Germany, the hottest place in Europe to do an Ironman
Sunday the 5. July 2015 was a really hot day in Frankfurt! In fact, both Saturday and Sunday of that weekend broke the record for “hottest day ever recorded in Frankfurt”, with temperatures up to 39 degrees in central part of the city on Sunday.
With these facts given up front, it was no surprise to me, or the other 3063 athletes that had signed up for the race, that this was going to be a hot and tough day. Mentally I was ready for the challenge. I did Ironman Zürich 2013 in similar conditions, so I felt that I was well prepared and did not worry about the heat. I knew it was going to make the race a lot more complicated, and that all plans I had made the past months was up for revision and all dreams for a new personal best on the distance was most likely not going to happen.
The swim venue for the race is the very nice Langener Waldsee, approximately 14 km away from Frankfurt. During race week drastically increasing water temperatures was reported, which could mean a non wetsuit swim. I went for a swim on Thursday before the race and already there the temperature was close to the magic 24,5 degrees where wetsuit would be prohibited.
Race morning started with an early 04:30 shuttle bus to the lake. Prior to the race I was lucky to get into the first start group of about 500 people starting 10 minutes before the rest of the 2500 age groupers. This obviously ment minimal fights in the water at the beginning, actually we all started doing crawl right away. I had a good start, felt good on the first section and just “followed” the feet on the guys in front of me. On the second, and longest leg of the swim, I started to focus on going as deep as possible on the swim. I tried to push the pace and be as efficient as possible. On the last 3-400 meters of the swim, I could feel some air in my bag and knew that I probably had to get that sorted out before jumping on the bike. I exited the water in the time of 01:12:38 which is a good time, taken into consideration that it was non wetsuit and sea water.
As predicted there was something in the bag after the swim and I chose a toilet stop and could ride with an empty bag and totally forget about it on the ride.
The first 14 kilometers of the bike was on a big and straight road directly in to downtown Frankfurt. On this part I felt it difficult to to push my 200 watts, which is my usual pace for the Ironman distance. I simply felt that my legs were “missing” power – a bad sign! I kept pushing for the first half of the ride and managed to stay on target watts, but it took more effort than I liked. On the second half the heat really turned on – it was literally like riding with a hairdryer in the face and all the water I poured over my neck and body almost dried up instantly. My watts dropped to about 175 on the second half and I felt than pushing harder than that would be disastrous for the run. Instead I focused on taking in all my Squeezy energy and minerals as preparation for the run. I used a mix of regular energy drink mixed as syrup in my front bottle and supplemented with water from the aid stations, gels, wine gums and a energy bar. Calculated to 70 grams of carbohydrate pr hour for five hours. I reached the hot T2 in downtown Frankfurt in 05:10:47, a quite disappointing split as I had still expected to ride below the five hours. The legs simply was not there, and in the heat going harder on the second half was not an option, so I still think I made the right call on the moment.
I managed to get through T2 relatively fast. There was no need for a toilet stop, but I did take my time to put on socks and shoes properly to avoid blisters.
Out on the run first focus was to find a pace that I could sustain throughout the run. I knew from Zürich that the heat would slowly drain the body for energy and going out too fast could be catastrophic. I started out in a pace 15-20 seconds slower than my pace from the last Ironman. The run was hot! But the organizers had done everything to help us through, including two extra aid stations, making it 7 on the 10,5 km course, they moved about two kilometers of each lap into shadow underneath trees and had ordered 14 tons of icecubes! Already on my first lap I saw a lot of athletes walking as I passed by them – crazy as they obviously had been faster than me on the swim and bike, but then exploded in the heat. I started out conservatively and my half way split for the first two of four laps was only 1:55 hour – 10 minutes slower than in Nice last year. I slowed down on lad three and four which i did in 1:00 and 1:05 respectively. I was actually feeling okay all the way on the run. Hot and in the need for a lot of cooling, but definitely okay. On the run I had the feeling that I did my best and I did run all the way, except through the aid stations. But, still there was a feeling that the heat and slow runtime made me mentally lazy. I crossed the finish line with a run split of 03:57:08.
Before I get to the result, I found som statistics from race director Björn Steinmetz: 13,6 percent of the 3.064 who had bought a start number did not jump into the water. Only 2.076 of those who started the race made it to the finish line. This means that 572 participants abandoned the race, and about 400 of them did so in the marathon. This adds up to a crazy 34 percent of DNS or DNF and is probably the highest number ever in an Ironman race*.
My overall time for the race summed up to 10:29:38, which is not really a usable number for me. It is not “fast”, nor is it slow when looking at the circumstances. Competition wise I was 55 in age group, and 249 overall in the race, which are both satisfying numbers and puts me whithin the fastest 10 percent of the participants. I had hoped for better splits on the bike and run, but must say that there is absolutely still things to learn, also after 5 ironman races!
There is not something like “the perfect race”! There is always something that you need to take into consideration, being the weather, your preparation, the course or something fourth.
Mentality is SO important, especially in a race like this. There is no doubt, that because I knew up front that PR was out of scope and because my bike split was slower than expected, it was difficult to dig really deep on the run and push the pace up where it should have been. In Zürich two years ago, I ended up walking from time to time at the end of the race, and I was literally giving all I had, both mentally and physical. But, this time I was able to run all the way and actually increase the pace a bit on the last few kilometers. So that run could probably have been a bit faster with the right mentality or the right goal within sight.
I still need a bit of rest before I start up on structured training again, probably sometime next week. I can feel the body was working overtime in the heat of Frankfurt and that the “system” still needs to rest even though my legs doesn’t feel that bad, here a couple of days after the race.
The next big race is Ironman Chattanooga in end september, and I really look forward to this race, especially now where Frankfurt turned out to be quite a different race. As part of the preparation for Chattanooga I’ll participate in the danish national championships on the half distance in Aalborg on August 16th.
- "Timetrialling hurts" - Coach Troy Jacobson