Ironman Frankfurt Race Report – 5th July 2015
Well that didn’t quite go as I’d had planned…. I’ll be honest, during the end of the race and the day after the race I was badly annoyed with my performance. I’d never gone as slow in any of my previous Ironman races and I certainly hadn’t walked most of the marathon before!! But on reflection, reading how others went/felt I think I got away lucky enough to be still healthy after such a day. Just as I type this there are reports of a 40 year-old Australian dying in hospital in the German press, as a result of haemorrhage due to hyponatremia. Thoughts go to his friends and family.
The heat caused people alot of problems. Apparently there was said to be a 34% DNF/DNS rate and from the scenes along the river and in the medical tents along the run route I can well believe that figure. They had a full on field hospital at the finish line area in 3-4 massive marquees. I ended up there.
This is a long report as so much happened…. read on if you are interested!
2 years on from Ironman Austria I arrived at Frankfurt a much better cyclist, a better runner and still a crap enough swimmer. But for weeks I had planned to better my 10hrs 35mins I had set in Austria 24 months previous. It was very possible – I was holding a higher power for my 5hr cycles, running better minutes per mile for long runs and swims were just the same pace in my wetsuit – so there was a good chance of getting a PB. This was my 4th Iron distance race and I was prepped well for it.
Frankfurt is said to be a fast course, nice flat run, fast bike with 3 main hills (you do 2 laps) in it but nothing terribly steep, just draggy and nice long flat stretches of road on the perfect German road surfaces. The run is a nice run 4 loops up and down the river in the city, with no hills to speak of other than the rises to get over the bridges.
Then HELL arrived in Frankfurt the week of the race. We flew in on the Wednesday prior to the Sunday race, 35 degrees, next day the same, next day 36 degrees and it was predicting race day as even hotter. Just walking in the sun leisurely was taking so much out of me!!. It was the most extreme heat I’d ever felt. This pasty white Irish man wasn’t loving the heat – that was a fact.
The lake we were to swim in rose in temperature very quickly over the race week and was predicted to hit 27/28 degrees come race morning (your local swimming pool I think is usually around the 23 mark!) so you get the idea. Hot. For safety reasons wetsuits therefore were banned as it was well over the 24.5 cut off – so it was gonna be a slow swim for me at least and a nervous swim as well as I enjoy the safe buoyant feeling the suit gives me.
In the race briefing on the Saturday we were warned that this was not going to be a PB day – we were told to expect EXTREME conditions and to look after ourselves. Back off the speed, take it steady, keep the fluids going in, apply plenty of sun cream etc. They even increased the medical crews til over 350 staff to look after the 3000 athletes come race day. 14 tonnes of ice were also bought in. It was gonna be a tough day. I knew that and got my head right for that.
Alarm went off at 3.30am – damn early – breakfast in me by 4am and all packed and ready to rock. Hit the shuttle bus and was at transition for 5am in plenty of time for the 6.50am start.
First things first, get my nutrition and fluids onto the bike and my kit and stuff ready for transition from the swim to the bike. We were advised the previous day to let down our tyres as our bikes sat in the transition area overnight and due to the heat, there could be some tyres blowing up.
So track pump in hand I began getting my wheels up to pressure. Started with the first, got it up to required pressure, started removing the pump and BANG…. the valve completely blew off the tube and stayed on the end of the pump in my valve extender. Not what I needed…. kept the head tho, had plenty of time and got the tube changed and wheel back on. No more dramas after that, into my swim gear & down to the beach for a warm up.
SWIM – 2.4miles
3000 athletes lined up on the beach. I wasn’t looking forward, as I say, to the swim due to not have the buoyant wetsuit as backup. But I made peace with it in the days previous and told myself I would just take it steady and stay wide out of trouble. I’d planned that if I felt anxious then I’d hit into breast stroke to calm then back to freestyle. BUT as it turned out I loved the swim, felt comfortable and enjoyed it which surprised me alot! I was still very slow though. I ended up swimming more distance than I had to due to staying out a bit wider – and my legs were obviously dragging behind me (not having the wetsuit to keep them in line) so my technique was crap as usual (something I plan to work on big time for next season) and my time was well down on my best BUT I got through it and left the water alot happier than I started!
TRANSITION 1 (T1)
T1 had nothing of note – took my time to get sun creamed up and arm coolers on (were not permitted them in the swim). I had already told myself I was going to take everything very calm and take my time so as not to miss anything – I knew today was not going to better my PB, so it was about just completing it as best I could.
BIKE – 112miles
This is where I thought I would feel most comfortable as I would class it as my strongest discipline. I set off on the bike hoping the legs would feel good and not be too fatigued from the non wetsuit swim having to kick and little more than I would in a suit. I was very quickly passing lots of people with ease, not out of breath, heart rate sitting very low and just cruising. Think I went through the first 10miles in about 24mins!! I would find that hard in a 10m TT at home! As I said, I was not pushing at all, HR low, breathing normal – my power was sitting in range I wanted (so about 70-75% of FTP) – every going perfectly! At least for now :)
As the first lap went by and the miles/kms ticked off – I was feeling comfortable albeit defo started feeling the heat as we went into the big open countryside. I was making sure I was drinking plenty and picking up new bottles at each aid station. The prob was, the bottles we were getting were either already starting to warm up or after about 10mins on the bike, they had warmed up – you can imagine trying to drink warm water to quench the thirst. Not nice. The electrolyte drinks they were handing out were worse when warm. Very unpleasant. Same things with the gels in my back pocket – they were scorching hot as the ride went on.
Things starting going wrong around a third of the way into the bike. I felt a tight pull on my back as I reached for a gel and I immediately was in pain. This was not good. Going back down onto the tri bars was so uncomfortable and so I was pedalling best I could in the upright position and trying to stay as low as I could where possible. At this point of the race I was averaging just over 22mph and feeling so good – I could have pushed harder before this point but I was happy with how I was going and just conscience that the end of the bike is always a different story – 112miles is a long way!
But what seemed to be around the same point as my back hurting, I started puking up. So there goes the nutrition I’d already gotten into the system. This was REALLY not good. THEN I started what seemed like hyperventilating – I was taking short sharp breaths, my back hurting if I tried to take a deep breath, and going into fits of deep rough coughing if I tried to push harder and breath harder. At the time and even after the race I put my breathing problems down to my back and the pain from it – but from reading others on the forums, I can see I wasn’t the only one that suffered breathing problems – others complained of their lungs being seared with the heat. That’s how I felt and still feel a number of days after the race.
This was all around the 60km mark and I still had 120km of riding to do – I tried a few times to eat my powerbars and take on my gels but they were coming back up, retching over the side of the bike – the warm water from the bottles were not helping my stomach issues.
I’ve no idea how I made it through the rest of that bike – I was in a very dark place – it didn’t help that a head wind picked up in the 2nd lap. At times it was nice and helped cool you, but then you would get a gust of VERY hot air (think when you open the oven door, the heat that hits you in the face! Very similar!)
At the time I put it all down to my back tweaking but I think it was a couple of symptoms more related to the heat that were contributing to my woes!
I can remember thinking about the last climb which came at about mile 106 – its a real Tour de France climb up Bad Vibel called Heartbreak Hill with people lining both sides of the road cheering you on – all I remember thinking was that I was going to have to get off the bike and walk it with my head hung in shame. But I didn’t. I’ve no idea how I got over it. I was running on pure empty, nothing left in my legs, back in bits and so painful, taking short gasps instead of slow tempo breathing – but didn’t let myself down and got over it thankfully to a steady ride in to Transition 2 back in the city.
Bike time was 5hrs 43mins for the 112miles and a 19.5mph avg – was so disappointed with this. My power number was so much lower than planned and even lower than my Austria bike split. It was reported to have peaked at 42 degrees during the bike…
I’ll admit it – I was so f%$ked off at this stage – I was blaming bad luck and my back tweaking on how I was feeling – Ironman is an eating competition as well as fitness, and I hadn’t been able to keep any sort of nutrition down from hours ago, so I was weak and very fatigued even for the lower power output – but looking back there was more to do with the conditions I think that caused this to occur. But I wasn’t in a good way as I grabbed my bag and into the change tent in T2
Transition 2 – (T2)
I sat on the bench in the change tent and definitely was feeling alot different than I was in the T1 tent! The tent was so warm and offered no real reprive from the heat outside of it and I just was feeling so bad breathing the hot air in. I slowly got myself sorted out and just tried to get my breathing sorted out – I was still taking short sharp breaths, if I tried to breath deep, I was coughing deep and hard and it was sending bursts up pain up my back. Ah the whole thing was ready for the scrap heap! But I can honestly say at no point did the DNF ever pass through my mind. Not once. I would get to that damn finish line.
RUN – 26.2 miles
I say run and I usually do run the marathon – but today was not usual. As I left the transition tent I immediately got worse with my breathing and back also shot pain up on every step. I seen my wife and son in the crowd but I wasn’t in a good place at this stage and they were too far away to get a word. I immediately went from a triathlon shuffle run to a steady walk. I was making a funny noise on each breath (this continued for the whole damn marathon! Very annoying!) Was like a sharp intake of breath yelp – and my hand was constantly going to my back and rubbing at it to try to get some relief. I did try a few times during the marathon to go into a jog and I say I did run (in total) a couple of miles but I honestly could not breath at all when I did this. I just kept concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other. So most of it I was walking as fast as I could manage, stopping at each aid station to take on water and to get ice under the cap and hosed down with water. But you were drying out in minutes and feeling the intense penetrating heat once again. It was said to have hit 37 on the marathon. It truly was hell.
There were aid stations all around the run lap (which you did 4 times) and behind each station was a medical tent- each time I passed these, they were full of folks hooked to drips and generally in a bad way. The DNF rate does not surprise me one bit.
I think I may have blacked out a couple of times during the marathon – I certainly had quite a few foggy incidents and started weaving a bit – I knew I needed medical aid but didn’t think I was bad enough to stop and get it – I was actually afraid they would pull me from the race and I would get a DNF – so I just kept moving knowing I would get aid at the finish line.
Roll on 6 odd hours in the intense Frankfurt heat and I was on the last lap and as you end it you were turned off to the finish line.
This is where it got really blurry.
I cannot remember going up the finish line. One of the most brilliant finish chutes and lines of the Ironman calendar and I cannot remember it! Kellie and our son Flynn were at the finish line to give me my medal but apparently I stood in a daze at the line, no smile, no hands raised, just stood there staring. After some wobbling and babbling nonsense I was then quickly stretchered off to the medical area where I was given a drip – they had me strapped to a heart machine also as I was having chest problems and the breathing was worrying them. They also gave me something that opened my airways a bit and breathing was much better after that.
Thankfully after an hour I had levelled out and I was feeling alot better (bar 3 MASSIVE blisters – stupid decision to wear new socks I bought at the expo… I know I know stupid) and was able to leave and go find the family.
I’m still coughing a few days after the event but overall feel alot better. No permanent damage done I think. I hope!
In retrospect I just think that I just suffered pretty poorly from the heat and had unexpected symptoms from it. The back twinge defo didn’t help, but even without that, it was mainly the breathing probs and not being able to keep nutrition in the tank that left me performing well below par.
All in all I’m proud that I had the mental resolve to keep going, keep giving what little I had left. I’m glad it didn’t cost me my health and of course hearing the news today, my life. That never ever crosses your mind, but certainly it would make me think twice if the situation rose again in future to compete in such extreme conditions.
Oh and my finish time was 13hrs 54mins – urghhh, awful – but hey I still finished it and I’ll come back stronger and will break that PB of mine at some point ;)
Sorry for the length of this but it was a longer day than usual hence a longer report!! Hope this doesn’t put anyone off doing an Ironman – they’re usually not that bad! :)