Ironman Austria 2011 was my 4th Ironman and my fastest one to date. That in itself should make me pleased but as someone remarked – I am always disappointed. This definitely appears to be the case for Ironman races. I can’t really remember how I felt after my first Ironman (Austria 2006). Germany 2007 and France 2009 were disappointments as I felt I had underperformed.

The same can be said for Ironman Austria 2011. The other thing to be said about Ironman Austria 2011 is that I didn’t seem to enjoy myself. Listening to Fiona on the other hand, she seemed to have a blast of a time in her first Ironman.

Going into the race I felt good, I had been running and cycling well and I felt I had sorted my head out in regards to the recent swim issues I have had (2 DNFs due to panic attacks). This was helped by a short swim in the lovely warm Woerthersee 2 days before the race.

So what happened: As I had planned to do I tried to keep myself to myself in the swim with in a field of 2800 athletes is rather difficult and over the first 1000m my mind was playing games with me causing me to revert to breast stroke to calm myself down. Luckily I didn’t have many thoughts of giving up, but was dominated by thoughts of finding ways to get through the swim. Suddenly I found a successful formula to this. I counted every stroke 1, 2, 3, 4 and repeat, left (breathing side) first. So for the remaining 2.8km I counted and counted and counted and kept out of trouble until I reached the entrance to the Lendkanal for the final 850m of swimming. I only had one more moment where I had to breast stroke which was when a pleasure boat kick up a series of waves I didn’t like. I returned to counting quickly enough though. When I got out of the water I took a look at my watch to look at my swim time: 1:24 hrs. Disappointed! I felt I swam faster than that but as it looks I my breast stroke breaks took more time than expected. Along with the disappointment I was pleased to have finished the swim after having only finished part of the swim in my last 2 races.

Fiona beat me out of the water which I wasn’t aware of until I got into T1 as she had exited about 20 seconds ahead of me (but roughly 30 places). We bumped into each other while getting ready to head out onto the bike. After a brief chat and a kiss I was off.

Before going into details of the bike leg I would like to mention that the conditions for a good Ironman race were close to perfect. Forecasted weather was for 23 degrees and a mix of sun and clouds with little wind. When exiting T1 I had some sun which soon disappeared and the remainder of the first 90km loop remained overcast and cool. The sun came out around 100km into the ride and it got notably warmer.

The first lap went pretty well with a time of 2:40 hrs although I felt when I had come over the 2nd climb (the Rupertiberg) that the power wasn’t where I wanted to be. Heart rate should have been higher. Strangely I think it could have been a bit warmer at this stage. Although I was eating regularly  don’t think  I was eating enough. My system of using a drinks bottle full of gels wasn’t working as well as I wanted it. I started taking on PowerBars and Bananas I picked up at the feed stations but nonetheless slowed down considerably in the seconds lap which I finished in 3:05 hours. Where I really felt I was losing time was on the climbs and in some of the flat sections which were heavily policed by the race marshals as this made continuous overtaking without appearing suspicious rather difficult. Overall I didn’t enjoy the bike ride and I can’t really explain why, my calves and my feet ached which seemed really odd. Shoes, socks, calf guards – something seemed to tight. When I finally came into T2 in 5:45 hrs my big target of sub 10 hours going into IMA was gone for good. I was relieved to be off the bike and looking forward to the run, my strength as of recent. When I got off the bike coming into T2 though, I had a strong pain on the side of my right foot and limped to rack my back and into the change tent. Looks like I wouldn’t be starting my run under 5 min/km pace. In order to get going on the run I had some Ibuprofen before leaving T2. Transition was slow as I wasn’t going anywhere fast with my foot.

I started the run slowly until the Ibuprofen kicked in and then picked the pace up to 5:20 min/km. As the problems with the foot subsided the run started to become enjoyable and I ran well. It turned out to be my best Ironman run I have ever had although again I was hoping to be faster. But different to other Ironman runs I had no issues with my stomach and could continually cake on food and drink. This also allowed me to run continually. I only interrupted my running when picking up food and drink to ensure I got this down me before resuming running. I remember when running in my first Ironman how it got increasingly harder to restart running. No such thing was happening this time and I felt strong going into the 2nd (of 2 laps). 4km into the 2nd lap Fiona and I crossed paths (she being on her first lap). I was pleased to see her off the bike and it was nice to see her have a big grin on her face.

Annoyingly with less than 4 km to go I got a stitch in my right side. I tried to run it off by slowing down a little (worked in the past) but to no avail, so walked for a bit to get rid of the stitch which worked. I finished with a run time of 3:43 hours and an overall finish time of 11:11 hours.

I was pleased to have finished the swim but disappointed with the time, didn’t have much fun on the bike and underperformed badly there but in the end enjoyed the run even though that was at a more moderate pace too than expected.

Overall it is another Ironman in the bank but it may be the last one for a bit. I appear to prefer Middle Distance races or longer than Ironman races more. I was recently trying to decide if I should focus in the next year or two on Long Distance Triathlon or Ultra Distance running. Ironman Austria 2011 has made this decision easier. I am yet to decide which races to enter but I am looking at either the Speyside Way Ultra (36 mile ultra) or the River Ayr Challenge (a  44 mile ultra run)which are in August and September respectively. On the plan for 2012 is an entry for the West Highland Way race (a 95 mile ultra – entry by ballot only). At the end of this year I already have the Beacons Ultra.

I might return to Ironman racing one day but only if I feel I can challenge a sub 10 time. That will at least involve sorting out my swimming for good and getting much stronger on the bike.