As I was settling into my rhythm on the bike for the short out and back section, I kept the effort very easy - light on the pedals.
Karel told me that my "race effort" would start after I left Maria Worth as I was nearing the round about by the town of Velden. I needed to give myself time before settling into my Ironman bike "race effort" as I was ready to give a very sustainably hard (relatively speaking for an Ironman) effort on the bike for Ironman Austria.
This year I have made/seen some big and exciting improvements on the bike - but as we all know, this didn't happen overnight. Seeing that I married a cat 1 cyclist turned triathlete, I really had no choice that I was going to become a good cyclist whether I liked it or not - thankfully, I learned to love cycling!
The truth is that my cycling has been an ongoing developmental process starting with an evolving bike fit (by Karel) to help my glutes work harder on the bike and to not tire out my quads. Specifically this season I did a lot of work on the trainer to help with my pedaling mechanics, with better chain tension with variable cadence (to help me climb better sitting and standing). And of course, since moving to Greenville 2 years ago, I am more confident riding my bike in all types of terrain and know how to change my gears properly when anticipating different terrain.
So as much as I wish I could tell you a;; the magic key workouts that have helped my cycling, the truth is that I have not doing anything extreme with my cycling training - I simply dedicated myself to improving my skills, learned how to ride my bike and improved my confidence when riding on two wheels.
(Thank you Karel!)
My longest bike was 5 hours (about 85 miles) although I had one intentional overload cycling week (4 weeks out) where I did 3 long rides (4.5 hours, 5 hours and 4 hours within 7 days - all with a run off the bike. This same week I did a lot of run frequency as well. It was my biggest week of training in my IM training block (which lasted about 5 weeks) but the rest of my "long" bikes were around 3.5-4 hours with only a few 4.5 hour rides.
I felt like I was flying through Maria Worth as the first section is fast. There are a few "bumps" in the road but overall, it's a great start to an Ironman after swimming for 2.4 miles.
I noticed in front of me that there was a girl with a motorcycle escort ahead of me. I was a bit confused by this because I was getting closer to her and I wasn't too sure of why an age grouper would have an escort. The first thought was maybe she was the top age grouper and they had a lead vehicle with her but as I got closer and spotted her bib number around her waist on her back and it was a very low number (we were required to wear our bib numbers on our back - on our race belt - on the bike since we had no body markings. We also had 3 numbers on our helmet - front and both sides). I was able to see the back of the sign on the motorcycle and it read "3rd Austrian woman" or something like that.
While I have exited the water close to female professionals in the past at an Ironman, it was only a matter of time until I looked like I was riding backwards as they were riding quickly away from me.
This was certainly a first as I was staying very close to the professional female ahead of me. However, eventually she did ride away.
Seeing that I had no assigned watts, heart rate or speed to hold but instead, to just stay up with my nutrition (1 bottle per hour of 300 calories + additional water as needed from aid stations) and to go all by feel and occasionally check in with my metrics, when I approached the round about by Veldon I was ready to focus for the next 4+ hours.
As I approached the first climb, I felt good but didn't want to do anything crazy.
With two loops, 180K and 4-5 climbs (3 being significant climbs), it was really important that even though I was willing and ready to give an effort like I have never given before on the bike, I didn't want to ruin my race in the first 20K.
Compared to 2014 Ironman Austria, I felt much more confident on the bike course And seeing that we were predicted to have rain later in the day (just like we had in 2014), I felt like I would be able to ride more comfortably in the rain on this terrain (in 2014 I rode a bit too scared).
I kept waiting for Karel to pass me but after finishing the Faaker See climb and then finishing the first loop of our course (see the map above to understand the loops within the loop course), I was nearing 50K and no sign of Karel.
I knew that there was a good chance that he wouldn't feel good on the bike based on how he had been feeling on race week but I hoped that a miracle would happen and he would be able to ride pain free. I knew how much he was looking forward to IM Austria, especially the bike course.
I can't say enough about this bike course - cute villages, the screaming spectators, the awesome volunteers at the aid stations (seriously - they were so awesome), the unbelievable breathtaking mountain views, the smooth silky terrain between the villages, the long fun and fast descends (nothing too technical) and the challenging climbs to break up the course.
I felt a little tired (sleep tired) in the first 90 minutes of the bike and I knew it wasn't from being low on calories but probably just from poor sleep habits on race week due to a bad case of jet lag. I stayed up on my nutrition with my liquid calories (4-5 sips every 10-15 minutes and as needed) plus water at aid stations and although my body felt good and I felt sharp, my eyes were sleepy.
It was around the time when I was having a little low that you know who rolls up behind me and I can spot a flash of orange right next to me.
The first thing he said was "Wow babe, you are doing great."
Karel passed me a little after 60K as we were nearing the last big climb (which is a long and tough one - it just keeps going and going and going) of our first loop and later did he tell me that he couldn't believe that it took him that long to catch me on the bike. Usually he passes me within 30-40 min of the bike.
I told Karel that I thought I was near the top of the amateurs as he rode away....with a small group of other guys trying to stay with him (they didn't last long).
I could see Karel in the distance starting the climb and as he was switching from getting out of the saddle and then sitting and climbing, I could tell that he had his normal riding style - which was relieving (later did he tell me that his hips felt fine but he did feel a bit of tightness in his back but better than the days prior).
This was a great pick-me up and after the long climb, I was back to business again.
The last 30K of the first loop is very fast with a few slightly technical areas through villages (but nothing crazy hard or scary). The roads are wide open and you can almost always see where you are going with nothing significant to make you squeeze on your breaks for a turn or switch back. Despite the challenging climbs, if you can climb efficiently, this can be a very fast course (which it is known to be one of the fastest IM bike courses despite 5300+ feet of climbing).
As I was finishing the loop, in the last 30K, a girl rode up next to me (actually, this happened near the last big long climb) and I noticed on her bib number that she was in the 18-24 age group. While this didn't concern me that she wasn't in my age group, I wasn't sure how many female amateurs were close behind me on the bike so I used her as my rabbit and tried my best to stay with her. She was very strong on the bike and was able to stay with others a bit better than me (legally drafting) as I was still trying to manage my efforts and I didn't want to waste everything I had on the first loop.
With the rolling start, the drafting was much less of an issue this year compared to when we raced in 2014. For many times during the bike, I rode by myself for miles and miles with no one in sight. There were a few times when I was passed by guys or a few small groups of 4-8 guys near each other but never 20+ athletes riding in a pack together.
Oh, I forgot to mention that throughout the bike, I had a motorcycle next time me with a photographer taking pictures of me. He would stay with me for several minutes. At this point, I finally realized that I was somewhere near the top of the amateur race which just blew my mind. Seriously, me??...at Ironman Austria with very strong and fast females amateurs?
After a fun and fast 10K wheeeeeew, let's fly, aero-action ride, I was nearing town and the girl who I was riding with was out of my sight so now she was out of mind. Time to refocus and get ready for lap #2.
As I was nearing the "hot corner" near transition to start loop #2, the announcer yelled "Here is Marni Sumbal, our 2nd female age group athlete".
Well, now that it was official, I was willing to take some risks and give it what I had to have the ride of my life. I paced myself as well as I could on the first loop (which is hard when you are about to burst with energy after taper) and fueled as well as I could on the first loop so now, I just had to sustain my effort. I knew that I would slow down due to fatigue (hills seem to grow on loop two of an IM course - always!) and with the sky turning dark, I continued to hit lap on my Garmin to focus only on 30 minutes at a time - that is all I could control.
I would often find myself thinking about the run and how my legs would feel after this bike but I forced myself to stay present.
I did stop at special needs for 3 more filled sport nutrition bottles and although it was quick (I asked the volunteer to put my bottles in my cages for me so that I could stretch), I really enjoyed this stop at 92K to just put my feet on the ground and relax for a few seconds. Then I was off again for a solo ride all the way to Velden (with maybe a small handful of guys passing me).
For some reason, I grabbed a coke near Velden thinking that it would wake me up but looking back, I don't think that was a good idea as I have done this in the past and have ended up with GI issues on the run (despite being able to tolerate coke on the run just fine). Perhaps with my GI system not becoming regular due to jet lag, the combination of coke + sport nutrition + effort was a bit too much in my tummy.
I didn't want to back off on my calories too much but I needed my gut to empty some of the contents so I gave myself about 20 minutes or so of no nutrition to see if I could get things to empty. While I wasn't too worried about it as it wasn't that uncomfortable while cycling, I was just a little worried about the run.
I also didn't let it get to me too much as I know the IM is a long day and a long event and things out of your control (even if well practiced) may happen. If I have learned one thing after 10 Ironmans (Austria being #11) - things WILL happen on race day and you have to do a good job trying to deal with them when they happen. I've never had a "perfect" race day where everything went perfect for 140.6 miles - a great race is when you can overcome what comes your way.
I had a few more low moments in the second loop but knowing the course was really helpful as there were certain sections that I was really looking forward to and I knew that I would be able to pick up some speed and get into a good place again.
As I was finishing the first loop (within our loop) again, the sky started to drizzle.
Around 60K, the sky started to pour.
For the next 30K, I rode in a pretty heavy rain shower (with a few thunders) that only let up in the last 10K (although still wet roads). I was a little worried about what the run would be like but I knew that I needed to focus on the bike as the roads were wet and I still had one big long climb to do with a lot of fast descending (and a few villages with a few tighter turns) to do in the rain.
Thankfully, I remained confident in the rain which meant I was riding safe. At times, I was even descending in the rain on my aerobars as I knew that breaking in the rain, descending, was not safe. I did not ride stupid but smart and I was really proud of myself - this was a long time in the making!
Somewhere in the last 150K, I caught back up with the 18-24 girl that had passed and dropped me around 80K. I figured she was the first amateur female so I once again tried to stay with her.
But as I got to the last tight turn through a village, I knew that riding safe was my priority. She was riding close to a small group of guys so my chances of catching her were gone.
I continued my descend back into town alone and one by one, I was being passed....by guys.
Still not another female in sight, I eased up a bit as I got my mind and body ready for the marathon (or as ready as they could get after 180K of cycling).
I switched over my Garmin (for the first time) screen from my interval screen to total time and it read 5:16 as I was nearing the transition area....holy moly! In 2014 at Ironman Austria, I rode 5:29 and I was thrilled to have finally broke 5:30.
Sub 5:20 was my scary goal (which helped me put in the work for training) going into this race and I couldn't believe it.
As I dismounted my bike, I spotted Karel's bike and smiled with relief that he had finished his bike. I was so excited to see him again on the run and hopefully see him running. If anything, I just wanted him to finish and I know "just finishing" was his goal so long as he wasn't in pain.
I racked my bike and then ran straight to the potty to see if I could help ease my stomach a little before the run. I struggled a bit with my short sleeve tri suit to get it off which was costing me some time but finally I was in and out (what felt like forever!). I also took the time in there to remove my HR monitor since I was wearing my new Garmin 235 (with HR built into the watch on the wrist).
I grabbed my run bag and then ran into the women's changing tent.
I guess they weren't expecting me because I didn't have a volunteer helping me - I was all alone.
Finally, after I put on my visor, watch, shoes and hydration belt, a volunteer came in as I was finishing up and she took all my gear and put it into my bag. I thanked her, popped a TUMS in my mouth and off I went.
Like usual, those first few steps off the bike, with running shoes, are scary as you have no idea how your legs will feel - fresh or heavy?
Thankfully, I felt fresh!
But sadly, it didn't last long.
Five minutes later, my legs felt heavy and I was not feeling good on the run.
Ok body - 11th Ironman, let's figure this out!
We have a marathon to run, Karel to see, my mom to say hi to and a podium to get on to!