Swim, bike, run, write.

Ironman 70.3 Zell am See Kaprun Race Report: Mischief Managed

Guten tag from beautiful Zell am See. I'm so happy to be able to say I am officially an Ironman 70.3! Currently strutting around in my finisher t-shirt. Well, shuffling - sorry legs. Race report below, it's a long old ramble so you may want to grab some sort of hot beverage to get you through...

Race morning started with my usual ritual of coffee, porridge and a few quiet moments to get my head in the game. I'd been re-reading Chrissie Wellington's autobiography the night before and a quote that really stuck with me became my mantra for the day: "When things get tough, you get tougher". I kept repeating this to myself and it saw me through. If there was ever a day to put my big girl pants on and just get on with it, today was it.

The race didn't start until 11.10am - a really rather civilised start time when you've become accustomed to forcing down porridge pre 4am on race mornings! With our bags packed we headed down to Schüttdorf and decided to walk the mile or so towards the transition area and swim start. Bikes checked, nutrition locked and loaded it was time to get warmed up and get the wetsuits on. Queuing up for the swim start ended up being a bit mental. For some reason they'd loaded up the van to take the streetwear bags away early, meaning there was loads of us having to literally leap and throw our bags in to the van as they were closing the doors. The driver then decided to start reversing the van into the crowd of wetsuit adorned athletes waiting to get in to the lake. I have no idea why he thought this was a good idea, but almost being run over was not an ideal start to the race haha! 

Nervous and excited, we made our way towards the water. I was so glad to have my other half and partner in tri Graham by my side at this point, he kept me calm and focused. Really all this triathlon malarkey is his fault (I caught the bug whilst watching him race IM Bolton and Wales in 2015!) so it was a special moment to be able to start with him. He's much quicker than I am so this was the last time I'd see him until we passed each other on the run course. I really enjoyed the swim - Lake Zell is so beautiful! There was all the usual bumping and barging that you'd expect from a race of this size, but nothing that bothered me too much. It's hard not to enjoy yourself with such incredible scenery around you. Before I knew it I was making my way out of the water and heading towards T1 with a swim time of just under 38 minutes - around what I was expecting as I always just try to stay calm and relaxed on the swim.

The bike course at Zell am See is pretty spectacular. The first 20km features some nice, long downhill sections which gave me a chance to find my rhythm and get some nutrition on board. I was feeling great after the swim and grinning away to myself thinking 'I'm actually here and doing it!' 
The infamous 13.5km climb up towards Dienten/Hochkonig kind of lulls you into a false sense of security, starting with a fairly gentle steady climb for the first 10km. We'd driven the course earlier in the week so I knew what was waiting for us closer to the top - it would have been easy to go up this first bit a lot faster but I knew I'd suffer for it later so I stuck to my planned power output and focused on spinning up, staying comfortable. I like a good climb so I was enjoying myself at this point. The sun was shining and the Austrian landscape provided some amazing views. We made our way through Dienten and with the locals' cries of 'hup hup hup' ringing in our ears it was time for the real climbing to start. I won't lie, this last 3.5km or so is pretty damn steep and there's a certain amount of digging deep required to get up it. This is where I was so thankful for the rides we did on training camp in Majorca because I knew that I could do this, no matter how much my quads were burning. There were a few people stopping and walking around me but I was determined to just keep pedalling. When things get tough, you get tougher. There was some great support from spectators near the top which definitely gave me a little boost and suddenly I was at the top, feeling good. The descent is steep and a little bit technical to begin with, with a few sharp turns so I kept my wits about me and just concentrated on getting down safely. The rest of the course is great, with lots of fast flat sections and a few little hills to keep things interesting. I could feel the climb in my legs by the end, but I was way ahead of where I thought I would be and generally felt good. I rolled into T2 with a 3hr 16 minute bike split. Considering this time last year I was still clinging on for dear life whilst riding around at 16kph, not even able to get my bottle out of its cage without stopping, this was a pretty big achievement! 

Just the small matter of a half marathon to go. The weather was fairly hot while I was on the bike but thankfully it clouded over making the temperature a little more comfortable for running. I felt great for the first 2km, running a good 10 secs faster per km than I had planned without pushing at all. 'Awesome', I thought to myself, 'it's going to be a good running day'. Hah. Famous last words indeed. As I headed out of Zell am See and collected my first lap band it was like someone flipped a switch and I was hit with all the pain. Everything hurt. My running has been feeling strong recently but clearly there's still a lot of work to be done. I quickly ditched my pace plan and just focused on putting one foot in front of the other, running as much as I could and walking the aid stations. The long uphill to Thumersbach felt never ending but I just kept going. It wasn't fast and it wasn't pretty but I knew I was still on for a sub 6 hour 30 mins overall time. Finally I was coming towards the end of my final lap. 1km to go. 

And then the storm came. I made my way past the last aid station and was suddenly stopped by a woman shouting who eventually told me they were stopping the race because of the storm. With about 800m to the finish line I was being told I'd have to stop and wait for 30 minutes. I'd got to the point where stopping was not an option, I just needed to keep moving and get to that line. I'm usually extremely polite and don't like to kick up a fuss (seriously, I once almost just ate a half raw burger in a restaurant because I was too polite to complain - my friend had to frogmarch me up to the waitress!) but this was just not going to happen. Cue me sobbing on the side of the road like a maniac, begging with this woman to just let me finish. Turns out kicking up a fuss works a treat because another marshal came along gave me a little shove forwards and said 'ok, lauf lauf!'. Tears streaming down my face I ran as fast as I could to get to the finish before anyone else could stop me. I think I was one of the last lucky few who actually got an official time - by the looks of things the people that did stop ended up with DNFs in the official results. The finish line itself was a massive anticlimax. Throughout training, during all those winter rides not being able to feel my feet; the interval sessions that made my lungs feel like they were about to explode; the turbo sessions that made me feel like a chocolate teapot in a log burner; I'd had this image in my head of running down that carpet with people cheering and my name being read out. It had spurred me on all through training. Instead, everyone had left to shelter from the storm and the announcer was talking about the weather. I collected my medal with no idea where I was supposed to go next and ended up just wondering around in the rain feeling like a lost child until Graham found me! Not my finest hour haha. 

So there we have it. Definitely not the finish I had in mind, but a finish nonetheless. 6 hours 26 minutes after I started, I was officially an Ironman 70.3 finisher! When I think about how far I've come, it's hard not to be happy with what I've achieved.  Overall, the race was great despite the melodramatic ending and organisational quirks, but I feel like I've got unfinished business. I want my 'you are an ironman' moment! 

And with that in mind, IM Copenhagen 2018 here I come! Time to reset, give my body a little bit of recovery and then get cracking with winter training. It's time to get stronger, faster and more powerful, ready to step up to the full distance. Zell am See, you were a good start but these little lamb chop legs have definitely got more in them. 

A big thank you to my friends, family and work colleagues for putting up with all the constant triathlon related chatter. I know I've become a lycra-clad weirdo who always smells a little bit like chlorine so your support and patience is much appreciated. To my lovely clients for not laughing at me too much when I've gone to demo a squat and almost ended up getting stuck forever due to achy legs. To my Mum and Dad for always being there to provide words of encouragement, dog-sitting duties (Lord Rizzo say thanks), support, perspective and a much needed cup of coffee. To Campbell at Re-leaf MK for not laughing in my face when the girl who was terrified of cycling turned round and said she wanted to do a half Ironman. And last but not least, to my lovely Graham - my boyfriend, best friend, training partner, bike mechanic and voice of reason. You've been on hand throughout to help me to believe that I can, to keep me focused, inspired and to give me a kick up the backside when I needed it. I literally could not have done this without you by my side. I owe you big time. 

Okay Jenny it's not the Oscars, have a beer and calm down.

Bis bald!


The Training Diaries #IM703: Pre-race Reflections

I guess it's kind of a good sign that I've been too busy training to blog, right? My little blogging fail means that I'm starting this post with a bit of time travel. Grab your time machine (mine is pink and glittery) and let's head back to June... *cue some whirring sounds, an impressive time-lapse montage, slight motion sickness etc*

Okay so back in June I headed off to Majorca for a triathlon training camp led by Campbell from Re-leaf MK (Target Your Potential). Campbell is a cycling ninja and the mastermind behind all of my training plans. This was my first training camp and I kind of knew it was going to make me or break me. Thankfully it was the former. We enjoyed an awesome week of training complete with sea swims, mountain hill reps, runs, long rides and a bike-run brick session that still makes me feel a little bit sick when I think about it haha! I gained so much that week, both in terms of fitness and mental toughness. I came home feeling strong, with some really valuable training sessions under my belt which I've been able to reflect on during my tough training sessions since. It was great to spend a week with a lovely bunch of like-minded people and I learnt a lot from all of them - thanks guys for the inspiration and the motivation!

Next up was the inaugural Hitchin Triathlon, a sprint distance race organised by some friends of ours who are the brains behind Hitchin Running Club (which is pretty much where my eventual journey into triathlon all began). It was so nice to race in my little home town and there was a great atmosphere at the race with a real mix of experienced triathletes and first-timers. I'd been feeling really strong in the weeks leading up to the race, particularly on the bike so I was excited to get on the start line. A strong swim and bike split meant that, despite a bit of cramping and a desire to throw up on the run (which turned out to just be a really fricking big burp, c'est typical!) I came away with 3rd female overall and an age group win. My other half, Graham also won his age category and was 2nd male so we've got a pair of sassy his and hers trophies nestled on the book case. Team Force out to play!

My final training race was the ETU standard distance qualifier at Grafham Water earlier this month. This was my first time racing the standard distance and I absolutely loved every second. It was a great experience to race in such a competitive field and I came away with a good bike split (for me!) and a new 10k PB - perfect little confidence booster pre half Ironman.

So that brings us up to date. It's T-minus 37 hours until I'll be on the start line at IM 70.3 Zell am See Kaprun, Austria. I'm currently writing to you from our little Air BnB apartment, with Lake Zell literally at the bottom of the back garden. I want to stay here forever! 2017 has involved 212 hours 45 mins of training. 798.4km of running, 2516.4km of cycling and 68,800m of swimming (according to Strava, I'm not the world's biggest nerd I swear). I'm ridiculously excited to get on that start line, see what I can achieve and just soak up the experience. Obviously I've got a time in mind that I'd like to achieve but really it's all just about getting the best out of myself on the day and enjoying every moment. Oh, and I'd really like to not poo myself because judging by all the 'don't trust that fart' posters I saw when I watched Graham race IM Wales 2015 it's a real possibility in longer distance racing. So yeah, no code brown situations would be just lovely.

The (very) long car journey over here gave me a lot of time to reflect on how far I've come. Whenever I take my run coaching clients out to tackle their first real hill, I always make them stop and look back when they reach the top so that they can see what they've achieved, so I guess this is my more metaphorical, self-indulgent 'looking down the hill'. In the past 9 months I've achieved more than I ever thought I was capable of. This main thing is my cycling - I used to be bloody terrified on the bike. I've gone from spending most of my time in a heap on the side of the road with my bike on top of me (damn clip in pedals) to tackling some of Majorca's finest climbs and comfortably rolling around at over 30kph, tucked up all aero. My philosophy is pick the thing your worst at, work at it and make it your strongest asset. I feel so much stronger in all three disciplines, but I really think the biggest difference is up in the wee space between my ears. We have a complicated relationship, my brain and I, but triathlon has helped me to develop my self-belief and my self-confidence so much. I've found the mental toughness that kind of went walkabout after I graduated from university and as nauseatingly cheesy as it may sound, I really do feel like triathlon has helped to bring me back to myself. I've still got a long way to go but I'm excited to keep training, keep progressing and to see how far I can go in this sport. 'Yes I can' has become my mantra for 2017, and it's served me well. If there's something that you've always dreamt of doing just believe that you can do it because that's when you'll start doing something about it, and that's when you'll achieve more than you could have dreamt of.

Time to get some rest! I'll be back with a little post-race update soon (someone yell at me if I don't because history suggests I'm not so great at the regular blog post thing) but for now - see you on the other side. Hopefully with a nice shiny medal to go with all the stuff I bought at the expo today. Oops.


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