Ironman Austria 2014 – The Swim

Posted on July 7, 2014. Filed under: first time ironman, ironman, Ironman Austria, ironman regensburg, ironman swim, ironman tips, race report, race review, swim |

Toes grasping at cool sand, a priest reads a blessing “may the lord see you all return home safely today” or some other holy chuff.  F’sakes.  The rather jolly Austrian national anthem draws to a close.  2,500 stand shoulder to shoulder cocooned in rubber suits, latex on heads, making imaginery final micro-adjustments to well loved goggles.  It should be a ludicrous sight but we are immersed in the moment; the final seconds before a long training journey is put into practice.  The announcer calls 10 seconds to go and the silent stoicism is broken as 2,500 rubber clad gimps turn to the stranger next to them, tap them on the back, shake hands, offer a hug and wish each other, and no-one in  particular, good luck in any of 50 languages.  We face forwards, the cannon booms, red and white fireworks explode over the still, milky blue Wörthersee in an ethereal Austrian flag.  En masse, without words, 2,500 people step forwards.  Ironman Austria is GO.

Of course, Ironman morning doesn’t start on the beach.  It starts hours before.  Days before even.  There is a theme with Ironman Austria that I won’t labour.  It is a fantastic race, deservedly considered one of the best in the world  but it is all, well, it is all very vague.  There appears to be a huge amount of assumed knowledge and, as the site is vast, that results in a huge amount of unnecessary walking.  There is no signage, there are huge crowds and nobody really knows what is going on.  So bike racking on Saturday afternoon (I was given two different racking times) through to the swim start there was just a general level of confusion.  It just didn’t have the slickness that I would expect for such a huge event.

Anyway, with that minor gripe aside me, Nessie and the Sherpas – Al, Pam and Roar ate pasta on Saturday evening and the grown up Sherpas drank beer.  Due to the general vagueness we decided to go early and as in Regensburg 3 years ago I took control.  “The car will be leaving at 5am.  Don’t assume I’m joking”.  And so we retired and I pretended that I was going to sleep in the 6 hours before my alarm went off.  I guess I did, but not nearly as much as I didn’t.

At 4am I went into auto pilot.  Up, porridge, last check of bags.  Shower, P50, lube, optimistically spray some Lynx, suit up, warm layer on top.  4:45 wake up Pam. 4:55 lift Roar from his bed.  5:03  Give Ness the 3 minutes late death stare.  5:03:30 the car departs.  5:04 Roar starts singing “let it go” by repeating let it go in increasingly unintelligible octaves until the car windows shatter.  5:15 Parked.

Ness and I went to T1 to ready the bikes and “perfectly prepared IronNess” asked me if I would come to her bike and pump up her tyres.  Dumbass.  As I aero-tape my pump to the frame I met Michael (@smoker2ironman), a long time twitter buddy who happened to have a handy track pump so we chatted as I inflated and then he introduced me to Nick (@thehisknibs) the other man that had been along for the twitter ride since we signed up.  But, after talking about it for 3 years I wanted to spend the last hour with my real life buddy.IMG_20140703_190544

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So, as I found Ness in the ladies section she was already to go, but with flat tyres.  We had been assured that there would be mechanics and loads of track pumps in T1 so I never took mine but with all the Austrian vaguery loads may have translated into absolutely none.  Anyway, in what I thought was very un-Ironman behaviour I asked three people to borrow pumps before a passing chap eventually did.  The whole time the pumps that had spurned me sat next to me unused.  Iron ladies can be rude.

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Anyway, we refound the sherpas and the next 30mins were a blur of (more confusion), rubber suits, lube and my banana in a wetsuit jape.  And then it was time to head to the Strandbad to start the longest day.  As we turned, Roar shouted “RAINBOW” and, right enough, in clear blue skies over the Strandbad building was a double sided rainbow.  As if the Wörthersee was not beautiful enough it was framed in the most perfect rainbow to welcome us to the swim start, only my bicycle turning into a unicorn would have been more magical.  We followed the stream of rubber clad morphs towards the Ironman arch, wading through spectators experiencing general, well, confusion.  And then we popped through security in a blur of paparazzi and we were on the water front.  I had stressed to Ness that getting in the water for a quick warm up was critical.  But we couldn’t get to the water.  We wasted minutes squeezing through the crowd, all similarly dry and confused until eventually we were told we had to leave the secure area to get to the warm up area.  OK. 10 mins to go.  The crush was unbelievable and there was no chance we could get out, warmed up and back in. So, I looked at Ness and said “you’re going to have to trust me on this one”.  We headed to the cold showers and had 5 mins getting chilled down and wet and made it back just in time for the 3 minute countdown.

“You’ve got this buddy.  Hang back, take it easy, keep moving forwards”.  Hug.  Steamy goggles.  Separate ways.

Cue dumbass decision #1.

I woke up on Ironman morning knowing that I needed a perfect swim to hit my 1 hour target.  I am an experienced (some would say grizzled veteran) swimmer so this should have been basic stuff.  I was doing 400m repeats in the pool comfortably coming in at 1:02 pace and on Saturday I did 2700m bang on 1:03 pace.  If the Lend canal was as quick as everyone said for the last kilometre I could do 1:00.  But it was tight, and the last thing I needed was a schoolboy tactical error.

IMG_20140706_074239The only explanation I can offer for lining up on the beach 5 back from the front just to the left of the centre pier is that I was flustered by the warm up confusion.  I had intended to be front row towards the left pier.  In the final 30 seconds I took 4 large sideways steps but never moved forward. In the picture I am at the top of the balloon  shadow.  Yip, where ALL the people are.  Then BOOM, the cannon set unstoppable forward motion in progress.

It was 5 steps into the water.  I was in the most congested part of the lake.  I was up to my neck wading before there was any point in taking my feet off the bottom.  Even then there was only space to swim at a 45 degree angle.  And then BANG.

I’m not sure what happened.  I have no recollection of the swim for the first 1200m or so and after that it was a case of remembering “water side down” as my brain rattled in my head.  I had no facial bruising so I don’t think I took a kick in the face but i was tender on my neck and shoulders for days and I struggled to look forwards on the bike.  My best guess from forensic bruise poking was that a hand came down on the back of my neck.  I have no idea whether I swam the first straight or whether I was just carried by the draft but my first clear recollection is pretty much hitting the first turn buoy.  And that recollection was that my timing chip felt loose on my ankle – I have no idea what kind of mauling we took on that start but I struggle to remove a timing chip at the best of times so it was a rough old swim start.  The back straight had loads of space (or I was off course) but as we turned for home I was completely blinded by the sun as expected.  The thing about the Lend canal is that it sounds big but really we would probably call it a waterlogged ditch so even without the rising sun it was a practically invisible target.  The swim down the home straight to the mouth of the canal was the ultimate zig zag swim as the buoys seemed off course and some flags that seemed to obviously mark the canal were the decorations on some bloke’s decking.

IMG_20140628_183524Even 5m from the tightly gripped mouth of the canal I was unclear of the route in and then, without warning, there were rocks in my face and scraping my feet in the shallows.  I pulled my head up and cramped my hamstrings.  The rest of the swim was done with poker straight legs.

Now, here I take issue.  At the race briefing Paul Kaye prepared us for the “fastest swim of our lives”.  Personally, I experienced the most brutal swim of my life.  Or the most twig and leaf mouthed swim of my life.  But not fast.  Like the famous fish in a barrel we were squashed into bugger all space.  As a waterpolo and rugby player I can hold my own in a stramash but this was fierce.  Al even witnessed two chaps take it personally and stand up in the waist deep water for a square go.  Literally hundreds of alpha boys and girls clawing and grasping in a shallow, grubby canal for an extra millimetre.  Not fast, not fun but definitely a unique spectator viewpoint of an Ironman swim.

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Realising that my Garmin is as useful as a packet of bacon crisps for an OW swim

A sharp right turn of slack water.  And then we were out.  Volunteers hauling us up the steep bank and on our way to our bikes.  As I am normally a little, ahem, confused as I look for my bike after a swim I made the decision to walk the long transition.  Glancing down at my garmin I had no idea how long I had swum as the screen was completely fogged up.  But, ultimately, it was a disappointing 1:07 versus my downside time of 1:02.  However, with a throbbing head and shoulders I was just glad to make it onto the bike.

It was 21 centigrade at 8:10am. I am Scottish.  The suffering was starting.   The day was on.

THE ENTIRE IRONMAN AUSTRIA ARCHIVE

 Auf Wiedersehen Pet

Ich Liebe Dich, Österreich

Ironman Austria 2014 – The Swim

Ironman Austria 2014 – The Bike

Ironman Austria 2014 – The Run

Ironman Austria 2014 – Beyond the Finish Line

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3 Responses to “Ironman Austria 2014 – The Swim”

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Sounds a horrible swim – but in my wildest dreams I wouldn’t imagine the ability to do a 1.07 – well done mate.

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Cheers Andy. Completely my own fault. There was a clear path about 20m to my left. 1 min slower than Regensburg.

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Sounds like an absolute barrel load of….hell! Looking forward to the next instalment mate.

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