They said it will be painful. They said it will take a lot of hard work. A lot of early mornings, long rides and... well. Just a lot of pain. But once you are there, there will be nothing like it. And boy were they right.
My Ironman journey started 4 years ago really, when my boyfriend crossed the 'Iron line' in Frankfurt. So last year Chris and I signed up for this little excursion, and also got Manuela to join (along with other Serpies as it turned out later). Unfortunately, due to injuries our little team shrunk down to one, as both Chris and Manuela had to give this year's race a miss.
The last days before the race
We arrived to Frankfurt on Thursday of race week, and went straight to our 'usual' headquarters the Lindener Hotel, which happens to be right on the run course. It is not the official race hotel, but it is just a 5 min walk from the epicentre of the race, and most importantly offers rooms with a mini kitchen, so we could cook the last meal in peace, just the way we would want it. Chris, Manuela, Lan and I arrived by plane, Chris's parents by car, so the core of my Iron support team was in place.
We have visited the race expo a few times leading up to the day - a tip for any future outings like this, one trip to the expo is plenty. The extraordinary bling of other athletes can definitely psyche you out, the bikes just seem to be at a very different level from mine so the girls were very kindly highlighting how many non-dics wheeled (read over 10 grand) bikes they have seen to calm my nerves. I also had my own concierge bike service in Chris, he took my bike for a check up, found some guys who actually serve the Tour de France cyclists (who himself meticulously changed my tyres!!). Guess that will be good enough for me, thank you! :) Chris also managed to solve a rather hairy situation with my bike stem (long story short, the guy who set up my bike early this year has made the set up slightly dangerous, but thanks to Chris and the German organisation, they found a very rare, but perfect stem so I could start the race in the same bike set up as I was used to before).
I went to rack my bike at Langener Wald-See the day before, arrived late afternoon so most bikes were already there. This gave me the opportunity to make sure my bag sticks out a bit on top of the others, so come race morning, when I (hopefully) run up to my stuff, I will be able to spot it easier. One last look at the lake, 'I'll see you tomorrow for a splash!'.
So there I was, eating the last supper of pasta, tomato sauce, tuna and olives, reaching the peak of excitement and nervousness at the same time.
D-day - 7th July, 2014
The alarm went off at 4.25am. I had more tossing and turning during the night than actual sleep. My body sprung out of bed, though my head was still in the early morning fog. I forced down a bun and a half with peanut butter and jam, put on some SPF50 and my racing outfit and said goodbye to Chris. Walked to the IRONMAN bus and squeezed myself onto it with 60+ others. The journey was supposed to be 20mins but there was some traffic jam at the lake already, so we were stuck in the bus, which turned into a semi-Titanic scene with the windows fogging up and people taking off the top layers. Once finally there, went to my bike, checked on the blue bag (the bag I had my stuff in for after the swim, for the bike). I also bumped into Natalia and Jen, which was a great relief with all the macho looking man (and women) around. Headed to the loos, and with wetsuits finally on, went down the steep sandy beach we would eventually trod up on after the swim. Just before getting to the water, Jen's mom (Ironmum) and Natalia's boyfriend (Mike) were there to give us last encouragement.
Originally I think all three of us were going to start on the 'safe' right hand side, but getting in the water right after the pros have gone (15mins ahead of everyone else), meant that the start line hasn't formed completely yet. So Jen and I went to the 'right' side... which eventually became the exact middle of the crowd, first and second row. it was an incredible feeling though, being in the water, people sculling, touching you by accident, moving forward and back to find a little bubble of space, meanwhile listening to some serious battle music blasting through the speakers that did nothing to calm the nerves. I could not believe I was toeing the line for an Ironman. A guy next to me asked what time I am aiming for. I laughed and said "Hah, no idea, this is my first one!" He smiled and said 'You will love it, just soak up every minute because it will be over much quicker than you think!" I thought he was mad, how the hell would an ironman be over quicker than any imagination of mine?? But there I was, hoping that my training was going to allow me to finish within the 15hr cut off time. Jen and I said good luck to each other, turned forward as the kayakers were also turning so I knew the start was near. My heart was thumping in my throat, I wanted to giggle and cry at the same time, it was just a total out of body experience.
Then the gun went off and all I could see were arms starting to paddle next to me, and someone scraping me feet already. I have always been a pool swimmer, so I actually kick (compared to a lot of triathletes not doing much with their feet), so whoever was behind me at any point, was not going to see much from the bubbles (and will probably bump into my feet more often). Not knowing exactly what to expect with about 2700 others around me, I hoped that the 'washing machine' effect was going to pull me along for the ride without getting into too much trouble. At this point Jen was swimming right in front of me and so I saw two big guys boxing her in. She did a couple of breaststrokes and continued, I went off to the left side to stay away from the boxers. Whoever said it's a washing machine for the first 400m lied. It was washing machine for 3.8k for me. Sighting was made very difficult as all the buoys were yellow and so were our caps. There was a giant Powerbar bottle up on the hill which we could use as a sighting point for the first 1/4 leg of the swim, but as soon as we turned the first buoy, you were left to your own devices and had to distinguish buoys from caps. The sun was also just coming up on the right hand side, glaring down low and blinding you on your first breath after the turn, so visibility was reduced to relatively nothing. I hoped that the guy ahead of me saw more than me and just followed his feet for a while. The field was still very packed, so I felt like my usual swim technique was out of the window.
To make the race more spectator friendly, there was an "Australian exit", which meant we had to get out of the water after 2.1k for a total of 10 steps and back in again for the last 1.7k. I heard Chris shout "Go Kinga!" on the right hand side but there were so many people I did not see him. Getting out of the water was actually quite annoying, I was getting into a nice rhythm and then had to find my feet (and the ground) again. There was also a big crowd around me so there was no running through this little outing, rather wading out and back in. The second loop felt much better, although I found myself boxed in between two girls, who were viciously thumping me on the back at the same time. I stopped to let them go and went around to the left. The turn buoy was coming up and they both took it too far to the right, so I knew I was going to be able to cut them off just before it. At the turn there was also a bigger boat with lifeguards, checking that we don't kill each other at the turn and no one goes under. The water tasted of gasoline, but I was happy to finally get into my normal technique and put some more oomph into the stroke. I think it was one of the worst sighting performances of my life, would have loved to see what my actual route looked like but I was not wearing my Garmin watch for this (so that I could take my wetsuit off easier and not risk losing it). Passed the last big buoy and was eyeing the blue gate which indicated the end of the swim. As we got out of the water, there was a steep sandy beach to run up. I did just that for a full 4 steps and as my heartrate was going bonkers, thought to slow back to walking up that thing. There will be enough running ahead of me, so rather spent the time to yank off the top of my wetsuit.
2.1k - 37:14 (1.46/100m)
1.7k - 29:36 (1.44/100m)
TOTAL 3.8k time: 1.06:51
Rank (women 30-34): 14th
Rank (all women): 44th
Overall rank (all competitors, male and female): 719th
Instead of actual tents, there were three open tunnels, one designated for women only to change. I opted to change into my very comfy cycle shorts instead of wearing a thin pair of shorts the whole race. It was the right decision as I had no discomfort (or numbness) whatsoever during the day. Dignity out of the window (or tent), i stripped as fast as I could. By the time I was leaving, I saw some guys coming in the tent as well - probably overflowing the other two tents, not surprising as less than 10% of the athletes were women.
T1 time: 8:42
Safely out of T1, said hello to my bike and tip toed to the bike mount line in my bike shoes on. As I was leaving the bike area, I heard the commentator saying "T1 is getting busy now!" That put a smile on my face, I was safely out and away before the crowd came in. The first 15k of the bike leg was on the smoothest German highway you can imagine. It was an absolute joy to cycle, barely touched the pedals and I was flying 36k/h. Of course there were many hardcore guys passing me, going 15/20k/h more than me, but I was very content as I have just looked at the time on the Garmin, so I knew I must have done something below 1.15 on the swim.
The bike leg consisted of 2 laps, each about 80k with the extra 15k lead up to Frankfurt to make the total 180.5k. The roads were in pristine condition, the three hills on each lap were definitely not as scary as I remembered from 4 years ago when we went to do a road reccie before Chris's race, though they still made us all work. Thousands of people were lining the entire course, shouting encouragement. I was so happy, felt like a very content little dog having his head stuck out of a car window with tongue flapping on the side. Before the race I was watching some videos of previous races and last year the commentator said "The day has finally arrived that you have been training for, this is your day. Just remember, you have control over one and only one thing today, and that's your attitude. Check your attitude, and it will take you along to the finish line. Enjoy it, be a champion!" Well, I promised myself that I will keep to this advice the whole time, having a smile on my face throughout. It worked.
The day got quite hot by the second part of the bike, so unfortunately I could not stomach any solid food (bars). I was necking my other forms of nutrition as planned, a bottle an hour plus 2 gels. On the second lap, my stomach just felt really empty, so I thought to try a banana I picked up from an aid station. It went down well, so I picked up a few more in the remaining stations.
Throughout the entire bike leg I had people with magnificent bikes passing me, but every time they did, I just smiled and asked in my head "So where were you on the swim?". I was keeping to my race plan, heart rate kept around 145 (apart from uphills). I saw some other Serpies throughout the race, it was great to say hi and see that we are all across the field. I did one toilet stop on the second loop, just after dodging a water bottle landing just in front of my bike at an aid station. Managed to stay on the bike, but made a mental note to leave bigger space between myself and others at aid stations next time.
There was an approximately 400m section of the bike that was covered in slippery cobble stones. The section started with a 90degree left turn so had to slow down to gingerly enter this hellish section. Had to open my mouth slightly so that my teeth don't rattle against each other so much, hoped that I won't lose any of my food or bottles (many were on the ground around). It put an interesting twist in the bike leg, but I was glad when I got past it twice without any issues. The second time about 15k after the cobble stones I saw a guy with a tubeless disc wheel, his bike upside down, him in a rage, getting so angry that he threw his wheel across the field. As much as I felt for him, it was rather comical. Hope he got it all fixed by the end.
The highlight of the bike leg was undoubtedly Heartbreak Hill, which was on the last 5k of each loop. Not too steep, straight little hill, with race dividers on each side so that the crowds could line up on either side of you, totally Tour de France style. Music blasting, people shouting, it does not fail to put the extra kick in your pedaling. I had an American guy ahead of me (due to the narrow path, you had to get in single line), who was pumping his fist in the air for more support, so there was a fabulous wave of roar along, as we went up the hill. It was just exhilarating!!
I saw Chris and his parents on the second loop, and also another Serpie mate Katia screaming my name along the way. We have cycled through many little villages where people lined up their tables and were having pints of beer, whilst cheering for the cyclists whizzing inches past them on the road. Just a usual Sunday activity I guess. There were also many people with hose pipes in hand and kids with water guns along the way, offering a cool shower if you signalled them 'yes please'. It was so hot by then, many of us lined up politely one after the other, a bit like going into a car wash, to get an instant cool off. The kids loved it and so did the athletes.
The last 30k was getting a little bit boring, and though I knew I might regret saying it, I was looking forward to the run leg ahead. Smooth, flat route into Frankfurt towards T2, with the heat reaching its peak. There was a sharp right turn to the dismount line, so I slowed down and unclipped. I glanced over to where the bikes were being stored of those on the run already, it was a pretty packed T2 (dejavu from Lisbon). I handed over my bike to be taken into the T2 stalls, and walk-jog-hobbled to the T2 tent, feeling a little bit like a Western movie star, with a ghost bike between my legs.
Split Distance Split time Race time Pace
13.4 km 13.4 km 24:53 1:40:26 32.31 km/h
24.5 km 11.1 km 22:15 2:02:41 29.93 km/h
30.4 km 5.9 km 10:48 2:13:29 32.78 km/h
60.5 km 30.1 km 1:00:48 3:14:17 29.70 km/h
88.3 km 27.8 km 1:02:00 4:16:17 26.90 km/h
96.1 km 7.8 km 17:23 4:33:40 26.92 km/h
108.5 km 12.4 km 25:00 4:58:40 29.76 km/h
114.4 km 5.9 km 12:21 5:11:01 28.66 km/h
144.5 km 30.1 km 1:05:36 6:16:37 27.53 km/h
172.3 km 27.8 km 1:08:46 7:25:23 24.26 km/h
180.1 km 7.8 km 19:07 7:44:30 24.48 km/h
180.5 km 0.4 km 1:00 7:45:30 24.00 km/h
TOTAL: 180.5k - 6:29.57 (27.77k/h average)
Rank (women 30-34): 30th
Rank (all women): 132nd
Overall rank (all competitors, male and female): 1934th
The second transition was much less eventful, got my bag, went to the loo quickly, changed to my running shorts, and put my orange cap on so that I block out some of the sun and also make sure my support crew could see me. I was ready, though I chose to ignore the fact that I have a marathon ahead of me, a distance I have never ran in my life before.
T2 time: 5:38
The first 4k just felt heavy. I was very thirsty and hungry all of a sudden (mental note to have a bottle of water in T2 next time), so I was desperate for the first aid station to come around. The run consisted of 4 loops, each ending at a Y intersection, when you either continued to the left along some horrible cobble stones to start another loop or went to the right on the last stretch towards glory, on a carpeted 150m stretch to the finish. Each lap you received a different colour arm band at the farthest part of the run.
I trotted along, feeling ok after the first aid station. My plan was to walk each aid station (there were 4 on each lap, equally distanced from each other), and take on as much water and food as possible. And that is just what I did. Each aid station was meticulously laid out, food and drink in the exact same order so you knew what to expect at each. I drank some water, dumped two cups on my head, took a small cup of coke, a gel (of my own stash), and three huge ice cubes. One in my sportsbra and one in each hand. All were gone by the time I reached the next aid station.
I have seen a lot of people in pain, many running at good speed and then just stopping completely. Family members running next to athletes giving them encouragement, telling them how much is left. I have also seen people buddying up, talking about totally non-race related stuff, and I also had pro women running past (one actually stop just ahead of me for a few steps). I went through many different emotions during this run, but it was just absolutely incredible to see Chris and his parents, Manuela, Lan, and some others cheering me on. Each time it gave me more energy to continue. Interestingly I never felt bored, although lap 3 was just simply dire. I had Chris's Garmin watch on, which buzzed at each km completed. I don't remember even feeling the buzz for the core 20k of the run, was probably preoccupied by surviving...
After I passed km 25 I have entered 'unknown territory'. Never ran farther than that, so was somewhat interested in what the distance brings. It was not pretty, but was doable.
I have passed some people on my third lap who have just started running and were frantically calculating whether they could finish. Seeing the time, I told them they should be ok, that they had x hours left, so just keep at it. I gave away some of my ice as well to a girl who looked rather in need of it. For the first time on the day, I felt like I could say I will finish, without worrying about jinxing it.
The last part of lap 4 I have come up to a fellow Serpie, James, then shortly after to Jen and Stefano. This was the first time I have seen Serpies on the run at all, so I thought they have all finished long ago by then. We were all suffering but the heat must have gotten to them a bit more (I was so so glad I opted for a full cap with run visor, I don't think I could have done the race without it). Stefano also had some knee pain, so chose the sensible option of walking at the end. After a few words I kept pressing on, after all my Garmin was telling me I only had about 3-4k left. The last 3k was just not real, I was passing people, telling myself that I will finally finish this saga! Well trained, I threw my sponges away that I collected in my top to cool me, have zipped up my top, wiped my nose and ran towards that Y intersection I dared not even glance to the right at, during previous loops. The magic carpet is rolled out for the last 150k, there is a slight curve on the road with people on each side all the way up to the finish. The commentator knows ahead of time that you are coming from your race chip, so he was shouting my name, calling me home. My friends were all there, holding their hands out along with hundreds of others, music blasting and my name on the timer right above the finishing arch. I was smiling ear to ear, I could not believe that I did an ironman. I DID IT!! My heart was thumping away, I ran across the finish and I could finally stop my legs for the first time since 7am that morning. It was 7.42pm.
Split Distance Split time Race time Pace
1.5 km 1.5 km 11:24 8:02:32 7:36/km
3 km 1.5 km 7:46 8:10:18 5:10/km
7.7 km 4.7 km 32:44 8:43:02 6:57/km
9.7 km 2 km 13:17 8:56:19 6:38/km
10.5 km 0.8 km 5:24 9:01:43 6:44/km
12 km 1.5 km 11:53 9:13:36 7:55/km
13.5 km 1.5 km 7:38 9:21:14 5:05/km
18.2 km 4.7 km 31:50 9:53:04 6:46/km
20.2 km 2 km 13:59 10:07:03 6:59/km
21 km 0.8 km 6:32 10:13:35 8:09/km
22.5 km 1.5 km 13:01 10:26:36 8:40/km
23.9 km 1.4 km 7:57 10:34:33 5:40/km
28.7 km 4.8 km 33:39 11:08:12 7:00/km
30.7 km 2 km 14:32 11:22:44 7:16/km
31.4 km 0.7 km 5:40 11:28:24 8:05/km
33 km 1.6 km 12:43 11:41:07 7:56/km
34.4 km 1.4 km 8:05 11:49:12 5:46/km
39.2 km 4.8 km 33:58 12:23:10 7:04/km
41.3 km 2.1 km 13:20 12:36:30 6:20/km
41.9 km 0.6 km 5:06 12:41:36 8:29/km
42.1 km 0.2 km 0:59 12:42:35 4:54/km
42.2 km 0.1 km 0:22 12:42:57 3:39/km
Total 42.2 km: 4:51:49 (6:54k/h average)
TOTAL RACE TIME: 12:42:57
Rank (women 30-34): 28th
Rank (all women): 124th
Overall rank (all competitors, male and female): 1797th
I got the giant medal (happily chaffing away at my slight neck burn), and was given a buddy to help me find my way to the food, shower and massage tent. I chugged 4 cups of recovery shake right away, felt rather nauseous after but was in too much delirium to notice. I saw Rosh, another Serpie, sitting with his feet in a bucket of ice (good thinking!!). I wanted to get a massage so I headed to the showers - BIG mental note... do NOT take a hot shower after an ironman done in the heat, because you may just faint and end up in the medical tent with an IV in your arm. But if you do, well... IV drips are just amazing to get you back up to speed. :)
Last but not least, all the thank yous I owe to Chris for doing this race 4 years ago, for sharing his knowledge, for his continuous support even when I was freaking out and for the course support and chalk art he did with his left (unbroken) hand the day before the race, his parents for being my Iron parents, Manuela and Lan for their help and belief in me (and for being the best training buddies!), Harry for his run schedule and mental encouragement along the way, Martin for answering millions of questions about the race even on the penultimate day, for his insider tips and advice that was worth gold, to Chris at The Running Lab for fixing my running, for all the supporting ladies on the course who gave me an extra cheer when I smiled and waived at them (and recognised me on the second lap with an equally great roar), for the Ironman commentator who pronounced my full name perfectly, to Frankfurt for being such a great host.
Ironman Frankfurt... this may not have been the last time you saw me. ;)
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