Iain & Graham travelled to Klagenfurt, Austria to take part in the Ironman Competition. Swim 3.8km. Bike 180km. Run 42.2km. Total: 226kms.
It soon came round Ironman Austria 2015. We were excited. We were trained. We were ready. We held our own memories of Kevin who was not here with us. There were poignant and emotional thoughts throughout the trip: here’s how the trip unfolded………..
Thurs 25th June. THE LOST BAG. Iain and I set off for Klagenfurt, Austria. We were joined by two triathletes from Durham Tri Club (both Ironman first timers). An early start to make the connecting flights from Newcastle / Brussels / Brussels / Ljubljana. Arriving in Slovenia midday, we collected our baggage (our bikes had travelled direct, they were fine). For Iain though, it was a case of a NO SHOW. Form filling and an hour at lost baggage was a great way to start the day. We were informed that the lost bag would be on the next flight. A scenic drive through Lubiljana, a drive through the longest tunnel in Europe and another drive through stunning countryside we arrived at the holiday village, 25 minutes away from “Iron City” There was little we could do other than un-pack my luggage and fill the fridge of M&S goodies!
Friday 26th June. PUT ON A BRAVE FACE. Today was registration & familiarisation. No sticky numbered tattoos here, you receive a plastic tag for your wrist for “Athletes Access All Areas”.
When that’s on you receive your race number and an Ironman back pack. Time to head to the expo. This time it was Iain’s turn to be the kid in the sweet shop! He didn’t disappoint. He loaded his credit card as any Ironman virgin should. To the max. Well done my son! A stroll to the Strandbad and Lake Worthesee (the lakeside & the start location of the race).
I point out locations, markers and the canal. A word with the tour operator Nirvana had revealed that the bag would be on the next flight. Back to the holiday village and its tea time. We swam in the private lake for a practice with the wetsuits. I tried the TT bike out on the roads. Iain borrowed my trainers and went for a run. That’s all we could do. Back to the apt to start the carbo loading (Thanks M&S and Lloyd Grossman).
Saturday 27th June. STRESS & STRAIN. A request at reception for a bag ‘update’. ‘Its on the next flight’. Breakfast at 8 and down to the ‘Iron Dome’ for Rules and Regs 9am. 2000 athletes are gathered. It’s supposed to be exciting. It isn’t. Just before the start, Iain couldn’t take it any more and walked out. The fanfare starts with bellowing music and the voice of Ironman, Paul Kay starts proceedings. I listen and take notes. I can’t see Iain. I can’t go out in case there are significant changes to the event. Once finished I see Iain a few yards away. He’s dejected. I haven’t seen Iain like this before……not in this “way”. I think he’s losing it. Outside, there’s more bad news. “The bag is not on the 10.30am flight”. The last two flights are midday and midnight. Last chance saloon. We had a bike tour pencilled in, so we hopped aboard a most luxurious coach and headed off with other athletes on the bike tour. I was great to once again see Mario Huys, who hosted the tour again. He talked through the bike route last year. Mario and Iain had a good chat about his situation and Mario was sympathetic. He was positive in his outlook, saying “you can replace the equipment lost. If you had to replace your bike, then that would be disastrous”.
Mario was very informative once again. Once finished we shook his hand, said our goodbyes and headed to the catering tent. Lunch over and the call came from Nirvana. The bag is not on the flight. What to do then? I’ve never seen Iain so down. A rep came down (by the name of …..Kevin!) to the expo with a credit card and told Iain to purchase what was required. Time to be that kid in a sweet shop again. It’s now getting on for 2pm. So we shopped. Cycle hat, running shoes, clothing apparel, sports glasses, the whole nine yards so to speak (in the thunderstorm that followed us around!) at 5pm we took stock and headed back to the holiday village. Un-packing, I asked Iain where his new glasses were? Uh oh…….not here……Back on the minibus and back down to a now closed Expo. Iain tried his luck in the bike service tent where the cycling shoes were purchased. Ta Dah! Finally a piece of luck. They were still there! Now time for bike check and rack up. It’s now 6.55pm and bike Transition closes at 7pm.
Something I took an hour for last year is now done in 5 minutes. It is rushed. A sea of 2998 bikes covered in blue plastic. Our two makes 3000. It is a strain, no question. Remember where everything is (change bags included!). Iain seems happier in himself, now that he has the equipment to hand. Another drive back up the road to the apartment and its 8pm. 12 hours on the go, on our feet for most of it, not ideal preparation, for what is arguably, the toughest one day event there is. Food is served at 8.30pm. Iain scribes a positive message from his daughter’s Bethan & Ellen. Feet up for half an hour then bed.
RACE DAY. Sunday 28th June 2015. Alarm goes at 3AM and to be honest we’ll have been lucky if we have had 5 hours sleep between us. Breakfast is a struggle. Iain is nervous and so am I. At 5am we’re off. The drive down to bike transition is a quiet one. The mood has changed. It’s time to race. A last check of the bikes and a 15 minute walk to the change tent. Wetsuits are squeezed into. It’s now 6.30am. I’m off at 6.50am. Iain is off at 7.05am.
A walk across the road to the Strandbad. It’s a crowded affair. People, music, tension, drones, helicopters, TV crews, officials, the smell of fear, the smell of neoprene! The crystal blue waters of Lake Worthesee await 3000 triathletes. The pro men are off at 6.40am…..minutes later, the pro women are off. Time to say good luck to one another. It has been a tense 3 days, but we are here. We are on the start line. We give each other a hug, and he goes….by that I mean Iain start’s to bubble and so do I. We compose. We say, good luck, don’t chase times, keep it aerobic, see you on the marathon course. With that I leave Iain. I’m on the beach with several hundred ‘under the hour’ / fast group swimmers. I collect my thoughts. My goggles have filled up. They are emptied. “This one is for you Kev”. The starting pistol fires…………..
IAINS SWIM: I had so many negative thoughts, rushing through my head. “I can’t do this……It’s too much….I can’t get my breathing right…….My swim stroke is all over the place”. It comes as a shock. Come on Iain……settle down….you can do this…….The first 1000 metres to the first buoy was incredibly difficult, but I got there. Then I settled down into a rhythm and the rest of the swim goes well……Into the infamous canal and it’s awash with swimmers scrabbling for clean water. My goggles come off, but undeterred, I put them back on. These polarized goggles are great for lake swimming. I come out of the water in 70 minutes. I’m surprised. That’s a great time for me!
GB’s SWIM: After the 1st 20 metres, someone dived on top of me and kind of ‘punched me in the back’ it was painful and I was winded. Lying there for minutes with no feeling in my back or legs. My back’s broken (Expletives follow……) I tried to breaststroke with no leg movement. I’m about to retire from the race and I get a rush of pins and needles in my back and legs. It’s horrible. I try to keep moving forward. I try front crawl. Slowly. Get to the first buoy…….and I do. The feeling comes back to my back and legs. I try to make up some ground. The canal is congested so I bide my time and go with the flow…….I turn right out of the canal and I’m grabbed out of the water. I stumble, but I’m still on my feet and more importantly I can FEEL my legs beneath me. PHEW! I had no idea what time I’d done. It was only at the finish that I was told I done a 58 minute swim.
IAINS BIKE: I took my time in transition. With the new gear on and a fully serviced bike, that I had yet to try out, it all felt good. I kept it steady throughout the bike leg. Sure, TT bikes went past me, but it’s surprising just how many TT bikes and their owners cant climb up a hill. That’s where I and my road bike came into our own.
Dancing on the new pedals, in new shoes, felt great and gave me the confidence that, YES! I can do this and compete at the same time. On the second lap I saw an earlier accident and someone being put into an ambulance………..My Time was 5.48. I couldn’t have done anymore on the bike. I was really chuffed with that bike ride. Coming into T2 was another steady change over, on with the new shoes and away I went, no wobbly legs out of T2 and out onto the 42 km marathon course. Keep it steady I’m on my way!
GB’s BIKE: The TT bike exaggerated the backache, which I tried to block out. I couldn’t get comfy…….Cycling on to the bottom of the 1st climb at Laber Faker See and I got a front flat.
A calm inner tube change saw me on my way in around 5 or 6 minutes (which is good for me!). First lap done. I noticed the mercury was starting to rise. The second loop was slower. The average speed went down. The controlled effort was there…..but, it didn’t feel right. I was not focused? Why? I don’t know: my mind wandered. I thought of Iain and Kev, pretty much all the way. Over the last climb at the Rupertiberg and down hill (ish) all the way back to Klagenfurt. With 15 miles to go I needed a wee! So I stopped and did what guys do by the roadside……Seconds later there was a collision of two bikes, the front wheels tangled together and the bikes momentum hit the outside of my right knee. Ouch. Again. Looking down on the carnage before me, the Austrian chap got up. The other cyclist did not. He was a 70 – 74 age grouper from Japan. Heidi……give or take was his first name. His bike hat was in pieces. He was curled up. He had a nose bleed. Right, ABC: Airway, breathing, circulation. I checked him and the signs were OK. I put a foil blanket around him and got help by cycling for a marshal. Back at the scene, the other cyclist had left! I kept the gents head still while the paramedics arrived. Once they did, they said thank you……and with that I was off to finish the course. I rode the closing miles fast. I clocked a 5.43 which given the circumstance I was very pleased with. A quick change and I was out on the marathon course.
IAIN’S RUN: It was steady all the way…..for as long as I could. I had to walk through each feed station, to take on board the fuel that would enable me to get to the finish line. It was a hot afternoon. Some cloud cover gave some welcome relief. The crowd support was fantastic; those volunteers on the course were just incredible. You can’t do an event like Ironman without dedicated like the folks I saw on Sunday. They were truly amazing. I saw Graham 4 times out on the course, 2 on the out leg and 2 on the back. I saw Mario out on the course too and he recognised me from the bike tour, so that was nice to see (his athlete, Mickey Weiss from Austria was SECOND on the day!) The closing kilometres were tough and I knew I was starting to slow. Keep it moving, Iain, keep moving forward. I often had a word with myself, saying what’s your name, where do you live etc……almost a self check list! The shoes which were brand new out of the box were surprisingly comfortable, helped by the fact I kept my gait to the tune of the Lee Bennett shuffle…and you know what it works!……And so it came……The final metres and then the turn left onto the magic carpet! The last 20 metres! It felt brilliant, magic!
It was sheer relief! I took it all in! I heard Iain being screamed. I saw GB hanging on the railings on the final turn. No High FIVE though! Paul Kay the voice of Ironman said those special words:
IAIN YOU ARE AN IRON MAN!
A high 5 down the finish straight hands in the air! Delight! I ran up to the finishing ramp and my arms aloft for the cameras. My name above me with my finishing time of 11.08.27 (run was 3.57 & 145th age group)). I was an Ironman! Down the ramp and I started to go…..I need a cuddle and a very kind fraulein gave me a hug. Once I had got myself together, I got a couple of beers, for there on the barrier, was GB!
GB’s RUN: I was a bit beat up, a bit sore, so self preservation took over as I ran on feel. The kilometres ticked by. The cloud cover was welcome relief. I was great to see Iain on the run course on each run leg. I knew he would do it! A solid High 5 as we passed on another. In the closing kms, I knew I could finish. And so to the closing metres. The lakeside was beautiful. The sun had come back out and as I passed by the final left hand turn. I looked where Kev had stood almost a year to the day, I nodded and smiled. I looked up then forward to that magic carpet. I whooped the crowd up. They responded. I got the goose bumps all over. Paul Kay bellowed: Graham: YOU ARE AN IRONMAN! I high 5’d Paul. I immediately slowed and said this one is for my friend. He nodded and smiled & with that I saw the glittery pom pom girls and the ramp and the finish line. I let it go! Aaarrgghh! I really did! I saw the cameraman on the other side and punching the air with elation, relief (and sadness) my 226km race was over. Cue the emotion and crying…..it lasted a long while I seem to remember. Some one person gave me a hug. I don’t know who (but thank you who ever you were). I ran a 3.50 and a final time of 10.39.31 (79th age group).
POST RACE: A quick change and out again to see wor Iain cross that magic carpet…..I was so pleased for Iain. A big sweaty hug followed. Back to the change tent. Food, Beer, Phone calls and messages followed….even a physio muscle rub I do recall for both Elswick Triathletes! We seemed to spend an age in the finisher’s tent….maybe a good couple of hours. With time passing by we headed back to T1 to collect our bikes which were handed back to Nirvana. A lift back to the holiday village, showered, savoury M&S food and we watched the women’s world cup footie! Time to go back to the finish to see the Midnight runners finish……We saw the last 5 triathletes finish, an amazing atmosphere, just like it was for the first placed athletes. The pro’s were there too at midnight, cheering in the 17 hour athletes (how many events do you see that at?)
Then the fireworks display followed…..a fitting finale to a very special day.
Monday 229th June. Time to reflect and relax. A final shop at the expo followed by a 6km walk along the marathon route, stopping off for an ice cream & cappuccino along the way. We headed into Klagenfurt town centre.
We devoured McDonalds ( twice over! 🙂 ) Strawberry gateau and several fine ales. The sun was shining; it was a lovely day. Perfect for people watching. There were many athletes who were wearing their finishers t-shirts and rightly so.
A taxi home and then zzzzzzz (the best we both slept since we came here!). Tuesday 30th June. Time to go Home. A quiet day (famous last words). Bags packed, a stroll by the holiday village lake. A cappuccino by the lakeside restaurant and it was time to go. (looking at the overall results, even though my time was 30 mins slower than last year, the Pro’s, The top 10 age groupers, they were ALL 15 to 20 mins slower this year, so that was an interesting point of note to observe……..) Moving on:
Helen joined us for the trip home. A drive back to Ljubljana airport. We checked in and we were off home. Landing in Brussels, we quickly realised that we had to check out and then check back in again. Time to do this was 22 minutes! So a sprint from one terminal building to another….Do you know how big Brussels airport actually is? It is VAST! We sprinted through cavernous areas of check-in areas, duty free city! running along assisted travelators….sweat pouring from our tanned brows, we only JUST made check-in with minutes to spare. I will never do that again! PHEW! We landed late back in the Toon only to then find both Helen and my bags had gone missing! More form filling rounded off on what was an eventful Ironman Austria 2015. Aufweidersehn!
A huge thank you must go to everyone who helped in the making of this episode of IM Austria 2015! Thank you to all family and friends who have had to put up with many disruptions to family life in the past six months to get us to the finish line. We could not have done it without you. Danke! Iain xx & Graham xx. We love you all.