The A-Race

Event Stats:
Name Ironman European Championchip
Date 07/01/2007
Location Frankfurt, Germany
Event Ironman
Finish Time 11:53:18

Picked up the race packet in downtown Frankfurt on Thursday, assuming (since I have done my share of races and therefore know all there is to know) that I can just grab the packet, drive home and read the details over coffee.

Only, there is no, absolutely no information on how the race proceeds. The packet contains 3 colored bags (for T1, T2 and post race), swim cap, various stickers with the race number, the bib and a ton of marketing goodies. But no information.

So Friday, I am back in town for the race briefing. The briefing, which is held in a different place (about 5km away) from where the packet pickup is, supposedly starts at 2 pm. I arrive there at 1:45, only to be told that I can't get in right away, because at 2pm is the pro athlete briefing, and that the briefing for mere mortals starts after that, at about 2:30 pm. It later turns out that the second briefing starts at about 3:30 pm, so people have to wait for 90 minutes outside the Frankfurt hockey stadium in the cold, with nothing else to do and not even access to a toilet. Organization at it's best.

Fortunately that doesn't affect me, because I quickly decide that I am a pro. No one bothers to question that claim and I am in. I have a little chat with Faris and get the good, (and quick, since this is the pro field, so there is no moron questions) race briefing. Still it would have been smarter to have the briefing and the packet pickup in the same place (or even better, have a recorded briefing available online).

Bike checking Saturday was a breeze and very well organized, once I arrived there, I was immediately assigned a volunteer who accompanied me through T1,helped me set up my bike and showed around. And it also assures that no one messes up some competitors setup.

At night, party @ Fuzzel and to bed early. Of course I didn't sleep well, but that was to be expected and didn't really matter.

Swim 2.4 miles!

Arrival at Langener Waldsee at about 5:30, 90 minutes to the race. It is already light outside. Slightly overcast sky, no sign of rain, rather cool, water temperature of 19.5 C (67F), In one word: Perfect.

Tire pressure, helmet, glasses, shoes, socks, glove, all systems go. Take dump, put on wetsuit. 1 hour to go.

I walk to the lake, warm up, chat with some other athletes. Check my watch, 10 minutes to go. Don't know where the last hour went. Try to find a spot on the side of the main field. I turn around and warn the athletes behind me: "You may want to find a different spot. Swimming behind me is no fun!" Laughter.

Starting gun. Craziness. Kicking, hitting, shouting, people swimming over and under each other.

I don't care. I swim breaststroke. I don't get kicked (because I can see ahead). I kick (because the others can't). That hurts. Them, not me. But I warned them.The good thing is that everyone swims in a black wetsuit, so nobody recognizes me and I am safe from retaliation. Because I sure didn't make friends.

I finish the swim in 1:08:21. Six minutes better than last year, and without any training. Sweet. T1 is rather long (distance wise), but well organized and staffed with plenty of very helpful volunteers, who even offer to unpack your pack and hand you your things.

Last year I took the transitions as rest breaks, really dried myself off and so on which cost me about 15 minutes per transition. This time I decided to save some time here as well. I still decided to put on my good cycling shorts, which meant that I had to change completely again in T2, but also helped prevent my crotch from going numb halfway through the ride. All in all T1 cost me 6:21, less than 4 minutes more than the winner. That's time well invested in comfort.

Bike 112 miles!

My bike training consisted of about 10 hours of spinning class and 10 hours of bike rides, none longer than 2 hours. I had not ridden the bike I was riding today for a little over a year, and I don't think it had ever been properly fitted for me.

So I pretty much knew that this was the part where I was going to be punished. There isn't any particular reason why cycling is my worst discipline, I just don't feel comfortable on the bike. Therefore I don't train. Therefore I suck.

The bike part went by pretty uneventful. It is a two-loop course, pretty boring (as all bike rides are to me), with two notable exceptions: The Hell and Heart Break Hill.

The Hell is a 300 m (350 yards) ascent in a small town named Maintal-Hochstadt. The ascent itself isn't too bad, but it is all cobblestone. There are about 5000 spectators on that stretch. The noise is overwhelming. Holding on to your handlebars feels like grabbing a force-feedback Playstation controller on steroids and your mind stops working after about 2 seconds. And suddenly you are on even pavement again. And feel sort of empty. For me, this part could have gone on forever.

Heart Break Hill, a steep and rather long ascent in a town named Bad Vilbel, appears to have not only everyone from that town, but also from within a 100 km radius cheering you on. It really is pure Tour de France feeling, riding into a crowd of screaming people who only step back inches ahead of you to let you pass. If you can not understand why someone willingly takes upon himself the pain and agony of something such as an Ironman race, borrow a race-bike, and just ride up that hill next year during Ironman. You will understand.

Fortunately without any technical problems (one of my biggest fears on any bike ride) and remembering to get out of my shoes while still on the bike, I reached T2 in 5:57:20 . I stepped of the bike, which was immediately taken out of my hand and was directed to a changing tent by yet another fantastic supporter, who also suddenly and magically had my T2 bag in his hand and helped me change.

Yes, the bike part still sucked, but I improved a little more than half an hour since last year, and didn't feel half as bad. Also, just like in T1, transition went a lot smother this time, taking only 4:37, again with a full change of clothes.

Run 26.2 miles!

When you get off the bikes and try to run the first couple of (hundreds of) meters, you feel so bad that you can't possibly image that you will run a marathon. But you also know that this is normal and will pass. And it did, after about ten minutes.

What unfortunately didn't pass was my feeling of being way to warm. Maybe it was my shirt, maybe some light sunburn, maybe I was just tired. But I constantly had the feeling that I was burning alive. I tried to drink plenty, but even eating a hand full of ice cubes at every aid-station did not help. So I suffered through a very miserable run.

The course, 4 loops up and down the banks of the Main river is not really a great place to run. You cross 2 bridges each loop with some rather steep ramps. On the upside, the layout brings a rather large (but not very enthusiastic) crowd, and the course features great aid-stations every mile or so.

I managed to run the course, walking the aid-stations and ramps, and although I felt like crap, finished in 4:37:49, a good 30 minutes better than last year.

Brag for the rest of your life!