On June 30, 2013, Angela Paterson – one of my athlete’s – competed in her first Ironman in Klagenfurt, Austria and finished in a fantastic time of 13:49 hours. As with any long distance race it had its ups and downs. Below is Angela’s story of how her day went. She also shares her top tips for future Ironman aspirants.
“6.45am on the banks of the Worthersee and it is beautiful. The lake is aqua, the music loud, the air charged and two bright hot air balloons begin their ascent into the blue sky. And I feel strangely calm.
I can barely see or hear the other 3000 competitors around me and the only thought in my head is ‘Right – let’s get this thing done’.
The air was tense with anxiety and nerves, swimmers anxiously hugging their loved ones and some competitors contemplating the distance to the first buoy. But some particular words of semi jokey advice had stuck in my head leading up to the race start. ‘Fear not other Warriors. They who use bravado do so to cover their own nerves. And those who fret and stress will deplete your energy. So stay strong in your bubble.’
Karl and I had discussed the start to finish race fuelling plan – and I started on track by popping a gel 15 mins before the hooter. Breakfast had been almost 3 hours before and I needed the kick.
7am – and we were off. Beach start – but not such a frenetic event due to the width of the lake entry. The first 2800m of the swim was a simple loop and my main thought at this stage was to stay out of trouble – particularly around the buoys. Over and over in my head ‘stay out of trouble’. I was on and off feet, honestly just trying to savour the fact I was doing an Iron swim – with blue sky and a beautiful lake! Occasionally I caught sight of the hot air balloons in the sky above my head. Amazing. Then we were into the canal – wow – imagine hundreds of swimmers channelling into a narrow canal and swimming almost in sync. I stuck left and could see the faces of the spectators cheering us on – with the noise of the cowbells and vuvuzelas loud in my ears on every breath. I think I was actually smiling whilst swimming! Outstanding experience and I was almost sad when it ended.
Out of the water at 1.22 – delighted! ‘I’ll have that!’ was my thoughts. (my target time was 1.25)
Onto the bike and feeling very excited. Ahead of me 2 laps of Austrian countryside.
Hmm – and it was a bike of two halves! First lap was possibly one of the best experiences of my triathlon ‘career’. Mountains, lakes, lovely roads – a few more hills than I had expected but these were full of beer swilling (breakfast time?) supporters clanging their bells, playing music, blowing trumpets and simply going mad. Tour de France style messages all over the roads and people shouting your name – a very surreal and wonderful experience. I thought my face was actually going to split at that point!
Lap 2 – a whole different ball game. The crowds had gone back to bed, the views no longer a novelty and my bike wasn’t playing. Rookie error in that my cleats came loose on one of my shoes – so I had to hop off and screw back on. Note to self and others – plane vibrations loosen screws – tighten EVERYTHING! Then the chain kept jumping off. On the hilly bits! Whilst that wasn’t really a problem, I was covered in oil and more importantly – my bike gears and chainset were sounding dodgy. This reined me in quite a bit (possibly no bad thing to be honest) as I was now just having conversations with the bike asking ‘Keith’ to just get me to 112 miles.
I also had some messages on stickers on my top tube – so I used these to distract me mentally from the fear that my bike was going to end my race.
Although I was concerned, Karl and I had discussed how to manage such scenarios and I felt mentally prepared to deal with most issues that might arise during the race.
Fuel – I had lovingly prepared my bike picnic with the plan of going 200 cals per hour with a combination of solids and gels. Flapjacks, malt loaf, macaroon bar, Cliff Bars, blok shots.
I hardly touched any of it. Obeying coaches orders, I did not eat for first 20 mins on the bike (to allow HR to settle). Then the plan was to eat something every 20 mins totalling 200 cals per hour. Solids for the majority but switching to liquid fuel for the last hour. But after the first hour my body just said no to the plan. In total I had 2 x half bits of banana from the fab fuel stations and also the Cliff bar – with a couple of gels and a packet of blok shots. I had a small bite of something every 20-30 mins but it was only just enough to keep my energy levels sustained. Whilst I don’t necessarily recommend this little – it felt right for me at the time and I was one of the few people who weren’t having stomach problems on the run.
(Interestingly, I was the same at Outlaw Half – again ate very few carbs on the bike, had no stomach issues on the run and PBd by a big chunk. About to research and practise fuelling for my next adventure using fat rather than carbs – will keep anyone interested posted!)
Finished bike in 7.08 – target time 7 hours. Again – thank you very much! That was a huge moment. 2 down, 1 to go. OK that 1 thing was a marathon but I was in one piece and feeling wired!
I took time in T2 to get my head in gear and it was out on the run. It was hot and I was hydrated but probably slightly under fuelled at this point but my plan was to just to keep nibbling on something regularly to top up rather than risk stomach upsets. Seemed to work. (I recall one fuel station having half a cup of coke and a salt cracker – felt like the tastiest snack ever!) In total on the run I had a bit of water melon, 2 salt crackers, 4 or 5 gels and some iso / coke to drink.
I can honestly say that that the first 10k – even the first 5k of that run – was the hardest mental challenge I have ever had. At 7k I felt mentally knackered and wondered how the hell I was going to manage another 35k running! There was a big black cloud over my head and I wasn’t sure if or when it was going to disappear.
At this point, not feeling too strong, I decided to ignore the time (changed the view on my watch), ignore my pace and just focus on moving forward to the next fuel station to the best of my ability. And doing them one at a time. Not very scientific I know – but I only really have one pace so I knew roughly what the outcome would be (turned out to be pretty precise too!) So – I switched off from thinking how far or how long I was running and just broke it down. Got in the zone and distracted myself by cajoling the walkers into jogging.
Every time I crossed a timing mat, I tried to absorb the energy of the people at home tracking me (fills up a wee bit writing this! J) That support was a huge boost.
At 25k I saw a few people who had overtaken me early in the bike and was surprised to see I was catching them. That gave me a kick and I plodded on.
At around 32k I asked a chap what time of day it was as I really had no idea. He said (good answer) ‘the time is unimportant – but what is important is that if you walk from here you will finish in 14.10 (my target time!! Really?) and if you run you will go under 14!’
Woo hoo! Under 14 – yes please – and I was off!
The last 10k was tough again – nothing hurt really – I just felt knackered. But I allowed myself to do a walk run (counting lampposts) when I felt really crap. The positive bit was that I could hear the race commentator for all of this time as he brought home the faster athletes with those immortal words!
The crowds were amazing on the run – loud, energetic. This particularly helped on the last km which seemed to last forever.
Turning the corner onto the red carpet was unlike anything you can experience anywhere else. The commentators are brilliant, the crowd at fever pitch and it is all for you! I high fived the crowds on each side, crossed the line and did a wee dance (obviously!). I do recall saying something to the camera man with the mike but I have no idea what!
Angela – you are an Ironman! 13.49. Happy days.
My marathon target was 5 hours. Bang on.
Re my target and actual times – they were spot on. I did not use a HR monitor. I thought carefully about this and whilst they are great in training and good for some people – I personally felt that listening to my own body was the way for me.
Despite my yearning for beer and pizza throughout the race (I’d heard there was a pizza tent for finishers!) – the best I could manage afterwards this point was apple juice and a few slices of ham. A few stretches and some warm clothes on, it was time to cheer others down that final few meters of their ironman journey.
Sitting in the stadium (standing was a bit of a challenge) the commentator announced that there was one last runner out there and that their expected time in was 1 minute past midnight. Too late to become an Ironman. Folks were sent out with torches to guide her in and we were encouraged to go crazy to the sounds of Queens ‘We will Rock you’ so that she could hear us and take strength.
With three minutes to spare – and with not a dry eye in the house – she crossed over to the other side. Sometimes a bit of motivation from others goes a long way. And certainly – advice, training and mental preparation is key. But ultimately it is down to us to reach our goals.
My Top 5 Tips:
- In the days before – rest and accept that you will be nervous. You will probably also feel like your fitness has gone slightly off the boil but have faith that it hasn’t. Don’t let other people affect your energy levels or state of calm.
- Fuel – Plan and practise what you are going to eat. Everyone is different. Don’t try something new on the day or copy others. Plan and practise.
- Mental prep – write down a list of all the things that might bother you or cause an issue during the race. Then write a solution next to each of them. So you will have an answer for just about anything.
- Break it down – don’t think of the event as a whole. Break it down into chunks then deal with them one at a time. Particularly on the run. The thought of running a marathon after the swim and bike might seem huge. So just run one bit at a time then deal with the next segment.
- Finally – anything is possible. Just get on with it! 🙂 “
Angela was physically well prepared for the race and had the right mental attitude on the day letting the more testing moments not derail her day. Congratulations on a great race Angela!