2015 70.3 Ironman World Championship took place in Zell Am See – Kaprun Austria. When it was announced a couple of years ago, I knew that I wanted to be there. I wanted to be a part of the race. Spending some time in Austria, I knew it was going to be a beautiful place. I was very happy when I was able to qualify to go. The whole town basically shuts down to host the event. What Ironman did this year was very interesting, starting Thursday they had a race each day, the first day it was the Iron Girl run, then Friday, the Ironkids. Interestingly enough Saturday was a 70.3 Ironman and then on the exact same course the World Championships on Sunday. Being that there were 2 races back to back they decided to start the race on Sunday at 10:45am, which is 4 hours later than races usually start. I guess to give enough time for people to check their bikes in the day before and also to give athletes a little more time to rest since we had to do things later than usual on Saturday (bike & run bag drop off, bike drop off, etc.)
I didn’t stay close to Zell Am See since I knew the race would start later, I stayed in a little town called Ashau in Tirol, which was about 1:10 minutes away. The house belonged to a friend of mine and they let me stay there the night before. I had been staying in Innsbruck the other days so I had a 2 hour commute each way, which was not big deal as I didn’t spend much time in Zell Am See and the time I did spend there I was able to spend with a couple from Argentina, Flor (Instagram Account on link) and Alejandro, who were extremely nice to let me spend the time with them. Flor also competed, she is an amazing triathlete, so happy to have been able to spend some time with her, she is very inspirational and I learned quite a bit while being with her.
Sunday I woke up early, eat breakfast and drove into town. I had lost my aero water bottle, the day before, so the first thing I did when I got to Zell Am See was to buy a new one at the Ironman Village. After I had gotten to the swim start. I had never seen so many people, non athletes, gathered in one tiny place. It was so hard to get around them. Once I had pushed myself through them, I went to check on my bike, made sure that my shoes were really clipped in this time. Added my nutrition to my bike, same thing to my run bag. As I was getting ready something amazing happened. A person approached me and asked me if I was Conrad, I was a little surprised and replied yes, of course, he then told me that he followed me on Instagram and we chatted for a little, his name is Lesley and he lives in Paris, what an amazing thing to experience. It was so nice to meet people like him face to face. After everything was ready I looked for the family I stayed with in Innsbuck, who came to cheer for me to hand over my stuff, we took a picture and then I started getting ready.
Once I was able to get around all the people again, got in the water, warmed up a little and went to the starting line. My age group was the 3rd wave of amateurs, after physically challenged and 35-39. As soon as the 35-39 age group started we all got in the water and swam to the starting line. I could barely touch the ground and people were pushing each other to be on the first line, after everyone kinda got situated we waited the 6 minutes for our wave to start.
The announcer said 30 seconds and everything got quiet. Once the gun went off I started to kick and swim fast but somehow the two guys next to me had gotten a little ahead of me and I couldn’t go through them, I think they were able to push off the floor a little faster than me. All of a sudden there were so many people around me, I was completely boxed in, tried to swim faster to get ahead but it was impossible. After about 50 meters of getting hit all over my body, in the middle of this pack, it started to spread out a little. I thought there was an opening in front of me so I kicked harder to try to get ahead, but it didn’t work. Someone else had cut me off again making it impossible to move, this little maneuver cost me though, while I was trying to do this, I swallowed so much water from someone kicking in front of me. Now, not being able to really breath, I tried to grasp some air but it seemed that it didn’t matter where I tried to breath there was water splashing into my mouth. For the first time, in a race, I really panicked as I couldn’t get any air. I slowed down to try to get away, but then the people behind me started swimming over me. It was a terrible 2 minutes or so just trying to survive.
All of a sudden I saw an opening right ahead, I sprinted to get there, this time nobody got in front of me and I was able to get some air into my lungs. I was still surrounded by a ton of people and for the first time, in my short triathlon career, when I picked up my head to sight I saw so many people in my age group ahead of me I could count them. I was so far behind and still kinda boxed in, I figured I would try to catch them a little later, but it was not to be. After about 300 more meters everyone was still swimming fast and I simply couldn’t get away. I usually breath to the right and we had to keep all buoys to our left, so for me it’s easier to get closer to the buoys so I don’t have to lift and turn my head so much to sight. I simply couldn’t get there though, the person to my left kept pushing me right the person to my right kept trying to go left and I had someone right in front of me and a ton of people behind us. I tried to stay calm but a feeling of anxiety came in, almost like claustrophobia I think, all I wanted to do was get away from there and get to an area with nobody around me and stop swimming. I was panicking so much that as I tried to swim away from the people surrounding me. As I tried to swim my way out of there, someone punched me in the face knocking my goggles completely off. At that point I stopped, swept my hand right behind me and luckily my pinky was able to hook onto the rubber band of my goggles. As I was trying to put them back on, I got hit several times in the head by other swimmers. After getting my goggles back on, the anxiety had gone away and I was able to start swimming again. This time with some breathing room, but I could barely see the leaders of my wave ahead of me. It was right then when I realized I was not going to be able to catch back up to them. As we got to the first turn buoy, I started passing a ton of swimmers, most of them my age group, but some from the previous wave. I was still around a lot of people so I tried to keep swimming as close to the buoys as possible as it seemed that there were less people there. Once I started heading back, the last 800 meters or so, it was when it finally started to clear up. I was passing people now with ease, just like I’m used to. With 500 meters to go I was finally by myself, I felt amazing and I could feel myself swimming faster, then the last 200 meters I caught up to a big group, from the previous wave, tried to go around as many as I could so that I wouldn’t be bunched up when getting out of the water, because I knew that we had to climb steps to get out. This is when I started feeling very hot, the water was a perfect 68 degrees but I guess I had spent so much energy on the swim that my body temperature was simply very high. Usually I want the swim to keep going, even in an Ironman, there is something inside of me that wishes that the swim was longer, not today. I was so glad when I touched ground and that I was able to take off my cap and goggles. I really don’t know how people that struggle in the swim deal with this for every race. I don’t think I could do it. It’s simply terrifying, so for all of you that have similar experiences on your swims in triathlon, I have so much respect for you now.
As I ran to get my bag, I was still so glad that I was out of the water, there were so many people around me too, grabbed my bag, went into the changing tent, looked for an empty spot, took off my wetsuit put it in the bag. Put my helmet and socks on and headed out. There were no volunteers around the tent to help at all. I remember last year at least they were around, this time the tent was completely empty of them, only athletes. Got to my bike and headed out.
Once on the bike I started noticing that most of the people around me were form the wave ahead of me, so I figured my swim hadn’t been too terrible, I was a little relieved. The first portion of the bike was so fast, before the the first aid station I looked at my computer and I was averaging 28mph or 45kph. My power was still under control, we were simply flying.
Before the aid station there was a hill that made me switch from the big chain ring to the small one, for some reason my chain went all the way though without stopping on the small ring. I tried to get it back on without getting off the bike but I couldn’t pull the chain hard enough to get it on the ring again. It was stuck. I still had some momentum which took me to the middle of the aid station. I stopped and I got off the bike. Upon further inspection the chain had gotten stuck between the frame and the small ring. I tried to get it out but couldn’t, all the volunteers around me were yelling for a mechanic. Luckily within 3-5 minutes the mechanic came, he tried to do the same things I had been trying without success. He even loosened up the wheel to see if he could get more slack on the chain but it didn’t work. He ended up going back for his tools, took off the crank completely put the chain back on the chain ring and tightened up the crank again. I was so thankful he was there and was able to help me, otherwise that would have been the race for me. The amount of people that passed me in the 10 minute span was uncountable, but it didn’t matter at that point anymore, so I got back on the bike after thanking him I left. But something felt off, I tried to pedal and get off the saddle but something was rubbing, 50 meters later I remembered the wheel wasn’t tight, I grabbed the brake and almost endoed. The guy behind me barely missed me, I yelled sorry, got off the bike put the wheel back on, which had come off, made sure nothing else was rubbing, got on the bike again and started pedaling. As soon as I got on the bike I started seeing 25-29 age groupers, which had started in the wave after mine (6 minutes after). I had no idea how long that had taken, but now I knew that it had been longer than 6 minutes for sure. Again, it didn’t matter I was on my bike, with shoes and I was still in the race. 10 minutes later the big climb started, after all that had happened, the 13KMs that were about to start, up hill, would be the most frustrating part of the whole race for me. At the beginning of the hill a lot of people were passing me, which I didn’t mid much as I thought they would blow up. As we kept climbing though, people kept passing me, it was so frustrating I was averaging 300+ Watts, which was a lot higher than I had planned to do for this stretch of the course and people were still going by me like I was just standing on the side of the road. The last 4KM got even steeper, so steep that I counted 4 people walking their bikes, I think they were the only 4 people I passed on the hill. Once I got to the top I was very relieved, but I knew I had cooked my legs. The descent was terrifying, my bike wasn’t handling the way I would have liked, so I descended slower than I wanted, but as I was coming down I saw more than 10 people on the side of the road. Either they had crashed, had a mechanical or were just on the side of the road hanging out. Nonetheless it was a little scary. The rest of the bike was uneventful but very beautiful, it gave me a chance to really take in the surroundings and enjoy the race.
As I started the run I was feeling pretty good, my legs were responding pretty well, I thought, but as soon as I got to the first mile marker and my watch told me that I was averaging 7:30/mile I knew my half marathon was going to be very slow. I realized at this point that I had biked a lot harder than I should have, but I don’t think I could have done it any easier anyway, I needed all that effort to get over the mountain without getting off the bike. The run was at least beautiful and shaded for the most part. I loved running into the aid stations as they had sponges with water, each time I would grab 2 and squeeze them over me, it felt amazing. By this time it was so hot, even though the water was not cold it was so refreshing. I didn’t cramp during the whole race, I tried to take in as much water and sodium as I could and I really think I figured my cramping out during this race. I was so happy for that. The rest of the run was just a struggle, I was trying to convince myself that we were almost done. I tricked myself so many times that eventually I was running up the last little hill inside the town. As I came to the final stretch I heard my name: “Where is Conrad?” On the microphone. I was surprised as I was still at least 300 meters away from the finish line, they kept repeating it and with about 100 meters to go, when I could see the finish line the announcer said: “There he is, Alles Gute zum Geburtstag!” Which means “happy birthday”, my birthday wasn’t for another two days, but it was very nice to hear that, he extended his hand I grabbed it, I said thanks, I think and ran the last 5 meters through the finish line with a smily on my face.
All in all I was so glad I had finished, not really with a good time, but without cramping. I was glad to have competed around so many amazing athletes. After the Whistler Ironman I was not only disappointed but I didn’t really have motivation. Seeing all these people in this race really helped me with my lack of motivation. This was the last big race of the season for me. Now it’s time to recover, recharge batteries and I feel I’ll come back hungrier for next season. Before I finish, I would like to thank my coach of course Eric Kenney. My wife, who wasn’t there in person but was cheering for me from far away. I’d like to thank Roka for making such an amazing wetsuit and their support, Newton Running for the shoes, Tritats for the awesome race tattoos and Perky Jerky for keeping me fueled up.
Thank you everyone for your well wishes, thank you so much for reading, it has been a great year, I cannot wait to see what next year brings!