IM Austria race report - 112 mile bike

I think we can all agree that it takes a great amount of fitness to ride a bike for 112 miles. It doesn’t matter if you are riding 15mph or 25 mph because it takes a great effort to power your body for 4+ hours in order to turn two wheels, continuously, to move your body and machine in a forward motion. Throw in wind, heat, rain, rolling hills, descends, bumpy roads, potholes, etc. and it takes more than good fitness to ride smart (with a fit body) for 112 miles.

But the Ironman is more than being fit enough to ride your bike 112 miles.

The Ironman is not a bike race (if you don’t believe me, ask Karel). In bike racing, your primary focus is on the other riders and staying with them. There is nothing "individual" with a bike race for if you are not with the leaders or the pelton, well you are not in the bike race and unlike triathlons, there are no finisher medals in bike racing. A triathlon, unlike bike racing, is all about an individual effort. If you forget to focus on yourself, you will find yourself racing outside your abilities or perhaps, not working toward your pure potential. 

The Ironman is more than being a good cyclist for it is a day of swimming, biking and running. Therefore, the human body must be trained in three sports in order to swim, bike and run. In other words, once you exit the 1.2 mile swim portion of an Ironman, the bike is not about proving how fast you can be while riding 112 miles but instead, how strong and efficient you can cycle in order to run a marathon off the bike.

Our training for Ironman Austria over the past 1.5 months was a wee bit different than my last 7 Ironmans. Ok, more than 4000+ feet different.

Since moving to Greenville, SC from Jacksonville, FL, we never ride without an elevation change. Almost every ride that we do, from 90 minutes to 5 hours, includes at least 3000 feet of climbing, with the majority of our longer rides around 5000-6500 feet of climbing.

Because of this great stress on the body, we were able to perform many intervals throughout our "local" rides (especially longer rides) based on our riding terrain. I never saw an average speed for a ride more than 17.5 mph and most of my rides were around 16.5-17mph. Thus, our ability to incorporate our “train smart” philosophy into our IM Austria prep after moving to Greenville was quite simple for we were never big fans of riding for distance or chasing an average speed during a ride. Our power files were larger than while riding on the flat roads despite many opportunities to “rest” our legs while descending from a climb.

Over the past few years, I have found myself recognizing how much easier it is for my body to race on hilly courses. Now don’t get me wrong…..hills are very taxing on the body but they present ample time to pace an effort and perform “intervals” with "rest" while riding. 

I believe that athletes must be strong to ride on hills in a triathlete but not necessarily fast. And for those who enjoy hill riding but want to be faster, the goal is to not ride more but instead, to become more powerful while on the bike and above all, improve your skills on the hills/descends. The Ironman is not about speed but instead, who fatigues the least by the finish. Therefore, the Ironman race requires more than great fitness on the bike (or swim or run) but instead, knowing how to pace your day with your current level of fitness, all while staying mentally strong and consuming adequate sport nutrition to support metabolic needs during the bike and to fuel for the upcoming run and to minimize/avoid GI distress. Let’s also not forget that a course that has changing terrain requires the athlete to troubleshoot every situation for it is likely that there will be obstacles during the day on a “challenging” course, from changing temperatures and weather conditions to residual fatigue.

Ironman Austria bike course (1 loop shown above)

Karel and I rode around 42 miles of our 56 mile bike course (1 loop) on the Thursday preceding the race. This gave us a great opportunity to not only enjoy the beautiful sights of Austria (pics here), but also to get to know our terrain and how we would pace our own race on race day. Simply put, Ironman Austria (like most of my other challenging Ironman races) had a bike course that was challenging with the climbs but also presented plenty of opportunities to be fast with appropriately timed downhills. 

I never thought I’d say this but the 5300 total feet of climbing at Ironman Austria (yep – our “fast” course was filled with elevation gains) was not as challenging as I had imagined it would be for we ride much more difficult courses in our new hometown of Greenville. The main difference between our Greenville bike routes and the IM Austria bike course (aside from a closed course on race day) was that IM Austria had a great flow of climbing and descending so that with every climb, there was a great opportunity to recover. Although the IM Austria course was challenging, Karel and I were given the opportunity to race smart on race day.

On race day, we used our cycling skills for climbing/descending (obviously, Karel has much more experience in this area but I have been forced to become a more skillful rider in Greenville), we made sure to race safe and abide by race rules (no drafting) while riding with others on the same course, we love having electronic shifting which makes shifting gears efficient and easy (in aero bars and base bars as well as while standing), we enjoy training with power but we also know how to perceive our effort,  having a proper RETUL bike fit for an efficient and powerful position on the bike, we trust our well-practiced sport nutrition and we love climbing and on top of all the ways that we love to race smart, we trained smart for race day without risking injury or fatigue and thus we were both able to take a few risks on a perfect day of racing and race to our full potential.
Despite not planning 1 training ride over 100 miles in the past 7 months (my longest ride was 5:40, 93 miles), I felt extremely prepared for this race. 

After exiting transition area, I made a sweeping left turn to the turnaround which was flooded with spectators behind the barricades. This turn came soon after exiting transition area and then it was only a few miles until I made another turn around. Although this time, it was a right turn around as we had moved from the right to the left side of the closed road. I found myself with mostly male triathletes in front and behind me but there was plenty of room on the road to get my legs into a good rhythm. For this race, because of all the climbing on race day and my last 1.5 months of training only on hilly terrain, I felt as if having a power goal range was not going to work to my advantage. The effort had to feel right and with my experience in Ironman racing, I knew where I could take risks and where I would need to hold back and most of all, I needed to be sure I checked in with myself frequently as I also stayed consistent with my fueling.

I had my Garmin Edge 500 set on my normal interval screen so I could focus on my 3sec power, normalized lap power (my main gauge of how I am pacing myself), average speed, lap speed, current cadence and lap time. I did not wear a HR monitor in this race as it is not beneficial to how I pace my race. Every 30 min or so, I would hit LAP so that I would only focus on 30 minutes at a time over my 5+ hour race. This allowed me to go primarily by feel but every time I looked down at my screen or hit my lap button, I could check-in with myself to see how I was pacing myself. Certainly, if I was pushing watts 50+ higher (per normalized lap) than what I am use to, then I would need to back off. But if I was happy with how I was feeling and my watts were showing me favorably numbers to reflect my current level of fitness, I went with it and carried on.
My watts are always higher while climbing (especially since I prefer to climb out of my saddle with more body weight on the top of my pedal stroke) so the key for my ability to control my normalized power while riding hilly courses all comes down to pacing myself on all areas of the course. 

As for nutrition, I grabbed water at every aid station and once I finished my first INFINIT sport bottle, I tossed it at the aid station in the tossing zone and kept water on my bike. I made sure to finish my sport bottles every 75 minutes while consuming additional 16-24 ounces of water (or so) between the aid stations (and using for cooling to help reduce core temp). 

The day started off with cloudy skies and I knew there was a chance for rain and wind. This doesn’t bother me for it just presents another opportunity for me to use my trained body to race smart. I have seen many fit and fast athletes waste a great race day performance on just chasing a goal time or expecting more out of their body or when comparing fitness to others, instead of using current fitness to race smart with what the day presents. 

On our race day, the average temperature of the entire bike was around 67 degrees and we had a mix of sun, clouds and rain along with wind. There was a lot to battle on race day but I stayed focus on my 30 minute intervals so that I could simply break down the race into practical sections to race.

The first part of the course is fast. You are simply flying on twisty roads with a few bumpy climbs on smooth roads. I felt great on this section and this gave me a lot of confidence for the middle section of the loop which includes the longer/steeper climbs.

The course was lined with spectators at the popular sections of the course (climbs) as well as in towns and villages. There was a lot of crowd support which was great. I made sure to smile at all the doggies on the course and to moo and nay at all the wildlife (I hope they understood my English). 

There was not a lot of chatting between athletes on the course so I could tell that the athletes were taking this race very seriously. When speaking to another German athlete that we became friends with, he mentioned that because there are not of European Ironman races compared to North America, all the fast athletes flock to the races. So whereas there may be 10-15 top athletes at every North America Ironman, it's like putting all of those athletes from those races at one race and making them all race against each other. The competition was fierce at Ironman Austria!

Additionally, this course was not technical but with so much terrain changes and a few rough patches of road and the amazing jaw-dropping views, you had to stay sharp the entire time. I was happy we rode the course ahead of time and took time to enjoy the scenery for on race day I was focused on my race.

I wasn’t passed by many women which made me feel as if I was riding strong. I felt good and when I got to the first climb, I heard a voice behind me “Great job Babe!”
YIPPE!!!! Karel!!!!

What a great place for Karel to catch me from the swim for as we were climbing we were able to chat for a brief minute which made me super happy. Karel told me about his swim and that he was super happy with how it went but equally happy that it was over and he survived the mass start. He asked me about my swim and I told him I almost broke an hour and he said that was great. Then he was off on the climb and all I could see was the back of his Trimarni kit riding away in the distance.
Karel took a lot of risks on this bike course and he really pushed hard on all sections - climbing and powering down the hills (and his sub 5 hour time showed it!)

Karel said that by the start of the 2nd loop, he started to feel a bit low in energy but thankfully he was able to get over it. As for me, I felt good on the first loop but even better on the 2nd loop!
Although I was pushing and listening to my body, I really tried to hold back on the first 56 miles because I knew that there would be a chance of getting tired from miles 80-100 (after 4 hours of riding + 1 hour of swimming) and also, I knew it would get windy on the second loop as we were riding through many open valleys.

The course is two loops but is broken into two loops, a small loop and then a larger loop which connect in a small town/village away from the transition area. Every part of the course has something different and although nothing too technical, this course really requires good skills and power. Because Karel and I missed a turn on our pre-ride of the course, we didn’t experience the 1.5 mile climb that occurred around mile 40 or so of the bike (not positive on this distance of where the climb occurred) so we both were wondering what the body would feel like while riding this climb (for every climb is different). There was a steep but moderately short climb that first woke up the legs and then came the climb.  I was climbing, and climbing and climbing and surely, out of gears by the start of the climb. This was one loooong climb and my speed for the climb was well under 7 mph. Thankfully the crowd support alongside an on-site DJ made me smile during the climb. There was one short section when I could sit down and pick up my cadence a bit (and shift down one gear) but then it was right back up again for the last two steep sections of this long climb.

But what comes up, must come down. Weeeeeeee. After a super fun descend (with a few small “ups”) and then a few miles through valleys and villages, it was time to make the left hand turn into town to start the second loop.

Because I felt as if I held back on the first loop by my perceived exertion and had been doing really well with keeping up with my nutrition (the cooler temps made for a happy gut/digestion), I was wondering what my body would do in the 2nd loop. Gloria always tells me not to jump ahead with my thoughts on race day and I always listen but this time, instead of questioning how I would feel on the 2nd loop, I actually look forward to the 2nd loop for I was ready to start racing!

After I made the turn around outside of transition area and welcomed lots of screams by the fans and volunteers, I was out for the last loop and I was ready for 56 miles to push and to take a few more risks. 
Whereas Karel pushed from the start of the bike to the finish (he never wanted to ease up), I tried to be a bit more conservative on the first loop. By the 2nd loop, I found myself passing guys (although still being passed by plenty) and keeping a few strong girls in my view. With the last 56 miles a thing of the past, I kept my mind focused on the last part of my 112 mile ride, feeling as if this was the start of my 112 mile ride. 

I was having SO much fun on the bike. Even with the rain coming down (it wasn’t a downpour) on and off for around 30 miles or so of my 2nd loop (and on the big climb and several descend), I still was loving this bike ride. 

I had to pee 3 times on the bike and saved it for the downhills for it was the only time I could stop pedaling. I lost some of the girls that I had in my view when I was relieving myself while riding but I couldn’t keep holding it in for it was so hard to pedal strong with a full bladder. Karel also peed several times on the bike. We were both well hydrated J

I finished all 4 of my bottles on the bike as well as 2 gels and 2 additional bottles of water from the aid stations. I felt so good on the bike and for the first time in a long time, was really feeling confident for my run……despite not a lot of high volume run training (my longest run since Kona in October 2012 was 14 miles). 
Karel had his 3 bottles of custom INFINIT mix + 1 gel + 2 bananas + 1 bottle of water + a few bottles of ISO (sport drink from Power bar)  - taking sips of the sport drink as needed.
Karel is a lot more flexible with his fueling regime compared to me but he does rely on his INFINIT (liquid calories) as his primary nutrition for training/racing. 

As I was riding into town, I mentally checked in with myself to address anything and everything that may impact my pacing on the run. My body and mind felt good and this was a great thing. The day was simply perfect for fast racing but it takes more than a fast and fit body to race well in an Ironman. 

As I was nearing the transition area, I stretched my hips a bit (although I had done that plenty with all the climbing on the course and getting out of the saddle), took my last few sips of my customized INFINIT sport drink, poured a little water on my head for cooling and spun my legs to the dismount line. 

After I dismounted my bike, I took off my cycling shoes and carried them with my bike to my bike rack. As I ran by Karel’s bike (his shoes still on the pedals) I was so excited to see him on the run…. I just didn’t know when. 

As I racked my bike, I saw 4 other bikes in my rack. Not knowing how many girls in my AG started in the first wave, I was really excited about the chance to place top 10 in my first international Ironman. There were no body markings in this race so the only way I knew my competition was from the bib numbers. I checked the range of numbers for my AG in the athlete guide and also the bib numbers had age groups.

As I was nearing the changing tent, I made a quick stop in the port-a-potty to fully relieve my bladder. Because the potties on the run course in an IM are always hit or miss if they will be full or empty, I took advantage of plenty of potties in transition area. Karel also had a stop at the potty in T2. Neither one of us had any GI issues on race day, just simply full bladders from being hydrated. 

As I ran to my run bag in T2, I turned around my bib number and then entered the women’s changing tent. There was only 2 other women in the tent so plenty of room. I then took off my cycling helmet and cycling shoes and put on my run shoes (with quick release clasp). I put on my dad’s corvette hat and instantly felt ready to run from his presence on my head. I grabbed my baggy with my two gel flasks with NAPALM powder in each flask and water (a bit more than 100 calories in each flask) and I was off. 
I did not sprint out of transition but instead, I walked to drop off my T2 bag with cycling contents inside) and then proceeded with a jog and then with very fresh-feeling legs, once I stepped behind the T2 line, I was officially starting my run. I hit lap on my Garmin 910 for the multi sport function to change to run and I switched my screen to my run interval screen and I was off running to start the end of my Ironman Austria day…..only  26.2 miles until the finish! Now to find Karel!

I checked the total time on my watch as I was leaving transition area and the time was around 6:35-6:40 or so (from what I can remember). Ok time to do some math....if I can run a 4 hour marathon that will put me around 10:40, just 2 minutes off my time at Kona in October (which was a PR). But if I run a 3:45 (my best IM run time is 3:48 and I have always wanted to run under 3:45), that's 10:25 and a HUGE PR for me. Could I actually do this with my body and mind?
OK, no doubting myself....it's time to take some risks and run for a PR!

Karel stats: 
112 mile bike (180km) – 4:56:23 total time 
Average speed – 22.59mph (36.44km/h)
Division rank: 38th after bike
Overall rank: 202 after bike
Gender rank: 193 after bike

25.2km – 40.43km/hr (25.06mph)
35.5km – 34.46km/hr (21.37mph)
55.4km – 39.65km/hr (24.58mph)
64.5km – 32.18km/hr (19.95mph)
92km – 37.16km/hr (23.04mph)
112.4km – 35.62km/hr (22.08mph)
122.7km – 32.36km/hr (20.06mph)
142.6km – 37.25km/hr (23.09mph)
151.7km – 30.36km/hr (18.82mph)
180km – 36.13km/hr (22.4mph)

Fun facts: 
Karel passed 143 males in his age group on the bike. He passed 649 athletes on the bike and he passed 596 males on the bike. Way to go Karel in your 2nd Ironman triathlon!!

Marni stats: 
112 mile bike (180km) – 5:29:07 total time 
Average speed – 20.3mph (32.82km/h)
Division rank: 6th after bike
Overall rank: 699 after bike
Gender rank: 34th after bike

25.2km – 36.61km/hr (22.69mph)
35.5km – 31.11km/hr (19.28mph)
55.4km – 35.38km/hr (21.93mph)
64.5km – 27.72km/hr (17.18mph)
92km – 32.41km/hr (20.41mph)
112.4km – 33.02km/hr (20.47mph)
122.7km – 31.19km/hr (19.33mph)
142.6km – 34.33km/hr (21.28mph)
151.7km – 26.25km/hr (16.28mph)
180km – 32.82km/hr (20.234mph)

Fun facts: 
I was passed by 3 girls in my age group on the bike. I was passed by 396 triathletes on the bike and I was passed by 8 women on the bike. 
Time to see how many people I can run down!