Full post (with photos) can be found at http://dhops7.wordpress.com/2013/08/21/ironman-kalmar-race-report-its-a-long-one-so-prepare-yourself/
Ironman Kalmar Race Report
August 17, 2013
I got talked into doing this race at a DC Tri happy hour last summer – one at which I was only drinking water. So, eyes open, I registered 51 weeks ago with the thought that doing my second Ironman in Sweden would be a very cool experience. To understate what’s about to be obvious, I was not disappointed.
I never sleep well the night before a big race, and this race was no exception. I probably dozed for about two hours total, but it certainly wasn’t the best night of sleep I’d ever had. Because Kristin is an amazing friend, she got up with me at 4:21 a.m. and we had an early breakfast. I ate more than I usually do on race morning (a bowl of yogurt with berries and granola, plus peanut butter and jelly on a wheat roll) but I felt like I needed it. We got over to transition in plenty of time, and there I saw Doug Hartman from DC Tri, who informed me there is no body marking at European Ironman events. Yay, no permanent marker on my arms and legs for when we go to fashionable Stockholm! Although, I do prefer to see people’s ages on their calves, so I know who I’m racing in my age group. But, I guess body marking is not cool in Europe. I digress. On our way to the swim start we met up with Mike Leshnower, formerly of DC Tri, and he and I discussed our plan to do a warmup swim to test the water. Kristin took a few pictures of us before we suited up and got in.
According to a volunteer on the dock, the water was 17 degrees C, which is 62.6 degrees F. I had opted to wear my sleeveless wetsuit, rather than fullsuit, but I must say, the water didn’t feel that cold. We tripped over a few rocks as we attempted to warmup, and both noticed some chop and a slight current, but since Mike swims in the ocean at least twice a week, he was comfortable with it. I was a little nervous about what that would mean for my race time because I don’t have a lot of experience in choppy OWS. But, no worries. After all, it was almost business time.
The swim start was an in-water mass start, but the water was shallow and only about waist deep, so luckily no treading was involved. Mike and I lined up at the very front of the 1:05 corral. The next fastest corral was :55, and I was not about to join that group and get swum over by 100 Scandinavian giant Ironmen, so we stuck to the safer time group. At one point, a few minutes before the start, I turned around to look behind me, and I saw a sea of nearly 2,000 people in wetsuits, swim caps and goggles, all lined up like an army. It looked like the set of a movie about underwater aliens, and I got just a tad nervous for a second, thinking about all those ginormous people trying to chase me down in the water for 3,800 meters, or 2.4 miles. I’m a very good swimmer, but this was intimidating. I don’t know the average height of the athletes competing in Ironman Kalmar, but I’m betting it was at least 6’2” if not taller.
The pros swum up to their start line (100 meters ahead of our start line – is that why their swim times are faster than ours?) and were off. The next five minutes felt like the longest five minutes of my life, as I waited for the cannon to send the age groupers into the Baltic Sea. When the cannon finally fired, it was game on. The corrals were lined up with the :55 swimmers to the far left, then each corresponding time group to the right, in sections. So, you can imagine the merging that went on as we all headed toward the first turn buoy. I have to say, I have NEVER experienced such a difficult swim start. I’m usually one of the first out in front of the crowd, and I rarely get caught in the washing machine (in case you’re not familiar with the term, that’s what triathletes call the massive jumble of kicking and clawing arms and legs at the beginning of a triathlon swim), but this race was different. Instead of a washing machine, it was more like a free-for-all boxing ring. I have never been clawed, kicked, elbowed, or swum into/over as much as I was in the first loop of this swim. All that stuff I can handle to a degree, but the foot grabbing is what really irritates me, and I had to shake off more than a couple people who were pulling on my ankles. I remember thinking, as I made the first turn, that this was going to be a looooooooooong swim.
The waves were picking up a bit because it was rather windy out, and after the first turn we were swimming directly into the waves. I had a very difficult time keeping a straight line, and was far off to the left trying to fight my way closer to the line of swimmers. Every time I got close, though, the boxing match continued. I bet I swam an extra 200-300 meters on that back stretch of the first swim loop. After rounding the third turn and heading back to shore, we swam behind a pier and the water calmed down some. The swim course narrowed into a channel and we swam beneath a bridge. Even from the water, we could hear people on the bridge cheering and screaming for us. In Sweden, the fans yell “Heja” (pronounced like hey-ya), in the same way we yell “Go” in the U.S.A. It was über cool.
Heading out to the second loop of the swim, the sun glare made it difficult to see the buoys, but at least the volume of swimmers had thinned out to a more manageable group. After making that turn, though, the chop we encountered was ridiculous. I could not believe how difficult this swim was feeling, and I was sure I would swim a 1:15 or slower. The swim is usually my favorite part and was never before this taxing on me! I felt like I was pulling and pulling and getting nowhere. When I tried to breathe, I took in gulps of brackish water as the waves smacked me in the face from every direction. I finally decided to just settle in, stop trying to fight it, not worry about my time, and to do the best I could. The second loop’s turn behind the pier was much needed, and from there, rather than do a third loop we turned left and followed the shoreline for probably 800 meters. Here the water was calm, the crowds were noisy, and I started kicking to get the blood flowing into my legs again. I came out of the swim with no idea what my time was, but from the way I was feeling I imagined it somewhere between 1:15 and 1:20. I ran to the transition racks, noticing how many bikes were still in T1, and grabbled my blue Bike Gear bag, then headed to the changing tent to get ready for my 180.2km (112 mile) ride.
Swim time: 1:03.18
Age group rank: 3
Gender rank: 15
All week, the weather forecast had called for a chance of showers, and windy conditions. The bike course is almost completely flat (the highest elevation is 50 meters above sea level) so I was hoping for a fast bike split. (Well, fast for me anyway – which would be sub-6 hours.) Alas, it was not to be. I came out of T1 feeling pretty good and started cruising at 22mph, not realizing that I had a tailwind, and I tried to force myself to slow down to 20-21 since 112 miles is a long way to ride, especially before running a marathon.
After about 2km, the course took us up and over the Öland Bridge, which itself is 6km long and rises to 40 meters in height. There was a fairly strong crosswind, but so early in the ride I didn’t have much trouble powering through. Once we hit Öland and turned south, the toughest part of the ride began. From about 15km – 50km, there was a serious headwind. I’m guessing it was 20-25mph, with gusts to 40. I was hoping to hold 19mph the entire ride, but had trouble even keeping it at 16mph given the wind. The day before, my friend Trevor Albert (a DC Tri rockstar) told me that if there was a major wind I should ignore my speed and just pedal in Zone 2. So, that’s what I tried to do. During this time, a lot of people were attempting to draft (which is illegal in Ironman), but the race marshals were out in full force and I saw a number of athletes get cards in those first 40km.
All summer, I rode my beloved Cervélo P3 (affectionately named Vivianne, or Viv for short, which menas “energetic and lively” in Swedish) with no pain but, for reasons I’m not entirely clear about, I was very uncomfortable during most of this ride. Both of my knees were aching, my hip flexors were tender, and with every pedal turn the discomfort made me rather miserable. I really tried to be positive but the bike leg has always been my nemesis in triathlon. I found myself grumbling, which is never good, and so I thought to myself, “I should play a game to pass the time.” Because we were required to wear our race numbers on our backs, I could see the names of all the people who passed me (there were probably 800 total), so I decided to start a competition to see who passed me more: men with the name Erik or men with the name Bjorn. That kept me amused for quite a while and I think Erik prevailed, but I also saw a lot of people named Petr, Kristoffer, and surprising to me, Magnus, so I lost official count. (As an aside, can you believe, my whole time in Sweden, I did not see or meet a single Sven?) Perhaps my favorite name was Ulf, whom I later heard crossing the finish line in under 10 hours, when I was closing in on the first lap of the three-loop run.
Anyway, once we turned north on Öland we had a lovely tailwind, which meant soft-pedaling at 23mph for a few glorious miles. We also passed a Viking graveyard during this time, which is something I’d never thought I’d see during the course of a triathlon. As I passed a large barn, I heard Kristin, Tu and Sean (our DC Tri Sherpas) to the left and slightly behind me (I heard them thanks to Kristin’s cowbell) but they had just missed me go by. So, we rode mile after mile through farms and treeless moorland, then we turned west into a nasty crosswind, during which I found it almost impossible to stay in aero, for fear of blowing over. Then, finally, it was back over the Öland Bridge for the second part of the ride, the remaining 60k loop on the mainland north of Kalmar. While riding up the bridge, I heard a car madly honking its horn, and I looked to my right to see Kristin, Tu and Sean driving next to me. Kristin was ringing the cowbell, and I was able to chat with them for a couple of minutes (and smile for a few pictures) while riding up the bridge. It made me forget the wind for a while, and was just what I needed to pass the time. They finally had to get moving because the line of cars behind them did not appreciate pacing with my 14mph journey up that bridge.
They drove off, and as I descended I looked to my left and took in the breathtaking view of the Baltic Sea, the Kalmar Slott (Castle) and Kalmar Cathedral. This was the only divine moment in the entire ride. I rested my legs for a minute before heading onto the main road. The course took us close to the transition area, where the streets were lined with people three deep, and the crowd support plus music blasting through the speakers provided a much needed energy boost. We went through a roundabout and then headed back north through some small towns and by countless farms, with the wind mostly behind us. Those 30k were not too bad, but then when we turned back toward Kalmar the headwind started again. At 160k I got passed by three men in a row, and they were all named Andreas, which was the most interesting thing that happened during the last part of the ride. I was really trying to be positive, but all I could think was, “I can’t wait to get off this friggin’ bike and run a marathon.”
(Not nearly) soon enough, I reached the road leading to the transition area. It was such a relief and as I went in to T2 I thought I’d never been so excited to run a marathon after a 112 mile bike ride. My poor knees were screaming but otherwise I felt fine. My HR was good, my nutrition had gone flawlessly, and my stomach was stable. I racked Viv in her spot and made a porta-pot stop before heading in to the changing tent to prepare for the run. I prefer to run in as little clothing as possible, and because I forgot to put Body Glide on my underarms, there was some chafing that I didn’t want to make worse, so I whipped off my bike jersey and decided to run in my DC Tri sports bra, and to keep my DC Tri shorts on rather than change into running shorts. I put on compression socks, took my hair out of braids and put it in a ponytail (a personal superstition in Ironman), put on my visor and I was off.
Ride time: 6:23:11
Age group rank: 20
Gender rank: 86
The first quarter mile of a run after T2 is always quite telling. I know right then if the run is going to be good, or if it’s going to be miserable. I felt awesome as I ran by the crowds. My legs were strong and I had a feeling it was going to be a solid run. All those months of Thursday morning hill repeats were going to pay off. Heading out of transition the race clock was at about 7:40, so I knew I’d have to run a pretty decent marathon in order to break my 12 hour A-goal. The sun was shining, the breeze was refreshing, and I was happy. It was that surreal, “I can’t believe this race is finally happening” feeling, A year of prep, countless hours of training, and a big financial investment, all came down to this one day.
My Garmin battery had died on the flight to Copenhagen because the power button somehow got pushed in transit, and I had bought a child’s Smurf watch in a toy store in Kalmar, so I’d at least have a general idea of what time it was and how fast I was running. I’m guessing my initial pace was around a 9:10 because it felt really easy, but I’m not entirely sure since the Smurf watch didn’t give me any splits.
The run consisted of three loops, most of which were along running paths through residential areas in Kalmar, and the end of which was through downtown along the cobblestone streets. I walked through the aid stations as planned, and had no trouble picking up the run right after taking in aid. I got a nasty little side stitch around mile 7.5, and I had to walk for about 30 seconds to let it dissipate, but after that I started running strong again.
Toward the end of the run loop, the course takes you RIGHT NEXT TO the finish chute. Seriously, you run alongside it and past the finish line before turning out to finish the loop and start the next. At the end of each loop we were given a color-coded band, to be sure we ran the entire course. The first loop was a green band, and the second was yellow. The third was the FINISH. Anyway, the loop bands reminded me of the terrycloth hair ties I used to wear in the ‘90s.
So, off to loop 2 and still feeling strong, I again walked the aid stations and ran the rest. My first loop was completed in about 1:25, which meant, if I kept the pace, I could break 12 hours! I think I slowed just a little bit at the beginning of the second loop, but I still held strong. The neighborhoods were full of cheering fans, who had brought dining tables outside and were drinking and eating while rooting on the athletes from their front yards. In one yard, I saw a woman drinking a glass of white wine, and I asked her if I could come back after the race to join her for a drink. I saw a teenager with a MacBook, connected to huge speakers, providing deejay services to the athletes as they ran by his house. I saw innumerable gorgeous Swedish blonde spectators, beautiful lakes, charming homes, and oh, yes…a lot of miserable, hobbling athletes as I passed some of those who’d overtaken me on the bike.
Toward the end of loop 2, in downtown Kalmar, I passed Kristin, Tu and Sean cheering from the sidelines, and their excitement kept me going.
I told them, “I’ll be back” and I headed out, again past the finish chute as other athletes were finishing, then went out for my last loop on the run.
Physically, I was feeling good, but I’d slowed enough to know that unless I had the run of my life, the last 8.5 miles would probably not put me under the 12 hour mark. So, I tried to enjoy the fact that this loop was the last one, and I savored the fact that the race would soon be over. At the aid stations on this loop, I took in a lot of flat coke and isoactive energy drink. No solids on the run, except for half a banana around mile 17 because at that point my stomach was growling and threatening to eat itself. My energy was good and my HR was fine, but my legs started to tire, so I had to take a few short walk breaks those last 6 miles. It was still daylight, and I was still going to crush the 12:30 time, so I savored the last few miles of the run. Around mile 21-22 I became friends with a pro from Ukraine, Marek Nemcik, who was competing with two broken ribs (thus the slow – for him – race time) and was painfully suffering during the run of his THIRD Ironman in a month.
As I reached the 40k mark and turned off the run path toward downtown Kalmar, my excitement and anticipation of finishing began to build. I could hear the music and the crowds at the finish line, and knew I only had about 10 minutes left to run. During a 5 mile race years ago, during which Kristin and I ran together on a miserably hot and muggy day, I told her when we had a little over a mile left, “You can do anything for 10 minutes.” So, I told myself that same thing as my feet hit the cobblestone, and I knew I could run strong the rest of the way in. It was past 7:00 p.m. already, so a sub-12 hour race was not to be. Then, I saw Tuan Nguyen, also of DC Tri, who had already finished (in 11:31!!!) and happened to be on the street as I ran by. He gave me an air-high-five and said “Sub-thriteen Deb!” I thought to myself, “Twelve and change is more like it.” Ha!
I picked up the pace (I wish I had splits for my final mile – I bet I ran a 7:30) and enjoyed the crowd support, I high-fived the kids who chanted “Heja Deborah!” as I ran by. I started picking off people one by one, and I determined to have the finish chute to myself. I breezed by the last aid station, reeled in a few more runners, and then turned the last left onto the final street, to see the FINISH three blocks away, next to the Cathedral. More high-fives. More instances of “Heja Deborah!” I told the people in the crowd, as I pointed to the Finish chute on the left, “I’m going THIS way,” and my feet barely hit the blue carpet during those final hundred meters. The grandstands were packed, the crowds were cheering, and Kristin’s cowbell was ringing. The announcer said my name and high-fived me (in retrospect, I REALLY wish I’d kissed him on the cheek) and I headed toward the FINISH, preparing for a perfectly posed photo. But, Oh NO! the guy who had been several yards in front of me STOPPED, turned backward and moonwalked across the finish line just before I crossed, so I had to slow down and veer to the side. I was only mildly annoyed, but I got my finish line photo anyway. And, in doing so, became a double Ironman finisher.
Run time: 4:35:44
Age group rank: 23
Gender rank: 101
Final time: 12:12:13 = an 83+ minute PR. Finished 973 out of 2050.
If only Mr. Moonwalk hadn’t stopped in front of me, I would have finished in 12:12:12.
I spoke to 10-time Ironwoman in the athlete garden after the finish line, and she told me this was the HARDEST Ironman she’d ever competed in, thanks to the wind and choppy water. It was, overall, a very tough race but a fantastic day. Having Kristin there with me was so special. Even now, a few days later, I can’t really believe I just did an Ironman in Sweden and she got to come along. Who gets to do that? I’m so blessed!
Kristin brought me chocolate milk after the finish, and we watched several other finishers, including Mike, before we headed to the hotel so I could clean up.
We went out to dinner (I housed a half-pound burger in about three minutes flat), then went to the end of Heroes Hour to cheer in the last few participants before the finish line closed. The fireworks over the cathedral ended the evening to a wonderful day!
It wasn’t a perfect race and it wasn’t a perfect day, but it was a fantastic experience. I’m thrilled to have figured out my Ironman nutrition, because I had no stomach problems the entire race. I think, if the wind hadn’t been so strong, I could have broken 12, but c’est la vie. I have no regrets, I’m not at all disappointed, and I raced the absolute best I could have that day. I’ll just have to go sub-12 at Ironman Mont Tremblant next year, for which I am now registered, and which coincidentally happens to be on August 17, the same month and day as Ironman Kalmar this year.
Amazing race cutting 83 minutes off your Ironman time! That is a blistering swim time under tough conditions, great job hammering the bike into the wind, and then powering through the run.
I've done IMFL 2x and Eagleman 2x and those races were child's play, as far as wind is concerned, when compared to IM Sweden. I saw 2 people get litterally blown off their bikes during the some of those crosswind sections.
Enjoy the offseason :)
Congrats on a great race, but boo to Mr. Moonwalk - 12:12:12 would have been the cherry on top of your massive PR. Brava!
Someone pointed out I wasted more than a second taking my pigtail braids out in T2....so it's not Mr. Moonwalk's fault.
I disagree. It takes longer than 1 second to take pigtail braids out. :)