IM Austria race report - 2.4 mile swim

Although my alarm was set for 3:45am, my body woke me up at 3:20am. I stayed in bed anxiously awaiting my alarm to get me up so that I could finally start my Ironman race day.

I couldn't believe today was the day that I could FINALLY put all that training to good use and release some bottled-up energy that has been hard to hold on to for the past week.

Karel woke up stiff in his back and I could tell that he was concerned about what his body would let him do on race day. I had taped Karel's back and hip on Friday which made him feel better but I knew he was not feeling even close to 100%. The good thing was that he felt no pain or issues when swimming so for the first time, he was actually looking forward to swimming and not looking forward to the bike (as the bike was causing him some issues in his back since we arrived in Austria).

I woke up with a very nervous belly and the thought of eating was not on my mind. I forced down 2 Clif Bars, a glass of OJ and a banana for a total of around 780-800 calories. I also had around 8 ounce of water.

After I ate, I filled my sport nutrition powdered-filled bottles (bike and run) with cold water and double checked that I had everything I needed for a day full of swim, bike, run.

We all (my mom included) left our place around 4:50am to drive to Minimundus (about 10 minutes away).

We made our walk to the transition area (about a 10 min walk) and it was nice to be around all the other athletes. I think of IM Austria as a European IM World Championship with the level of athletes BUT with a much less tense atmosphere. You would be surprised how many Europeans were drinking beer at the pre-race athlete banquet on Friday!

Karel was not planning to use special needs for this race so he waited for me as I dropped off my bike and run special needs bags just outside the transition area.

Karel walked with me to my bike and pumped up my tires and did one last check to give me the confidence that all was good on my bike for 112 miles of cycling.

After he pumped up my tires, I gave him a kiss and a hug as we both did our own thing to get ready for the race.  

After I put my Garmin 810 and my three bottles (each filled with 300 calories) on my bike, I walked over to my bike bag to double check that it was in the right place and then to my run bag to put my flasks (each with 100 calories of Clif Hydration) in my Nathan Mercury 2 hydration belt.

The volunteers were absolutely amazing in the transition area - they were already cheering for us and with lots of high fives. Ironman Austria does a great job of making the athletes feel extremely special and to remind us that it is our special day.

After I left transition area, I walked over to the big white tent (where we had our banquet and athlete briefing) to put on my Xterra Vengeance women's wetsuit (half way up). I grabbed my new TYR pink Special Ops 2.0 Femme Polarized goggles. I only wore them once in open water to see if I liked them and absolutely loved them. While I normally use Speedo Vanquishers, I really searched for a better goggle for me for open water. I was worried that the non adjustable nose piece would be an issue for my small face but it is the perfect fit with just enough suction around the eyes and a wide lens for sighting. While I purposely only wore them once, I had a perfect 1 hour fog-free swim in open water for my practice swim in Greenville and then twice more when we swam on race week in Lake Worthersee.

I had a throw away plastic bottle of water (about 12 ounces) to sip on and I took a small swig of a Clif Double Espresso gel.

I then dropped off my "Street Wear" bag in my designated bin (with my before/after race clothes, cell phone in a baggy, sandals and extra pair of goggles just in case I needed them).

I ran into my mom and she wished me good luck and I gave her a big hug and thanked her for being there for us today. She's such a big supporter of Karel and me and loves supporting our very active lifestyle, especially on race day.

Because I no longer wear a watch in the swim portion of a triathlon (or turn one on if I do wear one for the entire race - for IM Austria, I did not wear a watch for the swim or bike, only the run), I had no idea of the time. I wanted to make sure that I got in a warm-up between the warm-up times of 6:10-6:30am.

I looked at the watch of another athlete and it said 6:15am. Oh my!
I quickly pulled up my wetsuit and put on my cap and goggles.

I hurried my way through the packed crowds to enter the Strandband building and finally made it to the area where we could warm-up.

I spotted Karel warming up but I had no time to chat as I needed to adjust my wetsuit (with water inside) and do my go-to swim warm-up with 10,20,30 fast strokes with equal strokes recovery. I do this a few times after smooth swimming for a few minutes to get the blood flowing.

I finally had a chance to talk to Karel in the water around 6:28am and I told him that I felt very nervous. I didn't want to talk about my nerves to him as I knew he was dealing with a lot but he told me I would do great.
We gave each other one last kiss for good luck and then both walked over to the corrals for the swim line up for the rolling start.

As I was walking over to the corrals, I had all the typical thoughts of "what if my body won't perform, what if I feel flat, what if I have a bad day" and I needed to stop thinking about the what ifs. I told myself that my body would know what to do and I was very anxious to just get started.

Karel ended up ahead of me in the corrals as we both lined up in front of the sub 1-hour group. For 10 years (since I started Ironman racing) I have been determined to break 1 hour for the 2.4 mile swim. I have came close many times with the last time in Austria with 1 hour and 13 seconds (errrr).

As I stood in line, more and more people were jumping over the fence and it was getting tighter and tighter. After the Austria anthem, the pro's started (6:40am and 6:42am) and then at 6:50am, it was time for the age group rolling start. I found myself around a lot of guys and some girls that I knew would be fast in the water (or else they would not have lined up where they did).

The music was pumping and the energy was building and as the line started moving forward, it was officially go time.

I absolutely LOVE the rolling start and I find it safe, much less stressful and scary and more relaxed than a mass start. Plus, with my experience, I have always swam faster with a rolling start compared to a mass start as you can line up with athletes of similar swim abilities.

I walked my way over the start line and then ran into the water. After a few dolphin dives, my 2016 Ironman Austria had officially started!

I absolutely love swimming in Lake Worthersee. Immediately, my stroke felt good in the water. It was a little chaotic in the beginning but in no time, I found myself swimming with a few girls (white caps and a few gold for AWA athletes) but mostly guys.
Karel said he saw me swimming (thanks to my black and purple wetsuit) but after a few strokes, he said I was gone and he couldn't hang with me. 

There were several orange/red buoys on the course and with the advice of Karel, I mentally broke down the first ~1200 meters to the turn buoy into 12 x 100 meters. While I had no way to know exactly where I was, this is all I thought about to help me keep a steady pace.
I didn't really have a race strategy for the swim except for to swim strong in the water.
As I was swimming, I actually felt fast in the water. I was staying with a group of guys and a few girls which was new for me as I typically have trouble drafting in the swim. I was staying on course really well (I was sighting and not relying on the group I was with) but sometimes I would find myself a little to the right where I wanted to be closer to the other athletes. I don't feel this affected me much as I was able to find clean water for efficient strokes for the first long stretch to the turn buoy.

When I saw athletes turning, I thought "wow - already?" as it didn't feel that long.

I made the turn and saw that I had dropped a few girls. I was swimming with another girl and still hanging with a lot of guys.

The next 470 meters went by fast. I still felt really strong and fast in the water and at times, I almost felt like I could pick up the pace. I was staying very present while swimming (and not thinking about the bike) and I was really enjoying this swim. While the water temperature was "warm" enough for the pros to not wear wetsuit, it was wetsuit legal for the age groupers. I found myself a little warm at times but nothing that was concerning. It was the perfect air and water temperature.
I felt like I was holding myself back a bit for the first 1600 meters, until we made our last turn around the turn buoy to head back straight to the canal (1100 meters) so I gave myself permission to pick up the pace a bit.

With the sun in our eyes, I was able to sight on two tall trees in the distance that Karel and I strategically picked out during our practice swim to make it easier to stay on course. While we were instructed to keep all buoys to our left, the race director set up another set of buoys to our right to help us stay on course as the sun can get pretty bright when swimming toward the canal.

I was still staying on course and I found myself passing a lot more swimmers. At times, I was swimming alone, which was fine to avoid being hit but I didn't want to waste any energy in the swim so I picked up the pace just a tad to try to catch a group ahead of me. While this didn't wear me out, it made me feel like I had more to give in the swim and with the canal approaching, I was feeling like now was the time to really give it a strong effort.

When I spotted the "white house" to my right, I new the canal was coming soon.
For the next 1000 meters, I was packed in with a group of guys in our tight 20-meter wide canal. At certain parts, the canal was shallow but I strategically wanted to get to the outside so that I could continue taking full strokes. I was able to move to the far left and found myself swimming really fast. I could see the crowds on my right and left and you could hear the loud cheers from the spectators.

The energy was building and after I went under the bridge walkway in the canal, I really picked up the pace. At this point, I had dropped the guys that I was swimming with and I was in clean water, all by myself.

Nearing the swim exit before the right hand turn, I was anxious to see the time on the clock to see my swim time. Part of me was nervous to see the time as I knew I would be disappointed to see anything over an hour but then again, like I tell my athletes, whatever happens in the swim, you have to forget about it and move on because there is nothing you can do about it.

As I made the right hand turn, I spotted to look at the clock and couldn't find it. I looked again and no clock.

I chuckled to myself and thought that maybe this was meant to be - I wouldn't know my swim time until after the race.

I swam to the swim exit and the volunteers helped me out of the water. I ran up the steep platform to get out of the water and then took off my cap and goggles. I pulled down my wetsuit to my waist and while taking off my right arm of my wetsuit, I left my goggles and cap inside so that I wouldn't drop them (and wouldn't have to carry them). 

I didn't hear my mom but she was there cheering for me and snapped this pic (no your eyes aren't messed up, it is blurry :) My mom apologizes about the picture- she said I was moving too fast!
Thanks mom for the cheers that I didn't hear!

I made the loooong run to transition and wasted no time. I grabbed my bike bag from the rack (while noticing that no other bags on my rack were missing) and into the female changing tent.

There I was alone in the female changing tent with my own volunteer helping me out.
I had her wipe of my feet with my towel to dry them off as I put on my helmet and sunglasses. I then put on my socks (I was wearing CEP calf sleeves under my wetsuit - I normally wear compression socks in an IM but I didn't want to waste anytime at this race in transition - it's free speed!) and my cycling shoes. I asked the volunteer to put some extra nutrition into my pockets (gels, bar, blocks) and she nicely told me she would pack up my bag (otherwise, I would have had to do it as instructed by the race directors and then place the bag in a bin).

Deep inside, I just needed some type of confirmation that I did or didn't break an hour and I asked her the time of the day (since we started at 6:50am) and she said 7:52am. I figured the transition took me at least 3 minutes so I thought to myself that there was a good chance that I broke an hour.
While I didn't have any way to confirm this, I was thrilled with the time of the day regardless of my swim time (1:02 after the race started and I was about to run to my bike).
As I was about to leave the changing tent, I asked her if she knew how many girls were ahead of me.
She responded "I think 6".

I figured age groupers so I thought that I was still in a good position in the race as I was feeling really confident (and excited) to be on my bike.

I ran out of the changing tent and made my way on the red carpet to my bike. I powered on my Garmin and then ran my bike all the way to the bike out. I looked for Karel's bike (just to see if he beat me out of the water) but wasn't able to locate his bike among all the other bikes. I guess I would see him on the bike, eventually, if all was ok with his back.

When I mounted my bike, the crowds were intense. For less than 1/2 mile, we have a quick out and back (with a turn around a cone) which is super spectator friendly. I spotted my mom on the other side of the barricades.
When I made the turn around to head her direction, the announcer said "and here is our first amateur female out of the water."

Although I heard him correctly, I was positive he was confused as the volunteer told me I was around 6th out of the water (based on her guessing).

Regardless, I gave him a thumbs up and then waved to my mom.

I settled into my comfortable aero position it was finally time to see if all my hard work on the bike was going to pay off as I was determined to see how close I could get to the other female age groupers who were ahead of me (or so I thought).

Off I went for 180 kilometers and 5500 feet (1680 meters) of challenging and fast fun on two wheels! 

As for Karel's swim, he said he felt really comfortable in the water.. He really prefers the rolling start as it helps him stay calm when he enters the water which sets the tone for the rest of the race. Whereas in 2014, at Ironman Austria Karel swam 1:07, he was super excited about a PR swim of 1:03 this year. Karel wore his ROKA swim goggles and Xterra wetsuit.
Karel has continued to make huge improvements in the swim as he puts in the work in the pool by swimming at least 4 times per week, with specific workouts to keep him focused and excited to swim.
We have also done more open water swimming (Lake Hartwell at Clemson) this season, more than ever before.
In addition to his swim toys (snorkel, ankle strap, buoy, FINIS agility paddles), he has been wearing SIM shorts (by ROKA) in the pool for most of his pool workouts since the winter (sometimes he swims without them and sometimes he takes them off for the main set) and they have really helped him as he keeps his energy (and good form) in the water for each workout longer (whereas without the shorts, he would get tired and lose form faster) which has really helped him gain a lot of swim fitness this season.
 Yes, I said it - he actually enjoys swimming.
While he doesn't have the same joy as I do for swimming (especially early in the morning - he prefers evening swims), he has really worked hard for his swimming improvements. While it's not always easy in the pool or open water, Karel continues to put in the work and it's really paying off!