne Petersen, Chris McVickars (Chief), Jo Edwards, Marie O’Neill, Ian Jones , and my cousin Nuno Fernandes from Portugal. On top of that, we had “Swim around the world” Kate as our amazing supporter, photographer, bag carrier, motivator, etc., my mom and my Aunt. Having training buddies, family and friends around is quite good. It doesn’t mean that we always have to be with each other, but we know we have each other to count on and get support.

Friday we all went for a swim on the lake and it was a pleasant surprise, as me being a person that lived most of its life by the sea, and still being a rookie swimmer, swimming in a lake is not my favourite thing. But it turned out to be extremely pleasant: the water was very clear and clean, even safe to drink (not that I wanted to drink, but I involuntarily still drink it a lot while swimming).

After that, we jumped into a 9 seater van and we went for a drive along the bike course. We were able to see most of it, and helped us understand that there were some narrow roads bike bike paths, tight bends, wooden bridges, cobble stone segments that we would need to be careful with. Other than that, just a beautiful scenery all along. We were just hoping that there wouldn’t be rain (at least I was hoping that). We have done the race registration and we (I did) spend some (a lot) of money on the Ironman merchandise store and Expo area.

TIP: (1) If possible, always check the race course the days before the race, and (2)take a fixed amount of money and don’t take credit card to the merchandise area.

On Saturday we went out for a 15mins swim, 15 mins bike and 15 mins run. We rode our bikes to the swim start with rug sack on our backs with wetsuit and googles. The swim felt pretty nice, but when I was coming off the water and practicing how to take the wetsuit off before the transition, without noticing, my Garmin 910XT fell off from the quick release kit after having stopped the timer when coming off the water. I was really p#$%"%d off after not being able to find it and I forgot all about the “having fun” part that I mentioned before. I took all my frustration on the wetsuit, and I found out afterwards that Anne and Nuno were afraid that they would get the same treatment and just stepped back .

So, how the hell was I going to the race without being able to pace myself based on the heartrate?!

TIP: Gadgets are great, but being so dependent on them can be a bad thing.

Moving on, race briefing was at 10am, and we would have a wave bike check-in, which would give me till 4pm to get everything ready to take to transition area. I’m not good at packing, and doing the RUN and BIKE bags is even a bigger nightmare for me. All in all, it went pretty well and I took a minimum amount of items, which I used them all and they were no excessive. The only part which I was not quite happy about it, was my pink lock laces, the only pair available at the Expo area, as I’ve forgot to buy them back in Dubai when I got my new runners. So, pink laces on a flashy green Newton’s … perfect combination (all comes down to preparation).

The only concern I had left was the weather forecast. We had 25ºC on Friday and blue sky, 22ºC on Saturday with a blue sky, and forecast for Sunday was 15ºC with 80% of precipitation. How could that be possible? The bike would be a bit challenging with rain, and the low temperature wouldn’t help. I packed a rain/wind jacket on the bag, but also the wet course wouldn’t help in terms of safety. Bike checked-in, off for a dinner with family and a good night sleep.

Race Day

Race would start at 10am (10:20am for my wave), so no need to wake up at stupid o’clock for having a decent breakfast. I was in a very good mood, and the weather wasn’t that bad, a bit grey but no rain. We walked as a group to the race start, and we went to transition area for the final preparations. I’ve taped the GU gels to the bike, then to realize that I forgot to attach first the bag with energy bars, so I attached it next to the seatpost rather than the handlebar. I then asked someone around to use their pump to re-fill my tires. It was a super duper accurate German pump, but every time I would try to detach the hose the tire would get completely flat. I was getting a bit nervous, but with the help of the owner, after the 4th or 5th attempt we ended up getting the tires filled.

TIP: Never change what you are used to do close to/on the race day, and try to use only the equipment you are used too

Bike done and ready, time to go to the changing tent to get wetsuit on. I was so worried about the chaffing I had in my neck during sea swims in the summer (I would come out of the water bleeding), that I completely forgot to use body glide on other sensitive parts of my body, which would suffer a bit during the bike. All done, the rest of the gang was disperse getting their things sorted, time to go race.

Swim

I was on the third and last wave. I found myself alone on the spectator area where I met Ian, who was also waiting for the time to get to the starting area.

After we’ve seen the first and second wave taking off, we went to the start area. I wasn’t nervous (so I thought), but I had a lot of energy. I couldn’t stop jumping around, like a super excited kid. I found my mom and aunt between the spectators and it was time to pose for the pictures. It was time to get into the water, and we didn’t have the chance to do a warm-up swim, as we couldn’t find a way through. In the water, we’ve met Chris, and we wish good luck to each other, and we were ready to go.

Swim started, and everything seamed fine. I was swimming comfortably, breathing seamed normal. After a couple of minutes, I started struggling … I don’t know what was going on, but breathing was getting difficult, arms were getting heavy and tired, and people were coming over me all the time. I think these are the times where the mind plays us some tricks, so I tried to say to myself to keep calm, slow down, and try to find a confortable pace and breath rhythm. But I couldn’t. I was half way to the first buoy, which was about 800m from the starting line, and I was nervous and uncomfortable. I stopped, took a few breaths and kept going. I wasn’t ok still, and I stopped again, and decided to swim breaststroke instead. I’ve come all this way, so there was no way I was going to quit there. I struggled a bit till half way, with a few stops and a couple of minutes swimming breaststroke. After the second buoy (more than halfway), I finally found my rhythm and I could breath normally. I was a bit disappointed, and expecting to have done about 45 minutes on the swim.

I got off the water a bit tired, but I immediately started taking the wetsuit off. Off to the transition area, picked my bag and got into the transition tent. In there, the help of the volunteers was great. They took everything out of the bag for me and helped me put everything on. I had helmet, race belt and number, sun (water) glasses and rain jacket. Shoes were clipped on the bike, so here we go running to the bike at the same time I put the jacket on.

Bike

After finding my bike, I started running on the transition area, which was a football pitch, followed by a running track around it. I saw the guy ahead of me jumping into the bike fore the red line, and immediately the referee started shouting in a very “assertive” way in German, and I thought to myself that I should really focus on following the rules because they take it seriously. Finally on the bike, I started pedalling. I took the bike computer, and when I first started looking at speed and heartrate (a workaround for the lost Garmin), I saw that my speed was around 38-40 kph, and heartrate was around 160bpm. I thought how could I go that fast, and how could I feel so strong and fresh. I guess I only had time to look at it when it was clear rode and downhill, as my average speed was below that. Nevertheless, I was thinking if I should slowdown or not, but at the same time I felt quite good and I assumed it was the adrenaline that would give me the extra strength all the way. In the meantime, it started raining, but I was prepared with the rain jacket.

I kept going, the rain started to get more intense, but still quite manageable. About half way of the first 43km loop, I’ve catch Chief and I asked if he was ok, which he replied affirmatively. I was a bit surprised to catch him as I know he is better on the bike than, so there were only two options: either he was not well, or I was pushing too hard. I kept my pace, which was confortable at the time. After a few minutes he took me over, and then I thought that I was really taking it too hard, and he had been saving his legs. Nevertheless, as he was not going to hard, I decided to stay behind him. We passed Zell am See, and after that it really started pouring. It was hard to see, there was extra water coming out of the wheels of whoever was ahead of me, and started to be a little bit more complicated.

I kept on Chief’s tail, but there were many people taking me over, and there were several people that I was taking over, which made it difficult to keep close. I then decided to slow down to save my legs a bit and also to be more careful, as there were segments that we were going at about 50kph with wet roads.

The bike course was two 43km loops, that would go through lovely towns (Zell am See, Kaprun, Piesendorf Maishofen, …), and where the spectators wouldn’t stop cheering us even with all the rain,, by shouting “hop, hop, hop, …” or using their big bells. As much as possible, I kept thanking them and waving back, which made it fun. Can’t thank them enough for all the cheering and support they gave us.

Loop one was done and I still felt good, but not as fast as in the first one. I was wet, but during all the race I never felt cold, thanks to the jacket, even though it wasn’t completely waterproof. The only big challenge I had during the bike was with my hands. They were so wet and cold, that using them was though. First, I struggled to take the energy bars from the box that was next to the seat post. Then I couldn’t open the energy bars. I couldn’t hold the plastic between my fingers, even when trying to use them with my teeth. I struggled a bit to get the food in, and I guess that I was a bit worried with loosing focus of the road while trying to sort this out. The other challenge with the hands was that while standing up for climbing a hill, my hand slipped and I almost bumped into another athlete. My hands were wet, cold, slippery and my fingers were numb.

TIP: (1) Make all your nutrition easily accessible for the races, even opening the energy bars before hand. (2) Check the weather forecast before you travel and take several options of equipment with you. The rain jacket made my race more confortable, and some gloves could have helped too.

Run

Back to the transition area, my legs were a bit wobbly when I jumped off the bike and run to the bike rack. Took the bike computer and attached to the quick release kit (looks really nice), picked my run bag and got into the transition tent where I was helped by one of the volunteers. After she dropped everything in the bag and put my bike stuff in there, she took off and I was left alone with the simple task of putting my socks and shoes on. Simple if my hands would work properly!!! It took me a couple of minutes to get the socks and the shoes on, but I finally managed. I took off from the tent and I started running. I reset the repurposed bike computer for trying to control the heartrate and pace during the run. I felt quite good, heartrate was under control, and I seemed to be going at around 6:00/km (it only display speed, not pace and it was up and down all the time), which was in my planned range. After 1km into the run, I started feeling cramps in my quads, which was the toll from the “strong” bike in the beginning. I slowed a bit down, and I kept going. The run was a three 6km loop, after the initial 3km from the transition area into the town centre. In the town there were these small uphills that felt like mountains during the race, but it was amazing to see again the amount of people cheering us. The loops in the town were the toughest, but then we would go 3km north around the lake and back.

The run was hard, but I don’t think I ever lost the smile on my face I walked a few times, specially when I was drinking coke, and I had to stop another time to take my shoe off as it seemed that I had a small pebble inside, but ended up just being the show too much tight maybe ?! The cramps didn’t stop me, and I could never really figure out what was my pace. I thought I was going to finish around 6:00:00 time, but as long as it would be below I would be happy for my first time.

I got into the final 100 meters and there was a crowed cheering. I kept looking for any familiar faces so that I could do high five, but I couldn’t find any. I kept going, and as soon as I crossed the finish line there was my mom and aunt, and I could see a happy smile on their face. A few seconds later, I spotted Anne who was waiting for me with the camera on her hands. It was time to celebrate.

My Mom told me at the end that she was worried that I had quit, as she couldn’t see me on the run. She knew what I went through before Singapore and the disappointment I had, but I was determined to finish this race even if I had to walk. It meant a lot to me that she came with my aunt, from a little town called Sagres in a lost corner of Portugal just to see me racing and spend a few days with me. Also a big thanks to my aunt, who always gave me a big support, not to mention my 22 years old cousin Nuno Fernandes.

A special mention to Nuno who raced with me on race 5 of the Ghantoot series last year (his first triathlon ever) followed by the short distance in Abu Dhabi International Triathlon one week later. We were suppose to race together in Singapore, but I ended up flying just to see him and support him, on a race where he finished 8th in is age group. When he found out that I was racing Salzburg, he decided to join me to make it up for Singapore. He ended up 8th again on his age group with a 4:36 time (an impressive 2:15 on the bike or 40kph average and 1:36 half marathon). I can’t thank him enough for all his support, and for being such a great example of discipline and hard work that make him a great athlete. I still have hopes that he becomes a professional athlete, and I can retire to become his manager and coach!

I never can’t thank enough Miss Petersen for all her support, far before the race started, specially when I was frustrated because of missing my trainings and she always kept saying that I was going to do great.

For my other partners in crime, Chris, Marie, Jo and Ian, a big thanks and congrats. It was great to be there with you guys, and congratulations all for your achievement.

Kate, thanks for all you support and taking the pics. It was great to have you around, and if my travel schedule permits, I’ll pay you back when you are doing your swim.

A big thanks too to my training buddies and coach in Tri2Aspire. My performance has improved significantly since I joined the team back in April, and watching 18 of them crossing the finish line this summer in Challenge Roth was a massive inspiration.

Next big races to come: Phuket on December 2nd, and Challenge Roth in July. If you think this report was long and lame, wait until July if I get to the finish line

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