Ironman Hamburg – The Day I Ran 30 Miles
Ironman Hamburg will indeed be the day I will always remember for running 30 miles. But let’s start at the beginning. Racing internationally brings with it a whole new level of organization, from finding a good bike shop to pre-empting jet lag and everything in between.
We left the US 5 days prior to race day. The plan was to immediately settle in and get as much sleep as possible during the short flight from Newark to Hamburg. Even the best laid plans can fail you. Despite some Melatonin, I wasn’t able to sleep much, but a busy first day in Hamburg allowed for little rest otherwise. More importanlty, other than the sleep, everything went extremely well with my travels. Planes were on time, lines were short and my bike actually came out before my suitcases. All the luggage made it in one piece. That was a big relief.
The first 3 days
We arrived very early, so our first order of business was a delicious northern Germany style breakfast. I was determined to eat as healthy as possible while still enjoying all the good things Hamburg has to offer, like the freshest seafood in all of Germany.
Then we brought the bike to a shop I had contacted from the US. I was told all the mechanics were at the event hotel building bikes, but since I had made an appointment, one of them would come back to the store in the afternoon to put together my bike. In good German efficiency, I had an email by 2pm that my bike was ready!
From the bike shop we went to registration and naturally some ‘Ironman Gear’ Shopping. There were very few people at registration as they had just opened, so that process went extremely smooth as well.
The only unexpected thing: the heat. Hamburg, like the rest of Germany was plagued by record high temperatures for a couple weeks and the registration and gear tents were extremely hot. I didn’t think much of it at the time…
Then we were able to drop off our luggage, find a parking garage and enjoy a nice lunch. By then some jet lag started to settle in. We opted against resting, to make sure we would be able to have a good night’s sleep. We still had to get settled in the apartment and buy some groceries. After a refreshing shower, we enjoyed a great dinner and a fairly early bedtime. Air conditioning is (basically) unknown in Germany, but luckily at night the temperatures in Hamburg dropped and with an open window the room temperature became bearable and I slept extremely well.
Thursday we had started to see bits and pieces of roads being closed off for the event, but Friday was supposed to be the day for me to drive the bike course, so we headed back to the race village to find out whether the bike course was still open to traffic and how the test swim would work.
That’s when I found out that the swim was going to be cancelled. I was stumped. The last water temperature reading I had seen was posted on July 12 at a temperature of 69F. Now, all of a sudden, the water was supposed to be too warm to swim in! Additionally, there was blue algea warnings and ultimatley the city of Hamburg deemed it unsafe to let athletes in the water, especially for the kind of distance we were supposed to cover.
That was a tough blow for all athletes. Emotionally and mentally, this was not easy to process. After 8 months of training for a SWIM, bike and run event, it takes a little bit to adjust to the new circumstances. A new race plan had to be formulated, nutrition had to be double-checked, logistics of the transition changed. As I was talking to the ladies in the info booth, they assured me I didn’t need to drive the bike course as there was nothing special and so I opted to think through the changes instead as well as pick up my bike earlier and get my pre-race brick done.
Then it was time to stop obsessing over the new format. My husband distracted me with a little light sightseeing all afternoon, before heading to the race briefing to find out all details of the new format. It was now going to be a 6k run, followed by the regular bike and run distances. While we were encouraged to bring 2 pairs of running shoes, few of the international athletes had that option. In transition we would be responsible to rehang our own bags and had access to both bike and run bags, so we could grab our shoes again after the bike leg.
Saturday was a lot calmer and by the time I racked my bike, I also had my new plan of how to address all these changes. Fun fact: the transition walk-through showed me ONE changing tent as ‘naked area’. When I asked whether that was for both male and female athletes, one of the volunteers laughed and said “of course not” while the other simply stated “yes”. Huh! That’s Europe for you. Saturday again hit record temperatures, but a cold front was on its way.
It was a beautiful morning. Crisp, clear and the lake looked very inviting to swim in. Sigh. To ensure a stretched-out field on the bike course, it was still going to be a rolling start, but instead of starting 10 athletes every 5 seconds and taking 20 minutes to get everybody on the course, it was now going to be 3 athletes every 5 seconds with a 60 minute window to start every athlete. And if it’s one thing triathletes don’t do well, it’s the self-seeding when starting the race.
We were supposed to line up by pace, but the organization of that part was abysmal. Everybody just got in a huge line, so I squeezed myself into a point of what I thought was right in the middle. I was only able to start 40 minutes after the first athletes, but it was close enough to not mess up my entire nutrition plan too badly.
Ironman – The first run
We had not been able to warm up outside of doing little dynamic movements while standing in line, but emotions ran high and the body was ready to get rid of some penned-up energy. So, when it was my time to start, I simply ran. I ran the first mile much too fast, but I felt great. I could immediately tell my body was ready to perform. Figuring that the 6k fast run was going to have a similar, if not lower, training stress on my body as a 2.4 mile swim would have had, I kept running hard. I came in at 31:57 minutes, a pace I haven’t held for more than a year.
My transitions this year are as abysmal as the organization of the run start. After the hard run, I needed to catch my breath for a start, but still moved thoughtfully through the motions. It was a crazy long transition area and my bike was racked right at the beginning of it, meaning I ran with my bike for almost half a mile. Considering that, I am not too unhappy about the 8:26 minutes it took.
Ironman – The bike
Once on the bike, I started to immediately pace myself. My heart rate needed to settle down, and I settled into a steady rhythm. Getting in and out of Hamburg was the worst and certainly would have been good to know: a rough road surface, a cobble stone section (!) and three sections with pavers. Once past that though, the bike course was an absolute dream. Smooth road surface, very flat and let me say this again: a beautiful day. The morning was very calm and I had smooth sailing for the entire first round. There were two 180 degree turns, but outside of that no technical aspects to worry about and just pure joy to be biking. I was in a great mood.
Since the nutrition on the course was some European product, I had opted to stock my special needs bag with what I was used to. My nutrition was right on, but the special needs bag area also wasn’t staffed as well. I lost about 7 minutes on the bike between remixing my drink, picking up more of my food and bathroom breaks. On the second round, I also hit a headwind of about 8-10 miles per hour for one short section. That made me slow down a little, but eventually I was able to pick it up again. Analyzing my bike data, I may have left a little on the table. Overall, I am quite pleased with my time of 6 hours and 17 minutes, especially considering the roughly 7 minutes of breaks.
This transition was complicated by dealing with 2 transition bags. I had also opted to change into proper running shorts. Again it took too long, at over 10 minutes, not much else to say about that.
Ironman – The second run
The plan was to run at least the first 5k and take it from there… I made it through the entire first round, or roughly 10k. Jim was waiting for me at each round and each time, I told him, it may take me a little longer to return as more and more walking set in. I saw people dehydrated and stumbling all over the course. Feeling a little dehydrated myself at the beginning, as I likely had underestimated the impact of the wind on the bike a bit, I drank at every aid station. Even mixing in some of the European isotonic drink. But, the real life saver was my hand held water bottle. Filled with ice. I also brought my own drink mix to put together on the run which was another life saver.
On the second and third round I had to slow down. But, … I had kept one more caffeinated gel for the end of the third round. That’s when I also took a couple Tylenol and only then started drinking some coka cola. Once I realized that I could make it in roughly 12 hours, I felt new energy. I wasn’t going to stop running on the last round and didn’t. A true testament to my training and nutrition timing. I finished the run in 4 hours and 56 minutes.
In the aftermath, I have to say I felt elated. Much like last time, I was overcome by emotions and landed crying in Jimmy’s arms. I was just so happy that my hip didn’t hurt and how well everything went. Only once we got home did I notice the 5 blisters on my feet. Over the next few days there was also the expected muscle ache to deal with. A great massage on Wednesday made that right disappear.