Ironman European Championships, Frankfurt
July 15th, 2013 by Fraser
24th place – 8:40:21
It was a long and hot July day and this finish line took a bit longer to reach than I would have liked, but finish I did. – There were enough moments during the race when I would have rather done anything but finish, however you wouldn’t learn anything with that attitude now would you?
I was certainly looking forward to racing in Frankfurt. It seemed to have taken a while to come around and I suppose I was just ready to get on with this event that I had heard so much about from many friends over the years. It is without doubt a big event and has that associated ‘big day’ feel to it. I mean we even had free coffee, sandwiches and cake to keep us occupied between the mandatory blood testing and the race briefing on the Friday morning… I would say that is a first for me in Ironman racing! Good start I thought anyway.
I had given myself lofty abitions in terms of race goals for this trip. Ironman Hawaii has always been my goal this year, and after failing to finish at Ironman Arizona last November I had left myself without any points from an Ironman for the 2013 season. At the beginning of the year I made a bold step to do a round the world venture to get try and gain the bulk of my 70.3 allocation of points. These along with the UK 70.3 result last month gave me pretty much what I was hoping for although the donkey work had to be done via this race in Frankfurt plus UK Ironman in Bolton next month. It was always a tough ask as at worst I would have to have finished 10th in Frankfurt to have any realistic chance of accumulating enough points to reach the top 50 athlete cut off for Hawaii qualification. despite the depth of this field last Sunday I still beleived I had reached the start line having done the work to be competitive. – I was revising this beleif after about 50k of the bike!
My lead in to Sunday was absolutely fine – I travelled out on Wednesday afternoon, feeling relaxed and rested. Maybe a bit too rested! I had a homestay for the trip and Marko and Nicole were great hosts – having both raced the event previously they knew all the bits and pieces that help make a stay hassle free … showing me the cobble section of the bike course and ‘heartbreak hill’ also. These things all help make race day that bit ‘easier’. However, knowledge can only get you so far and ulitmately it is simply a case of getting from A (swim start) to B (above finish line) as quickly as possible.
My swim started well. For about 200m. Then I took on a huge gulp of wash water from another athlete swimming past … I got a real shock and spent most of the first swim lap to gather myself. The pace was awfully slow and I managed to swim back to the front and stand up first on the short run back into the water for the next loop. I made a real hash of this effort and once again found myself a number of atheltes back in the very large front group. I can’t remember the last time I was so far back in long course swim and it frustrated me a lot. Especially when I was given the old ‘ankle pull and shoulder grab’ dunk move from one of the German athletes. I knew exactly who he was (and I had plenty of time for him previous to this incident) but given his completely bald head and him having removed his swim cap – I knew who he was and I made sure I told him exactly what I thought of his cheating ways once we were out on the bike. I have often wondered how poorer swimmers stay in the front of races, but now I have more of an idea.
Despite finding myself at the very front of the 20+ man pace line early in the bike – right behind the lead timing car – I wasn’t feeling entirely comfortable, especially given it was a pace that was supposed to be sustainable for another 170k or so. And as such I gradually drifted back to about 15th wheel in the long line of athletes as we raced hard out of Frankfurt and wound our way through once village after another twisty and hilly village. – It is NOT an ‘easy’ or indeed a flat bike numberswiki.com
route! After about 90 minutes of cursing the leaders for the pace we were riding at, it eventually became irrelevant as there was a split in the group and the front 7 or so pulled away leaving about 10 of us to chase as best we could. At the finish of lap 1 we had lost about 2 minutes but that exploded out to closer to 10 minutes as we hit T2. The upside of this was that I felt a lot more in control, was able to take on nutrition more readily and actually started to feel quite smooth on the bike finally, rather than always chasing the gear I was trying to push. – You know it is not a good day when you are constantly changing gears in the hope that there is an ‘easier’ one hidden somewhere in the cassette! I never did find that gear.
I started the run feeling good. On refelction the first 10.5K lap of the run was by far the best section of my race. Our group had whittled to 4 towards the end of the bike ride and with about 15K remaining we were caught by World 70.3 Champion Sebastien Kienle, which created a surge effect. I didn’t feel able to hold the pace as we dropped downhill over the last 5K into T2 and lost about 45secs, which meant as I was running into the change tent to put on my shoes they were just about running out. All save from the Aussie athlete Dave Dellow, as he took a very leisurely time in the tent and we ran out together. I knew he would be a great person to try and stick with as he was a top 10 finisher in Hawaii last year. We left transition in 13th and 14th place and as I said, I felt good. Blair was out and about on the course with his mtb and it’s great to have a familiar face after 5 or 6 hours of racing!
I think 4 laps for a long course race – be it a half or a full distance event, is a great idea. Plenty of spectators and a real ability to get to know the course as you race around it. I am sure it is not to everyone’s liking but as I started to struggle from mid second lap to third, I felt it was a plus for some reason. After these 10Ks of walking and jogging and I had to get my head around the notion of this not being a ‘race’ anymore, rather an exercise in mental fortitude to ensure I reached the famous finishing square in Frankfurt city centre. Blair gave me some sensible encouragement and did his best to appear at various points on the course. I picked up quite considerably over the final run loop – this is however all relative, as ‘picked up’ represented 4.35/k pace as opposed to the 3.58/k I had run the first lap in the company of Dave. Unfortunately, when the middle half marathon is as bad as mine was it took 3hours and 15minutes to complete the marathon instead of the 2h55 that it took Dave to finish in 10th place.
On reflection I realise more than ever how big an impact the mental aspect of your performance can have on your ability to be competitive in a big race such as this. It is going to be hard, and there are going to be hard parts throughout the day. Ideally these hard parts will be few and largely within the last hour or less. The reality is that even in something like the swim, which I tend to take almost for granted in long course racing, things can go wrong and throw you off your kilter. This is racing and you simply have to deal with it. Those who consistently race well deal with their issues throughout their day and are the best at the end of the day because of it. It’s quite simple. Everyone is fit, maybe not everyone is fit enough to get close to 8 hours, but I reckon there are plenty of us who were in that race last Sunday who think they can execute a quick time. I just have to find a way to shave close to 40minutes off of last weekend’s performance; that’s the challenge.
Ironman UK in Bolton is just under 3 weeks away as I type. I have had a good week of gentle recovery since coming home and thankfully there are no aches and lingering pains. That means it’s back to it!