Welcome to my big race of the year. In beautiful Klagenfurt, Austria.
It’s been exactly a year since I entered the race. I did so on the first day of my new life; I left work on the 30th June 2016, promptly entered an Ironman and then left the country in my newly converted campervan to travel the continent, race some tri’s and cycle my bike.
You could say it’s been a year in the making. Certainly the last 6 months of my existence has been focussed on training hard to get to this race in fine fettle. And, aside from an annoying chesty cough, I think I am. Race day will prove it.
So, let’s see what happened….
Being in Klagenfurt with plenty of time to spare before race day meant I could get registered early, and avoid the expo area when the majority of athletes descended. It also meant that, on the Thursday, new rucksack on my back, wristband secured and my name ticked off their list, I was able to grab some bargains at the expo before heading off for a ride round the Wörthersee. I was joined by none other than Mallorcaman Nick himself, also racing the tri.
I recall my first ever Ironman triathlon back in 2014, down in Pembrokeshire, Wales. I was incredibly nervous before that event. I couldn’t sleep, even felt a bit queasy the days before the race. This time I felt different. Not nervous, not worried, not sleepless. Yes, a little peeved that my cough was being persistent, but otherwise calm in the knowledge that there was nothing more I could do now. I just had to get out there on Sunday and do three things I enjoy – swim, bike and run.
Friday was a day of rest, if you can call cycling the run course to recce it restful (it’s a two lap affair, so 21km per lap). It was still hot. Too hot for my liking and regular checking of the forecast ensued over lunch at the delightful Villa Lido on the banks of the Wörthersee.
A bit of work in the afternoon and I was back at the Strandbad in the evening, first for the official Ironman pasta party (at which I could eat nothing but lettuce – hardly ideal carb loading nourishment, even for a coeliac) and then for the invite-only Pewag Race Team party, attended by a good few pro’s including Marino Vanhoenacker, Beatrice Weiß and Corinne Abraham. Mel, her sister Lisa, and parents were there so it was a good chance to catch up with them over some tasty grub.
Saturday dawned, and after devouring my body weight for breakfast, I decided it was high time I got a new chain for my race bike. I know… nothing new on race day… But Nick had had a go at cleaning it for me and given up saying the grime was too hard to shift and I’d be better off with a new chain altogether. €50 later and I took the bike for a 20min spin, followed by a 3km run off the bike. I felt better than I had in days and at last managed to run without a single cough. Yippie!
Bike racking was a speedy affair, and very well organised, and the rest of the day was spent mainly eating! Risotto for lunch and a mighty fine Pizzarella Plus gf hawaiian pizza for dinner. The choice of pizza was nothing more than my desire to have some pineapple, though it may now become my pre-race dinner of choice 😉 Over this pizza I jotted down my estimates for what I thought I could do in the race, hopeful targets you might say:
Swim – 1h 06
T1 – 4m 30
Bike – 5h 45
T2 – 4m
Run – 3h 45
Total – 10h 44m 30s
4am. Alarm call. Who is hungry at this unsocial hour of the morning? Not me. But I shoved some porridge inside me and gathered the few things I needed for the race. With an Ironman most of the hassle happens before the race – you have to rack your bike, and deposit bike and run gear in transition the day before, so on race day morning all you have to worry about is wetsuit, hat, timing chip and goggles.
There had been some question about whether the swim would be wetsuit or not. The water in the Wörthersee had been so warm that prior to the downpours of Friday it might well have been. But the weather gods had seen fit to cool things down a little for race day and as I wandered to transition at about 5.30am I was told by a passer-by that wetsuits were to be allowed.
Final preparations made, I found myself with no time to spare sliding under the barriers into the “first swim wave” pen, which was jam-packed full with neoprene clad men. I think I spied one or two girls, but bearing in mind only 13% of the field of 2,700 athletes were women, it was always going to be a male dominated gathering.
The pro’s went off at 6.40am, then the green-hatted sub-hour group (who’d had to pre-book their slot months in advance) and then it was my turn. 8 athletes, drip fed every five seconds into the clear blue waters of the Wörthersee. It’s a shame they don’t do mass starts anymore. I prefer them.
I was about the fifth set of 8 into the water.
We ran into the shallows, then threw ourselves in. The first few hundred meters are always a fight, but before long I got into a rhythm and my plan was to try and stick tight to the buoys – on my left hand side all the way out, to the turn, across, and back towards the Lendkanal and on to swim exit.
It wasn’t long before I noticed I’d started overtaking some of the green hat mob and I thought to myself, either I’m having a cracking swim, or they lied about their time!
I felt calm in the swim, I kept my heart rate steady and did my best not to try too hard knowing that the gruelling work was to come on the bike and run. I planned to get out of the water feeling fresh and I would have done had it not been for the oaf of a German bloke who tried to drown me in the final meters as he jostled for position to the swim exit ramp.
No matter, I was out of the water, 3.8k done and feeling good.
The run to transition was hardly short, but it gave me time to get my wetsuit to my waist and as I grabbed my bag and entered the changing tent I noticed that there were very few women there, just three of us. Good swim Helene, I thought to myself, and I was further buoyed by the sight of nearly all the bikes on nearby racking being in place.
I mounted my bike in front of the crowds that thronged around the transition area and smiled as I got on my way to start the 112 mile ride.
Austria does not offer a flat bike course, but by all feedback I’d heard, it was nonetheless quick. And if there was ever a year when I should be able to PB the bike it was this one. All those miles and meters climbed in Majorca had to count for something now, surely.
Temperatures were perfect for me. An overcast, 22° day started to unfold as I span my way through some beautiful countryside.
Mostly surrounded by men, it was easy to spot the female competition, and I was passed by two girls in my age group in the first 30k. I told myself this was not a problem. 112 miles is a long way and killing myself on lap one of the bike would do me no good. I kept to my pace.
Lap one (90k) came and went in 2 hours 41 minutes. I was going faster than I thought I could. I wondered if I could keep the average the same for lap two.
Lap two saw the field stretched out more, with more space between riders and less drafting going on. The hills began to take their toll on some, but I felt good on them, and it was there that I did most of my overtaking. Thank you Majorca for your relentless hill training. It’s paid off!
For pretty much the whole bike course I was riding in the vicinity of a disabled athlete, an Italian ex racing driving called Alex Zanardi. He’d overtake on the downhill, I’d overtake on the up. He had a tv camera on him constantly so I hope I didn’t get in the way of the footage too much.
[Cue personal info that might be a bit much for some…. Skip this paragraph if you’d rather] The good news for my hydration is that I started to need the loo halfway round the second lap, but I was going so well that I didn’t want to stop. Could I hold until transition? Did I want to waste time there in a portaloo? No and no. So I did what any pro would surely do and learnt to pee whilst riding. This was surprisingly difficult and required a fair amount of concentration on my part as well as awareness of my surroundings and whether anyone was nearby. But I managed it, not once, but three times! I was glad to see my hydration strategy was working 😉
With a few spots of rain in the air, I swept down the last descent and into Klagenfurt feeling very pleased with myself and wondering if perhaps I might just have overdone it slightly?
I deposited my bike, delighted that I could see less than a handful of bikes back near mine.
Grabbing my run bag, I transitioned into trainers and peak, downed 200ml of dioralyte (to top up my electrolytes and avoid me getting cramp as had happened at Challenge Walchsee the year before) and was on my way.
The first few miles felt great. Taking cautionary words from friends and fellow ironmen to heart, I started steady and kept my heart rate to about 145bpm. No point having a great first half then fading on the second huh?
I kept my eyes out for Nick, knowing he’d be in front of me, and with the out and back nature of the course, that he’d pass at some point. And he did, when I was at about 2 miles and he 7ish.
Out to Krumpendorf, and back to Klagenfurt, then into the city centre and out again to the edge of the See. It’s a flat course, quite shady and, thankfully for me, the clouds stayed put, meaning that although it was warm, we weren’t running in blazing sunshine.
A day for a PB I thought. Keep running. Don’t stop.
The first half marathon came and went in a pleasing 1h48 and then at kilometres 25 and 26 my resolve broke. I was physically ok but mentally felt like 16 km/10 miles was a hell of a long way to keep running for. I walked a bit, ate some water melon, had a gel and gave myself a talking to.
Then it was simply a case of keeping running. I was counting the people I overtook to give me something to keep me occupied. Some women, mostly men. I thought to myself that if the guy in the handcycle can get into a wheel chair and use his arms for other 26 miles, I could use my legs.
To be honest, the final ten km of the race went by in a blur. I just kept going, annoyingly being overtaken by not one, but two girls in my age group in the final few km. But I did everything I could and when the finish line came into view, there was no sprint left in me! Didn’t stop me chicking a guy on the finish line though 😉
When all was said and done, I’d just raced an ironman 34 minutes quicker than ever before and totting up the scores, I’d finished under my target : 10.41.18. I came 29th woman overall (inc pros) and was the first British lady across the line. Yay!
Emotional, knackered, exhilarated, happy, I took receipt of my medal and walked away from the finish line knowing I’d given the race my all and couldn’t have gone faster.
There was Nick, embarrassingly with a camera, to capture my immediate post-race grin and to share an obligatory ice cream with in the now glorious sunshine.
I slept not one wink that night. I blame the caffeine and sugar I’d consumed. Monday dawned and although stiff, aching and a little chaffed in places (more info that you needed??), nothing was complaining too badly.
The only thing that needed to be done today was rest, eat ice cream and attend the award ceremony, mainly for Nick, who’d won his age group.
The Strandbad provided a suitable venue for the rest part of the day and I even managed a little dip in the water to get my legs moving.
The award ceremony consisted of two stages – one for the Kona World Championship slot allocation, and a second for the age group and pro podiums.
For those who don’t know, each year in October, Ironman hold their world champs in Hawaii. Attendance at this event is by qualification only, through Ironman events across the globe. Slots are handed out at the end of the race based on finisher position, but there are limited amounts and you have to be present to pick one up. For Austria this year, only 40 slots were available across all age groups, with only one guaranteed in my age group, F35-39. Fat chance I’d be going then I thought. Nick said we should go along anyway, as “you never know”…
Well, guess what….? To save a lengthy description of the whole affair I will just say that I have never in my life been quite so speechless and excited as I was at about 13.30 on the 3rd July.
I have qualified for the World Champs and am off to Hawaii in October!! A dream come true and proof that hard work and determination pay off. And a little luck helps too 😊
So, as it turns out then, my big race of the year just got pushed into second place. Kona, you will take top spot now!