Tuesday 3 September 2013

Race Report: 70.3 Zell Am See 2013 - I have never raced so hard

Cutting the long and boring flights story short; we arrived and our bikes didn't.  They weren't loaded onto the plane at Heathrow when we were and arrived at out hotel at 6pm on Saturday.  Thankfully, we had some advice from a friendly MC we know (thanks Paul!) and a quick chat with one of the organisers gained us permission to rack up in the morning - thank god for the race start being from 10am!

So, most of Saturday was spent doing a fat lot of nothing, accompanied by ze alcoholfrei, which the Germans & Austrians seem to do really rather well and with copious choice.

Nice and early to bed and as we were settling down, we heard a weird noise.  It sounded like a cross between an air-brake and a high-powered water hose.  I got out of bed and walked towards the window then realised, as I got level with my bike, that the noise was coming from my back wheel and it was air rushing out of the inner tube into the deep-section rim.  (See in the photo below the thick bit of black on my back wheel - the valve extension goes through that from the inner tube and out so you can attach a pump to it.)

Time to whip out the tyre levers and fight off the still relatively new tyre to replace the inner tube and/or find out what was going on.  Thankfully it was nothing bad, just the rubber at the join between inner tube and the valve had failed.  So all I needed to do was replace the inner tube.  I say all... with deep-section rims as deep as this, you have to use valve extenders and seal them in with PTFE tape; of which I had none.  Cue sitting on the floor and crying.  Mr TOTKat was a total hero, and a lot calmer, he let me have one of his spare inner tubes which had an extension pre-taped to it for field repairs.  Sorted.  Back to bed.  Sleep.

Up at 7am (lie in!) to get some brekkie and go to rack up at 8.30am as agreed with the race officials.  All went smoothly, nicely checked in and racked up.  It was raining lightly as forecast.  Mr TOTKat  was due to start in the first wave at 10am and I was 25 minutes later in the "all women and relay teams" final wave.  We kissed and he headed off for race start while I tried to keep from getting too cold by hovering in the cafe area, having already handed in the street-wear bag with shoes, socks and warm clothes for after the race packed in it.

Time passes.

(Thorin sits down and starts singing about gold.)

10:25 and I'm in the water (which is nice and warm at 19Cish) and the cannon goes off to start.  And I make what I think is the most accurate route to the first buoy I've ever managed in one of these races.  No feet to draft off, which was a shame, but a straight line out for the 890m or so to the first buoy, no argy-bargy at all and none really around the turn point.  Felt a bit sick, but that usually happens when I'm trying reasonably hard, so I ignored it.  Dead straight again to the 2nd buoy another 230m so onwards and the nausea I'd had for the first leg wasn't fading.  I just thought I was putting in some good effort.  Turning the 2nd buoy I couldn't see where to aim for and am pretty sure this third leg wasn't all that straight.  But, I overtook an awful lot of people from the earlier wave in their yellow hats.

Up the steps, yanking at the arms of my wetsuit which is a sod to get over elbows and wrists... to the carpet through to transition, to grab blue bag, get out of the wetsuit and into bike kit.  I'd packed light for this race as it was never going to be that cold, so all I needed to do was put on race belt, glasses, helmet and bike shoes (yep, I still haven't got around to learning to mount the bike into shoes that are clipped into the pedals).  Even if it rained really hard, it wouldn't matter - no point wasting time and effort putting on rain jackets or long-sleeved tops on the bike as the rain was probably going to be pretty hard and I'd only end up with a lot of wet fabric clinging to a lot of my body, making me really cold.  I did shove my remaining bike tool into my back pocket and then as I was trotting to the bike mount line I thought I'd dropped it and spent a good few seconds worrying and looking, but gave up pretty quickly - no replacement inner tube, no tyre levers, no pump.  Plenty of mechanical problems I could fix with that little multi-tool, but I'd just have to live without it.

The bike course was wet, it rained on and off, but mostly on and I got cross with a lot of people.  There was drafting galore and blocking.  The course may well be technically quick, but you'd need to be familiar with it.  There aren't that many straight sections, there are some, mostly out around Piesendorf, and it's narrow in places, with wooden bridges to cross too.  It is pretty darned flat though.

Still.  I overtook A LOT of people.  Including a GBR male age-grouper who may have been having a bad day. (I looked him up afterwards, he started the race 15 minutes before me and was 25-29, poor pup!)

Strava estimates my highest average wattage of any ride I've ever done:-

Compare a reasonably hard training ride with this race...

80km training ride in the UK
90km race in Austria

and again...

80km training ride (no I don't think I actually hit 74.9km/h - mad thing!)
90km race
Putting aside the well-organised draft trains and blocking from a certain Austrian age-group female, it was the hardest effort I've put in on a bike ride.  Ever.  By the end of it, my quads were pretty unhappy and as I reached the dismount line, I had to hold onto the hedge to unclip my second foot.  I then burst into giggles as I could barely walk, never mind jog through transition.  Guess what?  I still felt pretty sick.

My auntie was there at the entrance to transition, waving and cheering me on (thank you for travelling 200km on that day to see me for all of a few minutes!), so I gathered enough beans together to jog really slowly through transition, my legs feeling like two logs strapped to my backside, flapping about underneath me.

T2 was just as simple as T1.  Bike racked, bike shoes off, helmet off, number belt swung around to the front, visor on, running shoes... oh!  Oh man!  My feet were covered in grit from the bike course.  Really scratchy grit.  So, I used about half of the water in my bike bottle to wash it off as best I could before putting on my running shoes.  No way did I want grit in my shoes for 21.1km, stripping the skin off my feet.

I chugged the remains of my bike bottle, ditched it into the red bag, grabbed 2 gels and ate one.  Off out onto the run.  Just about to exit transition I felt something banging about in my back pocket - my bike tool!  I was drawing parallel with where the blue bags were hanging up so I thought I'd drop it off in my blue bag.   I just couldn't find it though, so left it on the ground at the side near the bags and hoped it'd be there later.  Off out over the timing mat now and up the long spur out to the 3x loops.

Starting out on the run, my legs were pretty shot.  They felt like lead - never have they felt so awful from bike to run.  And within the first kilometer, my right inner thigh just above my knee (around the end of my VMO) started to niggle.  Within the first two kilometers I wanted to stop or at least walk.  I was pretty broken.  It took a lot to keep moving.  My first boost came from one of the couple we met the day before the race when they didn't have bikes arrive either.  The chap gave me a good shout out and it helped keep me going.

Up into town and onto the loops.  Winding around town and out along the lake side, each km seemed to take forever.  I felt ill still and that gel had done nothing for me.  I struggled to keep my legs moving as they started to hurt more and more.  There were a couple of little rises in the town and a dip under a bridge which made walking more and more tempting.  I made a deal with myself to walk the aid stations to drink water as I'd only had 1/2 a bike bottle so far, the rest going over my feet to get that grit off.

Plenty of support out on the course, lots of bells, whistles and "hop hop HOP!" from the supporters.  Lots of "go on Kate!" when they saw my race number and I passed the lady of the other late bike couple twice and each time she gave me a good old shout out - I could do no more than grunt.  It hurt.  My legs really really hurt.  I passed Mr TOTKat  for the first time (going along the bit where you meet people on another part of the lap) and he shouted out to me, giving me the fight to keep going some more.  I didn't think I'd see him again before the finish line.  Then more support from familiar faces, Freespeed team-mate Declan gave some great encouragement right on one of the little rises and I simply didn't recognise him the first time.  I was in quite a dark place with sore legs and continuing rising ill-feeling.  Added to that was quite a hot spot in my left shoe, but I was ignoring that.  I'd felt worse and it'd been fine before.  The temptation to stop or just walk was huge.  The bad voices in my head kept saying "What's the point, hundreds of people have passed you anyway; you're not going to get a podium place anyway, your run is far too weak for that and you went too hard on the bike. Why bother?  Just walk...".  Those voices are the ones that make you slow down, or give up.  You have to ignore them if you want to achieve your goals.  Have to.

By the third lap, I felt pretty awful in the guts and had no idea why or how I was still going.  To my huge surprise, I saw Mr TOTKat  again and realised either he was having a terrible time or I was having a great one (it turned out to be the former) and then Declan and other familiar faces again.  The final run back from the far end loop the sick feeling reached a peak, I let out some wind and then... realised I needed one of those portaloos.  Right.  Now.  Except I was way past them and there was nothing but path, grass, lake and the odd tree.

Not Good.

I walked a little, hoping it would ease, but there was no stopping it.  I found some sort of tiny bush, better than nothing, and yanked down my shorts.  A passing athlete asked if I was OK and I grunted a "yes" as I sympathised with Paula Radcliffe rather deeply.  It was that or basically run with shorts full of poo.  And I mean -full-.  I felt quite a bit better after that and got my act together for the last couple of km to the finish.  A couple more bits of run/walk and with my three lap counter bands in place, the fourth time through the band gates meant I could go left and hit the final 100m to the finish line.  Grim determination made me run that last 100m and I crossed the line, bent my head for my medal, was wrapped in a foil blanket and then collapsed at Mr TOTKat, saying "I couldn't have given any more".

And despite my usual post-race over-analysis and self-criticism, I really believe that.  On that day, I could not have given any more.

It turned out that hot spot in my shoe was a problem and the blood soaked through my shoe.  I sweated, bled, cried, and worse for this medal.  But I did it honestly, unlike many out on that bike course - the only sour note to the day.  12th in my age group, but an age group twice the size of any other Ironman branded race I've done to date.  Best placing in age group in an Ironman branded race, best time in a 70.3 by 36 and a half minutes, and the first time I've really left it all out on the course in any race.

And all for this medal.

P.S. a little comparison with Galway, the race that wasn't.

Compare Zell Am See (above) in 2013 with Galway in 2012 (below).  The coloured bands are set at the same thresholds of heart rate (ignore the drop outs for Galway, my strap was less reliable then and I forgot to turn it off at the end - actual race time was 06:18:58).  Much more effort.  Much less crashing and breaking bones too :o)


  1. You did so well! I thought I would be out ahead of you from the swim and I was - and I looked for you to give you a shout as you overtook me but I must have missed you! I really struggled with the rain (probably because I had a bad cold), but at the back of the pack the drafting/blocking wasn't an issue at all. Hope you are happily recovering now!

    PS: My own race report at tunatotri.blogspot.com

  2. WOW, mega congratulations. You gave it your all and then some by the sounds of it; I hope you are very proud of yourself xx

  3. Really impressed, a great post and a great performance. Well done for pushing through and all the best for Valencia

  4. Great race report - great racing - your bike section is wow! Just wondered if you have ever taken imodium for any of your races - I keep having near problems in mine and have decided to take imodium beforehand for my marathon next month - stops wind, bloating and of course bowel movements, looking forward to possibly not having to search for a portaloo during the race.