From Couch to Half Ironman

By Martin Bruwer

May 21st 2017, St Pölten, Austria. A day and a week, that I will always remember, the culmination of one journey and the start of another.

Eighteen months ago I made a decision to get in shape and tick off an item on my bucket list at the same time, I decided to do a triathlon.

Through a friend of a friend I was introduced to Ful-on Tri, a couple of emails later and I had joined one of the best, if not the best, triathlon club in the United Kingdom. I got lucky. Pretty soon I was training 5 days a week, with a some of the most talented athletes I had ever met, people who I am privileged to call my friends.

Let’s put that training statement into perspective though. The idea of running 5km made me feel ill, 400m swim may as well have been the English channel and my crowning achievement? My daily cycle commute of 8 km, which I managed to do three times a week.

My first weeks training;

  • Thursday swim – 400m speed test…. 12m37s
  • Tuesday Run – Set was 1x500m 2x500m rest 4x(2x500m)…. I got through 5 of the 500m runs
  • Wednesday Turbo session – this is a vague memory of sweat, possibly some tears, a little bit of vomit and a depressing realisation of still having to cycle home.

What an amazing week, not because of my abysmal performances but because of everyone offering support, encouragement and advice.

The human body is an amazing thing though, 6 months after I started my new adventure I put that tick on my bucket list, first sprint triathlon done and my first race story to boot . I had discovered several more wonderful opportunities London had to put yourself to the test! But more importantly I had discovered something missing from my life, something I will try my hardest to never let go.

Now to the topic at hand.

Arguably the crowning achievement in a triathlete’s career is the do a long distance triathlon, 140.6 miles, Full Ironman. This is something truly impressive to accomplish.

I decided the do half that distance, a 70.3, after some research I decided upon St Pölten, Austria. I have family in Vienna and the event itself is one of the best received events in Europe. 21 May 2017, almost eighteen months to the day since I first started.

I will talk about my training in other posts, but let’s just say that I had put the work in, I was as ready as I could be. I travelled to Austria on May 18, accompanied by my dear mum, whose sister lives in Vienna, almost more importantly was the fact that I had a big bike box and another bag to put in the hold and mum only had hand luggage. Thanks Mum.

Now having family to pick me up at the airport, help with luggage, speak the local language and arrange all sorts of little things was invaluable and helped make my 70.3 truly memorable. I got to spend a nice night catching up with my cousin who I hadn’t seen for probably 20 years, we put my bike together and had a great chat. The following day they drove me the hour to my hotel, got booked in, took the bike up to the room and logged onto the wi-fi, the first message that came through was one that you never want to get but we all have to at some point!

My father had been battling cancer for several years, unfortunately this left his body in a weakened state and he picked up an infection during surgery that his body just couldn’t fight off. My father had passed at 12:21 on May 19.

I knew what he would want me to do and I knew what I had to do. Just get on with it Bruwer! So that’s what I did.

I headed to the Ironman village to register, pick up my race bits and do some course reccie. It was a glorious sunny day and the locals were enjoying the lake side. Athletes were in the water swimming the course, two lakes separated by a 300m run accross an old wooden bridge. Athletes were running the course through the town. Athletes were on there bikes zooming all over the place. The atmosthphere was alive and I could feel it.

I waited around a bit, watched the kids race and the business race before heading back for dinner and some rest.

The next day saw the english race briefing where I met up with Olivia and Mark, fellow FoTer’s doing the race. We decided to head down to the lake for a swim in lake one after racking our bikes.

Game face on. ?

St Polten preswim


We then headed to grab some food before an early night, race started at 7am so 4:30 wake up was required.

Cue torrential rain! It looked like it might be a miserable day on the bike if this kept up. No time to think about that though, bikes were racked, transitions were prepped, wetsuits were donned… just get on with it Bruwer!

Bang and the elites were in the water, not long after the age groupers started their rolling start, 15 minutes later and I was in, this was it, race on, let’s do it.

Swam well, nothing went wrong, didn’t get lost, goggles stayed on face, all good. Running between lakes was interesting and rather fun with hundreds of spectators lining the way, however not the quickest.

40 minute swim including running.

Swim Pic

Looooong transition, 1km long to be precise. 6 minutes later and I was on the bike.

Two things crossed my mind immediately,

  1. It had stopped raining
  2. The bike leg in St Pölten is one of the fastest and flattest on the circuit. I promise this didn’t impact my choice at all. ?

Austria is beautiful, like really beautiful. The bike route starts on a closed motorway where speeds average around 55kph, you end up cycling along the Danube with encircling mountains and low hanging clouds, beautiful, almost stopped for a selfie.

2h43m later and I was back into transition, did I mention it was Loooooong, 1.2km this time. Another 6 minutes later I was on the run course.

Bike Pic

I’d love to say that my race continued without incident but unfortunately that wasn’t the case, cramps started at the 2nd km and continued for the next 4, to the point were I was honestly wondering if I was going to DNF my first 70.3 event. Truthfully though I thought of my dad, and well, just get on with it Bruwer! Luckily I started running smoother after km6 until about km14, that’s when a previous injury reared it’s ugly head and my right knee decided that it was done playing ball . So I had the pleasure of limp running the last 5km. Now when in Europe you will get a lot of encouragement from other competitors, often as they are coming past… they will give you a smack on the arse to get a move on. Don’t recall a pretty lady ever offering this support, just dodgy old men, welcome to Europe.

1h59m later and I managed to cross the line.

Even the cheer leaders couldn’t lift my spirits.

I was done, 5h34m31s, my first 70.3 done.

St Pölten, you were great but we have unfinished business, I’ll be back.

Cheerleader PicFinishing Pic

For you dad.

First published on May 29, 2017 at