Freo legends, following on from our previous travelling Irishman’s race review in Dublin I thought I would take some time to review my own travelling Irishman’s story of an overseas race.
Having only started into triathlon in November 2015 (my first tri being the 70.3 at Mandurah) I stuck with local races in 2016 before thinking further afield to gain both more experience and to use racing as a means of having some “holidays” with a purpose.
My goal for 2017 was to attempt to break the 4hr 30min mark, and Busso was the place to do it. Unfortunately I fell a little short at 4hr 41min, but felt that I have it in me with a little more focus and some help in structuring my training. The other goals for 2017 were to explore what’s on offer at other race venues and to mix some travel with racing so I didn’t become Busso oriented.
In trying to achieve the above, 2017 has been the year of the travelling triathlon with racing in Geelong (70.3 in Feb) and then Cairns (70.3 in June) mixed with Busso in between and a couple of standard distance races at local venues. As with all triathletes, the euphoria of a week post-race quickly fades, and one’s body and mind years for a new goal – for me after Cairns this meant searching for something to fill the void around a holiday back to Europe to see my family.
Initially my wife, daughter and I had hoped to go back to Ireland for some family time then hire a camper van to follow the Tour de France for a couple of weeks, unfortunately with work commitments we had to postpone for a month and so the dream of the tour was gone! 🙁
In its place, searching of the Challenge and Ironman websites began and the most obvious choice was to have a go in Dublin at the 70.3.
Don’t get me wrong I love Dublin, but the prospect of trip home is always filled with the trepidation of awful weather and having to then train and race in this weather wasn’t leaving me feeling warm and fuzzy (pardon the pun). The net therefore got cast a bit further, and fortunately for us my wife’s dad has an apartment in Switzerland, so after a few quick emails to the agent we were informed it was available for us for a week in late August so the search options began to narrow – long story short, the Zell am See 70.3 popped up and the stars had aligned to let me go and partake in a race that I have often described as my bucket list event if I had to travel for a race in the world.
I won’t bore you too much with my (lack of) race prep, but due to short times available I didn’t get much training in during my Irish trip home, and then I tried to cram a heap into the week before the event including a 2,300m summit in Switzerland and a couple of hill walks which left me feeling pretty lead legged. (You can read this section as my excuses paragraph 🙂 ) – photos below from top of the Fluela Pass (outside of Davos) and some of the Klosters valley.
To the race review (probably the only useful section for those who might go in the future!)
Due to short time availability we only arrived in Zell am See at 3pm on the Saturday (race on the Sunday) so it was a mad panic to unload the car, get checked in and get the bike / transition area set up.
The venue setup was really slick with all event admin in the Ferry Porsche Congress Centre which is like a Perth Convention Centre type place. The check in area was near the expo (shops) and adjacent to the finish line of the race. It’s very central in the town and easily walkable from any accommodation within the Zell town site – for us it was around 500m. The registration process was very simple with a waiver form being provided before you arrive at the event (simple things count) and all check in being managed via a bar code on your mobile so there is no confusing number look ups for the check in staff. With that done, we then got issued with a nice little messenger bag as the athlete “gift” and got the usual bib number, stickers and swim cap for the event. The event staff spoke excellent English and even accepted my TA membership as a suitable alternative to a local one day race license
(Casino/hotel just down from sign in and turn point of the swim).
Bike check in was equally fuss free, the only abnormality which some might be familiar with is the “clean” transition area policy. The only thing allowed at your bike race is the bike itself, all helmets, running gear and paraphernalia are stored in bags on either side of a transition tent.
Transition operated with athletes grabbing a bike bag off the rack on existing the swim (mine had helmet, shoes and race belt in it) and having a quick change in the tent – all transition action had to happen in the tent to minimize issues in the bike rack area. Once you were in bike gear, the wetsuit cap and goggles get bagged up and as you exit the tent the bag gets launched into a pile where the team sort it out for later in the day. Similarly on completion of the bike, once the bike is racked you run towards the tent, collect the run bag en-route, get changed and put all bike gear into the bag and launch it as you exit – simples!
The variety and quality of the bikes in the transition area was both huge and of a high standard, I would say it was almost a 50:50 split between road bikes with aero clip ons and tri bikes. There were also a few opting for a disc wheel on the hilly bike course. My own bike is fairly unique in Australia but as pure comedy value would have it the bike immediately next to my own was exactly the same. I did have a joke with the guy to make sure we took the right ones. There were also quite a few Simplon tri bikes on display which I’ve only seen maybe 1 or 2 of in Aus.
With all the above rehearsed, it was off for a quick pizza, glass of champagne and then back to the apartment for a rest – perfect athlete prep! We scored with accommodation, see below photos of
Race day was a little different to Aussie events, I had a sleep in until 7:30am, casually ate brekkie, had a coffee then grabbed my kit and left the apartment at 9am. By the time we had arrived at the start area (approx. 2km walk from the apartment and maybe 1km south of the finish area) it was starting to get warm. By the time I got into my wetsuit at 10:45am I was looking for shade to avoid being par-boiled.
The start area was massively congested – with a rolling start planned they had “pens” nominated for various swim times – <30min, 30-35min, 35-40min and >40min. The >40min section was at the entry to the start area and access was via a single door so it was pretty confusing how to get into the pen you wanted to be in. After nearly getting run over by the driver of the street gear bag van (who was trying to exit an area with 2,500 wet-suited athletes crammed into it, I finally figured out how to get through and parked in the 35-40min area with a few others – in hindsight this information was available in the athlete info guide, but some more signage and some extra people yelling info on the day might have helped.
At 11am the cannon went and the pro’s kicked off, age groups entered at 11:10am and by 11:30am I was in the water. The swim is in the See (Lake) adjacent to the town and it is absolutely crystal clear. I can also attest to its palatability after drinking several litres through the 1.9km (or in my case 2km). The wave start meant for a pretty good swim with not too much overcrowding and most people being honest in their own ability assessment (i.e. not much being swam over by people plowing through from slower start groups). As noted before I had low expectations from the swim, but although my slowest ever swim leg I still got out feeling pretty OK and made the dash for the transition.
Transition wasn’t as crammed as expected, and all athletes were courteous in the tent and had left enough room for others to do what they had to.
Bike un-racked (making sure it was mine), and then a long run around the running track which surrounded the transition area – other Ironman events need to take some note here as there was a luscious red carpet all the way from the grassed bike exit to the mount line meaning nobody slipping over or cutting up feet depending on your preference for shod or not. Cairns was the worst I’ve ever seen at for this with rocky cobbles for a good 500m in transition.
Onto the bike course!!
The first 20km is incredibly fast, it’s mostly downhill (starting around 750m above sea level) with one section being on a small Nordic ski run track (maybe 4-5 bikes wide) and the remainder on super smooth euro tarmac that zips you along. I think I had the first 20km done in under 30mins and not really burning too much power in achieving that. The rider etiquette was not as smooth as the road surfaces, a lot of athletes couldn’t grasp the keep right and pass left theory and instead insisted on riding about 6 abreast so you had to pass in the wrong lane (road was fully closed so not an issue of safety), this caused massive dramas along the way, especially for people like myself who are conscious of drafting. This section passes through some spectacular scenery as you wind down the valley to the start of the Hochkonig climb start. It’s one of the few (Cairns being the only other) bike races I have spent time looking at anything other than the road.
The next 14km is uphill (from 670m up to just over 1250m), mostly on more gentle slopes of around 4-5% with the odd section around 8% which leads to huge variances in bike speed and again the usual clutter of bikes across multiple lanes. Guys on road-bikes were certainly taking advantage of their equipment up through here and the odd casualty was passed trying to pull a big disc wheel up the incline. The first section of the climb passes through Dienten am Hochkonig where its an absolute carnival atmosphere!! The streets were totally lined, people where roaring (ooopa, ooopa, oopa = go, go, go!) all the way through, music was on, people were all dressed up, beer was being swilled in steins, the full monty. It was great to experience the locals being absorbed by the event while their roads were closed for the full day on either side of their little hill top village.
On exiting the village you are faced with a big M-dot sign saying “2km – DNF is not an option” which provides a guideline for what’s coming next – the next 2km averages about 14% – it never dropped below 12% at all, it was absolutely brutal. I consider myself a good climber but with fatigue already in the legs, a fairly spirited first 12km of the climb under my belt and increasing heat it was a tough slog in the 39-28 gear to the top – a lot of people were walking so I didn’t feel too bad panting and putting the HRM into the red for a few minutes.
On arriving at the top, the heart rate stays up for the next few km’s as you have to lose all that altitude in the next 14km – some of the corners are pretty sketchy, and not having any experience on big descents, other than a decent a few days earlier in Switzerland (coming down any hill in Perth doesn’t count!!). My brakes were squealing like champions at the switchbacks and I had visions of a burst tyre and skittling into oblivion, thankfully my wheels and nerves held and the descent went uneventfully – there were more than one who didn’t get so lucky (and speaking to some people who did it last year it was pretty chaotic in the wet).
The rest of the bike course was undulating but mostly flat, spectacular countryside and lots of cheering through the villages, but I couldn’t generate my usual rhythm and started to get pretty bad cramps / spasms in the upper sections of the quads so I was a bit panicy about getting off for a run – the last 10kms were not really much fun and I hopped off at the dismount concerned…..also reviewing times during the latter stages I knew anything sub 5hrs was gone.
A good lesson learned on early pacing and additional hydration for the heat.
BIKE: 2hr 38min
Heading out onto the run, I generally know if it’s a good or bad day within the first 2km and generally find a good pace, cadence and heart rate if feeling good. Today wasn’t meant to be……5.10min/km, 165bpm and mental challenges filled the first loop of the course. The survival strategy was based around getting to each aid station and having a walk – lucky these were every 2.5km
The second lap the family came out to cheer me on, and the tail end of the first lap you run through Zell am See town which is chockablock with people and it gives you a big mental rush to push through and give everyone a wave, high 5 or whatever.
For the first time in my triathlon career I was passed by a pretty elite looking female athlete who had refused to stop at a bathroom and did a running number 2…….wasn’t a pretty sight!
The second lap ended up being pretty cruisy, with any good time gone I took an opportunity to just run comfortably and enjoy the lake, the atmosphere and the fact that as a total amateur I’m fortunate enough to get to compete in such stunning surroundings. These things, along with the fact my whole family support my time and effort to get to the start lines for racing make the pain all the more bearable.
It also cooled down significantly in the last 5km and a huge thunderstorm started to roll down the valley – every little helps!
Finally the finish chute arrived, que cheer leaders, more big atmosphere and helpful staff at the finish line who, instead of harassing your ankle for your timing chip when you can barely stand, unfold a nice foil heat blanket and put a medal round your neck and give you a cheer. Next there was an array of drink stations available, I chose the Stiegel beer counter and had a pint as a small personal reward.
RUN: 1hr 50min
A finally cherry on the topping of an excellently managed event was that the congress centre, where you register, was transformed into a massive buffet hall stocked with everything from salty bread pretzels to pastas, pizza slices, more beer etc.!! Another lesson to be learned for events round the world.
TOTAL RACE: 5hrs 16min
Calories expended: LOTS
View of Zell am See from Kitzsteinhorn – 3000m (lake in middle of the photo just below clouds)