The swim was in the canal in Roth and basically went up one side of the canal and down the other. We all got a ride close to the swim start and as we walked the rest of the way, I started to get a real sense of how big the race was; not only were there ~3500 competitors in the race, they had indicated that there would be over 200 000 family, friends and spectators on the course (and it seemed that many of them were headed to the swim start!). The group was starting in various waves with the pros going off at 6:30, all the women at 6:45 and my wave started at 7:15. I went with Nik to get her bike ready (pump up the tires, put water and food on the bike), then we did mine. The atmosphere was incredible; there was loud music playing, there was a constant stream announcements that got the crowd going (too bad most were in German so we couldn’t understand them), 3 hot air balloons were filling up on the other side of the start line and spectators were everywhere: lining the bridge over the canal and on both sides of the canal as far as the eye could see. It was almost overwhelming! I was glad that Nik (and the other women from our group) were starting first as I was initially focused on them first. When Nik left for the start area (after a good luck kiss, of course), I was left to get myself ready and this is when I started to get nervous. I was glad to have another friend there (Scott) to pass the time.
I am generally not a fan of the swim start but here, everything was quite civilized (likely because everyone was in a daze (and perhaps scared s***less) with everything happening around us!). My wave got in the water with 5 minutes to the start. People seemed to either go to the buoy line (likely the fastest guys) or stay near the show (likely the slower guys) so I found a un-crowded spot right in the middle about 3 body lengths from the start. In pretty much every other race I have done, there has been short period of panic once the swimming starts as bodies are swimming into you however here I was able to settle into a rhythm quickly without too many guys knocking into me. Five minutes in it was so far so good. And the rest was the same; I was able to catch a draft on and off through the whole swim and felt fresh. It was pretty exciting rounding the first buoy since coming back, after turning the slight bend, I was sighting on the bridge with all the spectators which was fairly close to the finish (and all the while getting closer!). As I swam under the bridge and rounded the second and last turnaround, I began to get really excited as the swim exit was in sight and I figured I had had a pretty decent swim (although I hadn’t looked at my watch yet). It was so sweet to finally stand up and as I got out of the water and looked at my watch; the time was better than I would have every guessed (1:16…so close to Nicole!) (must have been the tip Richard Pedy gave me the day before!).
The first transition was quick and I was happy to be on the bike. The weather for the day was perfect (for me); it was already warm leaving on the bike. The bike route for the course was awesome; the roads were in great condition and often twisty and mostly through forests, fields and small towns. The bike started by passing over the bridge that overlooked the swim course. It was a sweet start to be passing over the bridge and again be cheered on by 1000s of people. I saw Nik’s parents on the bridge although they did not see me until I shouted (they were not expecting me so soon…Ha!) The first part of the bike was a little congested but very soon it became spread out and I settled into a good pace. I was told to take it easy for the first 30 minutes and I tried to follow this and drink fluids. The course here was rolling with only small climbs that presented no issues. After about 30 minutes the course really became fun as it was mostly sloping downwards for 20 k and the speed really picked up in this section. Although, with the all the downhill, it meant that there was going to be some uphill and it basically comes all at once!
As you go flying down into the town of Greding (about halfway to the first lap), there is a sharp left hand turn and up you go (at a ~14% grade!). We had driven the course so I was aware of the hill and so atleast I started in the right gear. The legs felt good so I climbed well (up past (again) tons of spectators cheering with cowbells, thundersticks and every other noisemaker imaginable). There was a real party atmosphere here complete with a trailer blasting music, an announcer, and cheerleaders. After a short time, the hill leveled out a bit (say to ~8%); there was an aid station here so I swung over to grab some much needed ISO drink (similar to Gatorade). The positioning of this aid station was interesting-part way up a difficult hill-and it was somewhat amusing to watch other riders barely stay on their bike will climbing and trying to grab food and drink. The hill eventually gradually flattened however it still climbed on and off for about 15 minutes. This part of the course was pretty tough but would soon be over.
For all the hills on the course, you would climb and then almost immediately go down. Once the climb of the Greding hill was over, the downhill was spectacular; long and steep with 4 switchbacks. I took the downhill easy as I didn’t want to be a victim of flying over a hail bail. It was sweet to rest the legs. Watching several guys blow by me made me a bit nervous (more for them, not me as I am not sure how they stayed on their bikes through the turns?!). Once at the bottom the course was once again rolling.
At the 70 km mark is the famous Solarer Berg climb in the town, Hilpolstein, where we stayed; the hill was 2 minutes from the hotel which made it great for the spectators in our group. It is not a big hill nor is it very steep however this is the place where a crowd of thousands cheer on the athletes as they climb the hill. As you ride up, they essentially make a human tunnel (same as in the Tour de France!) and cheer madly. Every time I think about the climb I get goose bumps (like as I write this) and any description I can put down will not do it justice; google ‘Solarer Berg climb’ and you can see what I mean. The approach to the Solarer Berg is barricaded and as I came around the corner and got my first glimpse of the hill, I was look at a wall of people. Because of all the people, you really can’t pass on the hill so I just sat up and enjoyed the experience; it was incredible and I had a grin from ear to ear!
Since the hill was so close to the hotel, I had ridden the next part of the course a few times (3 to be exact as it was so much fun). Just before the end of the first lap, the course went through a town where they had set up the Bier Mile. Tables lined the street with people enjoying their tall steins of beer…even at ~10 am in the morning. I was still feeling pretty good at this point so the urge to stop was not that strong; I would have killed for a beer passing through here on the second lap!
I passed the 90 Km mark at 2:41 into the bike and was still feeling strong. The second lap was more or less the same as the first lap although I was a little tired going up the Greding hill. It was pretty sweet at the 175 k mark to turn towards the bike transition which was mostly downhill so I was able to rest the legs a little. It was really cool pulling into transition and seeing Nicole getting off her bike just ahead of me. (Total bike time: 5:25.) I yelled but don’t think she heard me; and then I sat down with her in the tent and she was quite surprised (she started 30 minutes ahead of me and I didn’t expect to catch her until the end, if at all). Of course she left just before me but I caught her in the first few minutes of the run and she patted my butt as I ran by!
I started the run very well; maybe too well. The first km, which was somewhat downhill took 4 minutes (although I was trying to catch Nicole!). After this, I settled down into a reasonable pace and was feeling strong. The majority of the course followed the canal on a gravel rail trail. It was fairly narrow and there was people running both ways but there was enough room to pass and there was lots of people (both racers and spectators) to keep it interesting. The first turnaround was at about 13 K and was still going strong but knew this could change at any time. (In the last Ironman race, I started to fall apart after about 9 k so I knew it could happen at any time!). Again this happened at about 18 K but it wasn’t a stomach issue like last time, it was more of a mental issue. Perhaps I was overheating too however in my head I was thinking that I needed to walk so I just stopped running. It took a few minutes to convince myself to run again but then I walked through the aid station about a minute later. I drank everything they had to offer (water, ISO and magical Coke!). After walking though the aid station (and then some) I started running again. About 5 minutes later (likely thanks to the Coke) I started to feel good again and began turning out the kilometers. It went like this for the rest of the race: walk the aid stations but run the rest and the next thing I knew, I was at the 39 k mark. The last 3 K were pretty special and was very happy to run into the makeshift ‘stadium’ to the finish (run time: 3:31).
In the end, I was ecstatic with my time (10 hours, 19 minutes) which surpassed my best case scenario. The race is amazing and the group that we went with (Multisport Canada) was equally great! If you are interested in triathlon, this is a race you need to do and going with Multisport Canada will make it very easy and enjoyable.
The Finish (I have the yellow Powerbar visor)