7/9/18

Ironman Austria '18 Race Report - 112 mile bike


Since we rode one loop of the bike course on Wednesday afternoon on race week, it was nice having that recon ride fresh in my head going into race day. There was no part of the course that I was dreading as this bike course is fast but also includes a significant amount of climbing – around 5600 feet. I felt like I knew the course well enough to make tactical decisions when to push, hold back and where to take risks. With no rain predicted for race day (unlike the rain that we experienced the last two times in 2014 and 2016, although both were record breaking years), I was excited to show off my bike fitness on this course.

When I got on the bike after the swim, I enjoyed the short 90-degree turn with spectators lining the barricades. It was nice to hear all the cheers. The energy is so extreme in any Ironman but at Ironman Austria, it's really easy to get around for the spectators so the hot spots are super HOT with noise.

There was a short out and back section coming next so I used that section to settle into a rhythm and to find my cycling legs. Sadly, they didn’t respond well during that section so I gave my legs more time to wake-up before settling into my race day effort. Since I don’t race the bike with any metrics goals or guidelines, I can really stay in-tune with my body and adjust along the way. The first section of the bike is fairy flat and fast so the miles come quickly and fairly easily relative to what's to come later in the course. Surprisingly, I didn’t find myself stuck in groups of athletes so it was nice to just focus on my own effort. The rolling swim start really helps reduce the clutter of athletes/drafting that can occur on the early miles of a bike course, although in Europe, everyone seems to be a fast cyclist and the competition is fierce from the first swim stroke.

One of my favorite parts about this bike course is going through the many cute small towns. But I can't overlook the views.....those magnificent views that just get better and better as the course goes on! 



Because the course is essentially two loops (one small and one big - but the loops are located in Velden and not at T1/T2), it’s easy to break down the course mentally into sections and to focus on one section at a time. Each loop features one "big" climb but there are also other climbs to navigate along the way.

Although the weather was cool and it wasn’t extremely windy, it just didn’t feel like the fast day that we all thought it would be. The predicted high was only in the mid 70’s but I got warm at times on the course. I battled with a heavy feeling in my legs for the first hour of the bike and just when I thought my legs were opening up, I didn’t feel like I had the power to ride fast or strong. tried to stay calm and in the moment and just focused on what I could do well. I really took advantage of the descends but because of my small frame, I really have to work the downhills as much as possible – otherwise it’s wasted free speed for me. I also focused on my attitude, changing gears appropriately, nutrition and reminding myself that IM racing is a very long day of racing.

I often found myself with other male athletes as I was passing several women who were ahead of me from the swim. Nearing the end of the small loop, I didn’t feel that drafting was an issue as the groups that were together were small (5-7 athletes) and most were not drafting. While there were some groups that I saw ahead, I never found myself in one. Thankfully there were a lot of officials out there – and I felt like I had one by me for most of the ride on the first lap and even some of the 2nd lap. I made sure to ride a legal distance at all times and to be very strategic when passing the male athletes ahead of me so that I wouldn't get a penalty. I would often wait until I was on a climb or they were drinking or refilling a bottle to pass just to make sure that I didn’t have to expend more energy than needed to make the pass. I even had an official yell at a guy who passed me as I was trying to make a pass and then the athlete blocked me from continuing on with my pass. The ref was in my favor so that was nice to see them keeping things fair.

Nearing the big climb on the bigger loop, my legs slowly started to wake up. I felt like I had done a good job with my liquid nutrition but I also made an effort to nibble a little on my PB pretzel MOJO clif bar just to give a little substance in my belly throughout the race. I did notice that I was falling a little short on my liquid calories nearing the end of the first loop of the bike course which concerned me a little bit but I didn’t try to make up for it by overdoing it on fluids and end up with a sloshy stomach on the run.

Knowing the course (3rd time racing here) was extremely beneficial as I knew all the turns and descends which helped me ride confident but also manage my gears appropriately. Not looking at my overall time or speed, I had no way of knowing how I was doing on this day but the bike just felt slow compared to years past.

As I was nearing the end of the first loop, my first thought was “ugh, another loop” which is just not like me. I was feeling tired and not looking forward to another 2000+ feet of climbing, especially as it felt like it was getting a little more windy and warming up a bit. I guess it wasn't the best place to have a low moment - right before the transition area before heading out to another 2.5 hours of riding.

I received a great energy boost from the crowd when making the 90-degree turn outside of the transition area and I was looking forward to making a quick stop at special needs to get fresh new bottles of my INFINIT (already mixed in advance). I was around a good group of athletes going into the second lap which made me not want to stop at special needs but I couldn’t let that stop my strategy/plan for the day. Since I rode past special needs when starting my first loop I knew exactly where my bag was so I could roll up to it and stop real quick. The volunteer had my bag out when I stopped so it was a super quick stop to grab my bottles and get rolling again. I had thrown out my other bottles at the aid station so I only needed to remove one bottle from my cage when I got to special needs. I was again varied my flavors in my bottles to prevent taste bud fatigue. I had four different flavors on my bike so that no two hours had the same flavor. 

When I started going again I found myself riding by myself for a while which actually was a good thing as my legs finally started to come around and I felt so much stronger than in the first loop. I had passed one female professional and I saw I was nearing up to my friend Kelly Fillnow who was racing professional. When I got close to her, she told me that she was having an off day and her mind wasn’t in it and I told her I felt the same way. It was actually really nice to be close to someone that I knew. Kelly is a super strong and positive athlete so I knew it just wasn’t her day but she was still so encouraging which was giving me great energy. She also told me that Karel passed her and he was riding really strong.

As for my other half - Karel actually had an ok day on the bike – not fast but he was happy that his back didn’t hurt and despite all the stressful experiences with his bike going into the race, he was just happy to be riding his bike. He also said that he rode most of the bike my himself – which is certainly a new trade-off for him as a faster swimmer. In the past he would be passing athletes due to his slower swim, which would give him a bit of a draft effect for the early part of the bike. Now, as a faster swimmer, he is riding near the front of he race with much more of a solo effort. I was bummed that I never saw Karel on the bike course so that was one of my motivations to get off the bike to see Karel.

I felt myself getting stronger as the bike went on although I found it to be really windy at times which meant I needed to really focus on good execution and riding my bike well. I continued to find myself around male athletes and ended up not seeing another female until a speedy girl passed me with about 15 or 20K to go in the entire bike ride. She was riding super strong and there was no way I could attempt to ride with her. Although I wasn't close to having the fastest amateur female bike split of the day, I was only passed by one female which was encouraging and it wasn't until the last 30 minutes or so of the bike ride.

I was so happy that I was finishing the bike feeling strong. I felt like I rode the climbs well, descended well and boy, what a big difference in mental and physical state compared to first loop. I guess it just shows you that the Ironman is full of up and downs and when you think you have no energy to give, the body wakes up and you suddenly have that energy you were missing. But then, the opposite occurs – you think you are in a good place and boom, all energy is gone. That's why we always say to enjoy the highs when they come because that just means that a low will be coming soon.

I did happen to switch the screen over on my bike computer before finishing the bike and I was shocked to see how I rode. I averaged only 0.1 mph slower this year than in 2016, and on a much tougher day (20.7 mph this year compared to 20.8mph in 2016).

As I was nearing the bike I was actually looking forward to the run. I have worked really hard on my running form and resilience this year and based on my workouts, I was in the best run shape of my life. I was thrilled that today was finally the day I could show off my hard work.

Nearing the end of the bike, I slipped my feet out of my shoes so I could keep my cycling shoes on my bike since I had a long way to run from my bike rack to the run gear bags. I decided to stop at the potty once again in T2 just to empty myself so that I didn’t have to worry about finding a bathroom on the run course just in case I had to go. Plus there were several available port-o-johns so it was a quick stop. It felt great to go and start the run with an empty stomach and bladder.

I quickly changed into my run gear and funny enough, left the run with Kelly. However, she quickly ran away from me as she is super speedy. My legs felt so-so starting the run (which is to be expected after biking 111 miles – not quite 112 but one mile longer than the last two times we raced here) but after a few minutes they woke up and I found my rhythm and I was ready to tackle this Ironman marathon.