*** many thanks to Ramine Behnam and Doris Hazzan – Team Ramis – for this race report***
This is a joint report, and it’s long. You’re getting two for the price of one and we all know triathletes love a good deal. We’re a married couple and we raced Ironman Austria on 28 June 2015. Instead of sharing two mid-sized reports with our friends and family, we thought a really long his & hers one would be more interactive. Apologies in advance if you think otherwise – this might not be the last time we don’t see eye-to-eye by the end of the report.
July 1st, 2015 - lounging by a pool in Tuscany, 3 days after Ironman Austria.
Doris: “What are you doing on your phone with this smirk on your face?”
Ramine: “Nothing, just browsing.”
Doris: “You’re looking for another Ironman aren’t you.”
Ramine: “No. …Maybe.”
Before you begin reading my parts of this report, I must warn you: I’m really not the typical Type A triathlete. I’m not especially fascinated with the numbers in my training peaks account. I’ve never finished in the top 10% or even 20% of my age group – in fact, I’m usually in the bottom percentiles. All my triathlon related gadgets have been purchased by my husband, usually for a birthday, anniversary or other occasion when it is customary to give gifts and when I cannot complain that the purchase was unnecessary (I love gifts!). I don’t think I’ll ever buy anything carbon for myself and rode my entry level AED 3,000 bike for my first Ironman.
So, if you’re looking to read a report that satisfies that type of criteria, Ram’s parts will be full of the weird data, the analysis, and the critical assessment that most of you lycra-loving triathletes live for.. It doesn’t mean though, that I love triathlon any less than the average Tri Dubai-ian. It means (or at least I hope it means), that my attitude to the sport is human, imperfect and flawed. But I love it anyway.
I love numbers. I love data and I love Training Peaks.
Doris was quite brief in her introduction so I will elaborate a little more. She also failed to mention above that she came into this sport with a running and water polo background.
I, on the other hand, stopped playing tennis at age 17 and for the next 10 years, my physical activity was limited to a few months when I took up golf as a hobby. By age 28 I peaked at 116 kgs, smoked a pack a day, and my diet revolved around a lot of KFC, some McDonald’s and Burger King, and a little Pizza Hut. I would often spend the evening watching series and eating through a 15-piece bucket of fried chicken or 2 McDonald’s combo meals with cigarettes in between each piece to digest better.
You know it’s unhealthy, you do, but it’s an evil spiral and one that’s quite hard to overcome when you’re in it.
Then came Doris. I’ll skip the part where we got together and focus on triathlon. She tried a Sprint tri in Al Ain and I went to support her with my cup of coffee and morning cigarette. At the end, I told her it’s really great she’s doing this but it’s a little too intense for me and these people are scary.
I then accepted to race in a charity event with her. I had to swim 400m and she would then do the 2.5k run. 100m in I thought I wasn’t going to make it. From memory, I exited the water in 17 minutes.
Before summer 2013 we participated in our “A race” which was an Olympic Tri. I finished dead last in about 4 hours but had the time of my life.
Triathlon’s a silly sport though, it really makes you want to go bigger and longer very quickly. Or maybe it’s just the triathlete who’s silly, I don’t know. We decided to sign up for a Half Ironman for the summer of 2014 and train throughout the season by racing in a bunch of Olympic distance races and half marathons. In reality, our training was not consistent and we got very disappointing results in our races.
In any case, we were set on finishing IM 70.3 Luxembourg and we did. We went there as total newbies and were like little lambs surrounded by wolves but we finished and we were proud.
8 days later, the registration for Ironman Austria 2015 was opening online. I knew we were going to do it, I just had to convince Doris it’s a good idea.
I accidentally got sucked into an Ironman race. I realize this sounds exaggerated, but it is not even slightly so. Ramine basically did all the research and presented a very elaborate plan under the guise of a holiday. At age 30 my goal was to visit 30 countries, and he very cleverly managed to incorporate two countries into our 10 day trip, with the race neatly tucked in as a two minute interlude to his pitch. We had just completed a 70.3, and to be very honest I was thoroughly enjoying the ability to eat whatever I wanted without worrying about my weight, bearing in my mind I have been slightly or largely overweight for the majority of my years. This was about 90% of the reason I agreed to this ‘holiday’ he planned for 2015.
I continued about my life as if no Ironman race was signed up for, but occasionally noticed training schedules on the fridge, Gu shots taking up drawers in the kitchen, and alarms going off earlier than I would have liked. I was very happy to tag along to this plan Ramine had drawn and as long as I had my girls nights on the schedule, I found little reason to complain.
Besides, a year ago I was having a discussion with Ram about being fit and convinced him to run 8k with me. He managed to jog about 3 minutes before we walked together the rest of the way. And now, he was single-handedly hungry to be faster and stronger. Fine with me!
The plan worked. She bought it. This will be our big goal for “Team Ramis” (@teamramis on Instagram).
I sat at home with both laptops open, hoping I’d get us both registered fast enough as this race is notorious for selling out in minutes. We got in, and I booked a room at one of the closest hotels 10 minutes later.
“Now, how the hell am I going to make it to the finish line by midnight? I’ve never run more than a half marathon, my longest bike ride was ADIT’s 100k and I get overtaken by toddlers with floaters at the pool. Damn it, maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all? Oh well, we still have 12 months to train.”
I proceeded to design us a plan with very long sessions and very little rest. Needless to say, we barely stuck to it until November 2014 and the DIT wake up call. I showed up like a tiger with the arrogance of having completed a Half Ironman 5 months earlier. Problem is, I finished Luxembourg in 7:07, did nothing all summer and then showed up at DIT. Didn’t go so well. Suffered in the water, biked without my heart rate monitor which I forgot in transition and completely bonked on the run. Finish time: 7:35. Crap. This is not looking so good for the midnight cut-off in Austria.
One of the (limited) benefits of being at my level of fitness is that while most of my competitors are trying to shave tenths of seconds off their times using aero helmets, special socks and dehydration as a technique of weighing less, I am still able to shave tens of minutes in all three disciplines simply by putting in more time in the water, in the saddle and on my feet.
But four months into our haphazard training plan, both of us were stagnating: in our performance, in our weight loss and a little bit in our motivation. Ramine thought the answer to this problem would be buying new bikes (naturally). I managed to convince him that it was worthwhile to speak to a coach. Mostly to provide structure to our training, but also because we needed to be held accountable: the benefit of training together is that your partner is there to push, encourage and motivate you to get the hours done. But it can also work unfavourably when you’re both tired from a long day and can provide very subjective reasons detailing why it is acceptable to skip a workout (blasphemy, I know).
I must thank Giorgio for introducing us to Flanners. He went out of his way, for no reason other than helping a few lost souls, to make sure the connection was made before leaving us to it. I was convinced after the first 10 minutes of sitting with him that I was going to sign up for his services whether Ramine wanted to or not. But my husband needed more time to let this simmer, and we met him a second time with (Ramine-ordered) three A4 pages of questions, typed out neatly by category and ranked in order of importance.
I remember thinking ‘we’ve lost him’ when Ramine pulled out the co-authored Q&A cheat sheet, but Flanners sat through them all, and never made us feel like we were taking too much of his time, or that any of them were irrelevant. Poor guy never knew we were going to force him into being our friends as well as our Coach, and that he’d have to attend all sorts of birthday celebrations, and friendly get-togethers as part of his immersion into Team Ramis.
But I digress: Flanners has been our best support system in the last six months, and has miraculously managed to cope with two very different clients in ways that work best for each, respectively. Somehow he managed to effectively keep up with all forms of communication we employed including but not limited to Whatsapp chat windows (combined and separately for days when Ramine had a good day and I didn’t, and vice versa), emails and TP comments.
I made the decision to trust his training program completely, and that’s why I’m quite sure I’m the favourite of the duo (no offense Ram). Except maybe during my monthly hormonal cycles when I wanted to quit and threw all kinds of swear words at him. I’m dramatic, I can’t help it. I attribute most of Flanners’ white hairs to my juggling of the sessions. I’ll also attribute my husband’s baldness to it.
Yes, I thought new bikes would help. Sue me. It’s just so exciting when someone passes you and you hear the “ghwu ghwu ghwu ghwu” of their disc wheel. You almost WANT them to pass you.
Anyway, Doris thankfully won that battle and we signed up with Flanners (Neil Flanagan for those who aren’t familiar with his stage name). We met him, I thought he’s interesting but I needed a couple of days until our second date. I then bought into the character after understanding his approach, his expectations and seeing his credentials (both as athlete and as a coach). For me the latter was the most important: I needed to buy it. I found comfort after seeing some of his own performances and seeing how his athletes rocked their races when they stuck the their plan. Giorgio, Matt, Chops, these guys trusted him and he delivered. Let’s do it.
After subjecting us to a multitude of tests, the next six months of training went pretty smoothly. As long as I was allowed to shuffle around my sessions, I was happy. I have to digress again a little bit and say that while I absolutely love everything about triathlon, I love equally the non-triathlon parts of my life and I was trying to juggle work, my friends, and my family along with the training hours required for an Ironman race. Ramine finds it easier to neglect these aspects of life (at least temporarily) while focusing on his race goal. But for me, what does crossing the finish line mean anyway if you don’t have your best friends and family supporting, encouraging and celebrating success with you afterwards?
It was only during the last month that training started to feel like a burden. We were waking up at 2 a.m. to avoid the sun, our weekends were purely dedicated to putting in our long training hours and prepping for the week ahead, and I was just sick of smelling like chlorine, sweat and sometimes both. I was no longer hitting my numbers like I used to, I was frustrated and on the verge of a nervous breakdown 1 out of 3 sessions. I knew I had hit rock bottom when one of Flanner’s comments on my run interval sessions was “You got speed girl!”. I was running at 5:30 / km pace and it was a pity cheer!
Nobody ever talks about how hard it is the month before your race, and how crazy the training volume becomes. Maybe it never bothered anyone. But I had started triathlon as a way of keeping fit, of being outdoors, of feeling the sun on my face and the wind in my hair and that’s how I wanted to remember the sport: for making me feel alive.
The only hope I had was the word ‘TAPER’ in my TP account. Sunday, 14 June. Holy mother of all things holy. Taper sounded good.
I told Flanners I’ll stick to the plan and I’ll trust the system. I’ll put in the hours, the intensity, the core sessions, I’ll work around my office schedule if needed but I want to lose weight, get faster and finish this stupid race. He smiled and said don’t worry about it.
Then when the process started, we immediately saw results and it all started to make sense. You can train for Ironman, you can most definitely finish it too, but you need a coach to structure things and follow you if you’re a newbie like us or if you want to deliver a solid performance like many people do.
Flanners is owed a hell of a lot from us. He set up our programme, followed up, didn’t let the bad days get to us and pushed us after easy sessions. He was there when we raced locally and supported us throughout the last six months.
In terms of racing, we did a couple of Olympics, Challenge Dubai (70.3), seeing progress despite the horrific conditions. I then crashed on my bike at the Nissan Tri Festival in April but was thankfully back in training 10 days later.
Then the heavy sh*t started. The 10 hours of training quickly became 16-18 and things got real. Our families and friends deserve a lot of credit here because we were just not fun being around.
Before travelling, I made sure to reinforce to Doris that this race is a celebration for us. We’re not going for a podium finish, we’re not going for a Kona slot, we’re going to reward ourselves for the past 6-8 months training. That’s the great thing at our level, we’re able to race with less pressure and really spend the day with a huge smile, high fiving everyone and enjoying the beautiful landscape. It’s our parade.
Personally, I enjoyed the journey. Yes, our training was long and we were waking up very early to beat the heat but this sport and this race have allowed me to lose 25 kgs while still eating plenty of (clean) food. It has allowed me meet some incredible people and it has pumped me full of confidence, self-discipline and determination. I was ready for Austria.
Travel and Pre-Race
My only job pre-race was to show up and look pretty. Ramine had literally planned the entire trip from A to Z, and I really only figured out where we were staying and which course we were racing once we got there. This is true for most parts of life by the way: he does the research and the analysis, and I regurgitate like they’re my own ideas. It’s a brilliant arrangements!
I would like to highlight that Ramine keeps Ironman profitable by purchasing every possible M-dot item available. Thankfully, they were out of Size L for some gear and we could return home with the same number of suitcases.
The only strong emotion that stuck and is important enough to write about pre-race was the way my heart was skipping a beat every time I thought about the start line. I had missed two training sessions in six months: once for being on antibiotics and the other for an emergency trip home. I was therefore confident that I had given my entire heart to preparing for this race, and was super excited to prove it.
On a Thursday we flew to Venice, stuck the TriDubai magnets on the Fiat 500L (great for 2 bike boxes) and off we were for a 3 hour drive. As you get nearer to Klagenfurt, the beauty of the area really starts to hit you: it’s bright green, you’re surrounded by mountains and you’re heading down to a lake so pure that it looks like the Maldives.
We get to Klagenfurt and it’s Ironman Central: M-Dot logos on all street signs, lycra everywhere, fluo socks, Ironman Finisher shirts at every corner and athletes running and cycling EVERYWHERE. Feels good to be here.
Went straight to registration, checked in at the Plattenwirt Hotel and had a quick dinner. This hotel is just what you need and is only 150m to the race village.
The next couple of days consisted of the usual pre-race scenario: bike assembly, drive the bike course, race briefing, quick ride/jog/swim with a nice stop at the coffee boat in the middle of the lake.
On Saturday, we laid out all our gear in the room (so much gear!), packed our transition bags, special needs bags and went to check everything in with our bikes. Ate our very own last supper and headed to bed around 7:30pm for a 3am wake up (1.5h sleep cycles!).
I could barely sleep the night before the race. I was filled with nervous and excited energy. Plus, I was contemplating which pose was best for my finisher picture. Should I do a little dance routine? Maybe a peace sign was more subtle. No way, I’ll throw both hands in the air! Nah, I’ll act cool and casually sprint across the finish line. Maybe I’ll be so fast it’ll have that cool light effect when things are in movement.
We were the first ones at breakfast that morning. I didn’t feel like eating much, but force-fed myself knowing it would push the bowels along. Yes, I went there.
I made Ramine recite the steps (for the 100th time) to change a flat tube and wrote it down to put in my bike pouch. It was my biggest fear because in truth, I barely knew how to do it and was just hoping the roads would be on my side for 180 km. At least I’m honest!
We walked towards bike transition to do our last minute prep among a crowd of silent age groupers. I was grateful to see our new friend Bart in the changing tents. He had done 22 Ironman races and his parting advice at last night’s pasta party was “just have fun”. I was planning on having the time of my life anyway Bart, but thanks!
You tend to replay this morning in your head hundreds of times during your long training hours. You know exactly which Tri suit you’re going to wear, what you’re going to eat, which bag you’ll use, which socks you’ll put on, etc. It’s important to do so because come race morning, you WILL lose all your intelligence and risk being like the 4 year old who shows up to school with two left shoes.
We had breakfast along with dozens of other silent and anxious athletes, went back up for a second toilet visit and headed out after unplugging our Garmins from the chargers. More on that later.
As you reach the transition area of an Ironman race, you start to remember those Youtube videos. Goosebumps. It’s dark, it’s quiet, people walk around with bike pumps and energy bars, their eyes wide open, sometimes talking to themselves. I loved it, this was everything I like about triathlon. The calm, the determination, the energy, the early morning, the nerves, the lycra.
Doris and I decided to do the transition process together so we dropped the special needs bags, checked our tires, tripled-checked the gear one last time and headed out to the swim start, walking the long, silent and nervous walk. Well, everyone else was silent, we were chatting and joking which probably pissed everyone off but that was our way to feel comfortable.
We got to the swim start on the pier, I jumped in for a quick warm up, gave her a kiss and headed to the beach for my start at 7:00. She started at 7:15.
3.8 km with an out and back into the lake and the last km down a narrow canal leading inland.
I was glad to be alone for 15 minutes before race start. I was sure that I had all the mental strength required to get me through the race, but I still needed a few minutes to convince myself that this 14+ hour day was going to be just fine. Most women were nervously checking the buoy order with their neighbours. Ramine had explained it to me so many times I could have swam the course with my eyes closed.
The only thing making me nervous was the damn wetsuit. Rumour has it neoprene makes you go faster. Lies! Flanners had insisted I swim with my wetsuit for the last three weeks, and it made me hot, tired, and slow. Not to mention slightly (overly) insecure about my swimming abilities. I was struggling to maintain a +10 second pace for my 100 metre lengths at Hamdan, and had unwillingly accepted that I would have to trade in frost bite for a 1:35ish swim.
The swim was going just fine until the next wave of men caught up with us. Let me tell you, it doesn’t matter that you’re wearing a pretty pink swimcap in the water. Chivalry? What chivalry? Wait until I tell Ram what I had to swim through – he thought his wave was the worse!
I noticed that my Garmin didn’t have the usual screen for swimming, but figured I was so used to lapping between sets that I forgot what it looked like when no lapping was required.
The last 800 metres or so were through a canal and it was a rotation of feeling deaf and blind by the dark brown murky water, and seeing and hearing the spectators with their signs, snacks and support packages lining up on either side. I got out of the water in 1:21 and high fived anyone that had their hands out. Matt Jennison said to act like a champion, and I was fully embracing his advice. READY!
Now, the minutes before your Ironman day starts are famous for getting your heart rate up to 300 and your adrenaline skyrocketing. They’re not lying.
I was standing in front of the lake, about to start my Ironman. I’ve been waiting for this for a year, this is it. Breathe, take in the moment. Spot the buoys again. Tuck in the timing chip under the wetsuit ankle. Lick the goggles. Then the loud music stopped, and for 5 seconds I felt light headed.
BOOM the cannon went off and like a herd of sea lions rushing to the water to escape a land predator, 300 neoprene-clad 30-34 year olds were diving in.
My plan was simple: start in the 3rd quarter of the group and get into a steady pace. All good for the first 2km after which we turned around and had the glare of the sunrise. I kept my pace steady, going on feel as I opted for swimming without my Garmin. Followed some bubbles to avoid sighting into the sun too often and as we entered the canal for the last kilometre, the water became very murky and the pace picked up drastically. People were passing me but I decided to maintain my pace and focus on keeping a straight line.
Next thing you know, I was being pulled out of the water by a bunch of awesome Austrian teenagers and heard loud cheers. Swim done: 1:27. Not so fast with the wetsuit but I’m happy, we planned between 1:25 and 1:30.
Oh poor little volunteer wants to help me take off the wetsuit! No please don’t, I peed in there! Three times! I was in the water for 1:21 you know, that’s a lot of time for coffee and water to simmer in the bladder.
Ran to my bike and noticed my heart rate was not picking up on the Garmin. Neither was my power. Once I start pedalling, it will be fine just relax Doris.
The 400m run to the transition area through the crowd was a nice break and allows you to regroup. Grabbed my bike bag and went into the tent: “WOOOOW! Why are all these European men naked?”. Yes, I’m prude.
Wetsuit, goggles, cap into the bag. Socks, cleats, sunglasses, helmet on. Garmin on.
As I got to my bike, my heart rate monitor had not connected and the watch wouldn’t pick up my power meter. “Sh*t. Relax, just restart it.” Still nothing. “Let’s just get out of here, it’ll start working soon.”
180km consisting of two 90km laps including 3 major climbs, a number of smaller ones and lots of long downhills.
Biking was the part I dreaded the most. It was my weakest discipline (relatively speaking of course), and two years later, I can’t seem to get over the fear of being clipped in.
Ram was convinced I would do less than 7 hours because the course was hilly (lots of downhill to make up for the uphills, he said). I even caught his enthusiasm and started thinking the same. Either way, the power metre was there and the time didn’t matter.
Except the power metre wasn’t working. Five minutes into the ride and with still no heart rate reading, no power data and different screen settings, I realized that Ram and I had somehow taken each other’s watches. I-cannot-believe-this. We had planned everything – literally everything down to taking hotel slippers for the walk from bike transition to swim start – and managed to mess up the most critical piece of our race. The stupid power metres that I had convinced Ram to buy two months before!
I panicked for exactly one minute before accepting that there was simply nothing I could do about it right now. I had been working with power religiously for at least eight weeks (heart rate before that), and I knew exactly how my body was supposed to feel at my humble 98 Watts. “Just consistent pedalling like you would do on the turbo”, Flanners said. I cannot be sure that I delivered the power, but my speed was decently consistent over 180 km and in the absence of cadence, heart rate and power data, I would say that’s an acceptable indicator.
Flanners will love the bike data I upload, I joked in my head. If you can’t change it, laugh it off is my new Ironman motto.
I tried as best as I could to take in the beauty of the nature surrounding us. Klagenfurt is honestly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to – I really wanted to make sure I remembered how vibrant the colors around me were, how the air felt cleaner in my lungs somehow, and how many Austrians decided to go out of their way to encourage us with their “hop hop hop!” – or the “yalla” equivalent. I stuck to my nutrition plan like glue, taking in 200 calories an hour. We were so determined to avoid any gastric problems, we (Ram) had even ordered Powerbars from the UK and used them on our long rides. I was determined to get it right and run like a champ.
Of course, the novelty of the scenery is no longer there for the second lap. And at my pace, there are less people on the course then too. I tried to make a few friends: “Isn’t it a beautiful day for an Ironman!” and sometimes “you know it’s really bad when there’s music” every time there was a hill, but nobody was particularly chatty that day. I was playing cat and mouse with some fit-looking guy on a super sexy bike though.
Ramine’s gonna love it when I tell him I beat a boy! A few actually!
7:27 off the bike. The hills were more difficult than we anticipated, but I was feeling so excited about finishing the bike with no mechanical issues, it didn’t even matter!
Biking has always been my favourite of the 3 (probably because I’m sitting) and I thought that despite the sharp climbs, I’d be able to put in a better time than expected because of the long downhills, lower temperature than Dubai and less wind than Al Qudra.
2km into the ride and I still had no heart rate number but more worryingly no power data. Murphy’s law! I decided to stop on the side and sort this out. I’m not here to win, I want to have a good race and being able to read my power output was an essential part. After fiddling with the Garmin for 5 minutes, I was able to reset the system and at least connect to my power meter. Good enough, LET’S GO.
The first 20k of the lap were flat and shaded. I felt great but remembered the plan, stick to the power despite that boiling feeling of wanting to destroy every P5 and Plasma that nonchalantly passed me. Km 20 to 70 offered the main course: short steep climb, rolls, long medium climb, long downhill, rolls, and then the famous Rupertiberg climb. It’s similar to Jebel Hafeet in terms of incline with the only difference being hundreds of drunk Austrians on the side and a DJ at the top. Took my time, got to the top while being passed by 30-35 people, grabbed a bottle at the aid station and got ready for the last 20k of the first lap: fast downhill and downhill-ish flat.
That’s where the power meter came in handy. While most people were coasting down, I was in my biggest gear, spinning and passing people like there’s no tomorrow. Biking downhill when you’re chubby is AWESOME.
Got back in town, turnaround and off we go for the second lap.
Km 90-150 went by alright, I was focused on my power, drinking, eating my 300 cals/hour and enjoying this beautiful landscape. Then came Rupertiberg again in the distance and I saw people walking their bikes up. Uh oh.
I stayed in the saddle and got to the top but couldn’t even lift my hand to wave at the DJ. This one hurt, and I was hoping I’d make up some time in the last 20k. Passed a few people again but I had really suffered up that hill and couldn’t wait to get off the bike.
6:55. Not happy. I genuinely thought I’d be able to bike in under 6:30 but I stuck to the plan to try and maximise my run and avoid getting a hearing from Flanners.
Flanners asked if I had tea during my transitions. I did not have tea thank you very much, but I did pee for the first time in 7:27. I also ran out with the Garmin still on the bike and had to run back to get it.
I remember singing along very loudly to Summer of 69 by Bryan Adams in the transition tent. Odd choice of music Mr. DJ, but I’m ready for my first marathon!
Walked until the bike rack to soften the legs a bit, grabbed my run bag and headed into the tent. More full-frontal nudity, great.
Bike gear off, chew down a Powerbar, calf sleeves on, shoes on, Innerfight hat on, Vaseline in all the right places. BRING IT!
42.2k consisting of two 8-figure loops from transition to a quieter area along the lake, back to the event area, out to the centre of Klagenfurt and back.
Running is my favourite thing in the world. Run intervals are my source of joy and happiness in this life. I had therefore framed the marathon as a 5 hour interval session and I was just so psyched to get going. Six minute run, 2 minute walk, nothing to it!
The run was going perfectly to plan until about 10 km. My stomach was starting to feel funny and I was really hoping it was a one stop sitsh. It wasn’t. I had read enough race reports to know this happens to the best of them, but that didn’t make me any less frustrated. I felt strong in my legs and in my head, but every time I tried to run, it trigged bowel movements and forced me to walk until the next bathroom. And let me tell you, the porter potties on an Ironman course are no Four Seasons spas. Hashtag disgusting.
I saw Ram twice and each time I tried to downplay just how shitty (literally) I was feeling to avoid making him worry. He looked awesome and he needed to reach the finish line in 13:30.
I’m not sure what went wrong. Too much or too little nutrition maybe. People’s dirty hands in the oranges and watermelon I was devouring at the aid stations. Or my body’s way of giving me a big fat middle finger. Not this, or anything else really, was going to get in my way though.
I can’t remember much of the last 10km, just that I was trying all sorts of strategies to keep moving. The sweet spot was 1 minute of running, 1 minute of walking. Enough to pick up my pace slightly, but keep the stomach cramps at bay.
The crowd was really trying to spur me on for the last 2 kilometres. “Almost home, run the last stretch!” they screamed in their drunken jubilee. I wanted to run, I really did. “I will shit myself and your lovely roads!”, I wanted to soberly scream back. But I didn’t.
I felt strong when I approached the finish line. It was a 5:44 marathon and a 14:52 overall time but I didn’t care. I was ecstatic for Ram. I was elated for us: for our determination, our willpower, our physical fitness, our commitment. I realize that our times are not going to break world records any time soon: but for two people who started 2 years ago at a very basic level of activity, it was our own victory.
The finish line poses I had rehearsed so diligently in my head the night before (I needed an epic Insta pic, duh!) were not executed even slightly. I had tears, lots of them. They were a combination of lots of emotions, but mostly happiness. “Doris, you are an IRONMAN”. I’m pretty sure I made the announcer repeat it, just to make sure anybody watching the live feed at home heard it too.
Not once did we ride our bike the last 6 months without running after, even if just for 10 minutes. This helped a lot when I started the marathon as I felt like a gazelle who had been let loose. This, and spending a leisurely 11 minutes in transition as I realised later.
Now, there were many worrying points when starting the marathon but some encouraging ones too:
Problems: I had never run a marathon before, I had never run more than a half marathon off a long bike ride, and my heart rate still wasn’t picking up.
Positives: training in Dubai until June meant that the last 6 weeks we were running above 35 degrees Celsius while it was around 23-24 in Klagenfurt on race day. All our training runs were done around Arabian Ranches and Al Qudra which are very boring places to run but on race day, the roads were lined with hundreds of spectators, banners, music and aid stations. Finally, I managed to reset the watch and pick up my heart rate.
We set the plan to be a 6/2 run/walk strategy the whole way through. Things were fantastic in the beginning and I had to “slow” myself down in the first 10k. Let’s be very clear, I realise that my running pace is a lot of people’s warm up pace but hey, remember KFC!
Saw Doris around the 10k mark and she didn’t look like she was having a great time. High fived and carried on. “She’ll be alright, she’s a tough girl”. 6 minutes, 2 minutes. I let go of my OCD when my 2 minutes wouldn’t match with the aid stations and adapted the splits accordingly.
Halfway through, I got to my special needs bag, threw in my glasses and grabbed the ham sandwich I had stashed in there. Couldn’t take more than two bites until 25k when I discarded it so I stuck to gels every 45 minutes, drinking water and electrolytes at every station.
The last 5-6k are a bit of a blur. I remember doing the last turnaround and being so relieved to be heading home. Rung the charity bell in Klagenfurt one last time and decided to swap to a 3/1 run-walk. My legs were cooked, I was drained of energy and just wanted to lay down on the pavement.
This is when you decide which way you want to end your day: plod to the finish or keep grinding for a mental victory.
So I reduced my stride length and started wiggling like a power walker to keep my pace steady. That’s when I probably passed 10-12 people in my age group who had decided to walk it home. I remembered all those time the more experienced TriDubai guys told me to keep it steady throughout the day: “you’ll pick the overly-enthusiastic ones in the last 10k”. Damn right!
I have no memory from the last few minutes of the run but soon enough, I could hear the music, the announcer, the crowd.
Next thing I know, I was sitting on a bench with an emergency blanket 20 minutes later. Total blackout.
4:50 for the marathon, 13:34 total time.
Just like the start of the swim, I had replayed the finish line a million times in my head while training. I could visualise it, hear the music, smell the sweat, even feel the pain in my soles. But once it got real, nothing was as expected. The music was louder, the lights were brighter, the crowds were bigger, the pain was numbed for a few minutes.
I have never experienced anything like this before.
I cannot really put into words the emotions that overwhelmed me and brought me to tears at the finish line. I’m a crier anyway, but it seemed like the past 9 months of training, culminated into 14 hours and 52 minutes was just not long enough. I had cursed the day I fell in love with triathlon more often than not in my ironman training journey. I was tired most days given our 5 a.m. wake up calls. I was hungry a lot. I missed occasional birthdays that started at the same time that I planned to go to bed. I had embraced the turbo as part of the living room and the fact that dishes would not always be done on time. And it was temporarily over.
Was it worth it? As one girl so eloquently posted on social media “People ask me why I do it. I wonder why they don’t”.
After 30mins on the bench, I got Doris’ last split and waited for her at the finish. As she came in, I saw she didn’t enjoy the last hour, but I was proud of her. She had pulled us into this thing for health reasons, I had taken it a bit too far and made her do an Ironman. I know she hated me for it sometimes during this long day but I also know she’s damn proud and she should be.
First thing she told me at the finish? “I can’t believe we swapped watches!”.
I froze, and everything replayed in my head. No heart rate, no power on the bike, different data fields displayed. It all made sense: we had swapped watches in the morning. I couldn’t believe it. After all this training, preparation and gear rehearsals, we had NAILED our set up. Every single detail was on point, except arguably the most important one.
This is to say that regardless of how well you plan, sh*t will happen on race day and it all depends on how you deal with it. Doris kept her cool, knowing she trained for it for 6 months and knowing what her pace should be. This composure is how she dominates in life.
We then made our way to the finishers’ tent, had some bland food, picked up our Finisher Shirts, all the gear and headed back to the hotel. I didn’t sleep well due to the soreness, adrenaline residue and the unhealthy amount of gels/bars I had all day, but I was happy. We set a goal, prepared for it and got it done.
Now let me Google the next race!
Thanks (combined, don’t worry)
- Thanks numero uno goes to Flanners, our Coach. We cannot reinforce enough the importance of having a coach. During this Ironman is when ALL the seeds he’s been planting in our head for months suddenly became huge trees and we understood the plan he set up all along. Flanners kept us true to our ability the past few months and has been a willing ear to rant/complain/brag to. We flooded him with questions and he answered every single one. We’d (Ramine) pester him with comments on the smallest unimportant data points and he’d answer. He’s a top guy and one we’re proud to count as a friend. Sure, you can get a plan online or you can design your own program, but we now genuinely believe it’s not the same as having a Coach. We know maximum 5 people in Dubai who could realistically have lots of success by self-training. But guess what? They all have a coach.
- Our friends and families who were patient enough to not delete our numbers from their phones. We know that no matter how much we talk about it, you don’t quite understand WHY we’re doing this to ourselves. It does sound very silly, completely agreed. We haven’t really been around the past few months, but honestly, Ironman has made us so happy that we feel you’d say it’s worth it. Whether we embark on another journey or not, it’s a lifestyle that we’ve started to really enjoy and one we think will stick around. We promise however to make more of an effort.
- The Innerfight Endurance Team who never show any weakness. If you’re serious, check this place out - no faffing around, only proper training and proper support. Just don’t be intimidated by the Spartan-like topless guys when you walk in, they’re Crossfitters.
- TriDubai as an institution, for what it represents and for its awesome members: Giorgio, Matt, Amanda, Ronnie, Zeid, Paul (all of them!), Mike, Svetlana, Jihad, Nuno, Naz, Ahmed, Hasan, Ben, and so many generous others who, without knowing it, kept us on track to get this thing done. You all have spent precious time supporting us during the race and advising us throughout the past few months. It’s incredible to witness how much help people are willing to offer at the end of a swim or in the Al Qudra car park. Don’t ever hesitate to ask, TriDubai people are nice people.
- David Labouchere - our neighbour and secret idol, It’s important to have someone to look up to in your local community and have honest chats with, outside your Coach, family and friends. Without getting too specific, the man trains mean and races mean but he’s actually lovely. We hope to be half as fit as he is when we “grow up”. But we know – you don’t plan on “growing up”!
- Dubai in general, for offering us the best training facilities any triathlete could wish for. People sometimes forget we have free access to hundreds of kms of perfect bike tracks, Olympic pools without 80 swimmers in each lane and more gyms than we can count.
- Last but not least, the other people who made it all possible:
- Toby Jones the bike fit magician with a dry temper and amazing brain. He’s legit and we wouldn’t have been able to ride our entry-level bikes for an Ironman without him.
- Robyn Stanford, Physio at Optimal Therapy who fixed us and advised us throughout the year despite endless blabber. Thank you!
- Gavin Donoghue for going through the painful Aeroscan process with us numerous times and encouraging us to follow the system.
- Paul Cheetham, always happy and genuinely helpful at Probike.
- Nuno, making Adventure HQ a great place to visit, even if you have nothing to buy.
- Race ME for putting on the best races in the UAE – We are very picky racers and you guys never fail to deliver awesome events.
- The team at Zad’s café, who made us happy so many times by giving us extra ice.
- Jagath the lifeguard at Hamdan who will always greet you with a smile and will lend you any piece of equipment you forget.
As if this report wasn’t long enough, and to finish on a lighter note, here is some knowledge we’ve gathered.:
- It’s somehow less windy in Al Qudra during weekdays. Don’t ask us why.
- People walking their dogs are more likely to reply to Good Morning than the ones walking to exercise.
- We once had head wind going up AND down the stick at Al Qudra. Black magic.
- There’s always going to be a fat guy running faster than you. For your sanity, just assume he’s only out there for a quick 3k while you’re halfway through your 2.5-hour low heart rate run.
- The more colours you have on your gear, the faster you will go. Pretty sure about that one.
- Preparing for Ironman is not just about training, it will take over your life. On top of the training which is around 15 to 20 hours a week for most people, you need to add:
- More grocery shopping (you’ll be eating way more and way fresher stuff than before).
- Food preparation: because you won’t allow yourself to buy any ready-made food ever again.
- Eating: more calories burned = more food eaten, easy.
- 2 to 3 showers daily.
- Stretching and recovery time (those 20 minutes you sit on a towel laid on your couch with an empty gaze after a hard turbo session).
- Whatsapping and meeting your Coach, analysing Training Peaks and Garmin Connect activities.
- Endless hours at the bike shop and sports shop.
- Massages and Physio appointments (don’t neglect those).
- Trips back and forth to the pool/beach, bike track, gym, physio, supermarket, etc.
- Watching triathlon videos on Youtube – seriously, get on it!
- More sleep.
- Endless hours Googling topics including: nutrition, muscle soreness, LCHF, Paleo, carb content, gait, shaving legs, electrolytes, how a power meter works, how to resuscitate your Garmin, how to prepare home-made GU, how to run like Mirinda Carfrae, best finish line photo pose, etc.
Best sport ever.