This was Ironman #8 for me, and they’ve been spread over a fair few years. Life ‘logistics’ had made training in & around work very easy this year, and I managed to get all my planned sessions done without any injuries (that was bound to mean I’d used-up all my luck before race day!). Fortunately, there had been some warmer weather to do my long runs, and I’d used the sauna too to try and acclimate to warmer Continental weather.
I do like a good Germanic Ironman, not only because I can practice my German, but also the roads are invariably very good, and they are fully closed. They go all-in to put on a great event. Luckily the hottest weather was 3 days before the event at 35, and by race day it had dropped to ‘only’ around 30. I got my usual Saturday ‘jitters’, which I managed to divert myself from by slicing my hand open with a craft knife during the afternoon So I packed-up all my stuff for the ‘drop-off’ and cycled via a pharmacy to find something to patch it up with. The transition area is frankly an event in itself; being only 4 racks wide, meant it was very very long! 750m to be precise from the swim exit to bike exit. I was fortunate that my number meant I was only about 50m from the bike exit, so would be able to run most of it without my bike.
After a few hours sleep that night race day dawned, and I searched-out one of the E-scooters I’d been using around the city for the previous days, to spare my legs as I was about 2km from the race centre. Got down to Transition and sorted my kit; the only faff was trying to get connected to my Assioma pedals to change the timeout to 2 hours using the phone App (I had to take it away from the racks so I could isolate my signal). I managed to get in the lake for a few mins to warm-up before everyone was ordered out for the Pro start. This would be my first Rolling Start event, and whilst I always thought that mass start was the ‘real’ way to start an IM, I was impressed by the way in which it worked; especially in a venue like this that made mass starts almost impossible.
I seeded myself in the Sub 1:05 pen (the fastest) and was probably about 200 people back at most. The fact that there were people streaming into the lake ahead was actually much less stressful than waiting for the gun on a mass start; I have to give kudos to Ironman for this process. It just works to alleviate some of the ‘biff’ and panic of the start. We were swimming against the wind on the way out, but it felt fine; within no time I was gradually overtaking people and was surprised by the number of AWA Gold swim caps I was overhauling as they paused to sight the buoys. The lack of swim buoys did actually make navigating harder than it should have; I think they were only every 500m, which is not enough when the sun is low. We were pretty well spread before the first turn, and I experienced almost no bumping. There was the odd knock on my watch which I worried has hit the stop button, but the vibrate every 500m let me know it was still running. It felt like it was going pretty well, and well within limits. However, when we got back toward the bridges, it seemed to take forever, and where we were funnelled under the last bridge it was really choppy and I felt a little like I was swimming in treacle. You never really know how your swim is actually going mid-pack, so it’s with some trepidation you await the verdict at the swim exit. This time it was a 1:04 for me; a little disappointing, but it seems slower swims were the order of the day.
I made my way along the endless transition to the tent, then on what felt like a Park Run to get to my bike. I knew given the weather conditions and the over-distance bike and long transitions, that chasing PBs was fairly pointless, so my 5-odd minute T1 wasn’t really a drama. Off through the city to the Port of Hamburg for our first 40km ‘loop’. Well as always, the Germans didn’t disappoint with their logistical effort! The entire course was so ‘locked down’ with police and marshals, that it would have been more appropriate for a Bullion shipment escorted by the US President, than for us lot. As a result, the course was almost devoid of any support or indeed human presence outside of people associated with the event, because it did not transit any villages or residential areas. That was a real shame. The loop around the Port (as you’ve already gathered) was full of obstacles in the form of 18 rail crossings, 2 stretches of cobbles and numerous tight blind bends per lap. As a result this section was completely littered with cycle related debris, not to mention the numerous crashes that happened, including one in front of me over a rail crossing (loose carpet I presume). In the wet, it would have been complete carnage. Anyway, this loop felt fine, hey it was early and still quite cool and the wind was still gathering momentum. Being an Easterly meant we had it at our backs over the suspension bridge luckily. This was the ‘highlight’ of the bike course, a deserted bridge.
Once we left the port, we dipped into the industrial suburbs in order to reach the second ‘loop’ which was an out & back along the River Elbe dyke road. Whilst this was a hive of activity with leisure day trippers on Friday (the road wasn’t closed), it was now a wind-swept and deserted stretch ravaged by crosswinds; the dyke was on the leeward side, so not only did it block the river view, it also didn’t block the wind. It didn’t feel too bad first time around, but the obvious question was why with an out & back does the course have to be 183km? There was some brief and much welcomed hysteria at the turnaround by Transition before we headed-off for our second mind and crotch numbing lap of the Port. Once that was out of the way, I was fortunate enough to spot a bib with tuckandgo’s name on it. I pulled-up alongside him and we chatted for a couple of minutes in the absence of the many studious Referees out on the course. We compared notes, and indeed we were both finding this flat relentless course with the heat & wind more taxing than our Power Meters suggested. With that, we said our goodbyes and I headed to final dyke road out & back.
The wind had gotten worse, and my body had gotten more tired. I used the short section with a tailwind to refill my Torhans before the ‘hell’ of crosswind alley. At this point it’s worth noting that whilst I’d drunk continually, I was yet to have a leak, which concerned me a little. Indeed, I didn’t have a wee the entire day! I can only assume the heat/wind meant so much sweat evaporation that the body was consuming so much fluid. By now on the bike my gooch was really starting to protest due to lack of time out of the saddle, so I was getting out of the saddle at times, coasting any little incline with my crotch to the side in order to get some kind of relief from the aero position. Just before the last turn for home, Matt came past, presumably happy he’d finally reeled me in! He then slowly disappeared up the road. Now, I thought this event was going to be a draft fest; but the combination of the conditions and the extremely zealous and numerous Referees from the DTU meant that there were almost no packs to be seen, certainly this far up the field. When I did see a group, it was rarely more than 4-5 people, and only when I saw those several hours behind coming the other way did I see anything like a small peloton. I saw maybe 4 people in the Penalty Tents all day. So, off the dyke road (thank feck) and over the cobbles for the 4th and final time; going from 35kph to about 15kph was really odd, and it was like we were all stuck in treacle for a moment! It was not long before this that I had already seen 180km on my Garmin (5:17) and was thinking there’s no way this is the claimed 183km even! By the time I made it back to Transition I had racked-up nearly 186km. 5:27 split (34kph)
Bike duly dispatched and it was a looong run down to the bags. I was really looking forward to getting the Vaporflys on after running about 500m barefoot. My aim was not to go off stupidly, and to really monitor my HR, trying to stay around 130. Off I went with a couple of other guys, and it felt pretty easy….as it always does. I had average pace showing, and when I saw 4:34 I realised I needed to slow down, which I duly did. The run course was already a revelation in comparison to the bike, it was incredibly well supported, literally the whole way there were people shouting encouragement! I slowly let the average pace come up to 4:50 and would see how long that would last, but also mindful of keeping HR down. Access to aid stations was easy at this early stage, with no congestion. I was covering myself with cold water, but that heat/wind meant within a few minutes my suit was bone dry again! This is a well shaded run too. First lap was ticked-off, but looking back I only managed the first 7km under 5:00 pace, but I was still feeling pretty good, and the second lap also felt nicely controlled and I was still not that much over 5:00/km overall and it looked like I could run the whole thing if I kept it steady! However after halfway I started getting the ominous tight feeling in my hamstrings and at an aid station around 25km I thought some cold water on them might help….WRONG! they immediately went into spasm. I stopped on a small incline trying to stretch-out; a German spectator came over and asked if I needed help and massaged my hamstrings for a couple of minutes…DQ me now! This actually helped quite a bit, and after an 8:01/km whilst this was going on, I got back into a rhythm, tapping out a succession of sub 6:00/km splits. I found a ‘friend’ to chat too for a few Kms which always passes the time well for everyone concerned, and I find this one of the best things about big foreign events. A few more times I had to pull-up with cramp on the final lap, but no forward progress was made via walking; on one occasion a guy gave me some of his salt to help. I knew I was going to make it well under 11h, and despite having a few high 6 min/km and a 7:08/km with the stopping, the sheer immensity of the crowds in the closing km meant I ran the last 750m at 4:36 pace! I let out a massive whoop as I collected my last band with about a km to go and started planning my finish chute celebration. Coming in toward the Town square I took my time, got two high fives off the comperes (inc the 2007 ITU World Champ) and made sure I indicated I wanted the ‘you are an Ironman’ once again. I clapped the crowd and took time to savour the final metres at walking pace. Sub-4 marathon salvaged (3:58). 10:41 overall.
This went pretty well for me all things considered. Probably a 10:30 if the bike was correct; so solid in those conditions. I have long stopped worrying about chasing the sub-10 unicorn. It’s a shame about the run cramps, and I think that’s down to a combination of the relentless aero position on the bike and just not enough electrolytes on that run in the heat/wind. They had salt on the course, but it was haphazard.
Overall, as you can guess I think that this is potentially a fabulous event, but it’s marred by that awful bike course, which is also very inaccurate. This is their 3rd bike course in 3 years, and they need to grip it. They need to reduce the port area and go out more into the countryside…but I guess it’s easy to get consent from the City using the unpopulated areas!