So, I have to confess, in the 12 months I’ve been blogging and the 10 months I’ve been training (and fantasising and visualising and dreaming about) Ironman Austria, I never thought in a million years it would end this way.
By now you will all know the unhappy outcome to the end of the story. But, as an exception to all of the previous DNF’s, the message behind this one is positivity and optimism and most importantly love and commitment of every kind.
In previous posts I mentioned the back troubles I had in the last couple of weeks. They didn’t go away but actually got worse in the lead up to the event. The day before the race I wasn’t even sure I would start. But trusting in all the work I had done, and the miracles that can happen to the human body, I figured I would get into the water and see where it lead. And to be honest, I felt really positive about it. I had worked so hard I felt I deserved this event to come good.
We spent the previous day preparing the bags and racking the bikes. The location of the hotel and its proximity to the Race HQ, transitions and finish line were fabulous. So it all happened with the least amount of fuss and left us plenty of time to chill at the hotel and get an early night. All through the process I felt calm. I had done the preparation, I was so ready for this.
The alarm went off at 4am. I was already awake and had been for about 20 minutes prior. We got up and went through the pre race ritual we’ve been through numerous times before. After breakfast, we made our way to the transition area and added our nutrition and drinks bottles to the bikes, checked tyres and gave the bikes a quick mechanical inspection. All was good. We realised we still had about 90 minutes before the race start so we went back to our hotel room to chill out before putting on the wetsuits there and making our way to the start about 6.45am.
The Worthersee in Klagenfurt is beautifully clear and an absolutely pleasure to swim in. The swim is a dry start (ie on the beach at the edge of the lake). I opted to start at the back and after waiting for a few moments after the cannon announced the race start at 7am, I waded into clear water that was beautifully warm.
The swim started well. The pain was manageable and I felt strong. Sighting was a bit erratic and I found myself zigzagging around the route. Sighting is not usually a problem. Here the course is essentially a three sided square until you get to the canal. But the reality was buoys that were not big enough and coloured yellow. Practically impossible to see in the early morning light. The post race dissection at breakfast the next morning led to similar complaints. A few just said they never really got into their stride (as it were).
I focussed on relaxing and trying to enjoy it. I consoled myself with the thought that at least I wouldn’t have to do the swim at the Outlaw in a few weeks time :O)
After the last few days of completely calm weather I noticed the wind had picked up. The lake normally smooth as a glass was starting to get quite choppy. It was sufficient for me to feel the ebb and flow of the water around me but not enough for me to worry about it. It affected many of the swimmers around me though, as more and more were pulled from the water and escorted back to shore. Their race over so early in the day.
On the never ending drag to the canal I was kept entertained by a swimmer who had been pulled out and was resting on the front of a body board. He lay there like a seal until he saw his opportunity and flopped back into the water to start swimming. The marshal chased him shouting ‘nein, nein’ until he caught and dragged him back onto the board. No easy feat! He’d wait for a couple of minutes until he got another chance and off he flopped again. It was hilarious to watch.
Eventually, after an interminable amount of time, I was climbing out of the water and walking the long road to the changing tent. Swim time 1 hour 56 minutes and change. About where I expected to be. I resolved to work on my swimming a bit more for next year!
The hip was sore but I felt good to go on. I sat down and was helped out of my wetsuit by a lovely marshal. They were fabulous in the change tent and couldn’t do enough to help. Once dressed, I waddled out of the changing tent, slightly inhibited by my cycle shoes and made my way to Piri.
This is always the nerve racking bit. Alan sometimes gets motion sickness in the water, occasionally bad enough to end his race and to make him very ill. But, he had never failed to finish the swim in a full Ironman so we didn’t discuss the possibility here.
The swell in the lake although not massive, was enough to make me wonder if he was one of the many I saw being dragged out of the water. His bike was situated very close to the change tent and as I passed through, I could see a bike left in roughly the same place as his had been. Muttering ‘please don’t be his’ over and over to myself as I went round the corner, I tentatively glanced over and sure enough, there it was. Alan is a much faster swimmer than me, he must not have made it out of the swim.
With a sinking heart I checked the number on the bike, confirmed it was his and then headed over to a marshal to ask if she knew anything.
Ten minutes and about a gazillion marshals later, I found one with a phone who made some calls. He confirmed three things;
1. Alan had not finished the swim,
2. They did not know where he was,
3. If I didn’t get on my bike right now, they would disqualify me for missing the swim cut off.
They suggested making more enquiries once I’d finished a lap of the bike. It was clear this conversation had ended so I got on the bike and with a heavy heart set off on the bike route. My legs felt really strong and loosened up nicely. Finally, I was aware that for the first time in two weeks I was pain free.
But I couldn’t shake off the niggling doubt about Alan whereabouts. If they had told me he was in the medical tent but ok, it would have been fine. If they had told me, he’d been pulled out of the water but was on his feet, it would have been fine. But their words ‘we don’t know what’s happened to him, or where he is’ just drove me crazy.
I’ve seen him incapacitated for days when he has a bad attack and I was so worried about him. After just five miles I stopped to think things through. I thought about the sponsorship money people had invested in me for the Princess Alice hospice. I thought about the support back home and the people following the tracker. I thought about all the work I had put into this event to make possible the certainty of a finish this time. I thought about the probability that he would be ok and sleeping it off somewhere. And then I started playing the ‘what if’ game and briefly considered the unbearable thought of a life without him and then turned back and go and look for him.
My first stop was the medical tent. I spoke to an official looking lady there who kicked me out, ‘this is a secure area!’ And then said, he’ll be turning up in a car soon? I confirmed that he was not in the tent, she said No, and then when pressed, said she didn’t know where he was or if he had been fished out of the water or what had happened to him either.
She told me to stay by the tent and then left (to go shopping I later found out). It was there about ten minutes later that pro athlete Dan Halksworth found me sitting, worried, dejected and wondering what the hell to do.
After exchanging pleasantries, crap day at the office, broken rear derailleur ended race, where do I pick my day bag up, he asked what I was doing there. I explained the situation and he (appalled) set off to find someone to help me. He returned with a team leader who after lots of phone calls confirmed Alan had been pulled from the water but they did not know what had happened to him from there. She rang the local hospital (no trace) and then our hotel who confirmed he was safe and in the room although still quite unwell.
I thanked Dan and the lady profusely for their help and made my way to the hotel. It turns out, they pulled him from the water and basically dumped him on the pier while he was still vomiting, asked him if he was ok and then left him to fend for himself. I didn’t check the hotel because I never dreamed they would do that!
But there you go.
Happily he made a full recovery and we both live to fight another day.
I thought it was fabulous that a pro would take time out, as disappointed as he was was with his day, to help me. He also consoled a distraught athlete who had failed to make the swim cut off. What a top bloke!
But now we come to the positivity and optimism I promised you earlier. It’s been an amazing year. The training for this event has been brilliant. I have loved that it came with a sense of achievement at each milestone logged and more importantly, was so much fun.
I don’t regret a single minute of it.
I have an entry for IM Austria next year and I can’t wait to get started on the training again. Unfortunately for you it means another year of blogging for which I am very sorry!
Alan and I were also completely overwhelmed by the texts, e-mails and messages of support and concern through the day and beyond. And also the message coming through that this little blog has inspired many of you to have a go at stuff yourself. We never at any time set out to be role models or inspirational in any way. It is a very happy side effect of our sharing our enthusiasm for doing what people sometimes consider to be silly things. 🙂
We thank you for your support from the bottom of our hearts.
The day after the Ironman I contacted the Outlaw full iron distance people and asked about the possibility of transferring Alan’s place to me. They deliberated and then said yes. So, in less than four weeks time I will be once again stood on the start line at an ironman. This time I will do everything I can to get to the finish.
And to Alan, I will always come and look for you when you get misplaced. I love you. x