My old neighbor and riding mate has a saying about how we operate in my household. In his words, “you guys are either full ass or NO ass because you certainly don’t half-ass anything.” Or as my dad told me countless times, “son, you either do things right or don’t do them at all.” That was pretty much my attitude towards my first IM. After 4 seasons, I finally felt ready to tackle the full distance. The big decision would be where, and it turned out to be quite simple. A friend of 30 years just moved to Vienna (Austria that is, not the end of the orange line). Also, my wife’s (Pilar) 40th birthday was exactly 4 days prior to IM Austria and she wanted to visit our friend in Austria for her BIG 4-0. To add icing to the cake, an old college buddy would be racing with a group of friends (5 other triathletes). I also opened a thread on the DC tri forum and Bryan Frank was ready to commit to this race. It was almost too good to be true, but IM Austria 2013 would be my first attempt at the full distance.
In the year leading up to the race, I picked the brains of many tri friends and club members. I got much appreciated advice and useful information. A few things stuck such as, there’s no such thing as a good bike followed by a crappy run. It’s all about getting to the run with fresh legs and trying not to walk in the marathon. The real deal starts around mi 18. With those things in mind, I focused on building a strong running base during the winter months and continued to bike to work to keep some of my cycling shape. Cycling is my strength, so I was not concerned about that part. In the spring, I dialed back some of my running and increased my weekly cycling mileage, then continued to incorporate high volume in the 2 disciplines as I got closer to the IM. My tri friends complemented me about my high level of fitness, so whatever I did was definitely working.
Lead up to race and IM goals:
We all want to finish an IM, but we also have personal time goals. I wanted to finish in less than 12 hours, but in the back of my mind, I really wanted to go sub 11:30. My biggest problem was mental issues on the swim, as in PANIC at swim starts. It never used to happen, but it was a growing problem. I was concerned about coming out alive with another 2,500+ athletes. In order to reach my time goals, panicking was not an option. The first 200-300 mts of the swim would let me know whether I had a real shot at my goals. My IM time goals were SWIM-1:30, BIKE-5:45 (a bit conservative), RUN-whatever necessary to finish under 12 hrs (4:30ish accounting for T times). Never having done an IM, I had no idea how my body would react and everything would have to go flawlessly in order to see a sub 11:30.
To put things in perspective, I had lunch with my kids just 2 days before my departure and asked my daughter (a 9 yr old triathlete herself) about what advice she’d give me for my upcoming IM. I could tell her brain was working hard, when all the sudden she says in a very assertive voice, “Complete it, don’t drown, and don’t fall off the bike.” I almost spit out my food when I heard this, but it brought a fresh perspective. I was definitely putting a little too much pressure on myself, so best to keep it fun.
Pre-race in Austria:
Everything went without a hitch, including the scenic drive from Vienna to Klagenfurt (IM Austria), hotel, setting up bike, and getting to IM village. Athlete’s dinner had free unlimited beer, what is not to like about that. I did feel like I got some of my entry money back in the form of beers. The course logistics were the best that I encountered in any triathlon. The parking was super easy and my friend had a camper site, just 400 mts from swim start, which would serve as the base for Pilar and other sherpas in our group. Also, the course was extremely spectator friendly. We drove the bike course with Bryan and saw the nice backdrop of the Alps and lakes, along with some of the climbs and wicked descents. We knew it would be an epic one.
As usual, the day before race day, I tested my bike and all electronics and everything worked flawlessly. I racked bike, left bags in transition, and it was time to get back to hotel for food and chill. Then, my obsession with hitting a specific time goal kicked in. I realized that my Garmin 310 would probably run out of juice if I had it reading power off the bike, so I de-sync it from my Quarq powermeter. I was using my 310 to give me an overall race time and pacing in the run. I always trained/raced with my 500 on my bike to read off my bike power. As usual, I would just rely on my 500. However, as I went to plug it in just 2 minutes after de-synching my 310, IT FROZE. Holy crap, nothing/nada and I can’t get it to start. After struggling with it for a while, it came back to life, but it was totally whipped out. All settings are GONE, just like when I first bought it. Now, I’m scrambling to setup all my screens and hope for a miracle come race day as I would need to pair both my devices (310 and 500) in transition with over 2,500 bikes.
I got to transition right at the 5 am open. To my surprise, there were only a few people. I could tell because they gave us bike covers and I was the only one without one within a 20 mts radius. Now, I’m trying to pair all my devices before the crowds show up and got a signal/pairing for both 310 and 500. I decided to trust the 310 number because all the firmware was updated, unlike my newly whipped out 500. At this point, I’m really stressed out, but decided to just chill and follow my daughter’s advice. I’d figured that I would probably finish this thing, so best to take the pressure off my shoulders.
The swim was a mass beach starts with a straight 1.2 mi, then a left turn for a straight 400 mts, then another left turn and pretty much straight until the finish. The last 900 mts were in a channel that was probably 20-30 ft wide with people lined up screaming and cheering. The water was pristine, clear and had great visibility.
As I got to the swim start, I saw Pilar front row in the spectator fence. What are the chances that the spot I picked to go in for the swim with another 2,500+ athletes that she would be there? I chatted with her until about 2 minutes before the gun. Gun goes off and I’m feeling the most relaxed ever in a triathlon swim. I got on a rhythm early on and kept moving forward without ever panicking. I knew 200-300 mts in that it would be an uneventful swim. Of course, there was tons of contact, but I was OK with it.
As I approached the channel (last 900 mts of swim), there was even more contact, which was expected based on the width of the channel. The swimmers definitely looked like spawning salmon swimming upstream. Also, the entire channel was lined up with spectators cheering, blowing horns, etc. While scouting out the channel the day before, I noticed that about 50 mts before a pedestrian bridge that there were 3 trees at the shoreline. I told Pilar to be near those trees, so I could call her name when I went by swimming. As I approached the trees, she spotted my Xterra wetsuit before I had a chance to scream at her. Very cool!!! I told her that I was feeling good and kept swimming. From this point, I was about 400-500 from swim exit and got there without issues. I looked at my garmin and it had a 1:20. I knew I was capable of swimming a 1:20, but the big unknown was whether I’d panicked or not. At this point, I told myself, this is going to be a fun day.
It was a bit of a run from swim exit to T1, and I picked up the bag from the rack and proceeded to changing tent. I understood from the athlete’s briefing that there would be a male and female section. I’m very positive that I went to the male section based on the number of men. I found a spot on an open bench, when all the sudden, I saw this lady next to me (probably in her 50s) going about her business. Well, it’s fair game since we are in Europe. So, there comes out the chamois cream for a nice application. Then, I ran with my bike shoes in my hand towards my bike. It was a long stretch, so I decided to put them on next to my bike. I was glad to get out of T1 in less than 1:30.
There were a few rollers at the beginning, but nothing bad. As I pushed my targeted avg watts, everything felt great. I was spinning easy up the hills and picking up speeds on descents. Honestly, those 5 (100+mi ) rides and climbs up Sugarloaf were really paying off. I heard countless times that the bike should feel easy; otherwise, you are working too hard. It honestly felt easy. As I was bombing down a descent, I saw Bryan heading back and I yelled at him. It was good to see him on the course. The climbs on the course were epic, people at bars, DJ’s cranking music, drunk shirtless guys, people running next to you and yelling HOP HOP HOP (go go go). There was something for everyone and you definitely felt like a tour rider.
The one aspect that I liked the most about the bike course was the long gradual descents. I considered myself an above average climber, but I’m fearless going downhill, so the course played well to my strength. The Europeans breathe and live cycling, which means their bike abilities are second to none. I’d picked a rider’s line 10-15 mts ahead of me and never questioned it. It gave me flashbacks when riding the last 6 miles down from Skyline with your training mates and not questioning each other’s line. I stopped looking at 42mph and never thought of touching the brakes.
I finished the first (56mi) loop hitting my avg watts with a time around 2:40. I rode those watts many times on my long rides, so I knew I was doing it right. However, that would put me at around a 5:20 bike split for the entire 112mi. I was cushioning my 5:45 estimate, but 5:20 felt like outside my luck even though the numbers would dictate otherwise. I made a game time decision to purposely scale back on the second loop. At this point, with my “stellar” swim and cushion from first bike lap, I had the 12 hrs in the bag, so I was saving myself to break the 11:30 mark.
On the second loop, I really dialed back my watts. On the climbs, I would just relax and enjoy the scenery of the Alps and beautiful lakes. People would bunch up and pass me. However, on the descents, it was my game. Also, Pilar took the spectators’ shuttle to one of the climbs, so I heard my name, and it was her cheering on me. It was great to see her once again. I neglected to mention that she was there on the 1st loop as well. On the last climb, I heard my name as I passed another guy on my friend’s crew, then in another 1-2 mins, I passed his wife. They were a very nice couple from Wisconsin. It’s definitely a small IM racing world. I chatted with her up the long climb, but then as usual I pedaled hard on the descent and lost her. Finally, I reached the last 2-3 mi flattish section back to transition and I knew that I would be near the low 5:30 mark.
Bike Split-5:33:36 (Over 5,500 ft of climbing)-20.1 mph
It was quick and easy with only a quick stop at the porta-potty. I wasn’t sure where I hit timing mat, but my garmin just a tad above the 7 hrs mark. At this point, I had to run at least 10 min/mi for 26.2 to break 11:30 hrs, so my chances were looking really good. Then again, I’d never done one of these IM thingies, so what do I know.
The 2 loop course was lined up with folks near a park, neighborhoods, cafes, and city center. It was fun to run along the various sections and always see and hear people cheering. My race plan was to hit my first mile at 9:00 and see how I felt. I did 8:40 and felt great. I scaled back to 9:15ish pace and kept that level of effort for a while. I stopped looking at my garmin and started running by feel. At about mile 11, I once again saw Pilar. She had the perfect angle for an awesome Kodak moment, except she left the camera lens cover on. She asked me to stop so she could take a picture, but I was not willing to make my first stop of the run for a picture. I ran away and kept the same steady pace with no issues. Shortly thereafter, I also crossed paths with Bryan and he was probably about 3 miles from the finish. What a beast!!! I finished my first (13.1 mi) loop in around 2:05. I had a shot at a sub 11:30 unless I had a major collapse.
The second loop went without issues, just plugging along with the same pace and never stopping, not even at aid stations. At around mi 20, I still had energy and saw Pilar. I was on pace for an 11:10-11:20 finish, and now my new race goal was a sub 11:15. I knew 6pm would be the 11:00hr mark, so I yelled at her to get to the finishing chute by 6pm and that I was feeling great. Around mi 24, as I went through the downtown cafes and folks enjoyed themselves over schnitzel and 1 Liter beers, I knew that I would come in under 11:15. WOW, what a race. Do I push myself for a sub 11:10? HELL NO, I decided to soak up the energy and fun of the race. Finally, it was just great coming down the finishing chute and who do I see near the finish line, Pilar. She was there front row 10 feet in front of finish line. This time around she was quite ready to take a couple of pics, but luckily no lens cover.
Run-4:08:20 (9:30 pace)
Total race time 11:13:11
Nice solid performance, Jorlie. Congrats :)
Awesome race and great report. Well done my friend.
Nice report. Sounds like you enjoyed this swim better than White Lake. :) The bike course sounds awesome. Congrats!
Wow, what an awesome first-time IM experience! Sounds like your training paid off. :)
HA HA Ryan, you know that White Lake swim was harder than a triple IM and almost pushed me permanently into tri retirement. I'm glad I survived and lived to tell my 1st IM story. ;)