Swim 3.8km (2.4miles) Bike 180km (112miles) Run 42.2km (26.2 miles) equals 226kms (or 140.6 miles). Never done a triathlon. Never swam for 30 years. Why? I’m only here on planet earth once. I needed a new, but difficult challenge. Time to get out of my comfort zone. Carpe Diem. Here’s away Graham!
Taking a step back, in 2012 I entered Ironman Austria (2013) only to fall at the final hurdle in June 2013 when I was nearly flattened by a cement mixing truck in Los Montesinos, Spain (warm weather training. Some might of thought, shame the driver missed!). Torn and detached shoulder muscles left me unable to swim. Game over for 2013. I withdrew and ever the optimist, I entered again for June’s 2014’s race. Kev Stephenson, who was also going to race in 2014, sadly could not take part, but Kev being Kev, came along for the ‘Ironman Ride!’ 2 months of easy training followed by 4 months of aerobic training, followed by a ‘push’ phase of 6 weeks of heavy training and a 3 week taper was (I hoped) enough to see me through my first triathlon….albeit a full distance one! My heaviest ‘push week’ was 12 miles of swimming, 353 miles of cycling and 64 miles of running. It makes you tired. It makes you hungry. It makes you sleep. I must say at this point that without family & friends’ patience & help, I could not have done this, no way. A sincere thank you to Kevin Stephenson, Iain Hardy, EMC Cycling Crew, Gareth Huxley, Ryton Tri, Tyne Tri and Team Elswick. So after many weeks and months sacrificed: here is how I got on.
Wednesday 25th June. Kev and I packed our gear up and headed to the Holiday Inn by Stanstead airport. A lengthy discussion took place before Spennymoor as I been informed that my wetsuit may not be legal for the race. I had the opportunity to by a new one (again!) from A1 Multisports at Spennymoor. Tony, who owns the business, was a great guy who I whole heartedly recommend for all things triathlon. Taking a risk we collectively decided to not purchase and see the race referee for a decision. Checking in, food, world cup football (and a small cheeky glass of merlot, some stacking of zzzzzz’s we were now into:
Thursday 26th June. Breakfast and a 1hr 45 min flight from Stanstead to Ljubljana we touched down mid-afternoon. We were greeted by staff from Nirvana Europe, a local travel sports company operation based out of Tyneside. They staff I must say were excellent from start to finish, I couldn’t fault the staff: A+. A 75 minute drive through stunning countryside brought us to Klagenfurt, the focal point of Ironman Austria. A perfect location to host a full distance triathlon. It’s all there. Lake Worthersee, the smooth roads, stunning scenery and a picture perfect and pancake flat marathon course (makes London’s course look like the Windermere marathon!). I must admit I got a bit excited. We arrived at our holiday village for Kev and I’s 5 days stay. A lovely log cabin style apartment with its own private lake. Spot on. We un-packed and built up the bikes and loaded the fridge up with M&S goodies! We were NOT going to go hungry! Footie, food and zzzzzz’s we roll into Friday.
Friday 27th June. Breakfast and a transfer down to Klagenfurt & Race HQ. It was all happening: Banners, grandstands, triathletes, expo, & registration all by the lake. It felt special & it felt good. Once registered I felt as if ‘I was here, ready’. I emptied the merchandise shop to the tune of 300 Euros. Waaaaaay over the top I know!….but I didn’t care: Belly the kid, in a sweet shop. It felt good though. Lunch, a familiarisation of the lake & the 900 metre canal put me at ease. Back to the ranch & then for the first time in my life, donned Kev’s wetsuit & swam with Kev (in mine) 800 metres around the perimeter of the lake. We tried out our bikes. No problem. We cycled 20 miles on perfect roads. It felt good. We practised bike transition with shoes attached to pedals attached to elastic bands to the bike frame. No problem, just take your time & don’t rush, make it smooth and transition is easy. Kev and I then ran 4miles. Dinner, footie and zzzzzz’s we roll into Saturday.
Saturday 28th June. Breakfast & a transfer down to the lake. It’s rules and regulation time. It’s mandatory so every English understanding competitor congregate into a 2000 seater tent for the briefing. My pen starts to smoke as I become dizzy with all the rules and regs……It all sounds too much after an hour! I feel a bit overawed by it all. My first doubt….have I taken on too much here? Nevertheless I had pre-booked a bike course tour so I hop on the bus & with another 30 or so folk, head off onto the route. The compare was Mario Hus, a top ten finisher of Kona. He was one of the original 15 who in 1978 completed the very first Kona Ironman in Hawaii. What a great guy, full of deep knowledge & understanding of things full distance triathlon. Most of his advice, stuck with me & I followed it on race day. Tour done, I met up with Kev who had done a 2 hour bike ride out into the rolling countryside & around the area. Kev thoroughly enjoyed it. We sat down for lunch by the lake. After, we headed off to bike transition to set up the bike & to hand in all your change bags, all labelled up. I made mental notes of the area, where the bike was, where the bags were and were the exit points were. Now you could feel the intimate atmosphere change a little. It felt more serious now, folks caressing their 10 grand TT bikes. Made my £5600 Cervelo RS bike look like an Asda special, still, I felt good again. Back to the ranch for food, footie, cat naps….I didn’t sleep at all well and the alarm went off at 3.30am…….Its now Sunday.
RACE DAY: Sunday 29th June. A 4am breakfast. I was a struggle to get down, I must admit. 5am. The bus collects the athletes, friends, family & takes us all down to the lake. I’m OK……a little nervous, but OK. Engleburt Humperdinck is playing over the speakers (All together now: Please release me, let me go!) Off the bus & back into bike transition. My final checks are done. The queue for the loos is long!
I have time though. Kev & I walk back to the Athletes change tent opposite the lake. Kev assists me with my now legal wetsuit (Hurray!….So it was not £400 wasted after all!). I felt good again, now that I was in my Speedo Elite Tri Wetsuit…..& only my second time inside it! Kev & I made our way outside & there were thousands milling around all walking into the ‘Strandbad’ the entrance to the lake & the start on the small beaches that surrounded the jetty’s.
The Pro’s & 400 triathletes go off at 6.45am BOOM goes the canon! I say my indebted thank you’s to Kev, a final photo & video message……& with that I tootle off into the masses & make my way to my start spot. I constantly fiddle with my goggles. Now only a minute to go. The tension builds. 2 years in the making to get here. I say to myself: ‘keep it steady and aerobic for as long as you can and we’ll do this Belly’ and with that:
SWIM 3.8km (2.4 miles). The canon goes BOOM! It is 7am & I stride into the water….I remember Kev saying keep the knees right up! and I do. I see some free water & I’m off! The famous washing machine takes effect as triathletes scrabble for water & a clean line. I get water into the wetsuit & after a dozen sharp intakes of breath I settle down into a slow rhythm. I think c’mon….lets get round a few swimmers….So I did. I pass a few more and then some more I pick my way through. A steady efficient stroke is key. I’m now in free water. Good. Steady away Belly. I turn the first buoy & I see the first blue hats that that went off with the pros. I think that’s good. Just keep it there. 400 meters on I turn 90 degrees left & I have a kilometre or so before I enter the canal. The line of sight is poor as the sun rises it hits your line of sight on the horizon. Should have purchased polarized goggles. Duh! (£40 though!). No matter, I keep looking ahead. I think I go off centre slightly. I’m still passing swimmers. I re-align & before I know it I’m into the canal. The last 900 metres.
It’s going canny. I pass more swimmers. I see the small reed bed & I turn sharp right…….20 metres & I’m on the carpet being yanked out the water!
I feel composed. A quick trit trot & I’m pulling the cord down & strip the wetsuit to my waist. Off with the goggles & swim hat. 200 metres to T1.
I grab my change bag & because I don’t have a trisuit on, I de-robe completely & change into proper cycling gear. This loses me a few minutes, but I’m OK with that. Better to be comfortable I say. My swim was 55.43. Not bad for a 30 year gone retired City of Newcastle junior swimmer.
BIKE 180kms (112 miles). I run with my bike out of T1 & out on to the course. I see Kev! A short 2 km loop & I’m off, steady’s away on the two lap course. I settle down into the tri tuck position, getting aero, making your front area on the bike as small as possible. Kev has given me his Garmin. You wanted for nothing as a cyclist out on the course. The area is completely closed off to traffic. Feed stations every 20kms, well stocked & attended. The marshals were out in force on their bikes…..almost everywhere you turned! But I was OK no drafting for me, so no penalties. I saw Kev at the highest point on the course he took a local bus up there….he is as mad as me! The course was very scenic, though at the time I didn’t seem to take it in. Steady away for me on the first lap was around 21mph for the first 90km. The weather was warm. Perfect….Then not quite. At the start of the 2nd loop two thunderstorms hit the bike course, so the 2 major climbs & their descents were tricky. Feather the brakes & a slow down at some points. The course is still set up for fast times and the good age groupers pass me by on their fancy TT bikes. I’m keeping steady & I do pass them on the climbs. “See you on the marathon” I say to myself. The wind starts to pick up as Mario said it would & I slow slightly. My average goes down a tad….to 20.4mph for the 112 miles. It has taken me 5hrs 22 mins to complete, 7332 calories burned. I still felt comfortable. Now it was time to take on the marathon:
RUN 42kms (26.2 miles). Into T2. A steady transition de-robing completely again, losing a bit of time. Better to be comfy though. Body glide was applied and I was off. It felt like my territory. I’m coming to get all those 10 grand TT dream machines & their owners & put them in my back pocket! 37,000 steps or so would take me to the MAGIC CARPET & the finish. The kilometres ticked by. All 42 of them. The course was a 2 loop design all by the lake, Klagenfurt’s town centre & its main plaza. Very pretty place to stay, have an espresso & cheer on would be iron folk!
The drinks station were placed every 2.5kms. I took at every station a swig of wasser, an iso drink, coke, a sponge for face, arms & a ‘quads wash’. This I believe really “helped” my tired legs. The only time I looked at my watch as I wanted to run on “feel” & not numbers was at 22kms……1km past half way. It read 1.43. Good. “Just keep it going Coolio” as Mary Lisle would say to me!
The mid afternoon sun got the air temperature up to around 28 degrees, a bit warm for all runners out on the course. Crowd support was great. Your tired, you ache, but every clap and cheer is there for eveyone to pick up and use to your advantage. I know I did! I tried my best to pick it up slightly in the final few kms…..’Just pick off one more runner I say’….’then lets get another’…..’and then another’…….So here I was into the last 500 metres. Goose bumps appear. I look for the sharp turn left & then right on to the lake path. There it is:
The last 100 metres. The packed crowds behind the barriers. I high 5 some kids. I hear Paul Kay, the voice of Ironman, says in a baritone warble: “We have our next finisher!” I approach the last 50 metres & there right on the bend is Kev! I wave like mad as I turn! There is no one around me. I see Paul & he announces to the grandstand: ‘It is Graham from the UK!’
‘GRAHAM…..YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!’ He high 5’s me! More goose bumps on top of goose bumps. The music ‘I like to MOVE IT!’ bellows out. I try & dance: well kind of! Beneath my feet I see the magic carpet. It is the finish. Two years in the making draws to a close.
I turn back & look at the grandstand finish. I wave & blow a kiss to the crowd! I turn & face the ramp. There is a lump in my throat. I walk up the ramp & I’m given the finishers ribbon. I grab it tight and hold it aloft. I smile for the photo. I say to myself: ‘Graham, you are an Ironman’. My marathon time is 3.34.
The clock above reads 10 hrs 6 mins 45 secs. I walk down the ramp and I’m congratulated by Ironman officials & helpers. I’m cordially asked if I would like a drink. “Beer Sir?” “Darn tooting right I’m gonna have a beer!!!” My first goes over my head in celebration; the next is downed in one. Nice! Then I cry. I clear my eyes & go & find Kev. I go to where he was standing. No sign.
I turn & face a young woman, just smiling minding her own…..I cry. “Come on Belly, pull yourself together!” I walk to the change tent, grab a beer, some water & my street wear bag. I go right in the corner of the tent & lay my gear on the floor. My towel goes over my head. I go again…blubbering like a bairn. I finally pull myself together, get changed, put my medal around my neck & go outside. There is Kev! hugs & congratulations follow. Time for an ice cream. Kev very kindly goes & collects my bike & he will be gone 20 minutes or so. I phone family & my mate Iain. I read loads of text messages.
I feel a bit overwhelmed! Kev returns with the bike & we hop aboard a luxury coach to take us back home. It is now around 7.30pm. A hot shower, salty savoury food, M&S crisps! Tea, water & footie follow. A ginger muscle rub from Kev is a bit painful, but I know its doing good…OUCH! Around 10.30pm we bus back to the start finish area to see the last runners come through the magic carpet. One by one they do. They have been out there approaching 17 hours……& for the last 3 it has been torrential rain.
I really felt for those people. The send off for these folk was incredible…it was as if they were in the top 3! Music! Lights! Atmosphere! People cheering & whooping! It had to be seen to be believed. Truly special. The last person comes along & an almighty cheer goes up! Then were informed “NO! THERE’S ONE MORE OUT THERE!” & so just past the cut off time of 17 hours Ironman Austria had its last finisher. He was given his medal much to the delight of the crowd & boy, did he deserve it!
Monday 30th June. Kev & I chilled out a bit. Then enough of that we cycled a total of 30 miles, just to loosen the legs! We cycled back into Klagenfurt, taking in the run course that Kev did not see. Out into to the main plaza & Kev stopped for a 45 inch hot dog & a beer! I bided my time (with beer in hand of course!) as we were told of a McDonalds just yards away. I emptied the burger counter! 3 quarter pounders, 2 large chips & a cappuccino! Next door we had a strawberry gateau with cream & another cappuccino!
We headed home, only to then stop off at Moosburg en route & had several beers! Eventually we got home, packed our bags ready for Tuesday’s departure. We had our evening meal in the restaurant by the private lake: most nice indeed!
Tuesday 1st July. Time to say goodbye. Before being picked up at noon, we had our last cappuccino by the lake. We both left with fantastic experiences & memories. A drive back to the airport & a drive back to the toon. We are home for 11.30pm. Thank you once again for all your support. You know who you are! A final huge thank you to Kev Stephenson…” Kev my friend, you were brilliant throughout, from training rides, rules & regs, transition practice and support on the day, you are one of the very best! Danke!”
My Numbers: Graham Bell representing Elswick Harriers, UK. Race: no. 2301. Age group 45 – 49. (Chip timed.) 3000 participants.
Swim: 3.8km in 55.43 @1.26/100m. Div Rank 9th Gen Rank 99 Overall 107
Bike: 180.2km in 5.22.29 @ 33.54km/hr “ 56th “ 486 “ 509
Run: 42.2km in 3.34.51 @ 5.05km/hr “ 41st “ 370 “ 393
T1 Swim to bike: 07.19. T2 Bike to Run 06.23
Overall finishing time: 10.06.45
Net time: 09.53.03
I will try and upload some photos from my camera (proving troublesome….grrrrrr!!). In the meantime the above photos used are from my purchased ‘official photo pack’ from Ironman Austria.
Finally, Kev, Iain and I will be back for part 2.That’s right; we have entered for IRONMAN AUSTRIA 2015! Aufweidersehn! Graham. 🙂