Wow: What a place and what a race! (not referring to my performance – merely the spectacle that is the landscape of Zell am See!) This was my first half ironman, and I don’t think we could have chosen a better race; relatively flat course, breathtaking scenery and organized with military-like precision. I was lucky enough to be travelling with a fantastic group of mates. We arrived into Munich Airport on Thursday for what was to be the start of a great week.
The drive from Munich Airport to Zell am See took a couple of hours, with a few toilet stops and a small detour. Thanks Chris for driving and Marie for navigating! The town of Zell am See was the most picturesque little village imaginable. It was filled with quaint colourful guest houses and shops. The wide selection of bars and restaurants served a whole host of Austrian delicacies – everything from Gluvine to schnitzel - which were to be enjoyed in plentiful supply after the race!
This was the first year the town had hosted an Ironman 70.3. The atmosphere in the town was buzzing. There were Ironman banners decorating the town, and even the restaurants had got into the spirit of things (see picture right)!
Being my first ever big race, it was exciting to visit the expo. I came away loaded up with Ironman branded goodies – visors, t-shirts and some neon blue “kinetic tape” wrapped around my legs! I looked like an idiot – but it was the thing to do. One of the highlights of going on such a sporting holiday is the that there is no need to leave the comfort of the “tracky pants”, and instead of looking like a sloth – you look “sporty”! Hell, even wearing compression gear to dinner in the evenings seemed perfectly acceptable; if not the right thing to do – but I didn’t take it that far!
Anyway – you might read a few of these Austria race reports; so I’ll keep it snappy. Onto the race!!.........
Race morning soon came around. We headed out for an early breakfast and then went over to transition to make the final preparations to the race kit. I had a look over the bike and noticed that my front wheel was rubbing on the breaks. Eek! I kicked myself for not having checked the bike the night before – lesson learned! Luckily I had enough time to find a helpful mechanic in the transition area who adjusted the breaks, pumped up the tyres and found some tape to securely hold my aero bottle in place!
This was also the first race I had done that required kit bags (a bike bag and a run bag). Before the race, I was trying desperately to memorize where abouts on the rack my bag was amongst the 1800 other blue bags! I noticed a lot of people had tied multi-coloured tape or other identifying objects attached to their bags – something I will definitely do for next time. It’s amazing how seemingly simple tasks become incomprehensible in the heat of racing action!
Time to get into the wetsuit! The swim was a wave start. Marie was due to leave at 10am and I was at 10.05, so we left ourselves 40 minutes or so to squeeze ourselves into the wetsuits to avoid panic! I “popped a Gu” 10 minutes before getting into the water. No 1 supporter and open water swim guru Kate Willoughby was on hand to zip up my wetsuit and provide the final bit of “smack talk” to get me all revved up before the splash. I entered the holding pen with the other “red cap” athletes; swung my arms around a bit to make it look as though I knew what I was doing and then we stood nervously listening to the Austrian National Anthem.
The first wave were off and it was time for my wave to enter the water. It was a deep water start and the start line had been marked with some plastic tape, which was lifted as the siren went off. I noticed that all of the athletes in my wave were trying to drop right to the back and nobody was eager to be near start line. This left a massive gap before the tape. Although not a confident or fast swimmer I decided that I wasn’t going to swim any further than I absolutely had to, so I positioned myself as far forward as possible knowing that it was going to get a bit feisty anyway.
Swim: 41mins 45sec
Boom – the wave was off. I was getting smashed, dunked, kicked and drowned from the outset. I thought it might subside, but it didn’t for a good 700m or so. I had practiced mass starts in training so it didn’t unnerve me too much. I just kept saying to myself – “stay calm, don’t panic,– focus on your breathing and just keep swimming”.
I was surprised by the fact that despite looking up to sight, I just couldn’t see the enormous fluorescent orange bouys that I was supposed to be swimming towards; so I just kept following the swim caps ahead of me. Once I’d reached the first bouy, you swam across the width of the lake to get to the second one. There was a bit of a current and I was forced to swim at an angle to try and maintain a straight line. I was swimming solo by this point with no feet to follow, which made sighting and pacing even harder. After the second bouy it was a straight line back to transition (or it should have been!) - (see picture right)
T1: 5min 58sec
Panic to find the blue bag!!!!!! After a few seconds, I’d found it – phew! Then it was out of the wetsuit, while I quickly scrambled to get the helmet, shoes and sunnies on. The volunteers in the tent were very helpful and helped me put my wetsuit and cap in the bag. The transition was very spread out and you had to run some distance with the bike along a running track before you were allowed to hop on. Considering the amount of faffing I do in normal life, I was pretty chuffed with my transition times.
Bike: 2hrs 53mins
As soon as we mounted the bikes, it was raining cats and dogs! Once again, I had a little chat with myself and thought – “don’t panic, it’s the same for everyone. Make the most of it and hit the gas!” The only experience I have of riding in the rain is two races I have done in the UK.
The bike course was two laps of the most scenic countryside imaginable. There were lots of tight bends, a few tunnels, some cobbles and speed bumps, so you had to stay switched on throughout. I witnessed thee bad crashes on my way round at high speed, so I really toned it down at that point and made sure I went really slowly around the corners. It just wasn’t worth any broken bones 3 months out of my big first Ironman race in Bussleton this December.
I was using my new Garmin 910XT and had decided to set it to the multi-sport function just before the race start. I wasn’t familiar with this setting. It was only once I got onto the bike that I realized the display screen was different from my usual bike settings. There was no heart rate displayed and no bike split time, so I didn’t have a clue how I was going on. I quickly decided that this too was a bonus. I had done some time trials with my T2A training buddies a month or so before the race where my heart rate had averaged 83% over 93K! This meant I knew I could go hard for quite a while and still survive. Due to an Achilles injury, I wasn’t even sure if I would be able to do the run portion of this event so I wasn’t planning on keeping too much left in the legs. For the full iron-distance race in December I will definitely be respecting the heart rate a lot more!
We came off the bike, soaked to the bone. I was surprised how fast the bike course went – it was the least painful 90K I have ever ridden – perhaps because of the scenery, the support on the course, the cool conditions – or maybe because I didn’t hurt myself enough! I was just so excited to be out there and blasting round and the rain kind of made it even more fun!
Coming into T2 I had no idea what my bike split was, but I knew that I had at least achieved my target of a 30km/hr average with a 3 hour bike split. I was relieved to have “ticked off” the bike portion, and now it was time to see what the “run” held in store for me.
T2: 4min 27sec
In the changing tent, I ran past Chris McVicars and said a quick hello. My initial plan game plan for the run was to do a steady 5K and then make a call whether to pull out or continue the race. I hadn’t really done any run training leading up to this event because of the Achilles niggles. I was wandering whether it was even worth travelling to do it at one point; but I figured it would all be good experience!
Run: 3hrs 10mins
I set off at a slow but steady pace and focused on breathing and running softly to reduce the impact. At about 2k, Chris passed me and said “how are you feeling girl?” I said – “OK – I think I might try to run/walk it”. He shouted back, “Good girl; Big balls Jo!” From that point on; I knew I had to finish; even if it did mean walking the best part of 21k. – I’d been guilted into it.
I reached the 5k mark and felt OK, so decided to keep going. When I got to the 7K point, those familiar niggles started to kick in again and I was forced to walk at this point. I figured I had already covered one third of the run course, so I might as well complete it, adopting whatever strategy I could to get me over the finish line!
From about 9K I pretty much had to walk the remainder. Lots of people ran past and tried to spur me on, figuring that I was just tired. I got bored of attempting to explain that I was supposed to be walking so just began smiling back. One guy turned to me with a Powerbar Gel and said “You need Power????” –I just smiled back. I was pretty frustrated, to say the least, because I felt relatively fresh and was not over-enthused about having to walk. It was still chucking it down. I knew it was going to be a long day! I won’t lie – I hit a few low points on the way round where the bottom lip started to quiver because I was upset about not running - this was mostly when having to walk through crowds of people. I was either getting the sympathetic or the “come on you lazy moose– get a shift on” expression! Eventually I managed to pull myself together, remind myself that it was only a race and get a bit of perspective on the situation. I forced a smile and carried on!
The run course was three laps so I had made a few friends en route who would kindly chat to me as I walked past. I think the chaps stood outside the bar at the 19k mark must have felt sorry for me still plodding along quivering in the rain. Very kindly on the third lap they gave me a pint to sup as I walked past! This cheered me up and suddenly the 2k left to the finish was not such a problem! By this point I was thinking, - I hope the finisher T-shirt is worth this – because this is a bloody long way to walk! In all honesty; it was easier to carry on than it would have been to DNF. I knew the post race beer would taste all the more sweeter if I could just cross that finish line!
Finally I made it to the finishing chute and mustered up a little jog for the sake of the photo! I could see our friend and no 1 supporter Kate Willoughby leaning over the barrier and screaming down the microphone… ”Jo…woooooooooooowwwwww” and once again, the bottom lip started to quiver! Bless her for enduring almost 7 hours stood in the cold and rain just to see us all safely over the line. I finished in an overall time of 6hrs 57mins!! (Emotional!)
Over the line. It was in the bag. Medal, T-shirt, Beer, finished! What a relief.
Given that I was undecided whether to even go to this event (not being able to run); I was so pleased to have gone. We had a great holiday in a beautiful location and I took a lot out of this race that will help me for future races (namely the big IM!)
There is still so much I have to learn; but that’s one of the joys of triathlon – there is always plenty more to master! I am totally hooked. I’m already looking forward to the next 70.3 when I can get out there and see what I can really do! Massive thanks to my support crew – my coaches, and training buddies (you know who you all are!) and my amazing husband who puts up with my ridiculous training hours, nocturnal lifestyle and triathlon chat far more than he would like to! You’re all hero’s and I would have even made it this far without your support!