I had been looking forward to Ironman Frankfurt for a while -- after doing two smaller Iron-distance races, I would finally get my chance to be an "official" Ironman. Before we moved away two months ago, I made sure to ride and drive the bike course, plus I did a couple runs on the course as well. So once I got into town on Thursday night, I was able to relax and minimize stress before race day. Fellow Timex teammate Tim Stuzter was so nice to offer to host me and my husband as well as help with crucial last minute bike maintenance.
The swim venue is a filled in quarry and the two separate loops take up most of the lake. In between the loops is an Australian exit, where the spectators wade into the water and get within arms reach of the swimmers.
I thought I was lining up towards the right edge of the start line, but the kayakers were allowing people extend the start line farther out into the lake -- meaning that I was now in the middle, which is what exactly I wanted to avoid. Since this was my first mass start race, I wasn't quite sure what was about to happen.
After the gun went off, I had a few seconds of zen swimming before the melee hit. For the first 20 minutes, I endured the punches, kicks, and dunking. On more than one occasion, I thought to myself "why am I doing this?"
I found sighting to be almost impossible. Since the lake is essentially in a sinkhole in the middle of the forest, there aren't really any good landmarks to sight on. We were wearing yellow caps, which perfectly matched the yellow guide buoys. The one helpful element was the giant, inflatable PowerBar bottle that was placed directly in line with the first turn buoy that was visible for the whole first kilometer. After that, my strategy became "follow everyone else."
I did see Tim and Eric cheering at the Australian exit, so that was neat. Since the lake is pretty shallow, there was a lot of wading through shin-deep water.
The second loop wasn't as rough, so I was able to really focus on my form. In all my training sessions, I have worked on being mindful of my body position and hand placement. The added bonus of the blueseventy Helix made the this much easier and the second part flew by.
Finally, it was time to wade through the water again and into T1. When I did my pre-race walk through, I saw that the route was very obvious, so I didn't bother to walk through it. Once I was actually out of the water, I then discovered that there was a short, but very steep climb, covered in deep sand that was now wet. I wondered why everybody was walking. Since I ran up the hill, I was rewarded with some serious leg cramps.
After clumsily knocking over a bench in the change tent, I made it onto my bike without further mishap. The course travels about 10 kilometers into the city, where it then starts on two loops that travel into several small villages out in the country. Some of the things I noticed:
- It is so fun to be able to blast down a road on a closed race course. Especially when you consider that most of the time I have spent on the roads in Frankfurt has been in traffic.
- I noticed people already sitting at the bars enjoying a beer at the beginning of my first loop. Based on the start time, plus my swim, plus the time to ride there, I'd estimate it was about 8:30am when I passed them.
- One of the early highlights is a half-mile section of cobbles known as "The Hell." It begins right after a 90 degree turn, so you can't see it coming. The first bit is flat, but it quickly rises into a decent grade for the next 90 seconds. It seemed like everybody in unison hit their brakes and sat up once we made it to the cobbles...except for me. I chose to attack, rather than get caught up in the melee. On both loops, I was riding so close to the left barrier, I was a bit concerned I would clip it or a spectator. But I managed to successfully pass the giant group and avoid any incidents.
- The crowd support in the villages was amazing! My theory is that Germans will use any excuse for a fest
, much like Americans look for chances for a tailgate. One town even had their town's volksfest
along the bike course, so there were a bunch of rides and food and drink stands. And the cheering was not confined to the city limits: there was a crowd out spectating at some random intersection where they were blocking the road with a tractor.
- Probably the most fun was "Heartbreak Hill," a 2.5km climb towards the end of the loop. In the pre-race literature, they pointed out that this was one of the Party Zones on the course, and they were not kidding. They had the music blasting and people lined up 5 deep on either side of the road. Oddly, I heard the same song on both loops, but I was having so much fun singing along and cranking away that I definitely busted my HR limit.
- The downside of the bike was the overcrowding and huge packs that formed up. I was having a hard time riding my own race and had a few near misses with people who must have not heard the discussion about blocking.
Despite a hillier profile, I rode almost exactly the same time as in my previous race, which was completely flat. I was pleased to see the time on my CycleTrainer, but I was slightly concerned going into the run, since it was starting to get really warm and my HR was too high for a good portion of the ride.
As I headed out of T2, I was surprised to see and hear my friend Sarah yelling my name and jumping madly in the giant crowd of people lining the course. This was a good shot of motivation, and the rest of the first lap was filled with other surprise spectators: people from my old tri club in Mainz, folks from Tim's club that I've met and trained with, and even one of the other racers from Ironcat. It was like that old game show "This is Your Life." That was really cool and definitely one of the highlights.
The run course is four laps that go up and down the Main River. I had run on the course several times in the months before race day, so I had a mental game plan in place. But I had not anticipated how much the heat was going to sap my energy and because it rained the day before, it was also quite humid. Every lap just became more and more torturous.
However, the crowd support on the run course was wonderful - it felt like there were people everywhere!
By the last lap, I could tell from my pace and time that I was behind where I wanted to be. But instead of getting upset and frustrated, I refocused myself on a new goal: leave everything out on the course. I slogged through the last last 10km, mentally chanting my mantra, "give yourself completely."
After what seemed like an eternity, I finally made the right turn to exit to the finish line, which is in the historic Roemerplatz, right in the center of old town. It has all these really neat buildings and the grandstands are constructed right in the middle. But the only thing that mattered to me was that sign that said "FINISH." I was out of juice.
The final tally - 10:32:43 and 5th in my AG.
All the finish line volunteers were super friendly and helpful, and one even delivered my post-race bag to me. I immediately changed into my flip flops and then shuffled out to find Eric. I found the nearest elevated surface and sat down.
The next day, I went to the awards ceremony hoping for a Kona roll-down slot, but it didn't happen. But it was really cool to see the exuberance of the people who did. I thought one lady who was seated near us was going to have a heart attack! I can't believe someone who did an Ironman the day prior could run up to the stage that quickly.
Overall, while I'm disappointed in not qualifying for Kona, I am happy with my performance in tough conditions and against a tough field. This was the Ironman European Championships, so I knew there would be some fast competition.
A big thank you goes out to the always inspiring Timex Multisport Team and our awesome sponsors; it is an honor to be able to wear/ride/use your products and represent you! My coach Rich Laidlow prepared me for an Ironman eight weeks after my last one. And of course, a huge thanks to überhost, Tim Stutzer, and my husband (and sherpa, cheerleader, and sounding board), Eric. I appreciate everything you all do for me!