The One When Iron Nessie Did Ironman Austria

Posted on September 23, 2014. Filed under: Austria, bike, first time ironman, ironman, Ironman Austria, Klagenfurt, new ironman tips, race report, race review, run, swim |

You know when something is so overdue that you had forgotten that we were expecting it in the first place?  Well, that’s where I was with Nessie’s Ironman Austria race report.  She likes to take her time.

To cut a long story short Nessie, a veteran of waaaay too many marathons for one so young, saw me do an Ironman in 2011 and after pumping her gums about it for two years decided she wanted a piece of that.  Throughout the report she refers to me as IronCoach (and occasionally Stumpy on account of my freakishly short legs).  Possibly because I taught her to swim, maybe because I picked her up from the ground every time she fell off her bike, but most likely because every Monday night for 30 weeks I sent her a programme telling her how to organise her life and to MTFU.

Anyway, over to Nessie.  I would recommend a coffee and some cake.  Seriously a large thermos and a whole cake.  Anyway…….

 


 

Frank Shorter, 1972 Olympic Marathon Gold Medallist, said “At mile 20, I thought I was dead. At mile 22, I wished I was dead. At mile 24, I knew I was dead. At mile 26.2, I realized I had become too tough to kill.”  Well at mile 140.6 on Sunday 29th June, I felt like the love child of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone when I heard the race announcer roar the 6 words that had occupied my every waking (and sleeping) moment for the last 12 months –

 “VANESSA JACOB. YOU. ARE. AN. IRONMAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”.

As they’d say in Dublin – deadly buzz!

 

My Iron journey officially started at 4.08pm on Monday 1st July 2013 when I received the email confirming my entry to Ironman Austria 2014. It had unofficially started 2 years prior to that when my pal, Stumpy had completed Ironman Regensburg. As soon as he had been ordained into the Ironman Brotherhood I knew that I wanted some of that action. It was just a matter of finding the time and commitment to do it. When Stumpster said he had been granted permission to do another IM I knew that I was going to join him for the ride.

 

For the first 6 months post IM entry my days were occupied with pre-season training (a bit of swimming, a bit of cycling, a bit of running).  In January I received my training plan. In the profound words of Bad Boy Martin Lawrence, “this shit got real”. Literally.  The training plan I received had 3 sections

  1. Shit that is coming up
  2. Shit you need to do
  3. Shit you have done.

No one could ever accuse my IronCoach (Stumpy!) of sugar coating things.

 

Now I’m usually a fairly competitive person and have rarely entered a race prescribing to the notion that it’s the taking part that counts. I am also, however, not a total buffoon. I had done my homework and was painfully aware of the pitfalls that littered the Ironman race. When I signed up for Ironman Austria on 1st July 2013 I therefore only had one objective – to cross the finish line smiling and not foaming at the mouth requiring urgent medical attention.  I can say with absolute honesty that I had no interest or desire in achieving a target time for IM – the 17 hours the race organisers allowed was enough of a target for me!

 

My “Just get round” plan involved 3 swimming sessions, 3 cycling sessions and 3 running sessions a week. You didn’t have to be Stephen Hawkins to figure out that this meant that over 6 days (I was granted one rest day) I would have to do 3 training double headers… and then some. I wasn’t sure what was going to pack in first – my legs or my washing machine.

 

The 6 months between receiving the plan and boarding the plane to Salzburg passed in a whirlwind of training, eating, sleeping, and working. Over that time I spent

  • 77 hours swimming – approx. 231 kilometres or 9,240 lengths of a 25m pool – that’s a whole lots of budgie smugglers to dodge!
  • 120 hours cycling – approx. 3000 kilometres – 4 times the distance from Edinburgh to London
  • 73 hours running – approx. 770 kilometres – equivalent of over 18 marathons. Eddie Izzard eat your heart out

 

I discovered that the key to a successful IM campaign is not having the fastest bike or the lightest trainers; it’s having a support network to see you through the highs and lows. Balancing IM training with life is not an easy task but without an understanding other half it would be nigh on impossible. My other half backed me all the way (and even proposed halfway through the IM journey!). He never made me feel guilty for disappearing off for hours on end, decked head to toe in my finest lycra. Although I’ve since discovered that he may in fact have an Xbox addiction and my long periods of absence provided him the perfect opportunity to satisfy his gaming needs!!

 

Besides a wee sniffle I got through my 6 month training plan injury and ailment free. But as I entered my 14 day tapering phase disaster struck – I picked up a serious case of the lurgy/manflu/ebola. Feck.  Cue desperation measures and 2 weeks of quarantine in my flat inhaling large quantities of lemsip, night nurse, day nurse, paracetamol, menthol crystals, Vicks vaporub etc etc. Thankfully I started to feel better the day before we were due to travel and by the time we had plane, trained and automobiled it to Klagenfurt I was showing clear signs of recovery and no longer at risk of decimating an entire rainforest with my tissue consumption.

 

When we arrived in Klagenfurt to hook up with IronCoach, Pam and Rory I was certain I would be on that start line.  But I was even more certain that I would have to play it safe and stick to the game plan if I was to meet my IM objective of finishing without needing the help of a medical professional.

 

The day before race day was a hectic one. We had to register, attend the pre race briefing, have our first open water swim (of the year!!), collect my bike (one of the best decisions of my IM journey was to transport my bike to Austria with ShipMyTri bike – an outstanding service!!), pack transition bags and then rack bike and transition bags. All the while eating and drinking like it was our last day on earth. We left the apartments at 8.30am and got back at 5.30pm. Then it was time to pack bags for the morning, call the parentals to reassure the lurgy had passed and I was feeling ok, eat dinner and get to bed. Not quite the leisurely day I had in mind.

 

On race day the alarm went off at 3.45am – It wasn’t tiredness that plagued me when I arose; it was absolute mind numbing, arse clenching fear. After 12 months of preparation, D day was here and for the millionth time since signing up for IM I asked myself “what have I gotten myself  into?”.

 

Brief text conversation ensued with IronCoach:

IronCoach – “You up?”

Me – “Yup”

IronCoach – “Fuck”

Me – “Double fuck”

 

It was reassuring to hear my pal was also feeling the fear.

 

I launched myself into pre-race preparation. Quick shower, liberal application of sun cream, kit on, bag checked (Garmin, energy bars, water bottles,  tri top, tri shorts all present ),  bowl of porridge, jam sandwich, litre of water, bag checked (again). Time to go.

 

Into the car. Out of the car. Into T1. Out of T1. Into wetsuit.

 

I staggered through those early hours on 29th June in a trance and bar Rory serenading us with “Let It Go” in the car and my bursting into tears as we said our goodbyes at the start line, I really don’t remember that much of it.

 

The swim was my biggest fear of the day – I am no Michael Phelps. In fact I’m not even Michelle De Bruin (nee Smith) before the performance enhancing substances. Think Eddie the Eel…… with armbands and a rubber ring. As I stood on the beach of the Worthersee at 6.59am that morning, surrounded by my fellow nutters all rubber suited and latex capped up, the iron demons were at their loudest – “This is madness. 140.6 miles is a long way to go in car, let alone on 2 legs. Just hop the barriers and go have some bratwurst and beer etc etc”.

 

But then I remembered the game plan and IronCoach’s words of wisdom – hang back, avoid the human washing machine, take it easy but keep moving forward, get out of the water and you’re on the home stretch. (I had decided early on that if I was to get through IM I would need to take it in bite sized chunks on the day so I conveniently forgot about the 180km bike ride and marathon that awaited me on the other side of the swim!!).

 

The 10 second warning rang out. Calm and silence descended. And then the starter cannons went off – it was time to man up.

 

I had positioned myself at the very back of the pack on the beach (I was practically in the car park) so that I could take my sweet ass time setting off on the swim. As my fellow ironman pledges catapulted themselves into the stramash I tentatively tip toed in. Now I had fully prepared myself to be the last person into the water (and also out of the water –  my target swim time was 2 hours 19 mins 59 secs), so I was a little shocked to see I wasn’t the only person who looked like they were out for an early morning paddle. Seeing other people hang back really helped to calm my nerves – I wasn’t going to be on my own out there.

 

After 5/10 mins of wading into the water it was time to start swimming…. Or drown. Heart pounding, I dunked my head. Did I have a moment of absolute panic? Yes! But the amazing thing – it was literally that.  A moment.

 

The water was actually quite pleasant (compared to some of the arctic puddles I’ve experienced in Scotland over the last few years) and cold shock did not strike.Some breast stroke to bring down the heart rate and regulate my breathing, and I was off.  The 5 minute “head start” I’d given the rest of the field paid off and for the most part I had clear water ahead. Along that stretch out to the first turn buoy I witnessed some interesting swimming styles – one chap appeared to be doing breast stroke arms with front crawl legs. I do wonder if he made it out of the water.

 

Pull, breath, sight, repeat.

 

Before I knew it I had hit the second turn buoy, (without any kicks to the head) and was on my way to the canal….. Or so I thought. Unfortunately I couldn’t quite make out where the canal opening was, so that particular segment of the swim involved around 300 metres more than the race officials actually required.  Not to worry I made it eventually and readied myself for “the fastest swim of my life” that had been promised on the race briefing. Yeah, right! As promised the water was shallow. But it was not fast. In fact for the first time that day I found myself in a bit of a melee. It appeared everyone was struggling to swim in a straight line and I had to reposition myself a number of times to avoid flaying limbs. All the while trying to expel the twigs and leafs that were trying to invade my lungs.

 

10603645_10151965569243039_8516843335594483099_nThe spectators were out in full force along the canal and as it was so narrow they had a great view of the action. As we passed under the first bridge over the canal I heard Al and Pam shouting my name – no idea how they spotted me in the scrum of white caps but it did my heart no end of good!

 

Pull, breath, sight, repeat.

 

I saw the turn to the swim exit and could have cried with relief. I’d survived the swim – woooohoooooo!!!!

 

THE BIKE

 

I had opted to swim “Garmin-less” so when I was unceremoniously dragged out of the canal I had no idea how long I’d been in the water for. Quick check of the clock as I trotted Bambi like to T1 told me it was 2 hours since the Pro’s set off – wooohooo that meant I’d exited the water in 1hr 45. Incredibly pedestrian time but I was delighted, I had until 5.15pm now to get round the bike course.

 

T1 was a leisurely affair for me. As well as forgoing the Garmin I had also opted to wear a swimsuit under my wetsuit – I thought the day was going to be long enough without having to set off on 180km bike ride in wet tri gear. Great on paper but in reality the whole drying/changing process took quite some time (even with the help of the T1 wetsuit strippers). Add to that an extended portaloo stop as the effects of the swim nerves kicked in and I was 16 mins 52 secs in transition. I’m sure most triathletes would have me disbarred from the sport for that but I was one third of the way toward becoming an Ironman and feeling on top of the world.

 

Now unlike the other 2,915 Ironman pledges I had decided not to upgrade my entry level road bike in any way – in retrospect I should have at least gotten some tri bars. I felt like I had shown up to a Harley Davidson meet on a BMX….. with spoky dokeys.  My steed is called Bob.  I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, or the guy with a full aero helmet straddling a carbon beast, but I’ll admit that seeing the sweet rides getting racked at transition had intimidated me (and brought out my green eyed monster).  They filled me with fear for the bike course. I had told everyone in the run up to IM that if got through the swim I knew I could make round the bike and run courses – it was time to test my mettle.

 

Bob was found with relative ease (another added bonus of hanging back in the swim – most folk have already set out on the bike by the time you finish!!) and I was on my way to the mount line. The race announcer was in full flight by now and as I clipped in to set off he bellowed “And next is Vanessa Jacob from Ireland” – Needless to say I felt like a champ. A quick thumbs up and smile for the camera as I passed Al, Pam and Roar and I was off.

 

The game plan for the bike was pretty straight forward – eat/drink every 20 mins and keep a steady pace of 20 to 25 kph. Could I have gone faster? Yes. Was I willing to take the chance of bonking and feckin up my chances on the marathon? No.

 

The first 30km of the bike course was pretty uneventful. Breathe, eat, drink, repeat (while silently chanting “please don’t get a puncture, please don’t get a puncture”). As IronCoach has said in his outrageously long race report, large segments of the bike course weren’t particularly well supported so when I did see a random Austrian perched on a deckchair, necking a brewski I gave them my biggest grin and thumbs up. This elicited a cheer of “zuper, zuper!!!” and “HOP, HOP, HOP” every time. Hearing those words never got boring.

 

On the road out to Faaker See there was a two way stretch where we crossed paths with pledges heading out towards Rupertiberg. There I spotted IC in his jaunty yellow pirate outfit – a shout of “Dougie” and he saw me. “You ok?”, “Yep”, “You?”, “Yep” was the sum total of the conversation. He was looking strong and looked to be on track to shave a chunk of time off his last IM time. Then it was onto the Faaker See with me.

 

IM Austria boasts a largely flat and downhill course with 2 significant climbs –the first at Faaker See and the second at Rupertiberg. Race briefing had confirmed my hopes/dreams that each loop consisted of approx. 55km flat/descent and 35km climbing. Totes manageable….. at least on the first lap. Second lap was far more challenging particularly as then the heavens opened, the thunder roared and I looked like a drowned rat for what wouldn’t be the last time that day!

 

10632742_10151965570193039_4236030404538668150_nThe first real ascent was fairly unremarkable – short sharp climb, followed by a longer, shallower drag for about 6km. At the top, however, waited a wee treat in the form of a bottle of Coke – the ironman equivalent of crack cocaine.

 

I had caught up to a pack of riders about 20km into the first loop and rode with them for most of the lap. I found myself in an intriguing game of cat and mouse – I would pass them on the uphills, they would zoom by me on the downhills shouting “wwwweeeeeeeeeeee”. This baffled me – on the ascents I overtook them with relative ease yet on the descents they flew by me. I would only find out after IM that gravity was playing a huge part in their glee…. Now I’m not in any way a small girl but a few dozen Greggs sausage rolls would have considerably upped my pace downhill (that and a set of tri bars).

 

About 25km after Faaker See we hit Rupertiberg –somehow  I had blanked the image of the course profile map from my mind and was a little shocked to arrive at the bottom of it to discover that it consisted of not 1, nor 2 but 3 short vertical climbs. Feck. A very slow ascent ensued but I finished it feeling breathless and not in need of a stretcher. Result.  Another bottle of coke grabbed from one of the feed station attendants and I was on my way back to transition to repeat the loop again.

 

A check of the watch – loop one done in 3hrs 35 mins. Again unlikely to get a call up to represent Ireland at the next Olympics but bang on target pace and legs were still feeling strong.

 

Eat, drink, breath, repeat. (Interspersed with chants of “almost there”, “please don’t get a puncture” and singing “Eye of the Tiger”)

 

Needless to say there were some low moments on that second lap when the Iron demons started to whisper in my ear. However they were no match for 6 months of training, an all-consuming need to get my grubby paws on that all important finishers medal and a paddy off her head on “iso” and coca cola.

 

As I cycled down the final stretch into T2 I spotted Pam, bouncing up and down shouting “YOU’RE ALMOST THERE”. Then as I dismounted I saw Al being restrained by marshals from jumping the barriers and doing the triathlon equivalent of a pitch invasion. “NESSSSSSSSSSS YOU’RE ALMOST THERE!!!”. Hahahahaha.  It would appear we had all fooled ourselves into thinking an actual real life 26.2 mile marathon was IM code for a 5km run.

 

I wobbled into T2 (think bambi again but this time on ice….. in a pair of manolos) to dump Bob and assess what damage 7.5 hours sitting on a bike had done. Arms, legs, back, shoulders, feet…… all stiff but no real pain. Result.

 

My hands however were a different matter entirely. Cyclist’s palsy had struck at about 120km, resulting in a loss of all power in my left hand (for the last 60km I had to operate the left shifter with my right hand….which was slightly inconvenient. Given the next/final part of the journey to IM involved running I figured the hand wasn’t going to be a problem. Unless of course I ended up crawling at some stage and let’s face it if it came to that a sore hand was likely to be the least of my problems.

 

I won’t go into details on the chaffing, let’s just say there was a lot.

 

I then got down to official T2 business – visit to the portaloo, fresh socks, cycling shoes swapped for trainers, helmet replaced with cap, generous application of sun cream (the afternoons biblical storm had been replaced by the mercury hitting somewhere north of 25 degrees and blazing sunshine), bottle of water necked and reassurances from the marshals that I now had over 7 hours to drag my sorry irish ass around 42.2km.

 

THE RUN

 

1453425_10151965570333039_1179726102484402620_nAl was waiting at the transition exit to dish out hugs and check that I was still compos mentis.  As I suspected regular updates were being sent back to Ireland on my mental and physical state. My mam and dad were glued to a pc anxiously awaiting news that I had crossed the finish line – they had a VERY long day.

 

The run course was 2 (quite narrow) laps of a (kind of) figure of 8 – taking in the park which housed the Iron Village, Krumpendorf (a municipality apparently – I think that’s Austrian for small housing estate but can’t be sure!), the Lend Canal and Klagenfurt town centre. It was packed with spectators and the atmosphere was electric – hardly surprising given 99% of the spectators had been on the sauce since breakfast. After the relative solitude of the last 7.5 hours on the bike this was exactly what I needed to carry me to the finish line.

 

I’d soon discover however that the downside of this 2 lap, figure of 8 formation was that you passed within touching distance of the finish FOUR times before you got to head into the lights. This for me was to be one of the hardest things about the run segment of Ironman Austria.

 

Now the game plan for the marathon was to start with a walk, then after a mile or so follow a run (jog)/walk strategy (4 mins on, 1 min off) for as long as I could. Unfortunately my brain went bat shit crazy with the buzz of the course and I foolishly started to run straight out of transition. About 800m into the 42.2km I  face planted. A full on comedy, flat on the face, looking like an arse, face plant.  And for the second time that day I found myself being unceremoniously dragged to my feet as 2 of my fellow IM pledges came to my rescue. “You ok??”, “Yep think so”, “Well GO GO GO GO!!!.

 

Sense returned and I settled into the planned walk/run strategy.  I hit up the first aid station and guzzled water, iso and coke in an attempt to combat the searing heat and inevitable dehydration. There was a dazzling array of fruit, energy bars and saltines on offer but my tummy was starting to revolt from being subjected to cliff bars and soreen since 7am so I politely declined the grub.

 

I’ve heard and read a lot about the “Death March” and like most stuff on the tinternet I had chalked it up as exaggerated Ironman folk lore.

 

It.  Is.  Not.

 

It was absolute carnage out on the course. Sure the pro’s/age groupers were bounding gazelle like to the finish line but the rest of the field were shuffling like cast offs from the Walking Dead.  Pledges who had lapped me on the bike were now sitting road side dribbling on their expensive tri suits. It was clear that this last leg was about survival and I quickly realised that if I was to avoid slipping into the Ironman abyss I was going to need something to distract me from the miles that lay ahead of me. So I started chatting to my fellow competitors.

 

I met Marie from London who was on her 2nd attempt at becoming an Ironman (she had collapsed at mile 21 of the run the year before. She had gone out too fast and didn’t focus on nutrition – take note). She was really hurting and I would find out later that she unfortunately didn’t make it to the finish line this time either. I then met a guy from Cork, who owned a bar in Klagenfurt and invited me to a post- race lock in.  Then another Paddy, a Brummie and an Israeli.  I realise now that this reads like the opening line of a bad joke.

 

About 10km in I saw IronCoach. We stopped for a hug and a chat – and a telling off from some of the grumpier pledges that we were standing in their way. I offered to hug them too but they were too preoccupied with finding the next portaloo.

 

1908426_10151965570498039_8139347546460581133_nWe both then waddled off on our separate ways with calls of “see you soon”. Oh the naivety – I had another 4 hours to go! I then met another chap who I recognized from out on the bike. “Nice flower!!” – I hadn’t started to hallucinate; he had a pink chrysanthemum stuck into his cap.  We settled into a comfortable pace and ended up “running” the rest of the course together.

 

As I made my way out to Klagenfurt for the first time I saw Pam and Roar again. Rory was playing a blinder – it was now nearly 7.30pm (he’d been up since 4.30am) and he was still dishing out hugs and kisses.

 

I plodded on chatting to my new pal Mike and before I knew we had rung the charity bell in the town centre and were headed back to the park to start round 2.

 

The crowds on that first lap were incredible.  They were going wild – waving cowbells, flags and pints of Stiegl. They cheered us as if we were Olympic Athletes, and any acknowledgement of their support sent them into a frenzy. “Go Ironlady Go!!!!”.( FACT – 2,916 athletes registered for IM Austria. Only 374 of them were women.) There was a large Irish contingent in the crowd (we’re everywhere) and one particular group became my personal cheering squad on the run – traditional irish phrases of encouragement were bellowed every time they saw me “G’wan ye good thing” and “Keep her lit”.

 

The course started to quieten down on my second lap as the speedier pledges started to make their way to the finishers chute. The finish line party sounded in full swing as I went by for the third time! 13 miles to go – reassurances from the diehard spectators that “the hard part was over” and that “almost there”!! At least I think that’s what they were saying – they had started to slur their words at this stage.

 

It was then that the tummy cramps, chaffing, sore feet etc. became harder to ignore and the timed run/walk strategy was abandoned. Walking was no longer dictated by the chirp of the Garmin timer, our crumbling bodies were now firmly in control of when we would run and when we would walk. It’s said that the body will do what the mind tells it – well after almost 14 hours of activity my body was starting to revolt.

 

The portaloos also took a turn for the worst then. Inevitable I suppose considering they were servicing almost 3000 athletes with the triathlon equivalent of “delhi belly”.

 

As the sun started to set the heat finally started to abate. Wooohhoos all round….. for about 20 mins. And then the heavens opened again and we were subjected to yet another bout of thunder, lightning and pissings of rain. Ironman started to lose it’s glamour in those last 10 miles as we squelched along in the darkness babbling mindlessly to distract ourselves from the task in hand. It was here that IM camaraderie really kicked in – at one stage there was a group of 5 of us grinding out the miles. Comments of “Sure what else would you be doing on a Sunday?”, “That goddamn bar better still be open when I get there”, “Has chaffing ever been fatal?” etc etc.

 

I really only have 2 gripes with IM Austria – the first is the lack of lighting along the run course. Cut off is midnight so common sense should tell you that many pledges are going to still be out on the course when night falls. A few torches wouldn’t have gone astray. My second gripe is that the last competitor does not get the same treatment as the first. As were headed back towards the hallowed finish line aid stations were being packed up – there was still over 2 hours left on the race clock and the pledges still out on the course needed refreshments more than anyone had all day at that stage.

 

As we power walked up the canal we finally started to hear the music booming from the finish line. At 2km to go were finally “almost there”. The adrenaline started pumping again and we broke into a trot.

 

10635699_10151965570118039_5841724345701894527_n1km to go and the pace picked up.

 

500m to go. Narrowly avoided disaster as Mike had a rush of blood to the head and started to run off in the wrong direction – he clearly felt he hadn’t put enough miles in that day.

 

200m to go . Something incredible happened. A friend and former colleague of mine passed away in 2010 following a stroke. Linda was 46. I’ve done a lot of fundraising for the Stroke Association in her memory over the last couple of years (shameless plug https://www.justgiving.com/VJacob/ ) and whenever I race I always think of her. Well at 200m to go they started playing her favourite song. I like to think she’d orchestrated that especially for me.

 

100m to go. I’m turning into the finishers chute.

 

20m to go. I’m now bouncing like a lunatic. It’s fair to say I thoroughly milked my final metres.

 

No more metres to go. “VANESSA JACOB. YOU ARE AN IRONMAN”. Absolutely feckin brilliant!!!!

 

A friend sent a quote to me shortly before Ironman. Mohammed Ali said “ I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’ Well, now  I am a champion.

 

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