It’s been a month since I finished the hardest race of my life. It has exhausted me so much that it is only now that I find the mental energy to write about it.
I started to worry already days before the race, as the weather forecast relentlessly continued to predict extrem heat for the race day – 41 degrees Celsius. I know I’m not very good at handling heat – 30 degrees at Ironman Hamburg in 2018 was already borderline. I have very seriously considered cancelling my participation for the first time (I had a DNS twice in 2016, but I was so sick, that the start was not possible, so that’s a different situation). As if it wasn’t enough – I had a terrible allergy so I needed my meds, and I hate racing on meds, as I have the impression that they distort my body sensation (and I don’t mean it in any esoteric way). I was basically not sure if I’m going to start until I checked-in my bike the afternoon before.
I checked-in my bike though. The organization in Frankfurt is pretty terrible to be honest. Of course – it’s not easy with more than 3000 athletes. But still, waiting for the shuttle bus for more than an hour with almost 40 degrees outside is just not very funny.
The night was really hot and I didn’t sleep well. I got up and I somehow knew – it’s not going to be my day… It was not surprising that due to the high temperatures the race was held without wetsuits. I trained for that and was prepared for that. What I wasn’t prepared for, was how the “rolling start” in Frankfurt looks like. Let’s just say – when 3000 people enter the water within 20 minutes, it’s very, very, very crowded.
At the first buoy someone from behind grabbed my legs and pulled me under the water to swim over me. I struggled to get back to the surface as the flow of swimmers uninterruptedly continued. I was out of breath and had to pause before I was able to swim again. After this experience I definitely prefer separate start for men and women. I have never experienced such reckless and dangerous behavior in the water, when starting in a women-only group. My swim time: 1:32:00. About 15-18 minutes slower than expected. It was a little annoying – I expected slower bike and especially run time, but I was quite sure, that I can have an acceptable swim. But – not this time 😉
After a very long transition – I just was really slow – I was very happy to finally be on the bike. At 8:30 the temperature was still quite pleasant, with gentle wind so my mood was good again. Even the hills (800m per round) didn’t kill me (I’m terrible uphill and even worse downhill 😀 ) and I was able to smile for the camera while climbing one of them. It was not terribly fast, but I still managed to keep the average pace at over 30 kph in the first round. But then the second round came – and with it the heat. Terrible, terrible heat. I didn’t realize it on the first round, that there was basically no shade on the whole course. I probably wouldn’t have survived the second lap if some of the spectators at the course hadn’t offered a cool shower with garden hoses, especially as the water and isotonic drinks were not cooling anymore within about 15 minutes after the nutrition points. It was also a very good decision to leave my aero helmet at home and to use a regular bike helmet, so the cool water could find it’s way to my head. Not only the heat became a problem on the second lap. Also the wind became stronger and had nothing more to do with a cool breeze, instead it resembled rather a huge hairdryer, which was adjusted to the highest temperature level. It was quite sad to see so many people dropping out on the second round. I was not sure myself if I’ll be able to finish – sometimes I was doing little mental exercises, like basic maths, to be sure that my brain is still working properly. My final bike time: 6:37:19 on the prolonged course of 185 instead of 180 kilometers. I’m not a very fast cyclist, but a solid one, so the speed average of way under 30 kph was quite disenchanting.
With the run part starting just after 3 pm, with the temperature still rising, it was clear that it’s not going to be a fast marathon. My strategy for the race was: go easy, but never walk, take your time at the nutrition stations to cool down properly. Luckily the organizers and especially the volunteers did a really great job. The distance between the nutrition points was just about 2 kilometers, so it was enough even for the slow runners. And there was enough drinks, sponges, ice cubes and showers during the whole course. I was going really slow, finishing in 4:50:55 (which is more than an hour slower than my normal marathon time and about 40 minutes slower than my expected Ironman marathon time), but I was quite sure, that I’ll not DNF. Surprisingly I considered the run easier than the bike part, didn’t cramp at all and even managed to overtake 300 athletes on the run.
I’m normally very disciplined when it comes to nutrition. I have a gel every 30 minutes with some water to flush them down and drink mostly isotonic drinks. During the second half of the marathon I also add coke. This plan didn’t really work this time. I was not really able to eat so I had to rely on fluid sugar early on. I have no idea how much coke I drank during the race, but it felt like at least 10 liters 😀 It was also very helpful that there was salt on all the nutrition stations during the run – it was really necessary.
Finish and aftermath
The finish was at least as emotional for me as during my first long distance in 2015. I had ambitious goals for Frankfurt – I wanted to finish in 11:30 and I knew that it would have been possible under normal conditions. Under the given conditions I had to reduce this goal to:
- Don’t die
- Don’t get into a hospital
- Finish if 1) and 2) are not in danger
I managed to finish (in 13:12:07…), and I’m quite proud of myself. But I have never been so exhausted. I’m still regenerating and it’s taking me way more time than usual. Running is still very slow, I have to limit my swimming due tu costochondritis, only cycling works right now. I had quite a physiological and mental melt down in the weeks after the race and I’m still not really motivated to get back into training for the Berlin Marathon, which is in 8 weeks. If it were my first Ironman, it’d probably be my last. But it wasn’t, and I’m not a quitter 😉 But I’ll definitely not be racing Frankfurt again in the foreseeable future. My next race will be somewhere in the North (preferably north of the wall 😛 ), where such temperatures are very unlikely.