Finally it was time for the big race of the year, my first Iron distance race, Köln226. Me and Katja arrived in Köln on Saturday afternoon with the weather wet, cool and windy. I had to meet up with Christian Hafner pretty quickly, so we could check in our bikes at fühlinger see. I cycled over and met him outside his hotel next to T2 and we went to the start. After picking up my start numbers and chip, I checked my bike it in the absolutely torrential rain, not good for the bike, or the roads the morning after.
On the morning of the race I had a breakfast of croissants and bread after getting up at 4:20am. I slept surprisingly well! There was a shuttle bus from town to the start (it wasn't very full when I got on – see below), I got the 05:20 bus and was at the start in good time.
The mass start time was 7:05 and at about 6:50 I was in my wetsuit and ready to go, the water temperature was pretty nice and comfortable. The countdown started, and we were off! The swim is in a rowing lake, with lane markers that are one metre underwater, perfect for staying on course! I found the line after about 200m and stuck to it like glue! I was pretty tentative in the swim, as I have never swum 3.8km before, so I kept it steady and ticked off the 250m markers as they came and went. I had a peeing plan, which was to do breaststroke near the end to allow me to pee, then start to crawl again. In Hannover I wasn't able to pee whilst crawling, so this seemed like a way to save a toilet stop early on the bike. I was surprised after 1k that I could crawl and pee at the same time! Soon enough I was at the turn, I looked at my watch and it showed 37:11, not bad, not great. There were no lane markers on the way back, so I stayed near a group and pretty uneventfully got to the end, with an empty bladder too! My end time was 1:16:xx, about what I expected, but not a dream time.
I ran through T1 and found my bike. Everything went smoothly until I realised that my cycling glasses weren't there. It isn't too important, but not ideal either. I started cycling, hoping to hold about 220w for the ride, except that my fxxking piece of sh!t power meter from 4iiii decided not to work, today of all days. It is the ONLY reason I bought the power meter, so they will be getting a nice email from me. I quickly decided that 140bpm heart rate would have to suffice, so I set off. The first 15km are into Köln, then there are 3 loops of just over 55km. The start was a bit chilly, but I settled into a rhythm, with a slight tail wind. The turn around in Köln was quite technical and cost a bit of time, then on the way out the head wind was more noticeable. I was riding behind someone who had passed me, a comfortable 12m behind him when a motorbike ref came to me and said I needed to watch out as I was borderline drafting… I really don't think I was! The next 60km or so went well, but after 100km my ass, that I had forgotten to butter up, was hurting quite a lot. Even worse were my triceps, they were agony every time I moved in aero-position. The road surface wasn't very good either, so every bump hurt 2 body parts a lot! With my average speed dropping, the last loop out of Köln against a strong wind was pretty bad, I had to sit up due to my arms, so survival was the name of the game. I was behind someone again a bit later having caught them, I sat in again well back, when a ref came again and gave the guy in front of me a black card i.e. a 5 minute penalty. He was at least 6 metres behind, not exactly on the wheel of the guy in front. The ref then came to me and said I was borderline, I said I would be careful. The ref came past again 5 mins later, when I was well clear of everyone, and again 5 mins later, giving me the thumbs up!
The last part of the ride after T1 was filled with middle distance riders. I was trying to be careful to stay well away from slipstreams, but the roads were now very full. I had to brake a few times, and had no more issues getting to the end, though I saw some real packs of riders in the other direction.
Now I hadn't peed since the swim, so knew that I had to go in T2. I got in after riding 186.5km according to my garmin, and after nearly 7 hours total time, well behind goal schedule. After a quick change, I went straight to the portaloo, sorted out everything, and set off on the run. I knew that it was going to be bad, but after 1km I looked any my purposely slow pace was 4:30/km, far too fast. I tried to slow, but failed! I decided that I should make hay whilst the sun was shining, so carried on. Soon enough my pace drifted to 4:45, 5:00, 5:15 and slower. After 10km I was slowing and getting worried, there was still 32km to go, and who knows how low my pace would fall, maybe I would have to walk the rest! That'd take 6 hours! I kept on plodding, walking to get drinks at almost everyone of the very frequent drink stations. My pace was still slowing, but the rate of slowing was falling, I seemed able to hold faster than 6m/km even though I was feeling awful. The 2nd loop was like purgatory, the 1st loop took 1:12, the 2nd 1:25, pretty much 1 min per km slower. On the last lap at least I knew that I was on the home straight, after getting over the bridge I looked and saw that a 60 minute 10km would get me an 11h finish time, but I also knew that it wouldn't happen. I kept plodding, not really feeling any worse than after 20km. I started to think that my pace was near irrelevant, as with 7km to go, even running at 7mins/km instead of 6 would cost me pretty much nothing. I won't lie, beating Jochen's time from last year was a goal, but with 5km to go, I knew that was a shoe-in. With 3.5km to go, I saw Katja making the turn for the half marathon, I shouted for her to come back for a kiss, then sent her on her way, I knew I couldn't even nearly keep pace.
After the spiral staircase and slight uphill over the bridge, I knew it was all over bar the shouting. I enjoyed the last 500m, fist pumping and just so happy that it was over! I got over the line in just under 11:07.
After the race I felt a bit sore, my knees were hurting, my triceps were incredibly painful and I was very tired, but generally I felt better than I had feared I would! Even though I didn't break 11h, as was my goal, I am putting it down as goal achieved, especially as I would have broken 11h if the bike hadn't been extended by 6.5km!
I am not sure that I will be rushing to do my next ironman. Something that I thought about during the run was that I struggle to run well off the bike. That obviously is made worse after longer bikes, with longer runs to follow. Until that problem is solved, I don't think Ironmans should be my main concern! I will definitely (quote me on that) NOT do a long distance in 2016, who knows what 2017 and onwards will bring, but it isn't a dream of mine to do a second ironman!
So that's that. Project 2015 is over. It has been a long hard year. I really think that a not extremely hot ironman in late July would have been about perfect for me. I think I over-cooked it a little at the end, and stated to lose fitness and the will to train, just as I should have been ready to go. That also corresponded to me not doing my weekly updates, that was partially due to work getting really busy, but also due to constant tiredness and the stress of needing to get out to train all the time. I think my need to hit my weekly goals might actually have been a bad thing, I would cycle an extra few hours when I was exhausted, instead of resting and getting in more quality. The next updates will be my next races, let's see how I feel after a bit of rest and recuperation time..