by Julia Rowe-May

There was a moment during the past 18 months when I read an IM Austria race report in 220 magazine and thought this was the event I wanted to do as my next Ironman after Copenhagen. Then, in October, as the club celebrated our glorious successes at Kona 2016, I found out Vince & I were expecting a baby the following Spring. Since I couldn’t race in 2017, the next best thing was to plan for racing in 2018!

So as the bump got bigger, I rallied the troops, got Vince, Jan and Luke on board and finally, after Harry was born in May 2017, the July race sign up date was upon us. Around 18 in the club swiftly expelled our 500€ and gave up our next year to the Ironman dream.

Fast forward 12 months and we were on the way to Klagenfurt. The flight took us to Ljubljana, Slovenia, which was seriously a destination in itself. We were taken aback by the glorious hills and forests and space and cleanliness. There is a 70.3 there in September for the first time (it’s so tempting to sign up!). The drive through to Austria passes the Dolomites and Italy is 10 minutes drive from the Austria/Slovenia border.

We had settled on camping and six of us ultimately ended up staying at the race venue in a variety of campervans which were as unique as each of us!

The campsite, registration and finish line are situated right alongside Lake Wörthersee. Stunning. Blue water, fish, a clean wooden jetty that goes on for at least 200m out from the shore, allowing families to splash in the shallows on a sandy beach and serious swimmers to dive into the blue and head out.  And the water was warm…wetsuit legal but barely! In fact, I was toying with a non-wetsuit swim such had been my depressing frustration with my lack of open water training versus pool time !

We used Sam ([email protected]) for the bike transport and since they delivered the bikes early on the Friday morning, we only had one night sharing the van with our two bikes.

The Friday registration and expo was brilliant. There was the “On” running stand, staffed by beautiful people! They saw Ful-on Tri coming 😉 (which of us ladies did not buy shoes that day ?!?)

We took the bikes out for a quick check and spin.

Food was easy to find. Half a spit-roast chicken and potato salad formed a large part of my diet along with plain yoghurt and gallons of pre-hydration from h2pro using their 1000 mg product as I approached my final part of the taper with building excitement.

A glass of wine before bed and a massive panic as I went into mental meltdown about what a fool I was to do such a long endurance on such little training. Talking of little training. I had opportunity to put the baby in the creche for a regular spot and also to go running with the buggy as often as I liked. But getting the long rides proved more difficult alongside family time, especially with my two older sons.

So I had swam at least 2-3 times a week but there was always a something to interrupt my set and tbh only managed maximum of 2k swim in pool and a 2.8k swim in shepperton (once). My runs, although short and sweet, were also limited as one lap of the park in the buggy was enough for baby Harry to wake up or for my ever faithful dog to start getting tired.

So there it was. A maximum 90k on the bike and a maximum 12k run and maximum 2.8k swim. Not exactly what most training plans recommend, but I was hoping that a bit of previous IM experience would help.

Race morning. Started well. Reading Ruth P’s race blog from IM Nice described a 330 porridge bowl. I know porridge leaves me hungry so I had brought cereal from home to have with plain yoghurt. Back to bed till 5am then all of our crew was up…on our way and excited.

My bike was racked really close to the pros and looking at their set-ups in the morning was daunting. I clipped on my super cool brand new Mavic Cosmic tri shoes (club colours woo hoo!) and bade a sweet farewell to my steed tracing my footsteps a few times out of transition.

Then home to the campervan to have a cuppa and get into wetsuits. Being on site was absolutely worthwhile just for this and a last use of the proper toilets!

The swim line up was calm with enough space to do lots of arm circles and look mega professional (lol). Suddenly we were off. The start was rolling. Smooth calm lake waters with lots of arms and feet. I remembered to concentrate on what I do best from my favoured discipline of running which is to settle into a calm breathing rhythm. I had my goggles under my cap. My wetsuit was pulled on properly this time and so I felt able to swim freely unlike on training swims.

I kept drafting. Either on folks’ toes or, if it got scrappy, then remembering that alongside them is the best draft zone. I swam approx 75 percent of the course in this way. In through the canal entrance, where the lift and upsurge from all of us propelling through a narrow space carried us speedily along more than making up for a fresh water buoyancy deficit.

The canal was looong. I was quite bored of it and looking forward to getting out but kept dragging myself back to the present and the enormity that I had actually almost finished the swim. Out of the water and into transition I sped, grabbed my bike gear and set off.

Things to note on the bike. It is fairly hilly.

But the course has glorious long flattish descents where you could speed along and see the road undulate up ahead so it felt great. The proper descents are slightly scary on a TT and I wished for my road bike, but heard Walt’s voice in my mind that he had done them on the drops on the second lap. So ruing my lack of pre-riding the course, I resolved to do as Walt did.

The aid stations are every 10 miles. Tons of bananas. Enervit was the brand and their fuel was palatable. I had h2pro sachets and added them to my aero bottle water and chugged a second bottle filled with Gu vanilla gels watered down enough to get it out of the sucker.

When I came up to T2, I had moved through some jiggly back pain, a pee break and a bit of neck discomfort, so a quick mental checklist left me feeling confident I could start the run. Grabbed my run bag. Swigged down some paracetamol and slipped on my brand new On-running trainers then headed out.

The shoes were awesome!! Rules of race day – don’t try new stuff!! But I excused myself since a desperate search for my much loved Merrell bare access trainers had proved unfruitful as they were discontinued. I had brought another pair of Merrells but these were minimalist and I was more scared of this than of trying the new pair.

On the run, I soon spotted Rich smashing it. Then Ruth and then caught up to Lucinda who was having a tough run having sped past me on the bike. Tamsin soon whooshed past me and finally I spotted Vince, then Nicola and Jackie and all the others.

The run went round the park, down to a little village and then under a graffiti bridge and into Klagenfurt. Then through some restaurants and back to the finish line in a figure of 8. A largely uninspiring run, but plenty of aid stations, a few music stations and just miles to pass. I suppose this reflects my reason for doing Ironman. Getting a gorgeous wild swim followed by hours on a bike on a gorgeous nature trail but I do leave disappointed that the runs are not more natural.

The finish line was great and having Olivia there yelling and cheering made my day. Only an hour longer than when I trained 10 hours minimum each week for Copenhagen! I crawled into the tent to find all our earlier finishers who were just being so amazing and kind, fetching water, food and street bags. After a quick shower back at the campsite, I returned to cheer Vince and Jackie with Ruth M, James and Olivia. They were truly amazing as the dark came in to keep the moment and smiles going to the end.

This event was the very best. Our club is the best and Austria rocks. Sign up for it .. like now!