If you have a moment take the time to read this spectacular write up from Gill Fullen – the Ironman 70.3 AG WORLD CHAMPION!
“This is an epic, so put your feet up. Summary: Ok swim, average bike, rubbish run. Excuses follow:
Not the best race prep ever.
The drive from Munich airport was very slow and congested, but driving through Austria was absolutely beautiful, gradually climbing through fantastic wooded mountainsides, which I’m far more used to seeing under snow, with clear sparkling streams coursing down the slopes. Arriving at Zell, what a beautiful little town, sat on the edge of a stunning lake, with all the typical Austrian houses and hotels clustered round cobbled streets leading down to the water.
Immediate priority for me was to register, which was the normal IM marketing fest, but straightforward nonetheless. Then a quick trot round the lake to get used to the heat and have a course recce, all very pleasant.
Dinner was hard to come by, as since there were two IM races on at the weekend, each with over 2500 participants, plus families, supporters and all the usual holidaymakers, all the hotels and restaurants were packed to bursting. So we didn’t finish eating until gone 9.30pm, at which time I needed to build my bike, so I could recce the course in the morning.
Bike building usually goes pretty easily, but of course it’s virtually a given now that I have a pre-race mechanical, so this time was a bit of a nightmare. All went well until re-attaching the rear mech just wouldn’t happen. I suspected the hanger was cross threaded, but I stayed cool and calm and spent over an hour gently trying every angle and method of screwing the parts together with absolutely no success. I decided to stop before I broke anything and take it to the mechanics in the morning. This wasn’t exactly inspiring me with confidence or giving me the early night I had planned. I spent the whole night tossing and turning and generally getting absolutely no sleep whatsoever, with panic mode kicking in and thoughts of ringing Chris Boardman or having to ship my road bike out last minute plaguing me into the early hours. I really thought my race might be over.
Up bright and early to recce the swim and the lake was breath-taking. Still, like mirror glass and a perfect temperature, it was a calming experience and it took less time to swim the course at a leisurely pace than I had thought, so a positive start to the day. Then back to sort the bike out.
I was queuing outside the expo before the gates had opened, along with several other worried athletes with their malfunctioning bikes and was lucky to be near the front of the queue, as the line for the mechanics soon stretched all the way round the expo, with waiting times running into the next day.
By this time I’m absolutely shattered, shaking with nerves and fairly sure that my race is already over. The mechanic takes a look and says this is a very common problem, which he’ll easily fix. True to his word, half an hour later and, despite my lack of faith, my bike is together and fully functional, so I am an incredibly happy bunny and breathing big sighs of relief.
Went for a quick ride to make sure that the gears were still working, (they were -ish, but they did need a little more tinkering to stop the chain falling off), then made it to the race briefing, which was packed, as it was for both Saturday’s and Sunday’s races. This usually gets me in race mode, but I was simply too tired to get excited and dozed my way through it.
And so back to the apartment, then the battle again to find something to eat, which turned out to be a pizza, very unusually for me and mum. So looking forward to a relatively early night and no need to set an alarm for the morning, I climbed into my comfy bed and was set to sleep for England.
Wrong! Unfortunately, mum was not well in the night and ended up being admitted to hospital – a very different experience to going to a&e in the UK at night! When she was settled on the ward I went back to the apartment in the morning to try to catch up on some lost sleep, which evaded me of course, it being so bright, hot and sunny outside. I was soon tempted out on the bike to make sure everything was still functioning, but too tired to do anything worthwhile, so pootled round the lake admiring the scenery.
Organising race gear was next on the list, which I did while waiting for Steve to arrive from the UK. By 2.30pm he still hadn’t arrived and I was starving. Racking was from 3pm to 5pm and he arrived just in time to accompany me down to transition, and promptly get lost. We did finally make it to a café for a sandwich, only now I really needed to visit mum, still in hospital, so with roads having re-opened after the normal IM 70.3, we drove over to see how she was doing.
By the time we left I could have eaten a horse, (well, nearly). Tempted by stodgy Austrian deserts we went in search of the local speciality Kaiserschmarn, however, once again due to the number of people now celebrating their 70.3 finish in the town, it was hard to find any free tables. I finally came to my senses and realised this probably wasn’t the best race fuel and gave in to a crepe.
Finally a whole night’s sleep and this time not even needing to set my alarm for some ridiculous time in the morning. The race was due to start at 10.45 for the elites, but up to 12.05 for age group athletes, so lots of hanging around in the over 30 degree heat, everyone was trying to cram into small spots of shade in the pre-race area, to stay out of the sun.
Gradually the waves of elite and age group athletes made it to the deep water start and were set off, with a real canon, making nervous age groupers all jump every time it went off. It was a relief to get into the water and finally start the race. My wave was around 60 ladies, so entirely civilised at the outset. Conditions were perfect, with little wind and a calm, warm lake. I set off strongly, pleased to be near the front of the wave, however I was too far behind the faster ladies to find any feet to follow, but stronger than the ladies behind me, so swam entirely on my own. I gradually became aware that I had someone swimming very closely on my feet; so close in fact that she kept bashing them. I put up with it for a while, then took evasive tactics: I upped the pace between the two end bouys trying to lose her; I slalomed in between the slower swimmers we were overtaking; I wiggled left to right trying to make her life difficult; I kicked hard, hoping to kick her away from my feet, but she stuck like the fabled persistent limpet. In the end, tiring of playing games, I simply stopped and made her swim past me. I struck out hard left again, with plenty of space between us and pushed on for the finish on my own.
Out into transition and there were a few bikes already gone from the rack, as I expected, so I had some catching to do. I thought I was probably about 10th, but had no real idea.
The first 20k of the bike was flat to downhill and theoretically fast, but my legs felt stiff from the outset and trying to push the pace seemed tough. I knew I needed to push on, as I was planning to back off a little on the climb, so that I had a good amount of energy left to push the final rolling section of the bike leg. The climb started fairly well. It was long, about 10k, but not steep, so a steady spin of the legs kept me moving fairly well forward, only overtaken by few ladies and only one from my age group. I reached Dienten, the picturesque village marking the start of the steep section of the climb, and was fairly pleased, knowing that there were only 3k to go to the top and that seemed quite manageable. Wrong again!
As the gradient increased, so the power in my legs decreased. In the last kilometre of the climb I seriously considered getting off my bike and running cyclo-cross style and still think that I would have been quicker had I done so, but the unwritten law of cycling hills kept my backside firmly in the saddle: to get off is to admit defeat! I finally crested the top of the hill and managed the tricky gear change up in preparation for the steep and technical first section of the descent. Bright red crash mats had been attached to forbidding rock and unyielding fencing at appropriate points, where the organisers obviously expected out of control cyclists to fly off the road. These in themselves were a sobering incentive to tackle the hairpins with care. The gradient was steep enough to allow a ridiculous amount of speed to build up into the turns, so braking, as I had been warned by the mechanics, was going to be of paramount importance. I love descending and started to attack the downhill in a bid to make up for my pathetic climbing. I flew past everyone around me, thoroughly enjoying the feeling of finally making up some ground, then pushed on to try and maintain a good pace as the descent evened out lower down. It was only after the race that I heard the horror stories of how many people had had punctures, heat-induced blow outs and other accidents on that section. Even the pros had had problems with melted rims the day before. So with hindsight, I count myself very lucky to have made it down incident free.
Strength and endurance were the watchwords for the rest of the course, which returned to Zell fairly quickly, but then meandered round in circles to take in Kaprun and generally make the distance up, before winding along the cycle path back into transition.
Were there bikes already in transition? Yes I’m sure I saw a few in my section, before running round the long loop to collect my run bag and totter out onto the run course. I still had no real idea of where I was in my age group, only that a lot of strong lady bikers had passed me on the course and that if I had ever needed a good run split in a race, now was the time to pull it out of the bag.
Or maybe not. My heart was in it, but my legs were distinctly less motivated. It often feels rubbish running off the bike initially, so I wasn’t surprised that I wasn’t feeling the love, (“Lass die Freude rein” or “let the happiness in” being the race motto). The initial section from T2 to Zell, where you twisted up and downhill through cobbled streets was over fairly quickly and out onto the lake round the path. Here it was dazzling in the sun, which sucked every drop of water out of you, making the next water station seem an age away. I was still jogging and wondering why I had no energy, as I passed mum waving from outside the hospital. I apologised as I ran past her, saying, “sorry mum, no medals today” and continued up the incline taking us to the turning point in Thumersbach.
Here they had a timing mat and a commentator announcing who was passing and if appropriate, where they were in their age groups. As I ran through I heard them say that I was third in my category. I thought they were wrong and that I must still be about 5th, but it made me wonder what was possible if I could just pick up the pace a little. I did try, but nothing much happened. Round Zell for the second time and getting the second armband was a boost, which meant I at least thought I could probably make it to the finish line. Past mum again, still not knowing if she was going to be allowed out the next day, so we could spend some time in Bavaria as we had planned and finally legs started responding a little better. This time at the turnaround they told me I was in second place.
I had seen two ladies in my age group going the other way just before turnaround and thought one, if not both of these, must be in front of me, so I set out to see if I could catch them. I picked up a better pace and soon caught the first one, only to find that she was still on her first lap. The next one was further in front, so more effort required. I certainly felt like I picked up the pace in the last half lap. It felt like I was finally running easier and holding a better speed. My Garmin will tell you a different story. It tells me that my pace was pretty much the same all the way through, with variation allowed for hills and feed stations and that my 7.41 min/mile pace was fairly consistent.
Whatever, I felt better towards the end and finally overhauled the lady I had seen in my age group with about 500m to go to the finish line, (as it turns out, she was also still on her first lap and I had in fact been in first place for some time, but I only found this out looking at the splits after the race). I slipped by, hoping she wouldn’t spot me and put up a fight, and kept running all the way up the celebrated but very narrow red carpet, where I weaved between male age groupers, elbowing them out of the way in my haste to get to the line before any counter attack could reach me. Safely arrived and about to collapse under the glare of the finish line photographers, the announcer cheering us home shouted, “Gill Fullen, you have just won your age group, you are a world champion”. To say I was pleased would be an understatement. At the time, however, I was attempting to keep my insides on the inside and being hovered over by a slightly worried finish line marshal.
Against all odds I had done it. I was appalled with my splits, apart perhaps from the swim, so it wasn’t overwhelming joy by any means, but I’m told a win is a win. And the World Champion jersey I now have to wear will, I’m sure, soon help me forget any disappointment I might feel. For the record I was 9th out of the swim, 3rd fastest on the bike and 1st on the run. Slower than normal, but still in front of the competition. Work to do.”