Race Report Roth 2004 (Ironman)

Hi all,

it is my pleasure to report that I have made it home safe and sound
after spending the weekend in Roth, Germany. They now run the
International Triathlon Festival, what used to be the Ironman Germany.
It is apparently the worlds largest long-distance venue, with ca. 3000
participants and about 130,000 spectators. I can tell you the crowd was
fantastic. I have never seen such passion in the people cheering up
every single finisher in the stadium, the later they arrived, the more
applause and cheering they got. Many of the racers had tears rolling down
their cheeks as they came closer to the finish line. It was very
moving.

The race course is what would seem to me picture perfect: swim in the
Main-Donau canal, which is wide, has good water (clean and ca. 20 C)
and the course is simple enough for me to remember: 1.5km from start to
the first bridge, turn around, 1.9km to the other bridge, turn around,
400m to the finish. Seeing that I have always had trouble counting
laps, the simplicity was a real benefit to me. I managed to get through
the swim in ca. 1:20, with a relaxed heart rate, thanks to just the
three hours of extra training with Sarah Fleming, my adorable swim
coach. As we were getting into the water, we had a chance to see the
elite come out of it. They had started a little more than half an hour
ahead of us. Boy did they look fit!

The transitions were extremely well organised. As I came into the
change tent, I must have had the usual disoriented look on me. One of
the many helpers approached me and asked me if she could help. I
noticed then only that there were various helpers assisting people in
removing their wetsuits or putting on their cycling gear. I figured
that I could still handle things myself and left them to help others.
Outside the tent, food and drinks were served, just in time to fuel up.
Transition wasn’t fast, with about 6 minutes, but other people were
sitting by their bikes for a rest, so not too bad.

Next the bike ride. A two-lap circuit through the beautiful landscape
of Frankonia. Short ascents, long descents, smooth roads, plenty of
cheering. A little too much wind at the start, but mostly sunny.
Through the woods, up the hills, along rivers, no oncoming traffic, all
intersections blocked by traffic wardens and police.  Every town had
their local cheering site, people standing, waving, shouting, making
music and noise. One particular spot is the hill in Solar, where
probably about half of the spectators had assembled to give people
support for the last hill of the lap. I have only known this kind of
density and charged atmosphere from mass marathons in large cities.
Food was served every 18km: water, iso, bars, bananas and more. While
we were in the middle of our first lap, the elite passed us on their
second tour. Amazing speed, no wonder they finish in about two thirds
of the time. I kept my level of exertion down to prevent a drop-off in
the run, came out after 6 hours and felt great, apart from a beginning
sunburn.

They hadn’t been joking when they described the food selection for the
run course: all of the usual stuff (see above) plus watermelon, apples,
various styles of dry cake (!), salt crackers. I only missed a nice
cappuccino to go with the cake, but would have spilled most of it
anyway. As I entered the run course, the elite was coming out of it.
They did look a bit tired, but still managed to hold a good speed.
Later I heard that they had set a new record. The two best came in under
eight hours. I had read before that the whole game of the Ironman race
gets decided in the second half of the marathon. I kept my pulse down,
my legs were feeling comfortable and I started a nice slow rhythm. I
slightly miscalculated my speed at first, apparently my number
handling skills were not top class anymore after almost eight hours of
exercise. The path lead us through the forest back to the canal for
basically a 21km loop up on one side, nice and flat, on earthen ground,
very soft on the limbs. We ran with the canal on one side and the
forest on the other, partially in the shade, the more so the later it
got. It was a nice distraction to be able to watch the on-comers. Some
of them had people running with them or cycling next to them for
support. Food supply was ample, about every 3km the selection I had
described above. After the half-marathon mark, another loop down the
other side of the canal, similar setup with a bit of a stretch into the
forest, through a village and slightly (ouch!) up over the bridge and
onto a hill. It was there that I needed to focus a lot, because I was
getting problems with my food and drink intake. I remembered Gordo’s
advice in his book „Going Long“ (thanks to Mark Gordon for recommending
that) and alternated water/iso with water/coke, until I had to pee more
than once every hour, at which point I cancelled the water. I think the
coke kept me alive.

From the second turnaround, my attitude started getting better, as I
realized it was only another 4km back to the canal, then 4km along the
canal, then another 4km into the finish. That seemed manageable and I
got myself together and started tagging some of the relay people, who
had obviously been passing the rest of us throughout the whole race. It
was a difficult exercise not to go beyond what seemed to be the puking
threshould at about 137 heartbeats per minute, while trying to maintain
the highest possible speed. Eventually the finish line came noticeably
closer and my speed did not drop off. I had calculated that I could
come in a good bit under 12 hours and what seemed to me like a dream at
first eventually came true: after 4:05 in the marathon, my watch was
showing a few seconds over 11:45 total as I finished!

I don’t want to bore you with the details of the excellent recovery
facilities, safe to say I only had to wait 10 minutes before I could
enjoy a massage and that the food selection was good as usual. My
brother (9 years older and slightly overwheight) has also finished, in
14:49. Soon after he came in, the fireworks started as people chanted
and clapped their hands to the music. The stadium was bursting from
energy in the night.

After all this blurb, I’d like to thank you all for helping me achieve
this life-altering experience after only half a year of preparation. My
gratitude especially to my wife for supporting me even as we got our
third baby, but special thanks go to particular people in the club who
have made me believe that I can do it: Barry and Roger for relating
their similar experiences, Mark and Jon and Sarah for their training,
Martin Williamson for the best bike ride of my life, Roland for lending
me the bike box, Daniel for setting the pace on the hills and Mike for
all the nice chats that we had during the training.  You won’t see me
much at training over the next month, while I focus on recovery (and
getting rid of my scorching sunburn) and take on a new responsibility
at Deutsche Bank, but I’ll try to make it to the pub sessions on
Tuesdays…

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