Phil writes and recaps part I of the race: The Swim!
“Already I’m hitting people as I stay afloat and they are hitting me, arms, legs, hands, knee’s.”
The big Day. Ironman Germany, European Championship
It’s Thursday now after the race and my head is still fresh from the day. Where to start? Some words run through my head, amazing, my perfect race, incredible human spirit, challenging, ecstatic, electric atmosphere.
Im going to split this up into 3 separate reports, Swim, bike and run, they are going to be long.
Sunday I woke up at 4am and immediately had some energy drink, the rule of thumb is eat and drink 3 hours before race time so the body has time to digest the food into the system and then 15 minutes before the start have another energy drink with a gel.
Oatmeal, fruit, a powerbar, two bottles of Hammer pupeution endurance mix. It wasn’t easy to get all that down in such a short time, but I managed, I already felt full from that, oh well. I finished packing my bottles with endurance mix in them, got on my race gear, which is tri shorts and a biking top, wrapped around my heart rate monitor strap, tossed my wetsuit over my shoulder with my back pack and headed out the door down to the lobby. Thinking as I went down the elevator, “have I forgotten anything, what else do I need”, ok I had pre race nerves. I had my bike, my bike shoes, running shoes, wetsuit, goggles, swim cap, race number, gels, powerbars, salt tablets, clothes to change into afterwards, there must be more which I can’t remember now. There is a lot of stuff you need for the long day of racing and one thing forgotten can bite you in the butt at some stage during the day.
The lobby was full of activity at 4.45am, people everywhere, eating, drinking coffee, running out the door. This was it, it was race morning at the continental hotel, the place was a buzz with adrenaline with some of the best athlete’s on the planet. Terrenzo walked passed and wished me good luck, Macca seemed relaxed chatting to some friends, the Germans had their game faces on. Finally on the bus which was full, I immediately heard chatter, “how do you feel?, how many Ironmans have you done?, the stories were all around already. The fellow next to me was English so we got chatting, it was his fourth Ironman, so I immediately asked for his words of wisdom. “take it easy on the second half of the bike leg, don’t blow up the legs”, it was good advice, but how will I know? How fast can I go, when can I push it? The other words of wisdom, “was make sure you eat every 20 minutes on the bike”, which I’ve heard now from everyone and probably one of the most important aspects of the race. If you run down your calories without replenishing then your in big trouble and you can’t catch up.
We arrive at the swim lake and the place is packed with thousands of people, camera’s everywhere, the competitors piling into the transition area preparing their bikes for the 112 mile journey, volunteers to help you if you need anything. I got to my bike and put down my stuff. Time to pee already. Heading to the porta potties I see no lines, which is amazing for a race like this. The Germans again have done a great job on the organization. Back to my bike and I prepare my water bottles and food, get them on the bike, look around for a pump to check my tire pressure, finally found one and got that job out of the way. It’s now only 5.45am, but I know time is going to pass quickly before the 7am start. Double check my bike area and get my shoes in place ready when I come up out of the water and transition onto my bike. Ahah, my new Helmut is sitting on my aerobars ready to get tossed on my head, race belt with my number, is beside it.
Back to the bathrooms again for number 2, sorry about the detail, but it’s so clear now as I visualize myself back at race day. I have time so I want to check out the pro’s bikes and see what they are up too. The area where the pro’s bikes are is crowded, everyone is trying to get a glimpse of these super athlete’s, including myself. Most of the pro’s are not even there, they are already down at the water getting warmed up for the swim.
It’s now 6.30am so I figure one more check on my bike, get my wetsuit on and head down to the water’s edge to get my feet wet. The pro’s start a 6.45am, so I want to check out that start because right after the age groupers are going to start crowding the starting line, I don’t want to be left behind in the pack too much at the start. Funny Phil!!!
The pro’s start on time and within minutes they disappear out into the lake. They will do the 2.4 mile swim between 45 and 50 minutes. Yep that is twice as fast as me. Less than 1 minute per 100 metres. Try it, get in a pool and swim 100 metres, they are flying I can assure you, but not just the swim, they are full speed the whole race, red lining it, pushing the very limits of human endurance and pain.
We move up to the line with 10 minutes to go before the start. I’m about mid way on the line, about 20 metres back. I’m treading water now as well as everyone else, it’s still 10 minutes to go. Already I’m hitting people as I stay afloat and they are hitting me, arms, legs, hands, knee’s. Not much conversation either. Im excited to get going but still 5 more minutes of treading water in one spot. I take a look around and see at least 75 yards behind me full of bodies, red swim caps, the shore line is full of thousands of people, I hear the commentator “3 minutes to start”, then more hitting with arms and legs, people are crowding to the starting line which is protected by about 30 kayaks keeping everyone back. You just can’t help touching people as they move closer and closer to the starting line, but no where to move.
“One minute to start time”. Excitement overwhelms my body at this stage, I start hooting and yelling as does everyone else, “30 seconds to start time”. I think this is it, I’m going to start my first Ironman in less than one minute, all the training, the pain, the sweat for this one day. BANG we start, but we don’t move, I start a slow movement of my arms going forward very slowly. Bodies everywhere, all hitting like “dodgem cars at a fair”. The crowd starts to move now and I’m swimming forward but still hitting people with every stroke and kick. After about 10 minutes of what seems like start and stop swimming I get into a good rhythm of breathing, working on getting my heart rate to slow down. I’m working on drafting off people in front of me, which isn’t hard now with hundreds of people very close by. All of a sudden I feel a hand run over my head and it catches the strap of my goggles, they are sliding off my head within a few seconds, so I grab them with one hand and pull them down again, boy that was close. I’ve heard stories of people losing there goggles and swimming the whole swim leg without them.
I look up and watch for the buoys. We arrive at the first turn buoy which is 600 meters from the start, what a mess, bodies everywhere, I slow down again working my way around the bouy. “Now that wasn’t too bad, I’m a quarter of the way now and feeling good”.
I’m starting to find some space to get into a good stroke count and still breathing consistently. I’m feeling easy in the water and my heart rate seems to have slowed down now. Oh crap, what is that, a cramp in my calf muscle, shit, it wasn’t bad but enough to get my attention and slow me down slightly, it must be the cold water. I go on a few more minutes but decide to stop and work some blood into my lower legs, so I roll onto my back and do some floating for about 10-15 seconds. A little stretch in the calves, a good look around to take in this atmosphere of the race. People swimming far ahead of me and far behind me, “good I’m not last”. I get back into my rhythm and head to the shore which is the end of the first 2000 meters. Still people are hitting me and I’m hitting them, all accidently of course. I touch ground and move up out of the water onto the dry sand, walk about 10 yards around a bouy and back into the water for the next section of the swim which is 1800 metres. I take a look around me as I get swept back into the water by the mass of humans in wetsuits, no time to waste get in there Phil and get moving, not far to go now. Within 20 minutes it’s time to swim around another turn bouy at the other end of the lake, which wasn’t too bad, finally the crowd is thinning, it’s now on the final stretch back to the beach.
I keep looking up to find the shore but it doesn’t get closer very quickly, so the head is back down and I’m swimming like a demon now. I see the bottom and my fingers start to scrap the sand, it’s time to stand up. Now upright I look at my watch, it read 8.18am, I couldn’t believe my time, fantastic, 2.4 miles in less than one hour and twenty minutes, I’m pumped.
I peel down my wetsuit as I walk up the steep hill towards Transition 1, my heart rate is racing, it’s got to be over 160 at this point. The crowd is screaming, I hear names being called, “water anyone, Iso drink, water, water here”, the aid station is 3 deep of athlete’s already hydrating, it’s still bumper to bumper with competitors moving towards their bikes.
Check back for Phil’s entry of the bike transition! Way to go Phil! Suzie