Ironman Frankfurt 2019
The heat awaiting us in Frankfurt this year was probably as big as my excitement for competing against the strongest field of any non-Kona race. And with the winners of the last 5 Ironman World Championships, that means a lot.
We travel to Frankfurt with Jamie and Daniel on Friday morning, just in time for the PRO briefing. After that we eat a big pasta portion, as part of our carbo-loading that follows the carbo-depletion on the beginning of the week. I am somewhat less nervous than before my first experience in Frankfurt in 2017, but still looking forward to the starting gun. The temperature feels ok, but that is because Friday is a good 10 degrees colder than the forecast for race day. We get our bags and bib numbers at the expo, I buy a very thin full cap (I typically prefer visors but plan to put ice below it this time). There’s a lot of ‘do you want to chat with our PRO?’ kinda stand, to which I am always tempted to reply ‘yeah but do they want to chat with me?’. Gold bracelet means a few funny looks from age groupers that are trying to figure out how the PROs do it. As Sarah True was saying, ‘we’re just winging it with a bit more confidence, because for a PRO DNF is an option’ … And I thought not for me.
A laughably large amount of food.
Then with the full support crew present we get a ridiculously large dinner (the kind that would make Lionel Sanders proud), and one last long night of sleep. On Saturday after an easy morning we bring our bags to T2 at Mainkai, bike the first portion of the course backwards towards T1 at Langner Waldsee and drop the gear off there as well. A quick one kilometer swim by 25 degrees water and 35 degrees air temperature. I am ready, as much as I could be. But the mercury supposedly rising a bit more on the following day is a bit frightening. Feet are hurting on the warm sand. Even the shade is sweating hot. Time to go back to the hotel.
On race day, after a quick shuttle ride, the official water temperature is announced at 25.2 C. No wetsuit allowed, as anticipated. We arrange a pump to get the tires ready, fix the last nutrition on the bike, check the gear bag, and soon move towards the start line. After getting the swimskin on and a short warm up, it’s time to get to the line. My plan was to probably let Frodo/Lange get away, and stay with hopefully a fast second group with Kienle. I get on the first line, and wait for the gun. The public is already on fire, almost closing off the way into the lake, until an official pushes them around. People on the sand, in the water, on boats, everywhere. I love Frankfurt.
As soon as the gun goes the PRO race is underway at an incredible pace. Competitors passing me on the run into the water, and an unbearable speed for 200 m to the first buoy (going straight). One pair of feet could be ok, but slightly too fast, and the next guys on my right seem more at my tempo. It’s still mostly straight out without looking much, we’ll settle and adjust on the way back. As we turn though, I realize that I have only one person next to me, and I’m almost left to set the pace. Not a good sign. Or maybe just swimming fast? It’s so hard to tell, the sun is blinding us. All the way back of this first 1500 m loop is against the rising sun, with no way to see where I am going. I end up in the shade once (strange!), look up, and realize a buoy is literally a meter in front of me. Oops, go around… Positive sign is I should still be on the straight track.
I then lead a large group towards the australian exit, hopefully the second. Swimming straight out until I can stand, because it’s impossible to find that arch, and no kayak is waiting for us (I knew I should be able swim in the first pack). Out, and back in, I notice I lost my right contact lens, but one is just as good as two no worries. An athlete swims a slightly bit faster on the right, so I get on his feet. The first group seems far away already, not very reassuring. Impossible to really say where I stand. From there on he gets lost, and I push the pace of my pack with many hands rubbing my feet. Stupid guys, couldn’t you swim fast in front of me instead?
Start of the second lap after the australian exit.
Another color of cap in the water, could it be a woman catching me up already? No, there’s a beard. We’re on the final stretch and getting ready to get out of the lake, as the sun climbs up continuously. On the sand, quick look at the clock which says 54 min something. Was hoping for a 52, but I might have started it a bit early. Nah a little slow, but whatever, the Ironman is still long to complain about 1-2 minutes. In T1 Kienle is long gone however, turns out there was no break in the first pack (except for two individuals including Frodeno), not the best race tactic for me. I really should be swimming faster. On the positive side the women are close to exiting the water only after I take my bike, Imo and Sarah didn’t make up much more than 2-3 min on my time.
Onto the bike it is. As we reach the semi-highway leading back towards the city center, many of the people who swam with me pass me and form a small group. I push 280 W but see the gap forming. The quads are hurting a bit already, not super good. I thus decide to settle down to a more reasonable 250-260 W. Before reaching Frankfurt I loose visual contact already, and eat my first gel. The pace is ok, the road smooth and fast, the spectators encouraging. But boy I never felt that alone. About 30 km without seeing anyone. Just me, and a large empty road. From the first aid station it’s always water on me, iso in the front bottle, and more water on me if I manage to be fast enough. The pavé section is much more rough than I remembered, but nothing moves. I lost one bar before that already, that was the extra one. But let’s keep it in mind in case I need to pick up a gel somewhere.
The way out goes pretty fast, and by km 55 the first cyclists start to pass me again. Together with Imo tucked in behind another PRO male. I can finally pace myself to someone. They are riding fast however. Especially pedaling much stronger in the descents than I typically do. Uphills are not so hard though. After close to 20 km with their pace I decide to let go, and settle in my own pace again. Drinking very often (about 1 l/h of iso), eating every 30 km, and getting as much water as possible on the body to cool down. Starting from km 90 I also keep one water bottle at all times with me, just to spray myself 2-3 times in-between every aid station. Heartbreak hill is magic.
First Heartbreak hill.
The wind slowly picks up though. And it feels always against us. I start to feel the heat, and actively look for every bystander with a garden hose to ride against. I get less concentrated and more out of the bars. And then I also feel something strange in the left eye. My contact lens has dried up and is detaching. Shit that’s the only one left. I turn my helmet visor up to access the lens, but don’t really know how to wet it again. I try putting it in my mouth with a bit a water, and then pick it in my finger and try to place it in the eye again. Another aid station comes up, I have to hurry before losing one more fluid opportunity. In the process the visor falls off, and the lens gets lost in the wind. We’re on plan B (ie ride km 120-185 by memory). It’s a good thing it’s my second lap. I will go back to non-astigmatism lenses from now on, as the new batch seem to get lost easily (despite correcting my vision slightly better than the standard myopic ones).
Not much to say otherwise. I am a bit more careful, get more often out of the bars (but mostly due to fatigue, not vision), push less watts on the pedals, and don’t fear too much riding 65 km/h without seeing very clear much further away than my aerobars (don’t worry, I can still see big features like other cyclists – I was happy to know the turns however). Sarah and Skye overtake me towards the end of the bike ride, together with the first AG. I am slowly dying of heat oppression. My thoughts oscillate between giving up by T2 or enjoying the start of something other than biking.
I take a little bit more time in T2 to get the things right. Many gels in the pockets, sunglasses and full cap, shoes correctly on (as the feet will get soaking wet through ice and sponges). I start running. Maybe it’s not that bad. The 700 extra meters of shadow are definitely welcome, despite us laughing about it before. At all aid stations I take (minimum) shower, salty water, iso (2 cups often), 2 cups water, 2 cups ice, 2 sponges. Sometimes also a gel, or a banana piece. A salt stick once. Despite all that, I just cannot keep my body cold. Everything dries super quickly, and the heat is just oppressing. I’m not feeling well. I don’t need to look at the watch to know that. The concrete is hot, heat accumulates.
You can feel the heat just looking at pictures.
Gianna gets me a pair of correcting glasses (I know, not allowed). I get some time to think. At this first lap's pace, and slowing down slightly, I could finish in a 3h30 marathon, with a heat shock, far away from my plan, not winning anything, well above 9 hours. Or I could take the PRO decision of staying healthy, recovering faster, and concentrating on the next one. There’s no slot to go take, I’m too far away. There’s no PB to make, the conditions are too harsh. There’s no first one to finish.
And that’s why I took the decision which was not an option until it was the only logical one: DNF.
At an aid station a volunteer sees me and says: “Der braucht Wasser nee. Es ist doch klar er ist am überheissen.”. And I can’t help but think he’s right. By the next time I meet Jamie, km 16, I tell here to come to the aid station 100 m further down, and stop. Long cold shower. Tears is the eyes. It’s obvious that I should stop, but forcing myself to do so is mentally very hard. Stopping while being technically able to continue is not something I do.
I sit in the shade, and then get into the red cross tent next to the aid station, since I’m also coughing quite bad (from the effort, cold drinks, ozone, or a mix of it all). Nothing bad, just 30 min to relax. At this point it’s clear I won’t see the finish line. I just can’t look at people in the eyes saying it yet.
We walk to the athlete’s area, meet Robin who came to support as well as the rest of the family. Daniel was lost on the tracker, and gave up also about one lap after me. We never liked the heat, and the 38 degrees are just too much for us to handle. I didn’t want it bad enough to finish like Sarah (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wnTUBuxlK1s).
I’m not sure what comes next. Maybe another attempt later this year, at a colder place. Maybe not. I need a few days to digest. A huge thanks to anyone who came to support, sent messages, or shared some of the trainings: you have been amazing!