Ironman 70.3 Zell am See 29 Aug

02nd September 2015
Registering for a half ironman without any previous triathlon experience and the lack of ability to swim might have been a silly thing to do but I actually quite enjoy the thrill of throwing myself into the completely unknown. Opportunities to challenge our bodies in various events are everywhere, just need to click on that registration button.
Must admit there was another reason I fancied taking part in the Zell Am See 70.3 Ironman on Saturday 29 August. I hadn’t seen my family for almost a year and a half and this race weekend provided a perfect excuse to get the family together in a lovely chalet in the Austrian Alps.
Since I started the ‘7 summits’ project in April last year, my life had been revolving around the mountains; making money to pay for the expeditions, training, climbing, repeat. To test my legs I did two half marathons earlier this year, surely the next step is to swim 2km, cycle 90km and run a half marathon in one go ☺

Training for the 70.3 has been rather interesting and eventful. First job was to learn how to swim. I managed to squeeze in two coached sessions with a swimming instructor in an 18m indoor pool before heading off to Denali where I spent almost the entire month of June.
Thomas asked me to show him my front crawl then when I swam back he said; ok we’re going to have to start from scratch. We had another two sessions after the climb then he said I was ready for a 90m outdoor pool, the famous Tooting Lido. Looking back not sure I was! ☺
First session was a disaster. My wetsuit didn’t fit properly and I had a mild panic attack in the pool. Everything was alien. Next time I felt a bit more confident so I signed up to do a swim relay race with the Wimbledon Windmilers at Ham Lake. Trust me when I say I had no idea the reason I was so slow because I was literally crawling in the water like a dog with my legs instead of kicking from the hips. Not to worry, I learnt that from a youtube video a week before the half Ironman (copying the guy from the video laying on my flatmate’s exercise pad). Bring on the 2km lake swim.

I knew cycling 90km wouldn’t be an issue; after having tackled the hills of the Etape du Tour, Surrey and commuting to Richmond through the park on the hybrid, a flat bike course in Austria was going to be a piece of cake. Until I found out the bike course was rated 3/5 Ironman standards. Oh even better, loving the mountains don’t we Rocket!

So far so good preparation wise except that during the previous two half marathons I ran, I couldn’t break 2 hours on fresh legs. I was careful not to combine all three disciples in the training but had to get the legs used to the run after the bike. As often as I could I dropped the bike as soon as I got home after work, changed shoes and headed out for a run. I’ve been building up the running distance very carefully since I had the pain in my knee (which turned out to be an IT band related issue) What would happen on race day though I had no idea and it was approaching pretty fast…

We left London at 5pm after work on Wednesday and arrived at a ‘luxury campsite’ (these two words shouldn’t be used together, you still sleep in your own pop up tent..) at 3pm on Thursday. My parents arrived on Friday and we all moved into a lovely Austrian style hous. Went back to the transition area Friday afternoon to leave Rocket there and sort out the transition bags. I wouldn’t see the bike and the bags until the following morning before the race.
We had early dinner that day and a reasonably early night, the alarm went off at 4am.

We dropped the cars at the nearest official car park and made our way to the start. Said bye to my family and walked into the bike transition area around 5.30am.
It was still pitch dark but the football field size area was lit up. Enjoy the cool and fresh morning air I thought, soon it would be over 30C. Went to check my bike tyres and the transitions bags before putting on my wetsuit. Decided not to warm up in the lake, didn’t fancy standing around cold and drenched until the 6.45am start.

Entered the lake of Zell am See with hundreds of other women and suddenly excitement took over, there’s no turning back now.
Our wave had a false start, which didn’t help the nervous first timers including myself. We were stopped at the first buoy and sent back to the start. After the sound of the horn off we went again. Since our wave was now slightly delayed the following wave of men quickly caught up with us and the fistfight started. Just when I finally got my technique and breathing right, someone either grabbed my ankles or kicked me in the ribs or the face. Every now and then I tilted my head slightly back to see if there were any more pink cap swimmers behind me and luckily there were; good sign, I wasn’t last! When I exited the water I heard my dad shouting my name so I threw a big smile and a wave to him and started running down the transition lane unzipping my wetsuit.

Grabbed my bag, dried my feet and jumped into the bike shoes. Rocket was where I left him and soon we were on our way to ride the 90.1km bike course.
The first 20km were glorious. Smooth and wide roads, every cyclists dream. As much as I enjoyed the buzz of the swim start and cheering of the crowd, it was great to get on the road with Rocket and do what we love. After 20km I could see some triathlon bikes slowing down slightly, sign of the first serious incline. Sometimes I had to remind myself I was racing; the forest, waterfalls, mountains surrounding me made this course a dream place to cycle. Challenging, tough in the heat but extremely enjoyable. When we cycled past some beautiful Bavarian houses along the route, locals were out on their balcony and street cheering us on. After the first dink station which I thought was the top of the hill a guy cycled past me and said: “let the party begin”. Looked up and saw what he meant. This is where the steep section started! By now I saw both men and women walking with their bikes but the challenge was too sweet, Etape du Tour again!
I could hear my heart pounding and feel sweat drops running down my tights.. Then suddenly, a guy broke the sound of the cyclists heavy breathing by the road shouted in every language he could speak that there were 50meters until downhill! We were at 1280m and the only way was down, beautiful let’s flush those legs!
I mentioned in previous blogs that my descending is far from perfect and I still find cornering scary and fast cyclists shooting by me forcing me off my racing lane. The more I do it the more confidence I gained and I realised I was far less stiff on the bike this time. Until an ambulance roomed past me and around the next bend I saw a poor female triathlete was being pulled out of the drop just after a 90 degree corner. It must have hurt because her arms and shoulder were already in bandage. Very unfortunate, it can happen to anyone and I hope she’s ok and recovered. Despite the fact Rocket is not a tri bike we thoroughly enjoyed the next section, a stretch of flat roads where I managed to push a little bit more. It was such a lifting moment when I shot past my friend and parents, all cheering and shouting encouraging and sweet things. Put a huge smile on my face and was ready to tackle the last 20km or so.
Looking back at the bike section, I don’t think I could have put much more into it with Rocket, we both raced with everything we had. My strength on the bike was most noticeable on the hills where I kept overtaking not just single but groups of athletes at once and hardly felt it.

I was almost looking forward to getting off the bike (I must try chamois cream one day!) change shoes and start the run. Again my best friend and family were there to cheer me on which gave me a huge amount of boost. That was the beginning of the 21km run but I knew they would all be there at the finish.
Lack of experience in triathlons was showing now, wasn’t sure just how hard I could push myself. Last thing I wanted was to burn myself and not being able to finish after a long day of racing. I didn’t want to have a running watch so kept comparing my pace to other runners. A girl called Mel left the transition area just before I did so I thought I could stick to her. The run course was hot but stunning. The path followed the lake then curved into Zell am See then out back onto the path to the other side of the lake then all the way back, and the same route one more time.

Lost Mel the second time at the turn around point, time to find a slightly faster runner. At no point I felt weak but picking up the pace could have been a mistake. I ended up running a time I did at the previous two half marathons, definitely room for improvement but I was pleased for not stopping once. The crowd went crazy every time someone turned onto the finish line; for about 200 meters people shouting and screaming both sides. My friend spotted me just before and I gave him a fist pump wave and mom and dad were up near the finish taking pictures and me screaming how much they loved me from the top of their voice.

What an incredible day.
This race also marked the end of a fantastic summer filled with great challenges. From next week I’ll start training for the Aconcagua climb (Dec 15 - Jan 16) and who knows, might just accidentally register for another half Ironman ;)