Training had gone reasonably well. I’d gotten in quite a few hours but not as many long runs as I had liked. If I’m honest, I was quite bored of running after the marathon in Antwerp two months ago.
I got to Luxembourg on Friday and planned a 60k warm up ride along the hills of the course. I took it easy and really concentrated on the climbs: what gears to shift to, where I could take some calculated risks etc
On the Saturday we had the race briefing at 13:00 and bike check in from 14:00. After that, it was a waiting game until the following day.
Sunday I got up early to get one of the first shuttle buses to Remich. It meant that by 7.30, I had sorted out my bike (tyres, nutrition & drinks and shoes already clipped on) and had time to go to the warm up pool. I got my wetsuit on and did a short 100m swim just to get everything loose. After that, I needed a wee. Was I going to take my wetsuit and trisuit off to relieve myself? Was I f**k. I got a nice warm fuzzy feeling around my midriff which lasted for a good 10mins.
With about 15mins to go before the Pro athletes took to the water, I positioned myself around the 30-35min finish time for the swim. Obviously, as I had been consuming copious amounts of water in the morning, the bladder was full again and the wetsuit needed heating. After about 10mins, I could feel drops falling on my feet. I was happy once we started moving towards the start as I knew others could now stand in my piss.
Luckily, for Age-group athletes such as myself, it’s a rolling start in Luxembourg. It means they release 5 people into the water at a time to avoid too much congestion. Once I got into the water, I got into the groove pretty quickly. I hadn’t done any open water swims to practice and not swam with my wetsuit yet, but I had in the past in the sea so knew what to expect.
The most annoying part of the swim was being just slightly quicker than the people around me. It meant spending time and energy to get past them as we kept bumping into each other. I suppose that’s normal for an open water swim in a race.
I felt quite good during the swim and just tried to take it relatively easy. I had read in some advice column that an Ironman is never won in the swim, but can often be lost.
I got out of the water in 32mins, an average of 1:41/100m. Quicker than in my training swims so I can’t complain about that. Transition was quite quick, took me 2:56 which was decent compared to other athletes.
There is a no-drafting rule in this triathlon, so it’s a 90km solo ride.
The start of the course is 35kms along the river. You turn after about 20km and come back towards the town before a sharp right takes you up the first climb. We had a tail wind in the beginning and I averaged between 36-38kmh. All those slightly slower swimmers came right back with a big middle finger as they breezed past me at what must’ve been 45kmh+. I just don’t have that kind of speed in my legs after only 2.000km this year. That’s where, for me, the first mental battle began. I had to keep telling myself: “ride your own race, there is another 4.5h to go, don’t do anything stupid yet”.
The speed dropped considerably once we turned as the wind picked up.
All of a sudden, I was overtaken by a whole peloton. I was a little surprised seeing as drafting was supposedly not allowed and had seen referees on motorcycles already. I tried to make as some use of the peloton as I could without risking too much. I really didn’t want a blue card – 5min time penalty.
Then the next 40km had some 500m of elevation gain and was up and down all the way. The toughest climbs reached about 9% incline which isn’t too bad. It was just the constant gear changing which made it a challenge. My ride on Friday helped with my decisions.
The last 15km are flat again. You ride through Schengen and along the river again back to Remich. I picked up the pace again and finished with a 32.6kmh average. 2:45 total time for the bike.
The second transition was longer for everyone as you had to run around the transition area which added time. I ended up spending just over 4mins in transition.
I started my run just like I had in training. The first 2.8km were at 4:36/km pace. But I realised quickly that that pace wasn’t sustainable if I didn’t want to bonk. And I really wanted to finish my first ever triathlon with a smile. I started pacing myself but tried to at a minimum keep a 10kmh pace.
The run is a real mental battle too. It’s 4 laps, but each lap takes you past the finish. Only if you’ve collected the 4 coloured wristbands are you allowed to finish. So running past that one the first time, knowing you’ve got 16km to go, is a real pain.
Luckily, I had some supporters in the form of my son, wife, parents and parents-in-law cheering me on around the finish. It something so simple to do, but it really gives you a massive boost as an athlete. In fact, the first time I saw them during the run, I saw that they had bought a mini Ironman tshirt for Jack which really put a smile on my face.
I also saw some ladies holding cardboard signs. One of them said “smile if you peed in your wetsuit”. I duly obliged.
After about 12km I started walking 10m at the aid stations to be able to properly get fluids in. My stomach was really starting to cramp up due to all the sugars I had ingested during the day.
Once I ran past the family & finish for the 3rd time, I tried to push a little harder for the last 5km. But there really wasn’t much left in the legs. I felt the lactic acid build up around my lungs as well so only managed to go a little quicker.
When I got to the finish, the emotions came. Close to tears, they disappeared when the announcer mentioned me and my finish time: 5:20:17!!! I had said to myself beforehand, if I manage under 5:30 I would be very happy, and I had smashed it!
I had a quick shower at the warm-up pool and a non-alcoholic beer which they were distributing. But once I got back to the hotel in Germany, I had a couple Erdingers. I felt I deserved it.
An Ironman, even the shorter ones, is a hell of an experience. This was well organised and a massive challenge physically and mentally. Although I still think the physical challenge of running a marathon is harder. Maybe I should try running a marathon next year after a 4km swim and 180km bike ride? We’ll see about that one. Time to enjoy the athlete’s high of this one first.