First things first: I’m now an Ironman finisher since yesterday, 6th July, when I’ve completed the 3.800m swim, 180km bike ride and 42k run at Ironman Frankfurt in about 13h20m. And I loved it!
How I ended up at Ironman Frankfurt
So, going a little back in time, this is what happened, by the beginning of 2013 I’ve managed to convince one dear friend (now working abroad) to race Lisbon triathlon with me. While we first thought about doing the Olympic distance, we quickly upgraded to go for the half iron. With about 6 months of training we both managed to complete the course. We both had some running experience, but no serious swimming or cycling.
Finishing the half distance I immediately knew I wanted to go long. A couple of weeks later another friend (also working abroad now…) called, during lunch break, and convinced me (it was pretty easy since I was already sold to the idea) to register for Ironman Frankfurt 2014, which I did in the same day.
It was almost an year ago, and so late last year, by November I started training focusing on this Ironman race. When 2014 started I picked a coach, chose a time trial bike and started a serious and structured training plan, including 2 swim sessions per week (sometimes with and extra one on the ocean during the weekend), 4 bike sessions, 3 running sessions and 3 core training at the gym, per week. As usual this training included the 2 to 6 hour long sessions on the weekends peaking at 25 hours logged in a week.
How do you make it work
All of this was manageable only because I really wanted to make it. It required deep commitment and serious time management (master time juggling skill required) to make it all work between family, work, training and (a little) social life. Managing a company means you run into many unexpected situations on a daily basis that require time you had not blocked on your calendar and it was easy to find reasons to skip training every now and then. I’m happy that very few sessions were skipped even if many times it took me to burn the candle at both ends (training hard and limiting sleep is never ideal, but sometimes there are not other options – I was clocking about 5 to 7 hours sleep per night for 6 months straight).
How did it go down
Fast forward to July and we went to Frankfurt on Thursday before the race, which allowed enough time to unpack and mount the bike (I have to thank my bike shop friend for the help to unmount and pack it back in Lisbon), have a short swim at the lake, some running and cycling course preview and some relaxing to focus on the race. We also browsed the race expo for some last minute shopping and the guys from Cervelo helped to tune my bike.
The logistics to travel to such an event abroad, involving airplanes is very demanding. Packing the bike and all the gear from bike shoes, to running shoes, gps, sports nutrition, meds, swimsuit, etc etc is something worth of a checklist that I’ve been perfecting from race to race.
Race day – this is real
Then Sunday is finally here and it’s time to wake at 3am, have a very strong breakfast with plenty of protein and then catch the bus to the swim venue around 4.45am. Reaching the lake everything starts to look very real. The day is breaking but T1 is already frenzy. There is people rushing everywhere but the silence speaks louder, you can really feel the tension in the air.
Time for some last minute preparation: inflating bike tyres, checking for the gels sticked to the frame, making sure everything is ready for when you come out of the water! Then we dress the swim suits and we have about 40m until the gun goes off. Some guys already warming in the water but I kept out until 5m to start. Entering the water it was warm and there is even a guy we had met before swimming without swim suit!
We get near the starting line and in a couple of minutes we are swimming among 3.000 triathletes of all ages. The swim is a 2 lap course with a short walk on land. I was expecting lots of punching in the water but it was very peaceful, I think everyone in there knows it will be a very long day to start wasting your energy on the first hour. I come out the water with 1h17 and up the hill we go into transition, with my support crew (wife, brother, sister in law and some other Portuguese triathletes friend) cheering me up!
A quick action inside the transition tent and I have my bike shoes and helmet on, ready to ride. If it was today, being that I had no time goal for the race I should have changed into some good cycling shorts because of the additional padding. The bike was a short and fast ride to the city center where we entered into a 2 loop course. We had tail winds for the first half and then head winds for the second half, on each lap. The course was fairly easy with a couple of hill climbs. One of the hills was really epic, Tour de France style, with spectators cheering you in tunnel.
I had been warned to go easy on the bike because we were expecting a tough marathon with all the heat, so I managed to ride almost always below Z2 and I felt really good until 120/130km. Then as I was getting more tired and the wind was increasing it took a lot of patience to not push it and 30km to the end I was getting uncomfortable. My feet were swelling and getting too tight inside the shoes and my butt was hammered sitting for more than 6 hours. I clocked 25km/h average which is pretty slow, even for me, but I didn’t want to take the slightest chance of not finishing – I guess I was too conservative but I don’t regret.
So about 8h30m into the race I arrive in T2 feeling very good. I managed to control very well my nutrition during the bike and I had no stomach issues during all of the race which is a bliss. During the bike I ate walnuts, one cocoa cereal Powerbar, cheese and prosciutto and 4 gels. I also took just a little water but drank plenty of electrolytes (High5 Zero tablets) and one magnesium capsule.
I was happy to change into my running shoes and leave the bike behind (a volunteer took it from me). So I started the 4 laps course around the river and for each lap you would get a colored wrist band, meaning most people running had already at least one and I was still running for my first blue one. I started below 5m/km but I quickly dropped to 5.30/km pace because I knew that could not last.
The day was already very hot and dry and it was impossible not to walk by every aid station because running through it would not cut it, hydration wise. So I was running at 6.30/km wasting about 1 minute per aid station and there were 4 of those along the running course. I ignored my watch regarding race time because I didn’t want to feel urged to run faster, I was not sure if I would find the mythic marathon wall around km 30. So I kept going, loading up on water, a little isotonic, some salty appetizers, some salt directly in my mouth, some magnesium, some minerals med (Dioralyte) and I also took 5 gels to complete the race. I must say I found no wall, the third lap was the toughest one, and although the last lap was done with some suffering (it was painful to restart running after the quick stop at each aid station) knowing I was about 1 hour to finish was a mental boost!
When I was handed the pink wristband that was awarded in the last lap I was really happy and rushed into the final 4km. Finally the time had come to go to Romer (Frankfurt central plaza) and complete my first Ironman. The vibe at the finish line is unbelievable, hundreds of people cheering you on and giving you a very strong positive energy – what an emotion it is to cross that line after so many hours training and such a demand from your body.
The greatest finish line, ever
Reaching the finish line I had the chance to go to eat and drink a little before meeting my support crew outside for some cheering and partying. We just sitted on the curb for a while talking about the race on both my perspective and theirs. I had some food (bread and hamburguers) and drinks and then as it was getting dark we decided to go down to the finish line where the clock was about to hit the 15 hours time limit.
As we get to the finish line, about 10 minutes before the race end, it started raining cats and dogs but no one seemed to care. The spirits were really high with the last athletes coming through the finish even during the last 10 seconds count down! It was a hell of a party going down over there!
My support crew rocks
Now some words about my support crew (wife, brother, sister-in-law and the families of other portugueses athletes we met) they were just great and kept cheering me own the whole time, giving me a well needed mental boost every time I saw them. My wife was so happy every time she saw me (maybe she thought I would drop dead somewhere :D) around the course and she dutifully was handing me minerals at one special aid station where that was allowed – I would go through and she would get me minerals and a kiss to keep me going when the legs had quitted but my mind just wouldn’t drop it. My brother was also going around the bridges to see me twice on each lap, always making sure I would push through and I knew I could not disappoint (how the hell could I asked him to push on his next challenges if I would quit?). Anyway, the idea of quitting really never crossed my mind, my mind was full with the thought that I just needed to keep going steadily after all the effort that was needed to be at the start line (time, money, lost hours for the family, etc).
Another positive note goes to the volunteers and there were 4.500 of them always making sure you had the best time of your life (if that’s even possible on such a race – but trust me, it is), cheering you on and promptly handing you everything you need through the aid stations. There were all really great!
Lessons for the next Ironman race
Now some learnings from Ironman Frankfurt 2014 for my future reference:
– training is harder than the race itself. If you are willing to commit to all the required training, it is doable. Training wise I need to get stronger on the bike and do a couple more of 160/200km next time I decide to prepare for this racing distance;
– nutrition is indeed the forth discipline. For me just gel won’t cut it, I need some real food (walnuts, cheese and prosciutto will do). Sugar is important but I also need some protein. High5 Isogel is tolerable by my system and High5 Zero (electrolyte tabs) either mixed with water or directly on the mouth works well to re-hydrate;
– it is worth to change into some nicely padded bike shorts on T1. I will not regret the lost time when I get to 140km on the bike;
– I can push a bit more on the bike. Somehow the body manages to do a little reset coming off the bike and into the marathon;
– the marathon must be treated as 4x10km. Wrap your mind around that thought and start crushing laps as you can;
– I need to change my trisuit to avoid the rash I had on the front of my legs. I think it started building during the bike and it was aggravated on the run will all the heat;
– it is wise to change into a new set of tyres 3 weeks before going away for the race;
– I should not leave anything edible at the bike checkin. I will have plenty of time to set it up on race day. Also I should take enough water to fill the bike bottles;
– waking up really early is good to avoid race day stress. I need plenty of time to eat and do a final check on all the stuff before heading out.
– Overall time – 13h18m28s
– Swim – 1h17m28s (AG position – 298 / overall position – 1.612)
– T1 – 9m19s
– Bike – 7h11m18s (AG position – 407 / overall position – 2.310)
– T2 – 4m30s
– Run – 4h35m53s (AG position 365 / overall position – 2.023)
– Overall position – 2.023 in 3.015 atheletes
– Age Group position – 365 in 559 athletes