7/9/14

IM Austria race report - 26.2 mile run




Do you ever find yourself with a theme when it comes to training or racing?
My past 7 Ironman races could easily be compared to a horse race. Many times, the bets are placed on the horse who looks “fast” or embodies readiness from his past few races in the season. Sure, we know that some horses have more experience than others but our society many times associates those who look the part as those who are most successful. 

More often than not, I have found myself going into races underprepared and thus bets were not placed on me nor was I a favorite to be on the podium (or qualify for Kona).

Although I have gone into many races feeling as if my training was unfavorable to a great race day performance, never have I had a pity party before a race and felt as if, woe is me, I wish I could have, would have  or should have. I accept the demands of training for a 140.6 mile event, especially as a competitive age group triathlete who is balancing life (and it’s many stressor and uncontrollable) with training myself to be physiologically and physically prepared by race day.
Many athletes place heavy expectations on themselves not because they only expect a lot out of themselves but they feel pressure to perform to impress or to meet expectations of others (whether they are there or not).

I find that athletes experience a flood of emotions before and during races and many times, immediately after. Not always are these emotions positive or constructive to race day.

The Ironman requires a lot of training and for many athletes, there are great expectation for race day simply because an athlete feels 100% ready by reflecting on putting in the work through complete sacrifice and dedication over the past 6+ months. Endurance athletes must understand that the race day scenario can go a number of ways depending on proper fueling and pacing on race day specifically dependent on the state of mind and health of the mind prior to the race.

Many times, an overly confident and extremely prepared athlete can, unfortunately, experience a subpar performance that does not reflect training because he/she simply trained too much or not in a way that allowed him/her to know how to handle the demands of putting all the pieces together on race day (ex. pacing, nutrition, mental focus). The emotional let-down that is experienced after the race can be devastating and most times, is not advantageous for the athlete to quickly try to bounce back and try again to finish unfinished businness. Healing the mind and body takes time.

This scenario may not be any easier to handle than the feelings of worry, nervousness and fears of being unprepared for the challenge ahead. The unknowns coupled with conviction that the body is undertrained (for whatever reason), can be extremely uneasy to an athlete who is about to embark on a 140.6 mile journey that may last 8-17 hours.

With (now) 8 Ironman finishes behind me and the achievement of starting and finishing every Ironman I have registered for, I have found myself taking many paths that have led me to the same starting destination. Oddly, each time with a different result.

Making smart decisions with my body over the past few years has allowed me to achieve, what I would consider successful performances when the odds were against me. This year was all about creating a balanced and effective training plan to boost the odds that by race day (in all of my planned races) that I would arrive healthy and injury free.

This season I have been extremely careful to listen to the feedback of my own body and to train hard in a very smart way and recover even harder to ensure that workouts could be repeatable. This is something that is extremely difficult for any competitive endurance triathlete who finds great enjoyment out of pushing the body and for the obvious reasons, loves to swim, bike and run. 

My ultimate goal this season was to be very attentive as to how my body reacts to every single training session and to not let my focus turn to what other athletes are doing but instead, direct all energy on myself, my own goals and my own ability to stay consistent with hard work. Thus, my weekly training load was not based on a rigid training schedule based on total miles or hours but instead creating a strong foundation through consistent training and then letting my mind be my only limiter on race day.

I arrived to Ironman Austria with a body that had only completed 14 miles as my longest run since October 2013 at the Ironman World Championship when my long day was completed by running a marathon. This wasn’t because I was lazy, or that I do not like running or due to an injury but instead, one hour and 50 minutes of running was the most consistent amount of stress I was able to put on my body without setbacks and to encourage proper recovery for upcoming days/weeks of training. When we wrote my IM training plan (which was planned with our two half IM races to get faster before going longer), I originally planned two long runs of 2 hours (or 16 miles - whichever came first) with one of them off a moderately hard bike. However, due to unexpected events, recovering from races, traveling, my dad's passing, moving, etc. just accomplishing the run wasn't the issue for I could easily squeeze it in and make it happen. I was simply unable to train smart during those times and get my run training in alongside focus on good fueling, sleep, stress management, stretching, etc. I fully believe that there are way too many endurance athletes who just focus on getting in the workouts instead of thinking about how they are taking too many chances by not focusing on the other necessary ways to train smart besides just getting in the miles. A sick, sleep deprived, stressed or injured body can not adapt to progressive training stress.
I simply ran out of available time to run any longer of a distance and the 14 miles that I ran was effective, strong and a workout that I could easily recover from. Simply put, the body gets fitter with repeatable stress and not just one or two key workouts which may only be performed to build confidence and may actually do more harm than good. 

Any more weekly or solo running, and I may not have been able to go into Ironman Austria with legs that were strong and healthy to run. How far and how fast could I go on race day? Well, from my experience, if the mind is strong and the body is healthy, you may surprise yourself that even you can beat the odds when you take a chance and trust yourself on race day.

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As I exited transition area (which was .2 miles total from bike in to run out per my Garmin), I was unaware of what was to come for the next 26.2 miles. The common question of “when will my quads begin to scream” was tossed around in my brain but since Karel and I were not familiar with this two loop course, I was excited to see where the next 26.2 miles was going to take my body so I forgot about the pain that I would eventually have to battle.

With my two NAPALM gel flasks in my hand, I started my first small loop (essentially and out and back with only repeating a small section of the same run course) which was the first to-do for my day. With no expectations as to how I would or wanted to run this course, I just took a chance and just went by feel. Oddly enough, Karel did the same thing for perfect race day conditions provided an avenue to taking small risks through perceiving effort, with good possibilities of positive outcomes.Certainly, with taking risks comes knowing how to overcome obstacles. 

The sun was hidden behind the clouds and the weather was comfortable. Body temp was going to rise regardless of the weather for the marathon requires a full body effort. My pace felt good to start the run but perhaps with a fenced off path of screaming spectators all around me, alongside running in my dad’s favorite hat, was making me feel as if I had wings (despite not drinking any of the Red Bull on the course). 

The aid stations were not placed at every mile but instead every 2.5K. 
This was something to be mentally and physically/nutritionally prepared for on race day. Just like in training, my walk breaks are strategic to help postpone fatigue and to keep me mentally sharp for as long as possible and to ensure that I was able to get in ample fluids. I never have a time as to how long or short I need to walk but instead, I am walking in a proactive and reactive manner based on my energy and the course. 

My Garmin was set to autolap every mile which was fine because I am not bothered by my changing lap average pace (which slows each mile) when I walk for I find that my average pace (for the entire run) is rarely affected by walking unless my walking becomes longer and longer or I have an unplanned stop. 
I really didn’t focus too much on my watch and I avoided switching the page to see my total run time. There’s something mentally exhausting about seeing a time on your watch and still having SO much more time to go. I love gadgets but you have to known how to use them right and in an advantageous day. I really wanted this run to be all about me and what my body could do, not what my Garmin thought it could do. 

Just like in training, I broke this race down into intervals with an effective run/walk strategy to keep me smiling as long as possible (that was my first goal of this run was to try to smile the entire time because really, I was so grateful for my health on this race day).



After hitting the first aid station, I found myself just jogging through for it really wasn’t a walk. It’s so hard to stop the momentum at the beginning of a race especially with fans all around but I knew that being proactive would help me from having to be overly reactive later in the race. I made sure that I took advantage of the 2.5K "interval" stops and to not rush through them. 

Nearing the second aid station, I spoted a neon yellow and black kit and I instantly knew it was Karel. My smile became rather big at that time. Karel was nearly 40 minutes or so ahead of me from my calculations and he looked great. I think he was surprised to see me on the run course and he gave me a smile that I could tell was a message for “you look great babe.” I yelled "great job Karel!"
Karel had his Nathan fuel belt (which he uses in all his runs and runs off the bike) with four flasks, each filled with OSMO hydration for sugar/electrolytes. He also relies on aid station fuel - he took in water/ice, ISO (sport drink on course) and coke (and he had 1/2 banana).
Karel also walked almost every aid station as well. 

I really enjoyed this run course for it had all types of terrain for my legs and a mixture of sights (and smells) as well. After running on the path in Europa Park, we hit a side street and headed to a small town through a series of turns (most of which were left hand turns and many of which were sharp). We made one turn on to grass and then gravel which was very welcomed to me. My pace was relatively steady despite the uneven surfaces once and I really enjoying a lighter pounding on my body that had been moving for almost 7 hours. The town of Krumendorf had a lot of beautiful sights. 



The aid stations were stocked and the volunteers were great. Because the aid stations were spread out a bit further than what I am use to at races (although at most races they are rarely exactly 1 mile apart), I chose to sip on my Napalm in between the aid stations (just a swig of liquid calories) and to use cold water for hydrating at every one the aid stations for sipping and cooling my head/body. Walking each aid station for 10 seconds or so (just enough that I could stop, sip, stretch if needed and mentally sharpen up) allowed me to stay focused even when the going got tough.

The crowds were great and I loved the cheers of “hopp, hopp, hopp” and “Supa!” from the Austrian spectators. I found myself passing many males and although I was not chasing anyways, I was feeling very mentally strong with my ability to pass so many guys in the first part of the run course.
I spotted a few female athletes (Kelly Fillnow and Kat) that I knew which was nice to see a few familiar racers. I did miss hearing people say my name, even though it was on my bib. I really enjoy having people on courses who say your name (or know you) so I am really looking forward to IMWI!

My pace was averaging around 8 min/miles which felt comfortable and doable. I made a few bargains with myself for I took a chance to not hold back on my effort and instead just let my body run a pace that felt organic. Although I lacked endurance training that may have given me more distance under my legs prior to race day, the pace that I was holding was absolutely doable based on my training and that gave me a lot of confidence that I was actually able to execute on the run.

As I was nearing the Europa park, I was really looking forward to this next loop (out and back) of the run for it was taking me into down town Klagenfurt which I new the crowds would be extra cheerful (and perhaps due to several rounds of beer, which always makes for even louder cheers).


Still feeling strong, I continued to walk the aid stations and maintain an average pace for the run of around 7:55-8:10 min/mile. I was super impressed with my ability to feel so fresh and to run so “fast” off the bike that I literally, just ran with it. 
I kept my mind off my legs (which started to give me some hello’s in the quads around mile 8 as I was nearing downtown)  by doing math calculations which is something I often do when I race triathlons (specifically endurance). This race was even more fun because I had an extra calculation with the run distance signs being in kilometers. I was calculating all types of things such as to what pace during the marathon would give me what total run time. I was figuring out what an 8 min/mile, 8:15 min/mile, 8:30 min/mile, etc would give me for a total marathon time and then, without switching screens to my total run time OR total Ironman racing time, I was trying to think about every possible finishing scenario for I knew that this would be a PR type of day….I just didn’t know how much for a total time and if my run would give me my third PR of the day (since I had already had a personal best IM time in the 2.4 mile swim and 112 mile bike).

I wasn’t sure if I would see Karel before I started my next loop and still becoming acquainted with this run course for the very first time, every kilometer was new and exciting. The run course took us on another side street into town and a few shaded areas as we ran under overhead side-street, connecting bridges. The fans were everywhere and this was just a precursor of what was coming in downtown.
My leg received a bit of a shock when I encountered my first and second downhill of this flat run course. Although extremely short and steep of a downhill, this was a bit discomforting to my quads but I welcomed a quick burst in pace.

Once I entered the downtown area, I could hear the fans. Running on cobblestones was just a highlight of this European course for the run course was roped off with fans eating outside at restaurants all along the course. Oh boy did that food smell amazing!! We made a loop in the downtown and this was a total highlight of the run and I couldn’t wait to get back (of course, that would also mean I was on the home stretch of the marathon).

(picture from Ironman Europe)

Still smiling, walking the aid stations and nursing my NAPALM flasks, I had sipped on a few cokes from the aid stations (extremely diluted in the cups from the volunteers which was fine) just to prevent taste bud fatigue. With so much reliance on sport drinks (which necessary electrolytes, fluids and of course, easy-to-digest sugar from maltodextrin and glucose for energy), it would have been extremely easy for me to just ditch my flasks and just use what was on the course based on what I was feeling at each aid station but although I am flexible with my fueling regime during endurance races, I also have to do my best to maintain a consistent intake of electrolytes, fluids and carbs (sugars) in the proper solution to minimize GI distress and to prevent bonking (which are often the two biggest limiters of endurance athletes regardless of how hard/much they trained prior to race day). 



As I entered and exited downtown, I made sure to ring a bell (string attached) that was overhead on an inflatable arch. It was a bit of a jump for me but both Karel and I made sure to ring the bell (along with many other athletes) for each ring was a donation to Pulmonary Hypertension (a main charity for this event).

Nearing Europa park, my pace was slowing just a bit which I expected but I was still rather surprised with how good I felt. Reaching 13 miles was a big confidence booster for this was the first time since my first Ironman that I felt as if I had a really good start to the marathon, especially after biking 112 miles on a challenging course.

(Picture from Google)

I exchanged my empty Napalm bottles (with my last drops consumed right before the special needs section) when a volunteer quickly handed me my bag. I am not sure exactly where SN was placed but I think it was between miles 12-14 (not sure for kilometers on this course but it was as we were exiting Europa Park and I passed it three times, once on the first loop, grabbed it on the second loop and then passed it on the way to the finish).
I stopped as I removed the two NAPALM bottles from a zip lock bag and then continued on running. There was an aid station fairly close to SN so I just used the SN stop as a bonus stop. I was making deals with myself during this entire run and I told myself that if I started to feel tired and with bad run form at mile 8 (or after an hour) that I would take a full 30-60 sec walk break to try to recover. However, I didn’t take (or need) that stop so I used SN as an opportunity to an extra refresher.
Soon after the next aid station, I spotted Karel. He gave me a sign that he was hurting but I continued to smile at him and give him a thumbs up as I yelled “great job babe!”

I started doing some math for Karel and even though he showed me that he was hurting (although he looked great with his form) there was no way that he was hurting as bad as he thought he was hurting. However, Karel did run without any paces for he accidently hit lap on his Garmin somewhere on the bike which started the T2 and then when he hit the lap to start the run, it stopped his watch so he had no pace to follow on the run and simply went by RPE and just was aware of his total time from his time clock on his Garmin (showing the time of the day).

After completing the section on the gravel and grass, the loop around this small town was much more difficult than the first loop. I could tell that my body was getting tired but I made a deal with myself that if I could get to mile 18 and continuing only walking the aid stations (albeit, my walks were getting a bit longer but that helped me run a steady pace still around 8-8:20), then I had free reign to do whatever I wanted for the last 8 miles (of course, that was just a deal I cut myself but I knew I would need to make myself another deal at mile 18 for this race was going way too well to just thrown in the towel because of some expected quad pain. But mentally, I was really looking forward to a bit more of a walk break when I got to mile 18 for I really needed it physically as well.


As I was nearing the last 3K or so into Europa Park, my quads were getting really tired. And on top of that, I need to use the restroom (#2 – but not loose stools or diarrhea, I just needed to go). I was able to hold it until I found an open port-o-potty but I was keeping myself very mentally focused on every hidden bush or tree in case I needed to make an emergency stop.
I felt so relieved when I went to the bathroom (#1 and #2) and I didn’t see this as a bad thing for this was simply a sign that my body was in good health and metabolically, still working normally despite this grandiose stress that I was placing on it since 7am. As I was enjoying this unplanned, yet necessary, pit stop, I was laughing to myself that it felt really good to just sit down but I would have much rather have enjoyed it on a park bench overlooking the water that I ran by on the grassy section.
I accepted that my average pace for the run would drop during my stop (which was probably no more than 2 minutes) and I went into the bathroom with 8:10 min/mile average pace to around 8:18 min/mile. Oh well, it is what it is. 

I saw Karel as I was leaving Europa Park and he was finishing his run. I was so happy for him and totally jealous that he was so fast that he could finish as I was about to start my last loop. But I was a bit concerned because I never saw a finish line chute or arrow so this concerned me as to where on the loop I would make my anticipated turn to the finish line. Oh well, I had a good 7 miles or so to figure it out.


My quads were now on my mind and remained on my mind for the last loop of the run. I still stayed up with my fueling, continuing to sip my NAPALM (although I was partly enjoying it and ready to be done with it so I still knew it was working) in between aid stations, water for cooling/sipping at aid stations and the occasional coke as needed to keep my taste buds happy.

When I got to the first of two short downhills on the run course into downtown Klagenfurt, I could tell that my legs had had quite a beating over the past 18 miles of or so for it was painfully hard to run downhill (of course, this instantly had me concerned about taking the 30 or so small shuffles to get back up the two short, steep downhills on the route back to the finish).

When I arrived to mile 20, I gave myself permission to switch my screen on my watch to see my total time. It was around 9:20 or so whenever I looked at my watch and this was just the motivation I needed to dig really deep (I mean super duper deep for my legs had not ran more than 14 miles in 9 months).

The only thing that I had to do for the last 6 miles was not give up. Done. 
My body was tired and my quads were aching  and it was getting  extremely hard to convince my legs to keep moving one foot in front of the other with good form (as quick as possible to keep from shuffling)  but I am all too familiar with what it feels like in the last 6 miles of an Ironman and I gladly welcomed this pain for it was much easier for my mind to stay strong over some normal marathon pain as oppose to having to deal with running with a recovering injury or a depleted body. Thankfully, with no planned running races this season as part of my season plan, I haven’t had to feel this ache since my last Ironman…long enough to forget this pain that I choose to put on my body to earn my Ironman finisher medal

Amazingly, despite feeling as if my legs were no longer attached to my hips and instead, freely moving as they wished (which is always a scary thing as with every step I just hope that my legs remember how to propel me forward) , I was still passing people, and guys nonetheless.

Oh and those two steep uphills were not so pretty but I managed to shuffle my way up.
As I approached 40 kilometers, I was relieved. I had just 2K to go and all I could think about was where is this finish line? 



I was running alongside another guy and I asked him if he spoke English and he said yes. Then I asked “do you know where the finish line is at?”
He laughed and said “you can’t miss it!”

Um…apparently I have missed it because I saw no finish line sign during my two loop run. 
I tried to follow the man as long as I could (and noticed as I was chatting with him I was passed by a girl which I think was in my age group with only 1 mile to go) but then he picked up his pace and I was not in the mood to sprint for a few seconds to my finish time. Around 25 miles, I had scrolled my watch to total time and I was in complete disbelief for my finish time. From my calculations during the last few miles of the run, I had anticipated a 10:25 finish time because I thought that I ran close to a 3:50ish marathon. Still not knowing what my marathon time was, I was ready for this journey to come to a completion.

Amazingly, as I started what would have been my third loop of the run passed Europa Park, I spotted a big sign that said Second Loop and FINISH. The last 1K was extremely long from the last kilometer sign on the course and that finish line could not have come sooner! It was clearly obvious that the FINISH was to the left but this was the first time that I spotted this sign. Horray…let’s do this body!!!




I took advantage of the aid station right before I ran to the finish line chute along the water and grabbed one last cup of water to rinse myself off and I zipped up my jersey. Out of all the aid stations on the course, this was one that I was not stopping at for my hard work was over and it was time to finish!
Oh euphoria!! Thank you body!!!

The fist pumps were happening well before I could even see the finishing arch. I found myself around a group of guys at the finish line chute but that didn’t stop me from enjoying this experience to the fullest. The fans were screaming and I heard someone say “Great job Marn!!” It was Karel yelling from the sidelines!
I high fived the race announcer and when I crossed the finish line, I finally gave my body permission to rest.

After 10 hours and 17 minutes of racing 140.6 miles and finishing with a HUGE PR run of 3:39 (thank you body SO much!) and a 21 minute Ironman distance PR, I could officially celebrate my 8th Ironman finish and my first international Ironman finish.


I received my medal and although with very shaky legs, I found myself with enough strength to walk to the finish line photographer for my post race photo. I sipped on some water and passed on the hose-rinsing station and just looked out for my Ironman partner in crime.


All dressed and clean, Karel was so proud of my time. Karel was on the sidelines for my very first Ironman when I was 24 at 2006 IMFL when I finished in 11:00:07 and qualified for Kona by winning the 18-24 age group. For me, my personal growth as an endurance athlete has been extremely gratifying and this race was purely the culmination of experience and gratitude for a healthy and injury free body.



I could feel my dad’s presence on race day and although it was extremely sad for me to know that only my mom was tracking me online, I knew that my dad would be so proud of my finish, mostly because I tried to fight just as hard as he did during his 10-month fight with an incurable case of cancer.
Karel said that with my dad’s hat on his head, he was talking to my dad during the entire run. Karel managed to fight extremely hard and he asked my dad many times to help him out during the race. Although my dad didn’t let Karel get away with an easy-feeling race, I know that Karel really pushed his body to the max for not only did he have a huge PR of 9:22 for his second IM (41 minute PR from IM Lake Placid in 7/13) but he pushed harder than he has ever pushed to run an amazingly fast 3:11 marathon! WOW – incredible!


After I could finally hug Karel, I hobbled my way to the Irondome to finally sit down and rest my body (which was slowly reacting to the last 10 hours of stress).


This was absolutely an amazing race venue. We were given a perfect race day to push our bodies, take some risks and really take advantage of our good health by racing smart for 140.6 miles and earning our Ironman finisher medals.

Marni:
Swim 2.4 mile - 1:00:13 (PR)
T1: 5:18
Bike 112 miles - 5:29:07 (PR)
T2: 3:48
Run: 3:39:09 (PR)
Total: 10:17:35
7th AG/57 starters, 31st female, 18th amateur female
21 minute PR (8th Ironman)

Karel:
1:07:10 - 2.4 mile swim (PR)
T1: 4:10
4:56:23 - 112 mile bike (PR)
T2: 3:51
3:11:17 - 26.2 mile run (PR, 9th fastest AG run)
Total: 9:22:51

22nd AG/439 starters, 124th overall

41 minute PR (2nd Ironman)

Whether you think you can or you think you can't, you are right. 



Ironman Austria run and finish fun facts:
Marni:
7th age grouper after the run (I got passed by only one female AG in the last 1K who beat me by about 15 seconds).
I passed 226 athletes on the run
I passed 3 females on the run (31st female after the run)
I passed 223 males on the run :)
I was passed by 170 athletes after I finished the swim.
I was passed by 7 females after the swim.
I was passed by 4 age group females after the swim. 
Splits (per my Garmin, including walking, SN and potty stop)
Mile 1: 7:44
Mile 2: 7:54
Mile 3: 7:57
Mile 4: 8:02
Mile 5: 7:54
Mile 6: 8:00
Mile 7: 8:10
Mile 8: 8:12
Mile 9: 8:13
Mile 10: 8:11
Mile 11: 8:34
Mile 12: 8:12
Mile 13: 8:00
Mile 14: 8:29
Mile 15: 8:29
Mile 16: 8:31
Mile 17: 8:33
Mile 18: 9:30 (potty stop)
Mile 19: 8:48
Mile 20: 9:01
Mile 21: 8:58
Mile 22: 9:20
Mile 23: 9:37
Mile 24: 9:20
Mile 25: 9:01
Total 42.2km (26.2 miles): 3:39.09 (5:11/km, 8:21 min/mile pace)

Karel:
 No Garmin 910XT data available
Total: 42.2km (26.2 miles): 3:11:17 (4:31/km, 7:16 min/mile pace)
He passed 16 age groupers (35-39) on the run. 
He had the 9th fastest AG run.
He passed 78 athletes on the run.
He passed 77 males on the run.
He passed 727 athletes after he exited the water, including passing 673 males.