Hej hej from Gotland, Sweden, where I am enjoying some vacation post-Ironman race.
As promised, here is my race report…
This was a tough race, much tougher than I expected. Apparently these have been the most extreme weather conditions in 20 years of ironman distance racing in Kalmar, including a wind warning 1 on the Island of Öland where a big portion of the biking took place. On the other hand the race atmosphere and the spectators were fantastic making it all worth. But let’s start from the beginning…
Al went well with my training for this race, particularly over the last two months, I had no injuries or sickness (other than various attacks of swimmer’s itch), so I was hopeful for a good performance. I arrived in Kalmar on Wednesday prior to the race. The hotel was perfectly placed: 100m from the finish, 200m from the start, and 400m from the expo/registration/transition. What a luxury compared to Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire where we had to drive/walk miles to get everything sorted. I did the usual stuff on Thursday: registration, shopping at the expo, bike building, checking some of the course, briefing and pre-race banquet, where I was rejoined with “old” friend and team mate Norbert, about 12 years after we did the last ironman distance race together. The bike and gear check-in was on Friday, and all went smoothly. The weather was nice and the weather forecast looked promising: mostly sunny and around 22C, but windy. The race was sold out for months, with ca. 2500 athletes of which 15% women.
On Saturday, I got up at 4:00am, had breakfast at the hotel, went to transition to bring my nutrition and pump up the tires, went back to the hotel to put on the wetsuit, and then headed to the swim start. The swim start was between 7:00 and 7:15 with a rolling start where age group athletes would enter the water in a continuous stream through a controlled access point (the timing chip would register each athlete’s start time when crossing the timing mat at the swim entry). I positioned myself into the 1:30 h box as I expected this to be my swimming time. This would be my first rolling start, but I heard positive feedback from other athletes compared to mass or wave starts.
Swim, 3.86 km/2.4 mi (2:00:40)
The one-loop swim was held in Kalmar strait, a part of the Baltic Sea. The water is brackish and the temperature was about 21C. The first 100m of the swim went uneventful, and I thought that indeed this rolling start was pretty nice: no kicking or being kicked. Until we exited the harbor… There we were surprised by big waves, athletes around me were no longer swimming but rather contemplating how to make it through the waves and trying to see where the next buoy was. In this jam of athletes, I had a hard time moving forward or breathing as I kept ingesting water that continuously hit my face. I started hyperventilating and I just wanted to find a place to calm down. But I couldn’t see any kayak or boat. Finally, I decided to swim towards the cliff, climb and sit on a rock and catch breath. Ten minutes into the race and I sincerely thought of giving up. Five minutes later, however, I was back in the water swimming to the next buoy. Given that I was at risk of hyperventilating some more, I decided that I would no longer try to swim a nice pace, but rather just calmly move forward. I continued to be slapped by the waves and ingesting water (I bet that I ingested enough salt for the rest of the day), no matter in which direction I was swimming. Sighting was almost impossible, and at some point I ended up swimming in a bed of rocks (I wasn’t the only one) until one of the boats sent me the right way. It was a really challenging swim, apparently fifty athletes were pulled out of the water, and I was relieved when I was finally on land, despite swimming half hour longer than I hoped. Surprisingly, there were still many athletes in transition, indicating that it wasn’t only me who had a hard time in the water.
Bike, 180km/112mi (6:58:14)
The bike course had two loops. The first loop of 120 km was on Öland. Then you return to the mainland and bike another loop of 60 km north of Kalmar. The bike course would be considered as mostly flat. The Öland Bridge, which typically is closed to cyclists, is considered the most spectacular part of the bike course – it is over 6 km long and its highest point is about 40 m above sea level.
I was looking forward to the bike part, as typically biking is my strongest discipline. I started fairly careful, as I knew that the riding on the bridge towards Öland would be against the wind. Once on the island, I felt ok and ready to “smash it”. We had some nice tail wind, but it only lasted 5km or so. The rest of the day would be a continuous fight against the wind, either from the front or from the side, and only on rare occasions from behind. This was really energy draining, physically and mentally, and everyone around me was struggling. Not to mention all the aches as I wasn’t able to take a relaxed position on the bike, having to keep it strait, and a migraine due to the strong winds.
Run, 42.2km/26.2mi (6:33:36)
The run is a three loop course. The first part is in the historic town centre with thousands of spectators cheering on athletes. Then the course loops north on Ängöleden alongside the bike course, and then through parks and residential areas, again with loads of spectators. The finish would be on the main square of Kalmar. The run is typically my least preferred discipline, and on a day like this, I didn’t have many hopes for a fast run. Finishing within the cut-off would be my only goal for the day (apparently about 30% of women in my age group were DNFs), and to be kind to the many amazing spectators. Their words of encouragement, albeit in Swedish, made my day. Even though I couldn’t understand a thing other than Heja Heja, I always thanked them with a smile (I did smile a lot!). My run ended up to be a mix of running and walking, more running than walking on the first loop, more walking than running on the last loop. I had encouraging conversations with other athletes, many from the UK, who noticed Bedford on my tri top, many of them suffering big time too (training in windy UK apparently didn’t do the trick). Every time running through the town centre was amazing, but running there on the last loop was exceptional. By the time I was entering the finish line, it was hero hour. The cut-off was 16 hours, and I was nearing that time. The finishing line was filled with hundreds of people, shouting, clapping, waiving and reaching out with their hands. I couldn’t run, but there was no way I would walk either. I was all smiles when I reached the red carpet, high fiving the speaker and some of the early pro winners. It was done, it was over, I did it!
For the record, my finish time was 15:50:08.
A special thank you for my supporting crew, for tireless following me throughout the race and for waiting long hours to see me finishing!
This was ironman distance race #25, with #1 being in 1999, if I remember correctly. I mentioned various times that I would retire after 25, not from sports, nor from triathlon, but from full ironman distance racing. This has nothing to do with no longer liking the sport or the challenge or the experience or the opportunity to meet amazing athletes and new locations. I loved all this, and I will always be grateful for all ironman distance racing has taught me and let me experience. But I have also come to the realization that there are only so many Ironman distance races in a person’s body (and head) where you can push yourself to the limit, and I think that I have achieved my quota a while ago. It might be a temporary retirement, or it might be a permanent retirement. Only time will tell…
That being said, next on the agenda is the half ironman distance in Weymouth in less than four weeks and a marathon race in the fall. Yes, this is what you do when you retire… ;-)
Thanks everyone for many years of following my races and reading my reports, for the words of encouragement, good luck wishes and post-race congratulations. Thank you! Grazie! Merci! Danke schön! Dank u well! Köszönöm! Tak tak!