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It was hot and getting hotter. I was just starting the second loop of the bike course when I made my biggest mistake of the race. I accidentally grabbed two bottles of sport drink instead of my usual one bottle of water and one bottle of PowerBar liquid glue.
The thermometer was now well into the nineties and I was starting to feel the heat waves coming up from the asphalt. I reached down and grabbed my water bottle and squirted some on my hands. About two minutes later I noticed that my hands felt sticky so grabbed the water bottle again and really hosed down my hands and handlebars.
I really wasn’t thinking about what I was doing, because I was doing some painful math in my head.
You don’t have to be Einstein to do the ugly math. If the swim took me just over an hour (1:11 to be exact) and the first loop of the bike took 3:15, I was looking at around 8 to 10-hours of hot and painful racing in my very near future.
Ironman is always like that. You go through some of the biggest physical and emotional hills and valleys. I was now in the deepest valley. The initial exuberance of the start of the race had worn off. My best event (the swim) was just a distant memory and my worst event (the run) loomed ahead like an angry cloud covered Mt. Everest. My legs were starting to feel a bit crappy and crampy, and I was very hot.
So I took my bottle of water and squirted it over my helmet and head and down my back. It was at this exact instance that I hit the very lowest point of my race. I simultaneously realized that I had just squirted PowerBar liquid glue (as I called it) all over myself because I had grabbed two bottles of this stuff at the last aide station instead of my usual bottle of water.
My helmet was now glued to my head, my hands were glued to my handlebars, and the very expensive and finely made Shimano gears in my shifters were glued to themselves.
Worse yet the next the aid station with water was 20 kilometers down the road and the local bees had joined the party.
The good news, at least as far as my race time was concerned, was that I was now well and truly motivated to push very hard to the next aid station. I was like a crazed fox on a hunt determined to out run the chasing pack of hungry bees. I blew past the other competitors as if they were standing still with a cloud of swarming bees in close pursuit. Up the hills I heard their hungry buzzing, down the hills I laughed out load and yelled out to them “Catch me if you can you Austrian Mofo’s!”
Some of the locals Austrians racers gave me an inquisitive look as I passed them as they either didn’t know:
a) that I was being chased by the Austrian vice bee squad or
b) the American definition of “Mofo.”
Lucky the other racers were not the right demographic for American rap vids that featured such colorful terms.
And to think that it was just a few hours earlier that I had one of the best swims of my life.
The Ironman Austria swim is probably one of the most beautiful and unusual swims of any of the two dozen or so Ironman around the world. The swim looks like a “P”. The top round part of the “P” is in a warm crystal clear alpine lake surrounded by jagged mountains. The bottom line of the P is down a spectator packed canal. It is sort of hard to describe what it is like swimming down a canal lined with hundreds of crazy cheering and whopping fans on both sides.
But you can see for yourself. Just click on the short video my lovely wife took below to see what this unusual swim looks like.
The funny thing about this video is that it looked and felt completely different from my point of view. As I watch the video it just looks like a bunch of wetsuit clad folks slowly and gently swimming down a canal as if we are all just out for a group Sunday morning swim.
But when you are in the maelstrom of the canal it feels completely different. You’ve got racers trying to swim over and under and around you all the while you are trying to swim over and under and around them to keep them from constantly kicking you in the face.
You also have tons of the local canal water-weeds that apparently have specifically evolved to wrap themselves around your neck, arms and legs as you try to swim over and under and around the guys ahead of you who are kicking you in the face.
It’s sort of wet and wild version of a Three Stooges show except that you are Curly and everybody else is slapping you around like Mo on a bender.
I was so relived to get into the transition that I didn’t even notice that it was a coed tent. This fact was made abundantly clear to me when I looked up from the bench I was sitting on putting on my bike shoes to behold a wet and extremely furry beaver just inched from my nose.
The owner of this untrimmed furry beast had just bent over to take remove her swimsuit placing her white butt inches from my nose. WOW, now that’s something you don’t see, nor do you want to see, everyday.
Have they not heard of waxing in this part of the world? Perhaps Ironman Austria needs to supply the Ironwoman razor in the 2007 goodie bags.
Taking my own advice I did not dilly-dally in T2. I sprinted out of the tent to spot my wife and son just outside transition. The next time I would see them would be in the town center where my wife sat watching the race at a local café enjoying a local brew. She would later go on to remark that this was the only and indeed best way to do an Ironman.
The Austrian run course is pretty interesting in that it is basically a giant figure eight with the transition and finish areas being right in the middle of the eight. This means that you get to run around the figure eight twice.
The best part of course is the finish line. You can get a great feel for the finish by watching the video below. If you watch past the point where my son is like bored out of his mind you’ll notice a Mexican racer run in holding a sign above his head as he finishes the race. If you listen and watch carefully you’ll see that he used this very moment to get down on his knees and propose matrimony.
Does his fiancée accept his sweaty proposal? Are the other racers who finish at the same time angry to have their time in the spotlight stolen? Does my son die of boredom? Watch the video and find out.
I think the hardest thing about running a marathon during an Ironman is starting in the afternoon. For a traditional marathon you train for 4 months, eat a good dinner, go to bed earlier, have a proper breakfast, line up at the cool crack of down and bang you go for it.
If you are like me at an Ironman, you start the marathon dead tired, hungry, sweaty, crampy, and in the middle of the hottest part of the day. You start the run knowing you are looking down a loaded double barrel shotgun of pain. That’s why you never want to dilly-dally in T2...because if you think about the marathon just a little too much...you’ll most likely never leave the tent.
Unlike my previous race I actually felt pretty good the first six miles and last six miles of the race. It was the middle part of the run that was really hard. I suspect that this has to do with what I call the TWC (Time Warp Coefficient). This every man principal states that times passes during a race in an inverse coefficient to distance to the finish.
So for instance the TWC on the bike means that the first 140 Kilometers of the race passed by at pretty even intervals. (They put a signat each ten kilometer mark on the course and keep in mind that the bike part of the Ironman is 180 kilometers long.
But it seemed to take a little longer for the 150 K marker to come up, and a lot longer for the 160 K marker. It seemed like 800-years before I got to the 170 K marker, but the last 10K just flew by.
It was the same way on the run. By the time I got to the last 10 K, or 6 miles point, I was like a horse that smells the hay in the barn. I felt terrific and I just flew home to the finish.
And that is the lesson I learned from doing Ironman Austria. For every painful deep dark valley you swim, bike, or run through there will always be a glorious mountain where you feel like the king of the world. Where every heart beat is filled with the joy of life and your body serges with power and strength.
I had three simple Everyman goals for my race:
1) Finish Strong
2) Finish the bike part before the winners finishes the race
3) Finish before dark
I experienced every emotion from bitter depression to jubilant glee. But most importantly I felt incredibly alive. Every part of my body and soul ached with the knowledge of the pain and joy of life.
I suppose that why I do these races. To feel the worst and the best that being alive has to offer.
I suspect that when I’m fully recovered I’ll forget the pain, go online, pick a new location to race, and close my eyes and click “submit payment” yet again.