Sunday June 30th had been staring down at me from my training calendar like an angry relative since November of last year.
Brad asked me to join him for Ironman Austria and after a few days of hesitation I decided to sign up. Since then it has taken up a scarily large amount of time out of my week (thanks for putting up with all that Yukie).
At the training camp in Spain earlier this year JB raised serious questions as to whether I was focused enough and had trained enough to finish the race. That was the boot I needed.
But here I was at the start. The sun was rising over the Woerthersee and the large expanse of relatively inviting water lay ahead. There was clearly no going back now. No excuses…no..’a client called and I had to go to the office’..this was it.
A priest started to recite the Lord’s prayer in German. For me this had uneasy resonances as the last time I had seen a priest was at the recent funeral of my late aunt. But there was a certain beauty in the words.
The organisation of the event had been immaculate. The transition preparation, the briefing, the advice on nutrition. I can now see why so many people had decided to choose this race as their first Ironman. The only slight blot on the organisers copy book was the failure of the start mats to register our timing chips. At least 250 swimmers then had to push back over the mats only to be met by 2000 other swimmers coming the other way. ‘What a typical Austrian cluster – f**k’ shouted one resentful Scotsman. Ease up, I thought, you’ll have bigger problems than this to deal with.
The siren sounds and we are in the water. A perfect temperature. A bit rough as I was kicked a few times but overall a surprisingly good and easy swim (note for next time: keep way right as you are in relatively clear water) The crowd concertinas around the two left hand buoys but the real fun starts when we have to file through a channel that must be no more than 7 metres wide. Now I remember what it felt like being in the second row in the scrum at school. The channel was around 900m long and I heard later that two guys had to be separated by marshalls as they started to have an animated punch up as they exited the water. The run split 1 hour 7mins. On schedule.
Tim Bishop noticed how slow Brad and I were through transition. Tim, let’s just say getting your socks on at aged 52 can be a challenge but I’m sure you have some good hints for the next time.
The bike course was truly the most spectacular piece of countryside I have ever biked through. Almost perfect weather. No wind, around 23 degrees and closed roads. I remember trying to tail Brad down Ranmore hill in February. The rain, the slippery roads, the cars..not much fun. But THIS. This is the way to ride a bike down-hill. I looked at my speedo. If I keep this going at this speed Ill be back in transition in under 4 hours. Marino’s course record under threat. Sadly not all the course was downhill.
Two loops, two hills on each lap and apparently this is the only major IM course where you gain on the way down what you lost on the Bergauf (uphill).
I started to play some mind games to keep me focused. Everyone has their name on their race number…Eva Maria from Austria you’ve got very brown legs..clearly you’ve not been in England over the winter …Carrie from the US rode past me..I thought she was Brads wife and was watching not riding (must be another one)..Carlo from Italy..I’ve now passed him four times..not sure quite why until I saw him against a tree….too much hydration…Mehdi from the USA..your bike looks way over engineered..those integrated water bottles seem like an accident waiting to happen…just watch me take you on the next hill…..my bottles are lighter than your bottles….the time just flew past.
2 and a half hours into the race I realised that this is when the Olympic distance races usually finish and Im still barely into the first bike loop.
Here I have a confession to make. I thought the bike was 100 miles not 112 miles (note for next year..read the instructions)
John from GBR sidles up to me.
‘James have you got any salt tablets? I’m really suffering from cramp’
‘Sorry John, I don’t have any but you can have one of these Power Bars I just picked up. They probably taste marginally worse..
‘Ermmm John, How long is this race?’
A strange quizzical look comes over Johns’ face,
‘ The normal 112 miles, Why?
‘Just curious, thanks. Have a nice ride’
The ride into the finish was spectacular. Modernist sports stadium comes into sight….Good view of the lake. Crowds start to grow and then that feeling of relief when I hit the dismount line and I can get off the bike. 112 miles in 6hours and 15 minutes. I have never ridden that far nor for that long before…
Organised and efficient transition (alright Tim it was a bit slow) and then out on to the marathon.
Here I can offer some advice. Don’t think of this as one long race. Break it down into bits. Brad and I had done many 5x5km reps. Barnes to Robin Hood gate 1 x 5k..Round Pen Ponds 1x5k. All I need to do is repeat 8 times. Sounds easy.
The first loop was relatively good. Steady pace, walk through the aid stations take on the Iso drinks and the bananas and then head out again.
‘Go James’ I hear. And then a few seconds later in German I pick up ‘That one doesn’t look great..’ (be careful Miss Austria some Brits speak German)
The second loop was perhaps the worst 3 hours of my entire 46 year running career. The heat was rising. No more energy…can I take a short cut..where the hells the finish line..people no longer have names..they are just shuffling robots….surely that cant be 28k it must be 30k…but it is not a good idea to quit..that doesn’t mean anything…
I see the JBF chalk marks on the road, Carrie had written Go Marler in big letters..that really helped. Saw John and Christine in the town square..make sure you not walking when they are watching…keep focused. Yukie and I walk together for about 100m and then I can hear the noise at the finish line. One more left turn..onto the boardwalk..another left hander and theres the finish. 5 hours 15 mins not a great run split but that’s the last thing on my mind.
Emotional reunion with Yukie, Brad and Carrie and then my system starts to rebel…kneel down you’ll feel better..actually that doesn’t help..a hand on my shoulder..Ist alles OK? A doctor asks… Well actually not….onto a stretcher and off to the Medical tent…great view of the trees from here..I wonder if they have had Ash die back in Austria…. Finally I can lie down and the two intravenous drips do the rest. It is finally over. 12 hours 57 minutes and 4 seconds.
What have I learned?
Well, this is a massive distance for humans to cover.
Once you focus on something and you have the right support anything is possible
A good training partner is essential.
Push yourself..see what happens…you might be pleasantly surprised
Thanks for all the fantastic messages of support from friends and family and Optima friends in particular
OK Brad..get that hip fixed and then let’s work out the next challenge.
By James Marler.