Well it's pretty hard to follow Darren & Corinna's excellent race reports, but here's another one for you, on my experience of Ironman Austria (finally got around to writing it!!). Hopefully it might be helpful for anyone who is thinking about stepping up to do their 1st ironman soon
Ironman Austria Race Report
Like a lot of other people in the club, I was always eager to try an Ironman one day. I regularly made excuses like “I’m not fast enough”, “It’s not good to put your body under that much pressure”, “I don’t have enough time to train”, etc. There was no chance that sanity was ever going to prevail though. Once the thought of doing an Ironman enters your head, I reckon it’s pretty much impossible to ignore it. Soon the little voice in my head was saying, “You have to give these things a go when you’re lucky to be fit and healthy enough to try them. You never know what’s around the corner, so grab these opportunities when you can”.
So on the back of an enjoyable triathlon season last summer, followed by the Dublin marathon in October, I decided to sign up. I knew a good crew from the club were doing Austria, so it was a no-brainer for me to choose that race. General registration had sold out, so I signed up through the sports agency Nirvana instead. It worked out a bit pricier for me that way, but I felt it was worth it to take part in the same race as the other WTCers. I’ve lost count of the number of times I got as far as the page for entering my credit card details on the Nirvana website, before I’d panic and shut down my browser. Eventually I plucked up the courage to actually hit the ‘Confirm’ button one afternoon in early November. There was no going back once I’d done that. I was committed!!
I trained solidly throughout November and December, with the intention of following a more focused training plan from January. I debated whether or not to get a coach, as a few people had told me it was essential for doing an Ironman. However, I felt that once I had a detailed training plan to follow, that I’d be motivated to stick to it, plus I knew there was a wealth of ironman knowledge within the club that I could draw from. So I decided I’d give it a shot without having a coach, knowing I could always change my mind later if I wanted. I followed a 24 week training plan from the middle of January, which was essentially 3 swims, 3 bikes (including 2 bricks sessions) and 3 runs per week, with a mix of speedwork, hills and endurance. The volume & intensity obviously increased as the months went on, starting off at around 12 hours per week in January and up to 19/20 hours in May. That’s excluding all the extra time spent on eating, research, foam-rolling, laundry, hair washing/drying …. I’d say the profits in Timotei & Loreal have soared this year with all the extra shampoo I used!! I made sure I didn’t ignore my recovery time, so every 4th week I stepped back the mileage & intensity a bit or treated myself to an extra midweek lie-in. Friday was my rest day and I always made sure I took it, even if I wasn’t tired. In terms of the long stuff, my longest swims were 4km, I did around 12 bike spins of 5+ hours (the longest was 7:30 hours, with a 1 hour run off the bike) and around 8 long runs of over 2 hours (including two 3-hour runs).
There were certainly tough days, like when the rain was lashing down all weekend and outdoor spins were replaced with 3 hours on the turbo. Hearing your alarm go off before 6am on a cold, dark January morning is always a bit traumatic, but the main thing is just to get out of bed as quickly as possible, rather than feel sorry for yourself. Thankfully I’m a morning person and don’t need a massive amount of sleep, so I knew that once I was out of bed and moving about, that I’d be ready to face the next training session. I sometimes felt like a total social pariah for heading home early on nights out so I could get up early to train the next day. Every week I was thinking about where I could squeeze in my next training session around work/social commitments, which could sometimes be a bit stressful, but I just kept telling myself it was only temporary and would be worth it when I had a medal around my neck in June.
As the race got closer, I think the cycle was definitely my biggest worry. Throughout my training I was only averaging around 23 or 24kph on the bike, struggling to keep up with the group on spins and even though I was putting in the mileage, everyone around me seemed to be progressing faster. I’d feel awful for holding up the speedier people and I’d come away from the club spins feeling less & less confident each week. I seriously started to doubt if I was able for the race. Eventually I felt I was better off doing some of the long spins by myself for a few weeks. I knew this wasn’t going to make me any faster, but I just felt it would help to keep the self-doubts under control. I could deal with the frustration of getting dropped on club spins after Austria instead!!!
Once the tapering phase started, I was just dying to get over to Klagenfurt. Packing was a week-long exercise and the amount of messages flying back & forth on our WhatsApp training group was insane!!! Poor Conor, Dave & Kevin (who had all done IM Austria before), were kept busy with us newbies asking questions about waiver forms, special needs’ bags, bottles, track pumps, sandwich fillings, suncream. The list was endless! We eventually muddled our way through it though and crossed our fingers that he hadn’t forgotten anything. Race day couldn’t come quickly enough for us now. The training was done, so at this stage it was all about getting to the start line.
I think I probably got around 3-4 hours’ sleep the night before the race. I’m normally a solid sleeper at night, but my mind was racing for the few nights beforehand, mainly from excitement, rather than from nerves. I was constantly thinking of the list of things I’d to do and often ended up jumping out of bed to write down another reminder for myself. Breakfast on race morning was very simple - porridge, toast and coffee. Thankfully I don’t suffer from pre-race nerves so I was all smiles on the morning of the race and couldn’t wait to get going. I met the guys and we headed off to transition to do a quick bike-check, before we dropped off of our special needs’ bags. While I was checking my bike, I stupidly stood on my run special needs’ bag and burst a mini coke bottle. Sandwich, spare socks, plasters ….all soaked in coke now. I just laughed and figured it was probably going to be one of the many things that wouldn’t go to plan that day. Bags all handed in, it was time to get our wetsuits on and make our way to the swim area. I was in the same wave as Corinna so it was great to have someone to chat to before the swim start. The atmosphere at the race start was electric. Music blaring, people cheering, IM branding everywhere!! I just remember thinking how lucky I was to be part of it all. After a quick dip in the lake to warm up, we made our way to the start line with about 5 seconds to spare. A quick shout of “Good luck” to each other and we were off.
I LOVED the swim!!! Couldn’t believe how quickly the time passed, compared to how slow the training sessions had felt in the pool. The lake was warm, crystal clear, and calm and thankfully I avoided any punches or kicks the entire way around. Once I got as far as the first buoy at 1200m, I was starting to overtake some of the lads in the earlier waves, which was a nice little confidence booster. I’d been warned by loads of people that the sun would be blinding on the way back to shore and they were right. Once I rounded the 2nd buoy, I couldn’t see a thing. I stopped a couple of times to see if there was anything I could sight for, but eventually gave up. I looked for the section of water in front of me that had the most splashing going on, as I figured my best option was to just follow the biggest cluster of swimmers and hope they were going the right way. Once we entered the canal, sighting became a lot easier and the crowds of cowbell-waving spectators helped to get the adrenaline pumping. Seeing the swim exit was like seeing an oasis in the dessert. I was so chuffed to know I’d got through the first part of the race. I took a quick glance at my watch as I exited the water and saw 1:18. I’d been expecting to be closer to 1:25 or 1:30 for the swim, so 1:18 was way beyond my expectations. As Eamonn Tilley would say, “Happy Days”!
I felt good on the run up to T1. Grabbed by bag and went through my checklist of things to do. Wetsuit off, helmet on, shoes on, sun cream on! Some lad beside me asked if I’d mind spraying my sun-cream onto him as well. Part of me was a little bit impatient that he’d asked (it was a race after all), but I didn’t want karma to get me if I was looking for help from someone later in the day, so I gave his arms a quick spray, wished him luck and then went hunting for my bike.
I settled into a nice, steady pace early on in the bike. I don’t seem to have any fast-twitch fibres, so there was never really any risk that I’d tear off at some unsustainable speed on the bike. Loads of you will know that I am THEE most nervous descender in the world, but with closed roads and good surfaces, I was definitely able to relax a bit more than on Wicklow roads. I was amazed at how many people I overtook on the climbs. I think that proves how much we benefit from having the hills of Wicklow as our playground. Naturally those people all whizzed past me again as soon as we got onto the descents though. My plan was to eat something everything 20 -30 minutes and drink roughly every 10 minutes. I went through 2 x 750ml bottles of High5 4:1, 2 x 750ml bottles with electrolytes and a 1 x 750ml bottle of water and every 20 -30 minutes I’d have something like a fig roll, half a power-bar, half a banana or some jellies. I had a cheese sandwich and a coconut macaroon in my special needs’ bag at the half-way point which I was craving from around 70km. Tasted amazing!!
The climbs were obviously that bit tougher on the 2nd lap and I spend most of my time counting the kilometres until that last climb, which was at around 155km. There were tons of Irish people taking part in the race, so it was lovely to share a few words of encouragement with athletes from clubs such as 3D, Waterford, Galway, Limerick, whenever we passed each other. I knew the last 25km was pretty much all downhill, so once I got to the top of that climb, I was letting out a few cheers in delight. With a couple of kms to go, my legs felt great and I was surprised to feel myself getting a bit emotional (I didn’t think that would happen until later in the race). Before the race, one of my biggest fears had been that I’d get some sort of mechanical problem with my bike and that I wouldn’t be able to finish the race. With 2 or 3km to go, I now knew that I could always just run to T2 with my bike if anything happened to it, so I was starting to feel more confident that I was going to get an ironman medal in a few hours. I gave myself a reality check pretty quickly though … “You’ve still got the run to go, so it’s not in the bag yet, Don’t screw it up!!”. I’d been expecting a bike time of at least 7:30 hours, so I was chuffed to see a time of 6:49 on my watch as I dismounted the bike. Cycle done & dusted!
T2 felt less manic than T1. I racked my bike, had a quick toilet break and then grabbed my running gear. It was still hot & sunny, so I lashed on some more factor 50 and decided to wear a sun visor. I popped 3 gels onto my race belt as well. Wasn’t sure if my tummy would want them later, but I figured it was better to have them with me, rather than to regret not bringing them. Feeling good, I started the jog out of transition, trying not to think too much about how I now had a full 42km marathon ahead of me. Instead, I just told myself I was off for a jog around Klagenfurt
Before the race, I’d never really been worried about the run. My training had gone well and I’d never struggled with the running section in any triathlon that I’d done before. I naively assumed that the same thing would happen in Ironman. The first 2 or 3km felt ok, not easy, but I figured that was to be expected. “It’ll get easier soon, as the legs loosen up”, I thought. My God, was I wrong! It was hot, I was tired, I wanted some food but I didn’t know what I actually felt like eating. I felt like a cranky toddler!! I just kept moving though. As the run was 2 laps, you got to see the KM markers for the 2nd lap while you were doing your 1st lap, which was very cruel. I was so eager to see everyone from our training group and to know that they were doing ok. I think I saw Kevin first, who was all smiles, then Kathleen, then Ronan and Conor. “Brilliant”, I thought “that’s 4 of the guys on the run safely”. A little while later I spotted Corinna, Dave, Mark and Rodolfo, so it was great to tick more names off the list and to know that they were all getting closer to their medals.
My pace was slowing with each kilometre that passed and the coke, watermelon and orange segments from the aid stations weren’t really helping to re-energise me. I was hurting by 15km, but I was determined to get through the first half of marathon without walking. Leaving T2, I’d been hoping it might be closer to 30 or 35k before the pain would really kick in. I now knew it was happening a lot earlier than that and that I’d a long, tough couple of hours ahead of me.
I’d heard about the bell on the run route and that every time we rang it, money would be donated to charity. Running through the old town, I spotted the bell! The rope looked a little high, but I made an attempt to grab it. Clearly the fatigue had me thinking that I was taller than I am …. I didn’t even get close to reaching it. Hopefully some taller people gave it a few extra rings to make up for me though Shortly after my non-bell-ringing, I spotted Darren and gave him a high 5. I was delighted to see him doing so well, though incredibly jealous that he only had around 3 or 4km to go (I still had another 26km).
The 2nd half of the marathon was just torture for me. My pace was slowing even further and walking breaks started to become more frequent Prior to the race, I’d been hoping that I might do the run in under 4:30 hours, however now I was unsure if I’d even break 5 hours. I felt nauseous and fatigued and could feel my body starting to shut down. I still had the gels on my race belt, but I knew my stomach wasn’t able for them, so I just ditched them, rather than carrying the extra weight. I grabbed some sponges from the aid stations to help cool myself down and basically spent the final 10km doing more walking than running and sipping water & coke, in the hope that they might kick-start my legs again . My brain was frazzled from trying to calculate what my finish time might be. Basic Maths was impossible at that stage. Every so often a group of Irish supporters would give me a cheer and that’d help to get me running again for a few minutes.
With 2kms to go, I spotted Conor again and he gave me a few lovely words of encouragement and told me to relish the experience of crossing the finish line. Hearing that, helped to inject some adrenaline into me again!! I was starting to get excited about finishing now. I also remember an American woman shouting “You’re gonna finish. You’ve got this”. Just what I needed to hear! I figured I must be doing ok if she was saying that to me. At that stage, I could hear the finish-line loudspeaker in the distance and I knew I was almost there. I now also realised that I could probably get under 5 hours for my run if I was able to push myself for the final km. The pain in my legs was starting to subside .... amazing how that happens!! So with the end in sight, I gave it everything I had and sprinted for the finish line. Finish time: 13:24:38! I ran by the cheerleaders, raised my arms in the air, high-fived the MC with his microphone and listened in complete euphoria to hear them call out “You are an Ironman”. Words can’t really describe just how incredible that felt. All those long training sessions throughout the winter were all worthwhile to finally have that medal around my neck. I was an Ironwoman and no one could take it away from me now
Now that things are back to normal, I just want to say a big thanks to everyone from the club for all their advice and encouragement throughout the training and during the race. You’re all legends Also, having so many other club members doing the same race was a MASSIVE support for me. I’d definitely recommend to other club members who might be thinking of doing their 1st ironman to find themselves a few clubmates to race with if possible. The banter on our WhatsApp group was hilarious and there was always someone there to give a few words of encouragement whenever any self-doubt crept in, so thanks Conor, Corinna, Darren, Dave, Kathleen, Kevin, Kim, Mark, Rodolfo and Ronan. Chuffed that you guys all got the medals that you deserved.
So would I do another one? Hell yeah!!
The following user(s) said Thank You: Colm Flood, Darren_S, michaelp, lorrbrac, audreyp, Mick doc
Great report Ciara and well done again - I was there those winter evenings when we were heading home cold from Tilleys sessions and you were going out for a longer run or the Saturdays it was too wet to go cycling you were on the turbo. Just shows the power of the mind the legs were tired on the run but there was no way you were going to give in.
I think Audrey put her finger on it OK! These are dangerously inspirational reports which I really suspect might just gloss over the massive effort and huge investment you guys have made in your build up, whatever about the race. Conor and Corinna have always been 2 metres above the rest of us mortal types as we splashed up and down the pool. Ciara and Rodolfo are two club members I have swam with which sort of gives a perspective to your Ironman journey, to be specific, the point where you left the rest of us behind!
Like the rest of your gang Ciara that's an awesome challenge to take on but you did it and nobody can take that away. Well done and thanks for sharing what seems to have been a rocky journey, well the run leg at least!
Ah lads, you're making me emotional reading these reports! I probably shouldn't be reading them in work!!
Truly inspirational stuff - we all saw how much work went into the training and were all watching the trackers trying to send positive thoughts!! I'm so delighted it went well for you and that you enjoyed it - hugely deserved!! Congratulations again Ironwoman!