This was my last race before this year’s A race: the European IRONMAN Championships in Frankfurt next month.
Due to a conflict of family events I ended up going alone to the race on Friday and staying two nights in a local hotel until Sunday, race day. This gave me time to rest, explore and enjoy the typical Ironman setting. With the sheer amount of side events there were over 4000 athletes on site during the 3 day period. It all started with IronGirl on Friday, IronKids and the German Triathlon Championships on Saturday and on Sunday the 70.3 and 5i50 events. It was busy and it was fun!
I enjoyed and rested as much as I could Friday and Saturday so I could be prepared on Sunday. Pro’s were starting at 9am and my wave at 9.40am. My hotel had an athlete friendly breakfast time at 6am on Sunday and I made sure I was there just past 6 with my own stuff. I didn’t want to have something I am not used to it before the race so I had exactly what I usually do at home by taking several containers with what I needed to prepare it at the hotel: soya milk, peanut butter and ReadyBrek. I took a banana from the hotel and prepared a nutella bread to have before race start.
I was really calm before the showdown, however since hundreds of cars were funnelled down into the lake parking lot, it took me about 20mins to drive the last km and since it was closing in on 8.20 I was starting to doubt I would make transition close at 9am. Then I started going through my mind what I needed doing: setup my white bag for post race, plant nutrition on bike, put on trisuit, wetsuit and goggles. Talking about which… I hadn’t seen my goggles but surely they must be in the boot with the rest of the stuff since I had used them the day before for my swim prep training. I arrived at T1, parked and confirmed the goggles were indeed nowhere to be seen. After a brief panic attack I had two options: ask someone to buy their second pair or swim without. The latter option was slightly out of question so I asked the guys that had just arrived. One of them had indeed a second pair that fitted me just fine and just gave them to me. I couldn’t believe it. He had just saved my race. My goggles were lost but the race was not (turns out that I had lost my goggles, house keys and one flipflop).
I put nutrition on my bike, which had stayed in T1 during the night uncovered due to IRONMAN regulations, drop my white race bag with post-race clothes and head off to swim start for the 9am PRO men start followed by PRO women two minutes later. The PRO men included Sebastian Kienle and Boris Stein and PRO women included Julia Gajer and Yvonne van Vlerken. My start was at 9.40am so I got lucky enough to see PRO men and women start and return before I had my own start.
By 9.40am I was then in the water and ready to go. Goggles were leaking slightly but nothing too bad and I knew they would be fine for the whole swim. The cannon went off and the swim started. I was going just fine and felt I had company during the swim the whole time. It was a very smooth swim but I had some trouble sighting during the swim so was mostly following those around me with whom I sometimes had a slight crash. Initially I had this strange feeling I might be doing quite well but after a while I simply thought I was taking too long and couldn’t see the end of it. I didn’t feel tired at all, just felt I was swimming for too long. As I arrive and take a peek at my watch I noticed I was right, the swim was a total disaster at 39m39s corresponding to a 2m03s/100m pace.
I head off to T1 motivated to make it up on the bike. As I pick up the bike from T1, the cereal bars I had attached to the bike just fall off. Doh. I pick them up and put them on my trisuit back pockets instead. Not long after leaving T1 I noticed I didn’t have power readings. Argh, not again! This power meter has been giving me troubles every so often and this time it didn’t disappoint. No reading at all. I stop the bike, reset the bike computer, remove and reinstall the power meter battery and nothing. So be it… At that point in the race everything looked pretty grim and I was wondering what could go wrong, however my bad luck ended there. As I rode off without a power meter I remembered a PRO man once answering to the question: “Do you race guided by your bike computer info?” with “I train with data, I race with heart.”. I thought I could do the same and so it was I was going on the simply by feel. I actually knew the bike course quite well. I had studied it. I knew that there was going to be just over 1000m ascent, over 10 steep climbs with gradients from 3% all the way to 17%. I knew where the climbs were and I knew how I generally performed on the climbs since I had reproduced the Kraichgau course on my Turbo, thanks to Tacx technology. The first climb would start at Km 12 so I had a bit to warm up and get going. I took it easy and noticed that although the climbs were not easy the following downhill was great to make up for the time lost during the uphill or rest the legs. The worst uphill with a gradient of 17% with a 100m stretch touching 20% was after Km 40 and I just had to have enough energy to make it up that one. Lots of people through the course ensured constant motivation to keep going and after the hard bit at Km 40, I kept going and by Km 50 I knew I was doing pretty well having an average speed of around 29km/h. My concern at this point was that I was taking it too easy since I didn’t really felt tired. Legs were strong and I was fine. So, I decided to push the uphills and downhills all the way to the end. And so I did… The last halfs goal was to push, push, push or like Germans like to shout: “Hopp, hopp, hopp”. I ended up negative splitting the ride with a final after of 30.08km/h and a total time of 2h59m47s. I arrive at T2, someone takes my bike and I put my shoes on. Onto the run feeling well… By this point I knew I was going to make my time goal of 6h00m-6h15m unless something went really wrong. The run was easy through the streets of Bad Schoenborn on a slightly undulating terrain. I kept ticking kilometers at a pace aroung 5m20s/km which was exactly what I was looking for. I had a slight neck pain out of T2 which was massively improved by placing wet sponges on the back of my neck each time I crossed an aid station and once per loop (for the 3 loops), I stopped and walked while I sipped on a cup of coke (in preparation for the plan we have for my next race: IRONMAN Frankfurt).
The run started feeling harder during the last loop but I knew by now I had been through the worst and it was time to head to the finish line. With a run time of 1h51m55s (pace 5m18s/km) I crossed the finish line with a time of 5h38m32s. This gives me some terrible times for T1 and T2 at 4m07s and 3m04s respectively.
I was super excited with the result and once I got hold of my mobile phone I noticed I wasn’t the only one since I already had a message from coach Steve wondering if he had followed the right Paulo. It was a beautiful course and the whole event was really, really well planned.
I was there until the PRO award ceremony, where Kienle took 2nd place and Boris Stein took 1st. The great German hopeful Julia Gajer DNF’ed and Yvonne van Vlerken took 2nd. First place went to an unknown to me: Anja Beranek who smashed the field.
It was a really great race and I can’t wait to go back to Kraichgau next year to do an even better time.
As for lessons learned, well… always take a 2nd pair of goggles. Check the power meter on race day before you head off to swim start and put a new battery if necessary. My problem during race day was not due to battery but due to humidity in battery case contacts. Since the bike was left in the rain outside during the night, this generated some internal humidity that didn’t allow the power meter to function properly. Anyway, this also taught me I can pedal by feel and that negative splits are good.