Thursday, 9 July 2015

Ironman Frankfurt 2015 - Race Report

Ironman Frankfurt - European Champs 2015

The race
the 2014 season saw a break from ironman brand racing and a focus on really starting to train in a structured & periodised way. Progress was good and 2015 provided an opportunity to up the quantity and quality of the training to see how far I could take things.

Just like 2014, I used the Marshman half as a build and my times in each discipline have all improved indicating that my development was heading in the right direction.

Add to this a new bike purchase (Canyon Speedmax CF) and wheel set (Zipp disc & 404) and the 2015 Ironman Frankfurt European Champs looked like a my best shot at getting to the World Champs in Hawaii. Historically there have been 18 slots in my age group (M40) and a finish time of 9:30 is usually enough. However, weeks prior to the race, this years slots were reduced to 11 and I would have to pull off a finish closer to 9:15 to even stand a chance of grabbing slot. This actually took some of the pressure off as I knew this wasn't realistically achievable. Then came the weather and all bets were off!

Short Version
9 hrs 40 mins (not a PB)
60th overall (out of over 3000)
34th Age grouper
2nd Brit
Age group 7th (40-44)

Swim 1:02 (AG29th) non wetsuit
Bike 4:54 (AG8th)
Run 3:36 (AG 7th)
T's 7:22


Nice mention from Rob Wilby on the 'Cup of Tri' podcast, Rob gave some great run advice that I used in my base long run training.

Long version (grab a coffee now!)

To make things easier, I drove to Frankfurt (with Dad) on the Friday and other than negotiating 'operation stack' at Folkestone and trying to find our hotel, it was a pretty stress free trip. Faye and the kids flew and arrived Fri night.

Our 'Best Western' hotel was basic and had no air con. This was such a big deal. You just need somewhere to escape the heat. I had to cold shower several times through the night just to keep cool. 

Frankfurt has a split transition, as the lake (and hence T1) is 7 miles out of town. This made bike racking an ordeal. Organisers had laid on transportation but I decided to cycle to the lake. An hours riding in the heat wasn't the best decision a day before the race. If that didn't wipe me out, the coach back to Frankfurt and the 2 mile walk in the heat to put my run gear in T2 certainly did.

We ate in the (air conned) Intercontinental and I grabbed an early night (and a few more showers).

the obligatory pre race finish chute photo
I woke at 2:30, ate a bagel with peanut butter, 2 bowls of porridge with apple sauce and a chocolate carb/protein shake, got dressed and caught the 4:00 bus with dad to the lake. We had a 30 minute wait before they opened transition before I could pump the tyres and get the bottles and bars on the bike.
A welcome shower helped an unwelcome wait

I managed to get a 15 min warm up swim before the 6:50 start. I felt pretty calm pre race, just joking with dad, explaining to him what was happening and just taking it all in.
clearly the post race banquet couldn't come soon enough

Swim 1:02:37 - Non wetsuit PB
thats me - in the red cap!

The water temperature was 27° and 500 age groupers (with proven history of faster swim times) went off at 6:50, the masses started 10 mins later.

The first 750m was a real battle and breathing was random with my head out of the water more than it was in. By the 2nd 750m things calmed down a bit and I was able to get in my stride. The swim had an Australian exit at 1500m before getting back in for the remaining 2800m, at this point I was 41st in AG. This 2nd loop was much more productive and I was able to progress well selecting some fast feet to follow. I exited the swim 29th in AG. 

Below is some awesome drone footage of the swim start!

I was initially concerned about the non-wetsuit swim and going by the audible groan when it was announced at the briefing, I was not alone. I had tested wearing my training buddy's (Grant) smaller trisuit over my sleeved trisuit, with the sleeves wrapped around my waist. This is kind of what the pro's who wear sleeved suits and swim skins do in non-wetsuit swims, just costing £200 less. I had tested this at the local lake back home to be 4 mins slower over the 3.8K distance - glad I did now!

time to get those legs working

T1 4:36
Exiting the swim you have a lengthy sandy hill climb then you grab your blue bag, change in the tent, run to your bike, mount after the line then you are off.

Bike 4:54:11 - IM PB
the fast and flat (compared to Kent) bike course was awesome 

The bike course is a 7 mile stretch to Frankfurt then 2 laps each with 3 hills. Despite the names (Beast, Hell & Heartbreak , the hills really aren't that tough but they do kill your rhythm and should be ridden conservatively. The bike course is fast, undulating in places and I found the aid stations to on the whole be well spaced. This race generates a lot of local support and the hose pipes were really appreciated. There was a cobbled section which helped jettison some water bottles (and my pit stop).

pushing up the cobbles

I had a carb drink between the arms for the first hour and a concentrated bottle of carbs behind the saddle which I used for the last 4 hours washed down with water. I grabbed 2 bottles at each aid station, one to drink, one to cool with. I also had a carb bar at half way. The Fusion sleeved Tri suit was awesome for this race, it stayed wet after a dousing and offered a large amount of cooling and sun reflection.

comfortable and fast enough

I was expecting to hold a rehearsed NP of 235 watts. This wasn't realistic in the heat but my NP of 218 watts still produced a good bike split. I started the bike leg in about 30th AG and finished in 8th. In doing so I passed about 130 bikes.

There were a lot of drafting penalties being dished out. Every time the penalty tent was passed, 2-3 athletes were there frustratingly taking a 'time out'.

A triathlon first for me..... I managed to pee on the bike. It was on a long decline and required a lot of concentration and 'waterfall visualisation'. That will teach the drafter behind me!

T2 4:36
After dismounting, your bike is taken from you and it's then time to grab your run bag, change in the tent (apply sun screen) drop off your bag and go!

Run 3:36:42 
each step is a step closer
The run course takes in 4 equal laps which are flat other than the 2 bridges every lap. It's run on a mixture of tarmac and gravel and the are some sections in the shade. This is where the temperature really became a factor. It's been reported that the shade temperature hit the 40's and was Germanys hottest day on record. The hot air was the biggest problem. A run PB was out of the question and just finishing was the only sensible goal. 

Weeks vs Frodeno

After lap 1, Faye told me I was in about 8th in my AG and with 10 Kona slots available, I knew I had to just keep plodding on. My speed plummeted rapidly and I gave up looking at my garmin. I just ran from aid station to aid station and followed the following mantra - hose down, drink one cup of water, cool with another two and put ice under cap and up sleeves. This worked pretty well.

With all the water, my trainers were constantly wet. My inner soles had crumpled into a ball under the soles of my feet but strangely it didn't bother me as the heat was such a bigger problem and stopping to sort shoes out would have been unbearable.

I didn't really feel I would complete the race until the last lap. I tried to pick things up at the 20 mile mark but it wasn't happening. I kept an eye out and didn't appear to have been overtaken so was hoping that my time would be good enough.

I sprinted the finish line chute, managed to hear Faye above the crowds and mustered up a leap for joy across the finish line. As soon as I had landed, the body just said 'that's enough now' and switched off. The 30 mins after that was a bit of a blur. I do remember Faye telling my my result but I think I was too spent to take it in.

The best feeling!

So with an anchor of a medal around my neck (it's massive), it was - pick up the bike, eat, drink and off to watch the athletes come in under the rather cruel 15hr cut off. There were quite a few coming in at this time, as it was such a gruelling (and hence slow) race. During the run, I did see a lot of runners on their backs being treated and the sound of ambulance sirens was pretty much constant. 

On Monday, dad & I went to the award ceremony where we ate and marvelled at the Pro athletes as they collected their awards. It was also reassuring to see that overall, the times were 20-30 mins slower than previous years. Interestingly if I had been 1 year older (and in M45 cat), I would have been crowned a European AG category champ, I guess I can only blame my parents for that one. When the Kona slot allocation came, I dutifully jumped up, jogged to the stage and handed over $850 to WTC. 

So Ironman #3 in the bag with #4 only 3 months away. I initially felt I coped well with the heat but by Tuesday (36 hrs post race), I showed classic signed of heat exhaustion (high temp, shivers, dizziness and muscle cramps). So a valuable lesson there... Hydrate before, during and AFTER the race.

The Good
  • Nutrition pre and during race seemed to worked well
  • Non-wetsuit swim went well despite not having a swim-skin
  • Cooling strategies worked especially with the Fusion Tri suit
  • It seems I CAN race well in the heat after all
  • I'm getting better at racing by feel, rather than by data
  • I never gave up, never!
  • Got away with no toilet breaks (peed on the bike)
  • Absolutely NO sunburn
  • Maybe the shaved legs worked after all Faye?

The Bad
  • Be a bit more aggressive at start of swim
  • Glue inner soles in run shoes
  • Hydrate after the race
  • Learn to believe in myself

come on Canyon, this age grouper needs some sponsorship!

Final thoughts
I really wasn't expecting to qualify this year after the slot reduction and factoring in the excessive temperature and non-wetsuit swim. I think in hindsight the pressure this took away made the race more enjoyable.

It's a real revelation to me that I can handle heat and it gives me good vibes going forward. 

Now the K issue. The chance to race at the World Championships in Kona Hawaii. It looks like from now on,   the planning and financial strain of the trip could quite possibly be harder than the race itself. Lets face it, it's a nice problem to have to solve though and i'm very grateful to be in this position.

I need to thank my support crew (Dad, Faye and the kids), who had a tough weekend and I know they suffered out there in the heat with me. For anyone who has embarked on a race project such as ironman can testify, its a selfish ambition and cannot be successfully completed without the support, commitment and sacrifice of those around us. I also need to thank my training partners, especially Grant, who I have shared so many hours of training with over the last year. I am now fully committed to helping you reach your goals now - I owe you one!

Dad enjoying about 20 degrees less - proud crew member

Just a final note:
Ive just found out that due to the heat, there was a 35% DNF rate at the race and that sadly at least one athlete died after finishing (a 30 year old male brit). This really hits home. I cannot comprehend how his family who were no doubt there supporting him can come to terms with this tragedy which occurred when he was in the pursuit of his dreams, my family and I wish them well.