Ironman Austria

London – The Mid Term Report

Posted on March 23, 2015. Filed under: Ironman Austria, virgin london marathon, vlm |

Progress is slow.  At the moment I am slower than planned, fatter than planned, and not getting as far as planned.

And I am OK with that.

With 5 weeks to go I had planned to have run for 45 hours and I have only run for 34 hours.  I put 4 hours of the shortfall down to the fear of illness/injury, 4 hours down to real life getting in the way and 3 hours down to championship level procrastination.

And I am OK with that.

You see the thing is that I am just glad to be running.  Having had a broken toe from the end of the Ironman Austria experience until August and then a chest infection that plagued me from August until December I am just glad to be moving.

I am happy to run again and I am keeping it very, very simple.  Like me.  For a long time I have taken a pretty stripped down approach to running – I don’t run with music so you never see me buggering about with headphones or selecting just the right playlist for the weather/terrain/mood etc etc, I am mainly fuelled by water, porridge and whatever I can scavenge on the course so you never see me looking like a Navy Seal wearing bandoliers of sugary gels and hydration tablets and I just wear trainer socks sans gaudy calf guards.  I am like a tech free “athlete” from the 1970s, which I am I suppose.  A run is simply kit on, watch and heart rate monitor on and follow whatever I have planned.  For very long runs I pop two pound coins in my pocket just in case the porridge doesn’t get me the whole way round.  A simple approach and snot free lungs makes it fun again.  And I am very happy with that.

I didn’t say much about the chest at the time but it is a recurring theme over the last few years – do long distance endurance event, get kiss from snotty child swarming in a million nursery bugs, fill lungs with snot and bollocks and then suffer.  Normally, it is a virus and after a couple of weeks it passes.  But this time it felt different – it was a bacterial infection, probably contracted due to poor immunity after IM and it gave me the most gloriously technicolour phlegm.  In fact, Damien Hirst would have got a year long exhibition at the Tate if he had got a hold of my gobbings.  I got antibiotics, and then stronger antibiotics, and then even stronger ones the size of a vanguard class submarine that made me vom myself inside out.  I was pressed, probed, sounded, sputum tested and was about to be chest x-rayed when I realised that I needed to start training for London.  Call me a loon if you wish, but I decided not to be ill any more and…..then…..I wasn’t.  Like some kind of mental magic.

IMG_20150320_181611Since the VLM2015 campaign started I have been unspectacularly steady in my approach.  Early on I knew that I shouldn’t be contemplating a PB so I took a long refreshing drink of Sensible and approached the campaign that way.  I am now where I would have wanted to be 11 weeks ago.  Unusually, with 5 weeks to go instead of wishing it was over I am already surveying the landscape of PB marathons to target something later in the year.  (I haven’t decided on that something yet but 26.2miles of gentle downhill in a cool climate would be ideal if you could suggest an event.)  VLM will just be a training run.  It’s probably worth making an estimate now to keep me honest.  It will be slow.  My aim is to hit halfway at 2:15 which is the pace I have been training to.  However, having started training from scratch 11 weeks ago I don’t have the legs to keep that up for 26.2 miles – I am hoping to come in around 4:45 provided I am sensible in the first half.  That’s a big ask for London as the crowds are mercilessly supportive.  We’ll see.

It’s not all been slow and steady though.  I discovered a new approach to speed training last week.  Rory has now progressed directly from balance bike to pedal bike, a beautifully built Islabike to be precise.  However, with ice and wind, icy wind and windy ice since Christmas he hasn’t been out much to get the miles in in readiness for Roubaix.  So this week, as the wind subsided and the sun keeked through angry clouds he hit the road for long distance training.  Following a hospital visit after an accident last year he has a fear of downhill.   And so it was I discovered that I can gasp words of encouragement while careering downhill in a sprint before collapsing in a sweaty pile.  Zone 5+ training indeed.

The proudest moment of all, though, had to be on the uphills.  I have no idea where he learnt it from *innocent face* but on uphills he now yells “Shud up legs” in a Scotto-Germanic accent.  Eat yer heart out Jens.

In other new news, I have a new training partner.  Well, technically about the turn of the year I will have a new training partner.  Of the canine variety.    It’s a whole new world of dog owner chat and poo bags.  Who even knew canicross was a thing!?  I didn’t but I do now AND THEY GET MEDALS.  If he would just hurry up and grow up already.  Anyway, meet Ted.




That’s it for this entirely uninspiring update.  It wasn’t glamorous.  It wasn’t sexy.  It was just sensible.

If anything of interest happens you will be the first to know.

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Quite a Lot of Nothingness

Posted on November 8, 2014. Filed under: Ironman Austria, Ironman UK, Ironmanflu, virgin london marathon, vlm |

*taps microphone nervously*  Hello, it’s me.  Remember me?


It’s been a while.  Since I last wrote, friends have completed their missions to become Ironmen, run marathons, and swum obscene distances. Meanwhile I have sat my well upholstered arse on the laurels of a second ironman and done quite a lot of nothing.


Not absolutely nothing, obviously.  But as close to nothing as is possible and remain a functional human being.  And this is the update – an ensemble of emptiness, a pot pourri of vacuity. But most importantly, a reset, in readiness for 2015.



Straight after Ironman I ran.  Twice.  For a grand total of 10km.  Not much admittedly, but confirmation that the pains in my foot that I  felt during the Ironman run were not just a figment of a fevered imagination.  I promptly called my GP and promptly began a 26 day wait to be seen by said GP.  You will now wait four paragraphs for the prognosis as a vivid simulation of my frustration.



IMG_20140719_112826In July I had a brand new experience.  With no need to don lycra, I actually got up at the crack of dawn to go to an event.  At 3:30am I was mindlessly dressing ready to travel to the swim start of an Ironman.  JUST TO WATCH. And then I stayed out on the course for most of the day supporting a huge number of friends doing Ironman UK.  The “Bolton weekender” is a fantastic event and the day before the Ironman was the MAIN EVENT – Rory’s first race when he became an Ironkid, a 500m race with me in the bouncing rain.  I’m not sure who was more excited as we warmed up with the other “teams” at the start line – in fact, I do.  It was me, getting to run with my wee boy in his first ever race.  It turns out he loves to run, is uber excited about the banana at the end but isn’t too bothered about the Bling.  He’ll learn.


IMG_20140721_224520As well as supporting “my” Ironman, Andrew, Bolton was also a fantastic opportunity to meet some old twitter buddies like Big Dave, Sid the IronMorph and Zoe and I also took the opportunity to “race” head to head with Ironman literary legend Andy Holgate.  It turned out that Andy was so distraught at being beaten by me in the Ironkids race that he promptly threw himself off the bike in the main event and broke his shoulder.  In fact I turned out to be lucky white heather as Zoe broke ribs in the swim and Dave now has excruciating disk problems that he discovered after the race.



IMG_20140721_094847As much fun as I had, however, this isn’t a blog about Ironman UK.  I won’t go through the details of what was a great fun day (and I wasn’t even drinking) but if you are interested in blow by blow reportage from the course I maintained a live twitter commentary which may have been in my own slightly irreverential style.


The only thing that I wanted to say about finally getting to watch an Ironman is that I LOVE IT.  Watching the elites and age groupers suffer equally I realised that Ironman shows absolutely no respect to the athlete.  Everyone will suffer on the Ironman course at some point, some won’t finish, some will finish in pieces but even those that finish strong know that the distance was their toughest competitor.  If you ever want to see the pure magnificence of the human spirit, go and watch an Ironman race.  Proof, if ever any is needed, that if you can control the mind to overcome the wretchedness of fatigue, vomit, blood, chafing and used portaloos, then you can do absolutely anything.  Chapeau Ironmen.



Anyway, 26 days later I got to see the GP and was promptly carted off to the x-ray department at the local hospital.  To cut an even longer story short my big toe and my little toe were broken.  Now this was a bit weird.  When I was on the beach on Ironman morning my feet seemed intact in the standard manner but by the time I got off my bike (without unclipping during the 180km) I had two broken toes. I have given up thinking about it; I can only assume my foot made significant contact with someone’s head in the swim.  At least I now know why I couldn’t turn right as I ran. It does make for an uncomfortable marathon.  Anyway, hey ho.  Onwards and upwards.


The great thing about the delayed prognosis was that I only had to wait a couple of weeks to run once the problem was identified as everything was healing in the appropriate way.  So the time arrived for Run 1. It was truly the ugliest, sweatiest 5k ever.  The day after I hurt a million hurts, a hobbly pathetic specimen of slovenly human.  Three days later was Run 2 – still fugly but a full 3 minutes quicker.  I smiled smugly, I showered, I sat down to bask in the glory, I sneezed.


There began 7 weeks of the angriest chest infection ever.  After only 10 days I conceded and told the condescending doctor’s receptionist I needed an emergency appointment.  As a doctorophobe that is like me dialling 999 and demanding an air ambulance.  I even took the prescribed antibiotics.  After a week of further deterioration I got a second dose of even stronger antibiotics – cue voms, sleeplessness and random narcolepsy.  After 7 weeks, my lungs had cleared but my head and nose were still bunged full of super viscous phlegm and sputum.  So far so sexy.  With clear lungs, I was cleared to get some exercise for the first time in nearly three months.  As exciting as the prospect of this was, it was unlikely to be glamorous.



IMG_20141005_174401Inspired by Rory’s second running medal at the Wee Nessie race, I was ready to get back on the road.


If Run 1 after Toegate was ugly, then Run 1 after Lung-gate was off the scale.  It was a windy day, there was phlegm, the right shoulder of my black t-shirt looked like I had been carpet bombed by a giant squadron of seagulls.  I was guano Dresden.  The joggle was also a completely new kind of slow.  It hurt.  It hurt in so many awful ways.  I hobbled around and when I was asked what hurt most pointing was futile as my body oscillated like a giant, pink blancmange on my crumbling bones and the epicentre of pain proved elusive as a moving target.  “Everywhere” was the simpler, more energy efficient response.


Again Run 2 was better. As it was a colder day I wore a compression baselayer, ostensibly for warmth, but in reality as a giant sporting girdle.  Whether as a result of loosening the legs or harnessing the moobs it was a minute quicker over the 5k course.  Run 3 was another two minutes quicker.  The runs are still a little gobby but at least I feel like I have the use of two lungs again.


I have sat on the bike a couple of times.  I won’t lie –  it was uncomfortable.  The nether regions of iron have softened during the lung and toe sabbaticals and, once again, I start conditioning my arse to cope with a million indignities.


It’s slow, it’s painful and it’s ugly but I am on my way back.




All runs in 2015 will be on sexy paths

So, assuming I don’t break myself again anytime soon what does 2015 look like?  Well, it’s going to be light until I get on top of my immune system again.


Winter will all be about getting read for the London Marathon.  If I can keep my legs intact and my lungs uncongested I would like to get as close as possible to the elusive 4hours, accepting London might not be the place to PB.  I also want to run the 7 hills of Edinburgh and I even want to run an ultra.  26.3 miles is an ultra, right?


On the bike next year I just want to have fun without any need to train like an iron monkey.  I would love to do coast to coast in a day and just ride places I’ve never ridden before.


IMG_20140823_230102Swim wise, I am going to lay off through the winter, but since the Great Scottish Swim has launched a 5k I should probably use that event to lay the long distance swim demons to rest.  I didn’t mention that I did the Great Scottish Swim in August but now that it is at Loch Lomond I would never miss the opportunity to swim there.


Anyway, that’s it for today.  2015 is just going to be about having fun training again. Nothing more, nothing less.







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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!!!!




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.




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 ) 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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Dear Garmin (You Chubby Ginger Tosser)

Posted on July 16, 2014. Filed under: cycle, first time ironman, Garmin, Garmin Forerunner, Garmin Ironman, Half ironman, ironman, Ironman Austria, ironman regensburg, ironman swim, Ranty McRantface, run, swim, vlm 2012 |

Dear Garmin


I have a problem.  And let me say it is you not me.  How many times do you have to let me down before I have to drop you in the bowl of an Ironman portaloo to fend for yourself?  This time you have pushed me too far.


I’ve always put my trust in you even when you don’t deserve it.  Back in the old days when I was a right chubby wibbly wobbly I got a Forerunner 50 and a foot pod to measure my progress.  We go back a long way so we can be honest and say that the calendar function was of far more use to me than the thousandths of seconds on the stop watch.  But, back in those days, you just worked.


Then when I was preparing for the Rome Marathon I decided to treat myself to a 405cx.  It saw me safely round what is still my marathon PB but did you record my heart rate?  Did you monkeys.


I have a Garmin Swim.  Probably my favourite piece of kit that I own.  But, then again, that was only an upgrade from a big black and yellow speedo sweep hand.  It’s basically a digitised sun dial.


But, here’s the thing – I am an Ironman.  Hell, no – I am a two time Ironman.  And Ironman timing is where you have really seized the opportunity to let me down in style.


Useless oversized ginger lump of shit.

Useless oversized ginger lump of shit.

I knew I needed a watch with a long battery life back in 2010 when I first decided to do Ironman.  I decided not to be shallow and set looks aside.  When people pointed out that you were orange and quite a substantial unit, the unkind yet prophetic even said you were fat and ugly, I stuck up for you.  When they called you a chubby ginger, I said it’s what’s inside that counts.  You came with me on runs, bike rides, on and off road and we swam in the sea, lakes and rivers  You even escaped from Alcatraz with me, gliding through San Francisco Bay like outlaws on the run from a federal penitentiary.  A modern day (rotund, ginger) Bonnie and rubber-clad Clyde.  We did 3 marathons together.  But you let me down EVERY time it really mattered.


Sure, like any ginger, you were temperamental.  Getting feedback out of you was like getting blood out of a stone.  Although a stone doesn’t need rebooted, manually reset, uninstalled, reinstalled, updated or balanced on a metal coat hanger while praying to the ANT+ gods.  While my heart should have been at the centre of your concerns you spent more time ignoring my heartbeat than listening to it; and occasionally you just made up completely random numbers like I wouldn’t notice.  Recording 35 beats per minute while climbing an 11% incline is like peering over the Daily Mail with faux concern and saying “yes dear?”.  And occasionally I had to sit in the garden for 20 minutes for you to find the satellites in a wide open cloudless sky.


F5F7A085B6BB30A4DEDCCEFFD5F54D_h498_w598_m2But normally you can trust your constant companion to turn up and support you in the most crucial moments.  So, you can imagine my disappointment when, 6 hours into the bike leg of my first Ironman, you made a noise like a Smash robot being strangled.  Not a short, sharp sigh.  No, more like long drawn out autoerotic asphysiation.  A taunting, sneering noise.  And when the noise faded your screen was clear.  Void.  Blank.  Vacant.  Your memory had gone.  If it wasn’t for the finish line photos and the medal there would be no proof that I had actually completed an Ironman.  There was nothing to upload to Strava.  I hold you solely responsible that I had to do a second Ironman.  Just to keep Strava straight.


You were still under warranty so you were replaced at the end of 2012.  I knew that you weren’t really the old you but I pretended that things were still the same.  As the London Marathon, the Escape from Alcatraz and many 70.3 came to pass I started to trust you again.  We trained together through last winter to get ready for Ironman Austria.  I smiled wryly in May when your strap sheared – a tangible sign, a fond reminder of the hours and hours we had spent on the road, the trails and in the water together.  But what a fecking waste of £15 replacing your strap turned out to be.  I tried to be nice and you shoved it back in my face.



Not only are you a deadweight on my wrist but you clash with the blue trim on my wetsuit. I hate you.

As I emerged like a swamp beast from the Lend canal one hour and seven minutes  into Ironman Austria (based on Ironman timing obvs because as we are about to discover Garmin timing was totes fecked) I looked down and was confronted by FOG.  The race photographers captured the moment for posterity.  Perhaps we should have a caption competition?


No worries, thinks I.  The fog will melt away during the next several hours of hot day.  Hell no, it wouldn’t go.  So, as it turns out I carry a heavy lump of ginger uselessness around Austria for 13 hours 53 minutes and 21 seconds.  Once again, Ironman timing not Garmin timing.


On returning home two remarkable things happened.  One – you automatically uploaded all my Ironman data (obvs not heart rate because that would be too fecking complete) without any need for the ritual sacrifice of a feral goat or a wire coathanger.  And then Two – you died.  To paraphrase Monty Python:   ‘E’s kicked the bucket, ‘e’s shuffled off ‘is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisibile!!  THIS IS AN EX-GARMIN!!


I’ve done two Ironman and you couldn’t be arsed to join me at the finish line for either of them.  That is a pretty shit way to behave after all we’ve been through together.  After all the time I spent defending you when people sniggered at you on my arm.  It turned it you were actually a big, fat lump of orange uselessness.


And now you’ve given me a problem.  I need a replacement, but I just can’t trust you any more, Garmin.  You will undoubtedly launch something sexy and new, but ridden with bugs, and then start developing the next big sexy thing leaving me with something expensive that *almost* does what it promised too.  Sure Polar, Suunto and Tom Tom are vying for my affections but, if I face reality, a Casio digi calc watch would actually have been more useful to me than you were.  Now I look at you lying on the shelf, lifeless yet sneering at me with your shiny new strap.  We shared some great times but I guess, in the end, you always were a chubby ginger tosser at heart.


It’s been fun but probably best we don’t talk any more.





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Ironman Austria 2014 – Beyond The Finish Line

Posted on July 16, 2014. Filed under: Austria, ironman, Ironman Austria, ironman tips, Klagenfurt, race report, race review |

Were the last 200 metres really 200 metres?  It mattered not to me.  The music got louder, the Venga Boys boomed as I approached.   The finish chute started well before the bleachers with a 90 degree right hand turn at the end.  As I ran up the blue carpet I high 5’d the crowd, shouting “THANK YOU” the whole way.  I can’t remember to who or why now but it wasn’t important. 0745_088947 Turning into the bleachers the noise was overwhelming, the lights blinding.  I could focus on nothing but not tripping over the ramp on the finish line.  All the sights became a blur, the music became a noise.  But it wasn’t a slow motion run like Steve Austin.  It was accelerated, an LP on 45, MY moment accelerating away from me but then I heard what I had waited a year to hear.   “DOUGIE FROM GREAT BRITAIN, YOU ARE AN IRONMAAAAAN”   Again.   I had finished a second Ironman.  I finished in thirteen hours fifty three minutes and twenty one seconds.  Slower than I hoped for but a PB of 1 hour and 5 minutes. 0745_093897 A volunteer put a medal over my head.  Job done.  Mission Accomplished.  Two time Ironman.   I stood and looked back at the finish line and a tall, distinguished looking volunteer put his hand on my shoulder and shook my hand “congratulations Ironman”.  Reading the race book the next day, I saw his picture.  He wasn’t a volunteer – he was the chief exec of Ironman Europe.  I will forget moments of the Ironman, and I will probably always be a sceptic of the WTC but I will always remember the warmth of my first congratulations.  THAT is how to be a leader.   Behind the bleachers , I saw Pam and Roar through a wire fence and got them beer and water from the athletes bar at the finish line.  They had as long a day as I had!   The night before as we debated travel plans I decided to let the sherpas have a fun day and volunteered to drive.  So unlike Regensburg where I sunk a pint on the finish line I would have to wait.  Let the waiting begin.   1865As I had approached the finish line I had noticed the sirens but only when I was walking towards the IronDome did I notice the steady flow of ambulances leaving the massage area.  The whole tent flashed with blue lights as an ambulance departed with some fallen Ironman every few minutes.  As I had felt, the heat had taken it’s toll.   In the Iron Dome I started to minesweep the food.  The first thing I came across was a pizza.  I bit it.  It expanded in my mouth like some kind of crazy foam, drawing the last drips of moisture out of my body.  I had to ram my fingers in my mouth to prize it out.  Then I had turkey and rice and a pint of coke.  I looked up at the big screen and the rain had started.  The rain was incredible, so incredible that I expect Noah was put on standby.   Wrapped in a foil blanket I picked up my change bag and proceeded to the shower.  As I stood in my foil blanket outside the shower portakabin two Irish chaps that I had seen many times around the course popped out.  “Well done Ironman”, was the mutual greeting.  Followed by “We are not designed for this fecking heat Dougie”.  Cue a lot of nodding of bright red baldy heads.   The shower block was like I imagine a Crimean field hospital.  At some point it was probably pristine but nearly 14 hours later it was Special.  Very Special indeed.  At some point, someone had used their foil blanket to separate them from the horrors on the floor.  By the time I got there it was like some kind of biohazard lasagne.  Everything that could be extracted from the body was trapped in those layers  – oozing, squidging below foot, smelling.  And the showers were blocked so in the tray was a diluted version of that bio sauce.  The showers were cold, freezing cold, but who cared?  I scraped the Lend canal, the road debris, the gels, the sweat and the flies from me.  And then I hopped (not really, I had just hobbled a marathon) from foot to foot as I attempted to get dressed without falling in the putrid muck.   Back in the Iron Dome I went to collect my t-shirt.  A volunteer started to hand me a large, winked and replaced it with an extra large.  It seems that after 13 hours I was still big boned. I met Michael and Nick, congratulated them and left them with their beers as I headed to another beer tent to meet Pam, Al and Roar and hear of Ness’s progress.  Because the weather had turned so foul I still had a foil blanket over my head so I could go anywhere without any challenge from security.  By now we had thunder and lightning so we watched the final hours of the Ironman from the beer tent, updating Iron Mobile on the ipad.  As soon as we knew Ness went through 40k, Al went out to the grandstand with a tiny lady brolly and we watched on the big screen in the tent.  We whooped as she came in but, heck, she didn’t half milk the finish chute experience.   I set off for the mile long walk to fetch the car still wrapped in my foil blanket.  It was about 30 minutes to midnight.  The run course was pitch black and it was difficult to spot the final, hobbling runners in the dark.  They were going to finish before cut-off so to each one I shouted “5 minutes and you’re home.  Good work Ironman”.  I saw one last running silhouette, under a bridge, just before I left the path.  A petite lady, on her own, in the pitch black.  “You’re nearly there.  You OK Ironman?”  Booming back from under the bridge “FUCK YEAH”.   Gulp.  Smokey.   Attempting to not drown from the bucketing rain helped me forget about my crippled feet but as I approached the car the adrenaline was wearing off and my purposeful stride degenerated to a hobble.  Ten minutes later, I had the whole sherpa crew in the car with Rory enjoying the sleep of a 3 year old Sherpa that had been dragged out of his bed at 4:45am.  But the athletics were not over.  Still, in the pissing rain, I had to recover my bike.  Unlike Regensburg three years before, when I had an “If I ever see that effing thing again……” moment, I had enjoyed the bike and could even contemplate future cycle trips.  However, I had to get the bike into the roof box.  I had to give Al instant tuition as the rain tumbled down on us how to remove the wheels and collapse the bike to fit in as I stumbled about like a stiff legged zombie.  It was a new record for loading the car.   Back in the driver’s seat and I took one look at Ness.  “Kebab and chips?”.  And there began 30 minutes of the saddest quest imagineable.    You cannot find anywhere to buy chips after midnight in Austria.  Or kebabs.  Austria’s dark secret.  The shame of a beer nation.  At that moment Austria slipped in my affections.  Back at the apartment we demolished a pizza, two large family sized packets of crisps and several beers.  And sometime after 2am we slept the sleep of Ironmen.  Uncomfortable, sun scorched and starving. 1871 Like every good Iron adventure the journey ended at the merchandise store on Monday morning. Hell, if you finish an Ironman you need the finisher’s kit to make sure everyone KNOWS ABOUT IT. 1809 And it’s not all about what happens out in the lake, in the canal or on the road.  Huge cheer for Pam, Al and Roar who were the best sherpas in Klagenfurt.  It turns out that all they need is beer, pizza, football and the Lego Movie.  Chapeau the sherpas.   And that’s that.  A few people have said that the Ironman Austria Odyssey has put them off Ironman.  I only write about the stuff that sticks in my mind, there are hours and hours of sublime “alone” time in the most beautiful countryside breathing fresh air.  Ironman day and the preparation for it is just the most special time.  Obviously it is tough.  If it was easy every one would switch off the X Factor, get off the sofa and do it.  But only the really mentally tough can manage it.  In my opinion, it is the ultimate self supported event for the ordinary Joe.  Ironman makes you your own hero.   The most common question I get asked is “Will you do another?”.  In the last two weeks of training the answer would have been a resounding “NO”.  Now it is “maybe”.  I have made peace with the Ironman; Regensburg left me frustrated that I didn’t do my best.  There is little that makes me feel as alive as I do when I am preparing for an extreme challenge.  So, while I have no urgent need to go long again, I am old enough and wise enough to never say never.   Hopefully in the next few days I can complete the Ironman Austria archive with Iron Nessie’s first time Ironman race report.  When I found her she couldn’t swim and still marvelled at the science of pneumatic tyres.  Now she is an Ironman.  However, English isn’t her first language so it might take a while.   It’s been a hell of a journey.  Again.  Ironman Austria, over and out.


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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Ironman Austria 2014 – The Run

Posted on July 12, 2014. Filed under: Austria, first time ironman, ironman, Ironman Austria, ironman nutrition, ironman regensburg, ironman tips, Klagenfurt, marathon, race report, race review, run |

When it comes to the Ironman, run is often a euphemism.  “A euphemism for what?”, you may ask – because it is indeed a foot race after a swim and a cycle.  Well, it is a euphemism for a never ending, shart stained, dehydrated hobble-waddle.  But that might put people off so we soften the description.

Let me share some important statistics with you:

Number of people who say “I will swim and ride conservatively and then smash the run because I am a runner” – trillions

Number of people planning to smash the run who actually succeeded  – absolutely feck all

Percentage of those that looked over the abyss but still crossed the line humbled and stripped of most of their dignity – 100%

These statistics are more directional than strictly actually factual but, more seriously, there are two types of runner in the world – those that have done the Ironman marathon and those that think they know what it is like to run 26.2miles in the sun just after cycling 112miles and swimming 2.4miles.  Without spoiling the surprise too much I can exclusively reveal that it’s just not fun except, perhaps, if you are winning at Kona.  Your legs feel like all the spring has been taken out of them; your stomach feels like a bucket filled with a heady cocktail of left over chip fat and all the fizzy drinks from MacDonalds; and your whole body feels like you have been put in a sauna wrapped in tinfoil.  It’s only really a question of whether you feel like that at mile 1 or at mile 26.

And the really tough part is that once you have done an Ironman marathon you can’t unknow what it feels like so, although I finished the bike feeling strong, I had a sense of impending trepidation (or more accurately doom) about this particular jog.  I picked up my run bag, sat in the changing tent and started the taut, laborious process of of bending down to loosen my cycling shoes.  While I could get my hands roughly to my feet I was tantalisingly short of the buckle.  Thereafter followed a process not unlike trying to touch my nose with my elbow.  Or more accurately trying to identify my arse from my elbow.  But removing my cycling shoes was quite important to me as running a marathon in cleats was likely to be uncomfortable.  After what seemed like an eternity bent double, bouncing my top half towards my feet a volunteer saw me contorting like the work experience guy at Cirque du Soleil and with two finger presses released me from my shackles.

Something unexpected slipped from my sock – my right foot had a bluish tinge and was quite swollen.  An elephant foot.  It was unexpected as it felt fine and I had no indication on the bike anything was wrong but, hey, a bit of colour on my celtic white feet just added some glamour.

As I started on my preparations I looked up and noticed a lady had strayed into the male changing tent – she had either got lost or had some really odd fetishes.  As she loosened her cycling shoes this particularly hairy, Spanish Ron Jeremy lookalike next to her dropped his tri suit and began the thorough process of applying vaseline to his entire body finishing with some particularly noisy slopping around his wee fella.  Whether either of them noticed the other will remain in the sanctity of the changing tent.  The Somme of the Ironman.

I popped in a gel, changed my socks and shoes, lubed, put a bottle of water over my head, handed my bag to a volunteer who gave me a sweaty hug and I set off to SMASH the marathon.  Except I didn’t.  I squealed like a puppy that had been stood on.  My right foot had a blinding pain that shot right up my leg.  Another step.  Same pain.  Bugger – this wasn’t in the SMASH IT plan.  I’m not sure I can describe the pain but basically mid foot, on the out side of my foot the last three toes and the sole of my foot felt like they were somewhere between an inferno and a bruise.  I assumed I had swimming goggles or something in my shoe so I took it off but there was nothing there.  Something was wrong with my foot.  This was going to feel like a long 26,2 miles.

Leaving T2 I reset my ailing Garmin and changed the display so at least I could see time and distance in the 4mm of screen that was visible.  This meant that I could stick with my tried and tested 4min run, 1 min walk strategy.  I did a kind of awkward walk/limp for the first 4 minutes which took me out of transition, over the bridge at swim exit and into the park.  At the end of 4 minutes there was no chance I would walk as the well beered crowd was three deep – pretty much the first group of people we had seen since the swim exit.  Every time you contemplated a walk the crowd went wild so I pushed on.  With a kind of one legged, limp, walk, hop I was already developing the fear that my Ironman shuffle was going to develop into the sideways run so often seen in the latter stages of an Ironman.  I suspect that I looked like someone who has tripped and then pretends to run as they look over their shoulder.  I was that awkward.  About this time I also discovered that it was unadulterated agony to turn right.  Which left me in a bit of a pickle as the course was a double figure of eight WITH EVERY TURN BEING A RIGHT HANDER.

In 2011 I rattled like a pharmacy as I ran, stocked up with all manner of helpful narcotics (immodium, ibuprofen and salt tablets) but for 2014 I had made the conscious decision to run “clean”.  That seemed a twat of a decision in that particular moment.  I am pretty sure some pain relief would have made the ungainly gait more bearable but, hey ho, no-one ever died of a sore foot (googles sore foot fatalities).

The 4:1 strategy worked a treat for the first 10k.  Just before 3k, I ran across Michael  (@smoker2ironman) walking. I knew he had started 15 minutes before so he must have been suffering.  I walked with him for a minute – his knee was bothering him and he was weighing up the DNF with the intake of voltarol.  I could have mugged him for his voltarol at that point but he needed it more than me.  I gave some painfully gibbered words of encouragement and then jogged on.

The first part of the figure of eight was hard work.  It was a really exposed flat section out to Krumpendorf and, when I started, some of the speedies were on their last lap.  This meant that it was harder than it needed to be with lots of jostling and maneuvering on a really narrow path.  As we arrived in Krumpendorf there was a short grass section that went down to a lakeside lido.  It was short and semi-circular and, you’ve guessed it, continual right hand turns.  I died a thousand deaths as this was at the start of a 4 minute run interval.  The thought of gnawing my foot off with my teeth crossed my mind.  I swore inside my head like a sailor at the folly of not packing a couple of ibuprofen.

Somewhere around the top of the Krumpendorf loop I started to run out of steam.  I am Scottish.  Despite the factor 50 I had run an hour without any shelter in a temperature somewhere above 25c.  I had actually dessicated.  I was sweating salt crystals.  I was literally at the point where my own tongue was uncomfortable in my mouth and my head felt like it had been microwaved while wrapped in a damp towel.  At the aid station exiting Krumpendorf I started Operation Desperate Measures.  4 sponges over my head, two tucked in my try top, 4 cups of water, a slice of watermelon and two handfuls of ice.  I walked until I could feel my core temperature start to come down.  As the ice cubes started to slip through my fingers I shoved them in my shorts.  From that point on I just survived between aid stations.

Back into the park area the crowd were getting really unruly as beer and sun took it’s toll.  My walks were now always coinciding with a group of English lads who now knew my name and shouted increasingly “motivational” encouragement every time I passed.  The shout of “come on Pirate” were receiving less and less enthusiastic “arrrrgggghs” as more and more moisture leaked out of me.

0745_057597The run out to Klagenfurt old town was again completely exposed and I found a line just along a high wall that provided some shelter as I watched my shoulders turn from blue to white to magnolia to scarlet.  In the old town everytime we rang a bell in an arch money was given to charity.  Three times in one pass I jumped to get that fecking bell.  At the turn there was another sharp right hander through a square that was set up with a huge screen for the evening world cup games.  The crowd were fun but still on the right side “Magaluf bar crawl”.  I got the bell again on the return and noticed a photographer. I mentally checked my face and was happy to realise that I was still smiling.

By now the strategy was run 90 seconds, walk 60 seconds and always walk the aid station.  Thankfully my stomach was fine (compare that with the Ironman Regensburg run) but my feet continued to get sorer and hotter.  I managed to stay one step ahead of the dehydration as the day finally started to cool.

I knew mentally that hitting the half marathon would be significant and, from the first lap through the park area, I knew exactly where the half marathon point was.  As I returned to the Iron Dome area alongside the Lend canal in the relative shelter of the trees I became aware of the casualties.  There were a number of sideways runners, a man that ran like he had developed piles the size of watermelons and the chap nonchalantly face down in a grass verge.  Like he was dead.  But he wasn’t.  Yet.

Just before half way I saw Pam and Roar in the park and gave them the thumbs up.  Feedback afterwards was that I looked WAAAAAAY better than Regensburg.  I went through the half marathon just under 2 hours 40 minutes which was considerably better than I thought it might be as the liquid leeched out of my body earlier in the lap.  But now it was just one more lap to go.  5 hours was gone, the finish was in the bag even if I crawled it, the last 21km would just be about moving forwards while smiling.

About three kilometres into the second lap I saw shady goings on up ahead.  A tall hairy yeti skulked out of the woods.  Not spectacular in itself but that particular yeti had come past me very fast on the bike about three hours before.

Me: “What’s up Nick?”

Nick: “Everytime I run I shit myself”

Me: “Hey, it could be worse.  Come on run with me for a bit”

Nick: “I’ll give it a go”

Nick’s innards: *gurgle, splutter, backfire*

Nick: “maybe I’ll just walk”.

0745_077027Gastro trouble is never far away in the Ironman and that afternoon I learnt something I didn’t know about the Ironman run.  In Regensburg we did 10km laps  so you only saw the few people you were running with but in Klagenfurt there was often two and sometime three way traffic.  And what became apparent with all that traffic was the noise.  The noise of The Farts.  I remember seeing a sign at Kona last year “Never trust a fart in an Ironman”; well I can testify that the whole of Klagenfurt were putting their trust in the sphincter.  It was like everyone had squeaky shoes, like McCartney had given up on Hey Jude and was conducting a perpetual dulcet Frog Chorus.  Whatever the Ironman run is, I can confirm that it IS NOT pretty.  Or fragrant.

Pushing on for 30km I saw a scarlet heided paddy coming towards me.  Nessie was out on the run.  Cue an exceptionally sweaty, coke and gel stained hug.  We stood and caught up for the first time in 10 hours.  In the middle of a tight path, attracting grumpiness from the shuffling men on the death march, farting their way home.

At the top end of the Krumpendorf loop I needed a pee.  I could have gone into a bush.  I could have held onto it.  I could have peed my tri-shorts while I ran.  But no, I went into a portaloo.  I can truly say I have never seen anything quite like it.  As I nod at the trough I often like to rest my head on the wall.  I am just shy of 6 foot and THIS WAS NOT AN OPTION.  What hell had occurred in here?  How did someone’s bowels get sprayed quite so high up a wall?  As I stared at the small urinal feature in the portaloo I tried to pretend there weren’t two GIANT jobbies on the toilet seat but I couldn’t. I wretched constantly for my whole visit and even if there was a huge family sized packet of ibuprofen, hell even morphine, in there I wouldn’t have touched it.  If I ever pee myself in public I will trace the public john phobia back to Trap 2 in Krumpendorf.

0745_089822Back in the park I saw Pam and Roar again and heard that Ness was on her way back in from Klagenfurt.  I pushed on and about a kilometre later saw her in the other direction – “Nearly there paddy, you’ve got this now”.  Just before the old town some young chap on roughly the same walk/run plan as me.  Eventually we agreed to go it together.  From this point on, about 7km to go, we mainly walked.  We both probably could have run more but some social connection was important to us.  We chatted about anything and everything – he was from Ottawa, the airline had lost all his kit and his wife was also doing the race – we saw her during our march.

In the old town square the football was in full swing.  But plenty of the crowds backs were turned to the screen.  They had rearranged the beer hall bench to create a channel for the runners.  A drunken guard of honour.  The Gauntlet.  But by now the crowd were calling us Ironman, there was no doubt any more.  The thoughts of a smash and grab on the pharmacy were passing.  The grin got wider.

With 2km to go I suggested we run it in.  The final kilometre sign was a lying bastard. I estimate that is was about 8 miles long with  40 right hand turns, an underpass and the only uphill on the course.  Pirate Happy Chap cheered me from her balcony.  The lights shone, I passed under a gantry, I high 5’d a million people, I turned into the finishing chute, I ran until I wanted to vom.

“Dougie, from Great Britain, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN”.  2 years and 11 months later it was as sweet as the first time.


And just when you thought it was all over there is one more episode to make the Ironman Austria Odyssey complete.  And that will answer the age old question – what happens when you finish an Ironman.

Until then, have a beer and embrace the fact that you can fart without fear.


 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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Ironman Austria 2014 – The Bike

Posted on July 8, 2014. Filed under: Austria, bike, cycle, first time ironman, ironman, Ironman Austria, ironman nutrition, ironman tips, new ironman tips, nutrition, race report, race review |

Take a gel.  Grab a gulp of clean, fresh water.  Put on some comfy shorts.  It’s time for 112 miles of Austrian bike ride.

I used 1,700 words to describe a 67 minute swim where my head was largely in the water.  On that basis I will need 10,147 words to describe the basic cycle before I even start talking about the scenery.  (Joking!).  (Probably not joking).

Firstly, let me come back to the swim.  I got a lot of feedback that people were deterred from Austria by the description of the swim.  DON’T BE.  Sure, ANY Ironman swim is tough, a beach start particularly so.  The mass beach start is an absolute spectacle but it is not a huge amount of fun.  And the canal would be thrown out of The Hunger Games for brutality.  There are no cuddles once you are in the water.  But, tactically I made an error that put me in the middle of the bosh for a prolonged period.  You can avoid it altogether and hopefully if IronNessie writes a race report she’ll explain how she totally avoided the stramash.  It is completely possible and I coached her how little time you lose if you choose your start strategy carefully.  Unfortunately I am too dim to heed my own advice.


The Aero Pump Arrangement

Anyway, I walked through the long transition zone, stripping off my wetsuit, picking up my bike bag, re-lubing, carefully drying my feet and putting my shoes on.  I had to loosen my helmet to put it on and then again when I was on the bike which seemed really weird at the time but, with hindsight, I suspect that whatever had happened in the swim had caused some temporary swelling.  There was certainly an unusual pain in my head, neck and shoulders for the first 50km or so and after that I can’t really remember any discomfort.  Post race the helmet was loose again so who knows?  I fetched my bike, walked out of transition and headed out for 180km (112miles) on the road.

Now, the bike course was the main reason that I chose Ironman Austria in the first place – it is famously quick.  Ness’s calculations and the race briefing were that there was 35km of ascending and 55km of descent or flat on the course.  However, the more I researched it the clearer it became that while it was quick it was certainly not easy.  Austria is kind of standard ascent for an Ironman but what makes the difference is long, straight, smooth descents.    It was surprisingly difficult to get ascent data for training – from various sources I saw 1200m, 1400m, the race briefing said 1600m and my own dying Garmin said 1814m.  I think the correct answer is somewhere between 1600 and 1800 but it certainly didn’t feel like it.  But this was not new news.  By the time I put my toes in the Wörthersee I was very familiar with the profile of the course and my training had sought out similar hills in preparation.

I always worry about the bike.  It is so important to overall performance in the Ironman but it is my weakest and newest sport so typically I feck something up royally.  The biggest and most surprising news about Ironman Austria was that I didn’t.  As soon as I got on the bike it felt different from 2011; I was comfortable; I knew what I was doing; I was confident.  More importantly the whole ride was on Plan B and it worked perfectly.  Plan B was required for 2 reasons – firstly, my Garmin was absolutely jiggered so I had to go on feel rather than data and secondly, I knew I couldn’t stomach Powerbar in the heat so I immediately switched to bananas.  Everything had been tested – not as thoroughly as Plan A – but IT JUST WORKED.

0745_043225Coming out of T1 the congestion was incredible and the referees, sensibly, ignored the drafting distances.  Pretty quickly, I was down on the aerobars and pushing 40km/h on the flat without puffing too hard.  And for the first 50k or so I would describe the going as gently undulating.  With the fogged up garmin I could see current speed and lapsed distance rotating every 10 seconds or so.  Cadence and heartrate, which I had used for training were completely obscured, and total race time was absolutely waterlogged.  So, trusting the plan, and letting the day develop as intended I didn’t even ask anyone the race time – I just focused on how I felt and tried to constantly ride *just* within myself.

There are two main climbs on the course – Faaker See and Rupertiberg.  From the altitude map Faaker See looked 6.5km long but in reality other than a short spike at the start it was unremarkable.  Rupertiberg looked pretty benign – short (2km) but stiff (150m); but became my absolute nemesis as it climbed over three sharp rises with an aid station perched at the top.  As I read in previous race reports lap 1 was a cruise and then Rupertiberg really nipped on lap 2.  If my Garmin had the decency to record my heart rate this would have been the only time I red lined.

0745_040728One of the things I found remarkable about the Ironman Austria bike course was how quiet it was.  There were long stretches when all I could hear was the the tweeting of birds and the click of many, many, many freewheels.  In Regensburg, the course felt like a constant party but in Austria with the exception of Klagenfurt and one other town in the course there was a lot of quiet time.  Sure there were people on Rupertiberg on the first lap (and an exceptionally irritating, borderline sexpest DJ – “GO IRONGIRL, GO IRONGIRL”) but the weather must have deterred the advertised “Tour de France” style crowds.

Also remarkable were The Randoms.  Often on a random stretch of hill were a couple of random people on camp chairs, off their tits on beer and schnappes, blowing whistles and horns with no obvious means of getting to or from the apparently random place they were at.  To be honest they seemed bemused by the bikes going past them so it may have been their standard Sunday afternoon and we were just getting in the way.

I had been thinking about Ness’s swim, hoping that she had followed advice and stayed out of trouble.  After the smaller loop of the bike course there is a brief section of two way traffic and pretty miraculously I heard my name shouted in the dulcet paddy tones.  I looked up and she looked well; I was happy that she was out of the water and I estimated that she was about an hour behind me.  If she could hold that pace on the bike I knew she would beat cut off.

I can’t really remember the order of events now.  At some point, I think towards the end of lap 1, it rained.  And it properly rained heavily.  There were police and marshalls in the towns on the descents slowing us down.  One building was covered in red crash matresses against the wall.  Some aero-alpha-clown decided to overtake a long line approaching that sharp right hand greasy turn, locked his brakes and just about took me out.  He probably saved 3 seconds.  I damn near lost 3 kilos.

Subsequently, I discovered that I went through 92km in 3:09.  I didn’t know it at the time but that was on target pace for my original plan of 6:30 and my final estimate of 6:40.  I also finished lap 1 in Regensburg in a similar time so I’m kinda glad I didn’t know as I unraveled rapidly after the halfway point in Regensburg and thinking about that would have been wasted energy.

0745_047442My nutrition plan was metronomic – at each aid station I launched both bidons, I took on 3 pieces of banana, a fresh bottle of Powerbar and a fresh bottle of water.  Between aid stations which was about 40 minutes I aimed to finish the banana, the Powerbar and as much water as I needed, drinking to thirst.  I can honestly say that I never suffered any GI problems at all and I even needed to pee on the bike.  (If you like gruesome detail – in Regensburg I peed in the lake and then didn’t pee again until Monday lunchtime.  And that included a lot of beer consumption.  Dehydrated doesn’t begin to describe it.).

Lap 2 was more of the same – short, sharp uphills, long flats and straight downhills.  The scenery was nothing short of stunning apart, of course, from the gaudy triathletes.  Now, at race briefing they said there were lots of toilet facilities on the course.  I have no reason to doubt this but if it was true they were stealth portaloos, camouflaged by the CIA.  Pretty much round every bend was some musclebound chap indulging in some dirty protest, stripped to the waist launching a golden stream into the undergrowth.  Every woodland area had half a dozen bikes dumped in front of it.  But not everyone was so frivolous with time.  One particular pointy helmet bellend, not wasting a moment to protect his flimsy dignity, took the time to balance his billion euro bike against a road sign, squat and take a dump by the road side while assuming an aero position sideways on to the incoming traffic on the grass verge.  From the side he looked like he was riding a tiny, invisible bicycle in his pointy helmet and half a tri suit…….until you noticed the exhaust discharge.

Just before Rupertiberg for the last time I felt like my hands and triceps were cramping so I stopped for the first time in about 5 hours and wolfed down two salt tablets.  As I stood there at the side of the road the overwhelming urge to pee came over me.  Following the lead of the aero-shitter I would not waste one excess second on mere ablutions – so I did it right there – over my bike frame, bidons and into my shoes.  “No worries”, I thought, “that can be my dirty secret”.  At which “DOOOOOOOOOOUUUUUUUUUUGGGGGGGGGIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEE” as Nick shot past.  I shook my urine soaked feet, squirted a full bottle of water over my lower half and bike and set off again in distant pursuit.  About two kilometres down the road Nick, obviously inspired, had cycled right up to the edge of the woods and was leaving a trace of his own sugar spiked DNA on the Carinthian countryside.  This was far from the last time that I witnessed Nick dealing with matters of a sanitary nature.  I should mention that, ballast expelled, he overtook me again.  Just a bit of toilet jockeying for position.

At the summit of Rupertiberg I could turn my attention to the run for the first time.  Unusually, I felt good.  While the thought of a marathon wasn’t thrilling, it didn’t make me involuntarily vom all over my pee stained bike.  A quick body scan suggested everything was in working order – back was tight but not sore, a twangy nerve on my right hip was twanging but not crippling, knees felt as supple as 42 year old knees ever feel.  Although I wasn’t sure of race time or progress, I certainly felt like a 5 hour marathon was do-able.

On the descent of Rupertiberg and the final 35km the wind picked up.  The last 5km into T2 were brutal against an unrelenting headwind.  For the first time I was in the small ring and really struggling to push forwards against the wind.  For each push of the pedal I swore – quite the most foul profanities I could think of.  I’m not sure whether it helped forward momentum but it was cathartic.  About 1km out I saw Pam for the first time and sat up off the bars to wave.  Disaster almost struck approaching T2 as the dismount line was immediately around a blind corner and the marshalls were looking bemused at the triathletes concertinaing into each other as they rounded the corner.  A bit of frantic, maybe even panicked waving would not have gone amiss.

Al was right at the bike dismount and, having seen Ness at the end of lap 1, shouted that she was about 90 minutes behind.  I didn’t know my own speed at  this time but it felt like she was going to make bike cut-off with time to spare.  My mind was calm.

6 hours and 33 minutes.  50 minutes faster than Regensburg and bang in between my expectations set last October and two weeks before the race.  Happy as a pig in shit but blissfully unaware until after the race.

Again, I walked through transition, deposited my bike in the rack, popped into the portaloo, grabbed my run bag and readied myself for the run.  As you should, because it will be properly epic.


 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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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


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.


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.


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.


 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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Ich Liebe Dich, Österreich

Posted on July 6, 2014. Filed under: escape from alcatraz, escape from alcatraz 2012, first time ironman, ironman, Ironman Austria, ironman regensburg, Klagenfurt, race report, race review |

I have a purple security bracelet on my right wrist.  I haven’t needed it for 6 days but taking it off is final acceptance that my Ironman campaign 2014 is done.  And I’m not ready for that yet.

This isn’t my race report.  It is the prelude to a race report.  An amusee bouche, if you like.  The fluffer.

Now, as a prologue to the prelude I should make something clear.  I like detail in a race report.  When bloggers recommend taking a seat and pouring a coffee I get excited.  When I say pull out a case of rioja, your biggest glass and many tubes of Pringles, I AM NOT JOKING.  I have previous with multi-installment epics from Ironman Regensburg 2011 and Escape From Alcatraz 2012.  Just to read this blog in it’s entirety will be a herculean effort – I recommend wearing your HRM and having gels at hand.

Back in July 2013 I kicked off the journey to Ironman Austria explaining the reasons that I was coming back for Ironman 2.  As I travelled across the North Sea I finished the pre Ironman story making peace with what would come.  Que sera, sera.  But this is the story of the main event – converting a year of training into a long day out in southern Austria.

There will be details as there will be revelations.  Some mundane, some shocking stuff – what dumbass idiocy did I manage to do in this Ironman?  What is Ironman Austria REALLY like? What does the inside of a portaloo look like 13 hours into a hot, steamy ironman?  What is the darkest secret that the Germanic countries don’t want us to know?  Also, there will be human stuff.  I helped my buddy, formerly known as Shakey, to prepare for Ironman Austria.  I think we can now call her Iron Nessie.  But what is it REALLY like for a first timer who has just learnt to swim?  And cycle.  And is barely competent at staying on her feet.

But most of all it is the start of a love affair with bella Austria.  Possibly the fairest of them all.

So, the literal road to Klagenfurt started as we rolled off the overnight ferry from Newcastle.  The journey took the same route down the Rhein as Regensburg before it with stops in Bacharach and Dinkelsbühl before crossing into Austria at Salzburg.  As this isn’t some kind of travelogue, I’ll leave the details for another time and another place but three things on the journey are worth mention:

  1. I love the Dutch.  They are incredibly polite and great fun but those crazy, doped up hop heads need to stick to bicycles and get off the motorway.  From Scotland to Klagenfurt and back covering over 1,800 miles I can safely say the Dutch are the loon drivers of Europe.  Erratic speeds, no indication, random changes of direction.  Put down the spliff and get on the bike, guys.  Unless, of course, you build hills.
  2. With the notable exception of Amsterdam, Holland is dull.  From Amsterdam to the German border there is nothing of interest.  The Dutch are the masters of reconstructing the land – why they stopped at the polders I’ll never understand.  Now, Nederlanders, you have done the difficult bit by reclaiming the land from the sea.  It is time to take your finger out of the dyke and build  some hills, and maybe plant some trees.  Just anything but flatlands and motorway gantries.
  3. Autobahns are terrifying.  When sitting at 90mph in a very heavy 4WD and a car coming past shoogles your fillings out you know the going is fast.  My favourite moment however, was when a Ferrari came past at 110mph with a painter’s Transit tailgating him at about 6 inches distance from his ass.  Not sure that impressed the much younger chick in the passenger seat.

Anyway, it is safe to say as Europe transitions from north to south it becomes infinitely more interesting and as Germany runs out of miles the mountains get higher and the lakes get bluer.  Somewhere in mid Bavaria, Europe evolves from pretty to downright sexy.  It’s not always an easy journey – I am a fan of Germany and the German people but sometimes a commonplace road sign, like Dachau, chills the soul and causes a moment of quiet reflection.  As Hartley said, “the past is a foreign country”, and for me it is difficult to reconcile that distant land and those distant people.

As we ran out of Germany, Austria started.  Magnificent Austria.  We visited Salzburg which was twee and genteel.  Home of Mozart and all that.  But the high alpine pass we took through the Alps, the Großglocknerstraße, was like The Sex Pistols to Salzburg’s Mozart.  I can’t explain in words the majesty of the mountains, the jewel like lakes, the high alpine meadows or the bowel churning, arse clenching near vertical single path roads.  Let’s just say we broke the car.

And then we were there.  Iron Village, Klagenfurt.  Nestled in the mountains, perched on the edge of the milky blue Wörthersee, spliced by the leafy Lend canal.  Populated by loons.  I was conspicuous by my denial of compression wear.  And Vibrams.  And full race kit three days before the race.  All the weird and wonderful of the Ironman world were there, in their armour, ready for war (registration).

Registration was teutonically efficient.  We checked into the dorms of the Catholic Boy’s School.  Ness and Al arrived.  Stiegl was drunk.  We were ready for Iron Weekend.

Now is an opportunity to recharge your gel flask and maybe have a massage while I write up the swim.


 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

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 7 so far )

Auf Wiedersehen Pet

Posted on June 22, 2014. Filed under: Austria, brain training, first time ironman, ironman, Ironman Austria, ironman tips, Klagenfurt, motivation, new ironman tips |

Whether Neville, Dennis and Oz took the DFDS ferry from North Shields to Ijmuiden en route to Dusseldorf is lost to the mists of time and a fading memory.  But, as I chugged on my first beer in 35 days, I was definitely humming Living Alright as we effortlessly glided down the Tyne and into the North Sea.


I’ve been quiet.  It surprises some people, but it’s not that unusual for me. Although far from an introvert,  I am an introverted thinker and the closer to an event I get, the greater need I have to sort stuff out in my own head.  I don’t need affirmation from others that I’m doing well – not because I am arrogant or ungrateful – but mainly because it embarrasses me and makes me feel awkward.  Well meaning support is wonderful to receive; but training data that corroborates my intuition is a more powerful motivator for me. I need to have a confidence in myself that comes from quiet introspection.

A bit deep for me on a Saturday evening on a ferry to Europe?  Maybe.  Nah, not really.  Just a preamble to what I worked out while I was thinking.

I have let my 13 hour goal go.  “WHAT?”, you exclaim, “choker, quitter, underachiever, surrenderer, DEFEATIST”.   Again, not really.  My goal is still to achieve 13 hours or faster but the purpose and the benefit of the goal has passed now.   I needed that goal to focus a year of training,  to provide my north star from the day I signed up for Ironman Austria.  I needed that goal to get up at the crack of dawn, to suffer on freezing cold nights in the garage, hell – I needed that goal to force me to wear lycra in public.   But I don’t,  definitely don’t, need it to get me round the Ironman course as fast as I can.

Contrary to popular stereotypes I am not a tight Scotsman and this is no declaration that I am aiming to get my money’s worth from the Ironman by loitering out on the course, munching gels, for 17 hours.  I am still going out there to finish as quickly as possible but with the caveat that I enjoy the day.

I have a year’s preparation in the bag.  The cake is cooked.   The only thing that is left within my control is race day execution.  The only thing that can derail my race day execution is being dumb.  The main reason I would be dumb is over-attachment to an objective. I know in myself that I can be unhealthily competitive – that served me well when all I had to do was sprint 50 metres of freestyle or butterfly – it gave me an edge to win.  In an event that lasts longer than the average working day it is my fast track access ticket to the med tent (and I picked several of these dribbling, hallucinating alpha uber athlete folks up off the floor in Regensburg).  I need to focus on cool, steady progress until at least 20k into the run and, by then, the die will be cast and my brain can go totally primal, batshit crazy and swing from the trees like a baboon.  But until then it needs to be controlled and measured.


My relationship to sport has changed over the years.   I have bucketloads of medals, trophies and national jerseys to prove the early years and, in the past, nothing would have turned me on quite like a sub 10 hour Ironman and a Kona slot. But, in my 30s I set a course that was heading speedily to an indolent and corpulent, premature checkout.

I have vices, mainly beer and burgers – like a Scottish Elvis, and I discovered that if I ran I could get away with my vices.  But crucially, I needed focus.  Therefore, I see it like this – I love to live life, training allows me to live life to the full, and Ironman provides the focus and desire to train.  People often comment that I smile the whole way round an event and always chat to and thank the volunteers.  Enjoying the event is crucial to me because that is the catalyst in a whole virtuous circle that keeps me fit, healthy and strong.  It’s just a hobby I love.  It took me a long time to realise what sporting success looks like for me as I get older and mellower; but it sits very comfortably with me now.

But the main reason I can be so at peace with letting the 13 hour goal go easily is the most important one.  I am a role model to someone very important.  I have a curious little three year old who watches and emulates my every move.  If I smile when I compete, he will too.  He knows about the hard work – he has seen me suffer in the turbo in the garage in deep mid winter, but I want him to see sport as fun.  If I go full chimp and chase a time that is slipping through my fingers then that little boy gets to see daddy on a drip with his eyes rolling about in his head and his tongue hanging out.  And that’s just not being a positive role model.  When he does Ironkids at Bolton in a few weeks I would love to see him do it with humility and grace, grinning like a loon and enjoy himself to the max, following the example his daddy sets.


I’ve done the training,  I know how to execute the race, I’ve hit all the distance and pace milestones in practice.  I just need to do that once more and stay smart. It might not be the most exciting race strategy but it is smart, safe and proven.  And that is all I really want from Ironman.

7 days to go.  My arse cheeks are now in a permanent state of clench.


 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

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 4 so far )

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