Just after I had done IM70.3 Rügen two years ago, Ironman announced the full distance race in Hamburg for the following year. Since I was busy with my master last year, the inaugural race was beyond question, but I had my mind set to sign up for this year’s race once all the work for the master was over. The reason that I picked Hamburg was that I am from about 60km northeast of Hamburg and during my last years of school it was somewhat my second home. A race so close to home also meant that friends and family would be able to come and cheer. Another reason to choose Hamburg over the other two big races (Roth & Frankfurt) was the possibility of cooler weather. There are chances of 10°C and rain or 30°C and sunshine. This year it was the latter of course…
I flew over to Germany on the Tuesday before the race and stayed in Lübeck a few days before and after the race to spend some time as home as well. When heading down to Hamburg on Thursday, it was the first time that I got a little bit nervous but once registered, it got better. After sorting everything, I took the train back to Lübeck and accidentally came across comments about blue-green algae and closed beaches in Hamburg. And then there was also the thread of a non-wetsuit swim because the water was quite warm.
Until the next morning I constantly checked for any new information about the swim, just getting more nervous along the way. The photos of the lake looked quite disgusting, there was a green film on the durface. I was still hoping for some kind of a wonder but on Friday morning the swim was cancelled and replaced with a run. So much for my first long distance triathlon. Of course, that meant back to being nervous, also thanks to the advice of using two pairs of runners by Ironman (I brought one pair since that was all I had planned only that one for the marathon). Suddenly the hot weather was not too much of a concern anymore, also we were supposed to get a cooler day on Sunday (which meant under 30°C instead of 35°C). Later I was able to calm myself down by not seeing the race as the big A race anymore I had signed up for. Now it was a duathlon instead, and I would just go and enjoy whatever would come. As a practice, I probably should have raced one of the Phoenix Park Duathlons instead of being involved in the organisation though.
The Friday and Saturday were uneventful otherwise, I just kept myself busy with everything that needed to be done. I got a second pair of runners, we drove down to Hamburg, I attended the race briefing, I was catching up with friends on both days and there was the bike check-in. Thanks to the cancelled swim I had at least half an hour more of sleep on race day, but it was not the best due to weird dreams and the worry to oversleep.
I definitely would have loved to swim but looking down to the water before the start, made it easier because the water looked quite disgusting and due to the water temperature, we would have needed to swim without wetsuit. I knew that the lake was not the cleanest but at least not that bad that we would need a decontaminating shower as after the Boyne Swim I did a few years ago. Also, before the ITU race two weeks prior to the Ironman, the lake was cleaned, and a shopping trolley was pulled out. Not really promising but at least we could have swum in it, if it was not for the algae. Since all lakes were closed due to the water quality in Hamburg, there was no other option than switching to a duathlon. At least they just added 6km.
Due to the change the race started 30 minutes later, and the rolling start was extended to one hour for the age groupers. Some of them ran in swim hat and goggles or barefoot. While waiting, my mum arrived and wished me good luck. The first run was partly on the second run course and partly on the bike route. While the first run should have been a simple warm up, I noticed that I was quicker than I should be, so I slowed down a little bit for the second half. The first run, I ran in my new runners – yes, I did exactly what one should not do on race day: use new gear on race day. Before leaving for Hamburg, I called several sports stores in Lübeck, if they had the same runners I already had in my size and the day before the race I spend in them, so I was fine.
My transition bag for the bike was more of less empty because I had shoes and helmet on my bike. The race number which normally would have been in the bag, I was already wearing due to the changed race format. After putting the bike gear bag back onto the rack, I started running to my bike only to notice a few seconds later that I still wore my visor. Back to the bag and then on my way to the bike again.
Since the carpet in transition was still wet from the rain the evening before, my socks were soaked after a few metres. So, another U-turn back to the bike gear bag back to throw in the wet socks and grabbing the spare ones that were in there – just in case. Finally, I had everything and ran to my bike. Next to it I put on the dry socks, helmet on and off I went making sure that I would run next to the carpet to avoid wet socks again.
The cycle was two loops of 89km. Out of the city over the Großmarkt Hamburg where we had the race briefing on Friday. What they forgot to mention in the race briefing were the cobbles for about 100m or 150m. Lovely Paris-Roubaix feeling that I did not exactly want but better than circling around potholes for the whole duration like on my training rides in Ireland. At the side was already someone fixing the tyre and about 30 bottles stood on the sidewalk. Just on time I noticed that my bottle on my handlebar was moving, before I lost it too. This little section was also part of the route on the way back which meant crossing the cobbles four times in total.
After that it was over to the dike along the Elbe river. In the end were two turning points and a little loop before getting back to the river and cycling back the same way into the city. On the map/profile there was a small but steep incline in the end of the loop but as it turned out, it only looked bad on the profile. I had run this part during the first run and it just looked worse than it was.
I was on the bike for I would say about 10km when I started to become uncomfortable on the saddle. I moved around but it just would not get any better for the next 80km. Since the course was flat without any inclines there was not even any time when I would get out of the saddle for climbing. On second lap it was okay, I guess my bum was just numb at that point. The reason was most likely just a millimetre wrong in the saddle height after putting the bike back together at home although I made sure everything looked exactly like on the photo I took before packing my bike into the box.
Sorry, Ian, if you are reading this before Copenhagen, I know you did not want to know how painful the race is before your own race. The first bike lap was probably the most painful part of the race. The rest was okay.
Now, my cheering squad had also grown two five people. Next to my mother also my uncle, my cousin as well as my best friend with her husband were on the course. During the second transition I took my time before I went out onto the run course.
This was the part of the race I was worried about most. It was during the hottest time of the day and I am not the best runner. The run was a 10.5km loop mostly along the lake in which we did not swim. Luckily, most of the route was under trees and was mainly flat. I knew in advance that I would not run for the whole marathon which took a little with of the worries away. I did intervals throughout the whole run which went quite well.
I had planned my nutrition for the whole race and I was fine with it until I had a craving for some solid food on the run, so I grabbed pretzels during one too many of the feed stations. On the second lap this fired back a little bit because I did not feel well but once I got back to my planned nutrition, I was fine again. One of the things I love about the Ironman races are the sponges which are great to cool down during the run – probably a little bit too much thanks to the little cold I got afterwards.
With a cheering squad of six people now, I never knew when and where to see familiar faces, but I absolutely loved it. Having friends from even near the Danish boarder and family on the course during the first long distance race meant so much to me and made everything easier.
Just before I turned towards to finish line I saw a couple running hand-in-hand and another athlete heading towards the finish line. After racing for 12 hours and months of training, I wanted it to be my moment on the IM carpet, so got all my energy together and passed all of them while being announced as a very wild one with the pink socks. I still get goose bumps watching the video from the last metres with my best friend screaming my name.
A big thank you goes to my trainer, my cheering squad in Hamburg (my mum, my uncle, my cousin, a very good friend, my best friend & her husband) and to everyone sending words of encouragement before the race and congratulations afterwards.
Now that I have finished my first Ironman – well, more or less – I finally opened Jan Frodeno’s book to read it during my last days of holiday. I did not want to read the book before the race. Jan looks very serious on the cover and just in case I could get scared by any painful long distance race stories or anything about his race in Kona last year.
And last but not least – would I do it all over again? Yes, absolutely! The pain was worse it (to be honest, it was only the day after which was bad, since then I am fine) and I want to do a long distance race that includes the swim…