When it comes to racing, I like to quote that to finish first, first you must finish and accordingly with Frankfurt, that didn’t go according to plans. Frankfurt was started but ended a non finish race. 39 weeks of training went into the preparation of this year main goal which was the Ironman European Championship race. Ups and downs, there were a few, hard days were countless but the worst one probably was the final one and race day.
I got there on the Wednesday prior to the race, tapering was in full swing, sensations were pretty good in the last training sessions leading to the day. Swim, bike or run I felt confident the work achieved from 1st of October and up to now would pay off.
Sunday started at 3:00AM as you would expect and in order to get properly ready to take the start, breakfast and all were the usual, I slept pretty well the night leading to the big day as I surely had more confidence than last year. Of course as this was nothing new but one thing was to be, the heatwave over town. In fact that would probably be a game changer and as I went through my coach race plan, it was understood that I would have to deal with that too during the day as they announced close to 38 degrees on the course by mid-day and therefore the run.
I got to the start around 5:00 that morning, got the bike finally ready, tyre pressures done, nutrition, gels and liquids all ready for what would be a long day in the heat and therefore of primary importance. As I made my way through, the non wetsuit swim was confirmed an hour before the start. I had worked my mind over that in the two weeks before the race and also felt confident I could do good. Having swam 280km and probably 265k without a wetsuit, it felt like something I could get over.
By 6:30 I was standing in the starting zone, all ready to go at the front of the pack for a 1:00-1:10 swim target, the pros had already gone and at 6:40 the age groupers started to roll into the water. By 6:45 I think it was my turn and off I went into the Langener Waldsee waters. Sensations were good, I got through the first 1500m confident as I could hold with a little group and pass a number of swimmers prior to the short Australian exit and to the last 2400m that were left. The swim continued and again, I was with the same group of swimmers, the arms were turning and the stroke was good as in the end we made the bridge with the last and slowest of the sub-1 group when we got to the finish and into Transition 1.
Swim – 01:08:45 – Avg. Pace 1:46/100m
Getting up to transition, I felt good and not more tired than after a strong session in the pool as per my previous training, it was also satisfying to get out and see the bike park still almost full. I got into the changing tent after grabbing my bag, got the helmet and bib on, sun cream all over the arms, ate a bar and made it out onto the bike course.
Transition 1 – 05:29
Got off from Langener Waldsee on a stretch of Autobahn or what actually felt like it, temperatures were pretty cool still and with the shadow it felt a really good on the 13,4km leading onto the two 85,8km loops. Legs were feeling good, cadence and power were on the spot as the coach gave strict instructions and with the aim of keeping it within 215W over the total 185km of the course.
Nutrition had started from T1 and plan was to eat solid every 10 minutes – had an alarm set for that – on the course through prepared bits I had stocked up in the bento fixed to the frame of my bike. Additionally one gel every hour would top that and on the hydration, plan was to get at least a bottle of isotonic drinks through for every hour on the bike. The benefit would be to get either a little bit of water or coke at each station as well to keep everything up. And for that part it all went according to the plan.
Back to the bike, I made my way through the first loop and reached a 100km in 2:38:13. It was by then 10:36AM and the sun was starting to shine. Although I had made a strong first loop, there were still 85km to go – yes, the bike course was still longer than the standard ironman distance – and I knew it was not going to be an easy one with the heat starting to kick-in.
The good thing is, I kept the average power within the recommended figures, I never got up and stayed on the saddle on every hills in order not to lose any over the distance but reaching a 130km I started to really feel the heat. Still I was with the same group of riders, we were all keeping it together with the non drafting rules and I continued that way even though some got penalized for drafting as the headwind got a little harder.
So yeah, I continued and changed my strategy a little with the first fatigue signs coming in, got my cadence a little up and eased the power in order to try and keep it strong. The values were still good, I was still with the same group but reaching a 150km or so I started to feel the start to a headache. It was getting hot and the sun was at its highest point by then but I thought nutrition and hydration to be good so I continued and hung-up to the group.
As I got to the last hill in Bad Vilbel and pretty much 10km from the end of the bike, oh god it felt f***ed-up. Going up the hill and on the saddle, I started to feel hamstring cramps both side. Got up and tried to turn the legs as much as I could but that along with the headache and sort of running out of sweat, it wasn’t feeling good at all. Thankfully and from the top of that hill, it was all downhill into town but that was pretty much an announcement of things to come…
Bike – 05:14:20 – Avg. Speed 35.41km/h
Getting on the last kilometers, I turned the legs as much as I could, prepared to get off the bike in order to storm through transition 2 but as I jumped off, I really struggled. I was sort of dizzy, my head was feeling like a bomb ready to explode and I could barely run straight to drop the bike off. I sat down, got changed again and took two minutes just to get myself settled for the run. It wasn’t looking good but I wasn’t the only one I believe as I took a look around…
Transition 2 – 07:09
Got out, dropped the bag and went onto the run. How bad did I feel? Very bad. The first kilometer took almost 6:00 minutes to be completed, I could barely run, my head was still a bomb and as I got there, I stopped and walked into the first red cross tent. They got me onto a bed, got me isotonic drinks and coke and as I described the feelings they told me that it was more or less the feeling of dehydration. I took 30 minutes of rest to cool down, water myself and they didn’t object to me trying to rejoin. As they said, I wasn’t the only crazy one that would try to do so that day.
I got out, ran good for a kilometer and it all started to go downhill again after that. I walked and run up through aid stations and as I made my way to the turnaround and first loop. Along with two others that were already declaring their retirements to the referees, I declared mine. I went to the next aid station where I got taken care of, water and coke were my best friends and I watched the race for 20 minutes from there. I made my way to the finish to collect my stuff and headed away from all that.
Run – 01:10:46 – 8km – #DNF
Not much to say, my mother who came to cheer made her way to collect me at the finish, we headed for food and drinks which helped a little, I still had my headache going. Then went back to the hotel where I finished the day in my room, had a nap, an ice cream and went to sleep again. The headache passed over night but not the feeling of not having finished the race.
They say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, that there are no such things as success or failure and that you come back stronger. Well, at the moment I’m pretty much in a bad state of mind. I take my swim and bike splits as achievements, that’s all I have. For a non wetsuit swim, I swam as fast as last year when wetsuits were authorized so that’s a good one. On the bike, I probably should have kept it safer from the beginning and eased the power from the start in order to cope with the heat that came along but it just felt good like that anyway.
Altogether, racing is never easy, heat doesn’t help and I’ve learnt a lot that day. Something which I hope will help me in the future as I will surely go for other races. Triathlon, cycling, running, I don’t know but I’ll be back.