Julia continues her epic Ironman tale… here’s Part I if you missed it!
IMZ is one of the last Ironman races to fill up. With Ironman Austria, UK or Germany you have to be in front of your computer the minute they open registration. But IMZ is well known for being difficult due to its notorious hilly bike course.
I love hills. This doesn’t necessarily translate into ‘I’m fast on hills’, but at least I enjoy myself while I toil away. The closer we got to the race date the more concerned I got about the hills.
My bike training method is about the same as my running philosophy: you don’t need to cycle mega mileage, you just have to do quality workouts. All my bike rides until April were under 100 km but concentrating on interval work and fast leg turnover. At the end of April I did one 165 km bike race with a total of 2500 meters in elevation. In June I did another 135 km ride near my home with a 1500 meter elevation climb and then two weeks before IMZ I did my last “long” bike ride of 140 km with a 1800 meter elevation climb.
All my long rides were done alone and in hot and humid weather conditions. I knew I’d be fine on race day as the temperatures would be cooler. My dietician asked me to eat as much “real” food as possible so I’d tried out an Italian flat bread; some with peanut butter, others with prosciutto. I threw in a few gels and Powerbar Wafers for good measure and that all seemed to work fine in training.
I did not buy a triathlon bike, though I contemplated it for a long time. Instead I used my road bike (Specialized Roubaix) with aero bars.
Bike Race – 7:33:05
Pedal pedal pedal along the lake. I could feel that I was going fast, about 30 - 33km per hour but I was pedalling easy. There was probably a tailwind helping out a bit so I enjoyed the ride. I ate my mini sandwich every half hour and watched as all the slow swimmers rode past me. Every once in a while another triathlete would go past me and shout, “Good job, Julia” or “Looking good, Julia”. I love the triathlon tribe!
We turned off the lake to the left and started the hilly section of the race. I didn’t need anything at the first aid station so I went through it.
The big bad hills? Not so scary. Yes, they went up but then they went down, and it was all very pleasant and easy. Even in the smaller villages there were people watching on the side of the road and yelling “hoap hoap hoap!”
We got to the steeper 4km section and other competitors around me were asking, “Is this the big hill?”. We all agreed that it was and kept pedalling.
My absolute favorite part was a flat section that went into a forest and then suddenly dropped off into a steep 15% descent. I had to brake a little but it felt like a roller coaster and I couldn’t wait to do it again on the second round.
Within minutes we hit the east side of the lake again and as I went over the bridge I saw Paula G’s family and then after a few minutes Piero. The course went down the west side of the lake and then quickly veered up the famous 1km 12% grade stretch of Heartbreak Hill.
Yes, it was steep, but it really was only one kilometre long and it was absolutely packed with people screaming and yelling “hop, hop, hop”. It was like being a cycling star and definitely one of the highlights of the bike portion of the race.
Pedal, pedal, pedal… by the time I back on the east side of the lake for the second round there was a slight headwind so I could feel that I wasn’t going as fast as the first time round.
Plus, I really had to pee. I’m usually able to pee on the bike without any problems but this time it just wasn’t happening. I tried to think of running water, waterfalls, and trickling water. I even added in my own sound effects to get things moving.I finally got so uncomfortable that I had to stop at the next restroom. There was a volunteer there to hold my bike and I popped in and out within a minute.
I got back on the bike pretty quickly and started pedalling again. Instead of bread I had a gel for a change. Five minutes later I could feel that that something was wrong. My abdomen ached and I knew I’d have to stop at the next restroom, probably 30km away. When I got there (finally!) I took a full five minutes, just to make sure that everything was okay and that I wouldn’t have to stop again.
Now I could feel my intestinal tract a little upset but I knew I had to keep eating somehow, so I decided to go back to just the bread and water and to slow down until I felt in control of my body again.
During the first part of the race I kept wondering whether Paula G was in front or behind me. I got my answer in that moment as she flew past me on the uphill without even recognising me! She heard my voice and turned around and waved and went on. I passed her again on the downhill (I’m heavier so roll faster) but then she passed me again on the uphill and I kept cruising along.
Every once in awhile I’d see someone on the course with a mechanical problem… flat tires, chains coming off. I saw one guy crouched in a fetal position, rocking back and forth with his bike leaned against the hill. It reminded me to keep respecting the distance and to concentrate on the here and now rather than worrying about what was ahead.
The sky had been grey all morning and afternoon and now it started to rain hard. My shoes were quickly soaked. I could hear my feet sloshing around, squish squish squish. I slowed down more on the downhill sections; better a slower time than sliding down the hill on my bike.
By the time I got back to the lake my stomach was feeling better though I could no longer feel my butt. My energy levels were still good though on the second time up Heartbreak Hill I had to zigzag it rather than pedal straight up. I found U&R cheerleader Tara at the top and she shouted, “Paula is just a few minutes ahead of you!”
I couldn’t wait to get off the bike. I really wanted a change of movement. I’d practiced sliding my feet out of my bike shoes while on the bike. I did this successfully and ran comfortably through the mud in my stocking feet and racked my bike.
T2 – 6:38
I found my bag quickly, ducked into the tent and stripped my wet bike clothes off until I was buck naked. I dried off with a towel and then redressed myself as best I could in my running clothes. It felt great to get my eyeglasses on and finally start the marathon.