After finishing last season on a high by winning my AG at IMUK – with a time of 9:53 and 15th overall – I was happy that the IMUK box had finally been ticked, and it was time to find another challenge.
Ironman Austria became the shout, with the very elusive time of sub 9hrs becoming the goal. It was a little daunting when you did the maths: Swim 0:57, Bike 4:40, Run 3:15 (allowing 6 minutes for T1, T2). To do that, it would be a personal best in not one, but in all 3 disciplines. But with a bit of luck and a good consistent training build, which would work out to be 9 months, I thought “I reckon I can do this!”
Also, judging from the previous years, if I achieved my sub 9hr goal, there would be a huge chance of a European AG Podium thrown into the mix. Double Whammy!
And so, in September 2015, the training build began with the two biggest tasks being to move my cycling and running on to the next level.
Training went well and the season began much better than I’d expected, with 3 wins and a 2nd place in a few local shorter distance races. Then came The Monster Mojo Middle distance race, where I managed to take another overall win. All of this set me up nicely The Grafman (British middle distance championships) where I picked up a gold medal in my AG, and 7th overall.
As June approached I was very happy with where my fitness was. All of my long runs had been almost 30 seconds per mile faster than they had ever been before, and my cycling had thankfully returned from 2012. Other than an ex-pro cyclist taking 20 seconds off me over 56 miles, I’d managed to post the fastest bike splits in every race so far – and gone on to set new 100 mile Time Trial PB (3:56) and a new 50 mile PB (1:49). I was definitely ready!
I arrived in Austria with my Brother, David, on the Thursday to a scorching 30+ degrees. My first thought was “Oh No! I’m going to melt if it’s like this on Sunday…Game over!” The weather didn’t really change right through to Saturday where it was beginning to cool down and reports of rain were coming in.
Race morning arrived, The Wörthersee looked stunning and the weather felt perfect. Myself & David made our way to front of the rolling start to meet Paul Burton & Nico. This brought back some good memories from last year when me and Paul (who was also looking for a sub 9) crossed the line together at the Ironman South Africa. Although we both had great races last year and finished within a minute of each other, today’s goal was going to take something on another level to achieve.
The pro men were due to go off 10 minutes before us, and the pro women 2 minutes after them. So we just had time for a hug and hand shake and we were off.
I’d positioned myself at the front of the rolling swim start, hoping to be towed along with the faster swimmers and then hopefully start the bike up near the front. The Wörthersee was awesome to swim in, the water was so calm and cool. I swam strong but controlled and just tried to enjoy it. The rolling start had taken away any of the usual carnage you get from a mass start so the swim ended up being pretty uneventful and very smooth. It finished with a fast 1k down a narrow canal, with a huge support packed down both sides. I had no idea what my swim time was but previous years had suggested it was a fast swim, so i was hoping around 57min.
Swiftly through T2, onto the bike and quickly into a rhythm. My target power was 255 watts. I knew
I could run well off this power, and I hoped it was enough to give me around 24mph and a 4:40 bike split. If I did that, it would leave me with a 3:15 marathon for a sub 9hr finish.
I came out of the swim in roughly 165th position overall and I was making up a lot of ground very quickly, so found it hard to hold back. The course was like nothing I’d ridden before, with absolutely incredible scenery and super smooth roads. And, to my surprise, it wasn’t as flat as i had thought it would be. In fact, the course has a similar amount of climbing as IMUK 1680m – so don’t come to Austria with your 11-23 expecting a drag strip. The difference is on the very fast, long safe descents, where speeds of 45mph+ are possible.
A couple of miles in, I pulled along side David and asked him what his swim time was. He said 58min, so I knew then that I was 1/2min slower, which meant I was already 2mins behind target race time. I thought “Oh S***, where am I going to find an extra 2 minutes?!”
The bike course felt great and I just enjoyed riding on my own for the first 40 miles, until I picked up the first male pro. A few miles later I came alongside Paul, who was riding solo. I asked him how he felt and encouraged him to come with us. I pushed on and came to the half way turnaround bang on time at 2:19, which meant a 4:40 bike split was on. As I made the turn I noticed the male pro was still there but Paul wasn’t. Knowing from the Ironman SA last year, when Paul let me go on the bike so he could stick to his own race plan, I knew he’d made the same decision and decided to stick to his own power and let us go…
Now on the second lap, I was catching big groups of male pros with a few AGs mixed in – not really following the drafting rules very well. I tried not to pay much attention to this since I was only there for one thing, and getting caught up in group riding would have messed up my rhythm and probably cost me time. I rode straight past the first group, trying to keep the power even with no surges. I had a look back a few minutes later to find 7/8 riders in tow. Frustrated? Yes. Concerned? No.
A few miles later, we were now approaching another group of 5 riders doing exactly the same as the group behind me. Let’s be blunt, they were cheating. I then decided that I wasn’t going to drag a huge group of guys into T2 for them to all run past me in the marathon. So, as the first climb approached on the second lap, I climbed pretty strong towards the front of this new second group and as soon as it began to flatten I took off and descended down the other side like never before using the big gears I had – getting up to 50mph. I looked back near the bottom and it had worked, the elastic had snapped and i was on my own apart from one MP who was caught between me and the group, doing his best to bridge the gap.
From there on, the rest of the ride was pretty smooth with only a few solo riders beginning to fade and not bothering to try and jump on. Just as I started the final descent into town, I was caught by Sam Gyde (who was first overall AG at IMSA last year and went on to win my AG in Austria – an incredible cyclist/runner). It was raining by this stage, which meant we couldn’t quite descend as fast as the first lap. We arrived at T2 and dismounted together as 1st & 2nd Age Groupers! I was Top 20 overall and had a bike time of 4:40:05. Job 2, done. Now I just had to run a sub 3:14 marathon to finish under 9hrs. Easy, right?
It was a bit scary to be fair, but at least I was still in with a fighting chance.
In and out of T2 quickly, knowing I couldn’t afford to give away any seconds, never mind minutes.
It was still raining which felt great and helped keep me cool in the early miles. Sam came past me in the first mile and went on to run a sub 3hr marathon and win our AG . I had done the maths and knew I needed low 7min miles if I was going to give myself a chance of getting what i came here for. So i settled into a 7:15-20 per mile pace, which would give me a sub 3:14 run if I could hold it.
The first half of the marathon came and went with no problems at all, with a split of 1:35 – right on pace. Gels mixed with some semi-solid food was working great, and I was beginning to think this could be done. At the first turnaround, I’d spotted Paul only a few minutes back and then our Dave a few more minutes after that. Both were running well and looking good.
The miles came and went until all of a sudden, at mile 20, my legs decided they didn’t want to run
at this pace anymore and I slowed to a 7:55 pace. Again, I did some quick maths and realised I couldn’t afford to lose 40sec per mile for 6 miles. I was kind of expecting this to happen, but just hoped it wouldn’t. Now, the gels & coke just weren’t having the same effect. I was fully in survival mode and had adopt some ridiculous running technique where my knees were hardly bending to keep going. This seemed to work and my pace picked back up to 7:40. My breathing sounded like
a painful growl as i made the final turnaround in the town. I tried to look out for Paul & Dave but my focus was to just put one foot in front of the other and get to the finish line.
With only 3 miles of pain left, sub 9hrs was still on. Finally, I arrived at the most incredible finishing shoot, packed out with support and bouncing music. The feeling you get when you arrive onto any Ironman finish mat is one that will stay with you forever and is impossible to describe.
I crossed the line with a 3:11 marathon and looked behind me at the finish time: 8:57. Job done.
I took a couple more steps and just collapsed on the floor. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, so I did both. I was stretchered off to the medical tent for some checks and after a 45min nap I was back out looking for our Dave & Paul to see how they got on. They’d both produced awesome performances with a 9:32 for Dave and 9:05 for Paul.
Final positions were: 31st Overall, 20th Age Grouper, 3rd in Age Group out 3000 athletes.
Not too shabby for an old boy. I do wonder how many of those AG athletes that ran past me on
the marathon actually rode a honest bike leg..!!
Overall, this was an incredible race in a beautiful country with amazing people. My dream was sub 9hrs and possibly a European podium spot. I got both. A Kona slot was never my goal, although it was nice to be able to turn my 6th slot down. Maybe next year…
If you’re considering Ironman Austria, then stop considering and get registered! Although, I would say that if your goal is Kona, Austria may not be the place to go with many European athletes happy to ride very easy in big groups and then run a sub 3hr marathon.
Huge thanks to my Wife, kids, family friends, my training partner Dave, fellow athletes and everybody at Bury AC for all your help and support this year.
And that just about wraps things up for me this year. I’m off to enjoy a full day of supporting everybody at IMUK.