This is my first ever blog.
It’s called “Bleeding Ironman” because I’m an Ironman, with severe Haemophilia A – a bleeding disorder. I will write about this more in the future. As far as I am aware, I am the first person in the world with my condition ever to complete an Ironman. I only know of one other Haemophiliac who has completed an Iron distance race since – a German called Marcus. More about him another day…
Now to Frankfurt. This was my third Ironman. My first was Zurich in 2014 which I finished in 11:44. I completed Ironman Copenhagen in 2015 in a time of 10:46 and having had 2016 off from a full Ironman (I completed two 70.3s) this was my hat-trick race.
I travelled to Frankfurt on the Wednesday from Manchester arriving early afternoon. My bike had already gone, along with my transition bag, courtesy of Ship My Tri bike. I’ve used them every race and for less than you’d pay to hire a box and to fly it to the race, they take your bike to the venue and back. No hassle and great people. I’d highly recommend them.
My wife Clare and I arrived in Frankfurt and met Rhea, our friend who was also competing. This was her first full Ironman. A straightforward trip to our 3 bedroom apartment in Frankfurt via 2 trains and we were ready for a short run to loosen the legs. Rhea had flown from Heathrow and me from Manchester. No success for either of us playing “Spot the triathlete” on the way out. We decided to run down to the river and scout out the run course. The game continued and the first triathlete we spotted was Lucy Charles. Fortunately she was running the other way. A few short efforts from me and then we ran back to the apartment before heading out for dinner.
Thursday’s plan was to register and pick up the bikes. Ship My Tri bike were set up at the expo from 2pm so after a lazy morning, we headed down to registration. The inevitable trip to the expo took place before registration and lunch. We then headed back to the apartment and out for a very easy 30 min spin on the bikes. Rhea’s parents arrived Thursday evening and were staying in the final bedroom. Unfortunately they had brought the British weather with them and it started pouring – thunder and lightening – which made for an interesting trip to the station to collect them. I’d been checking the weather from about 2 weeks out and it changed every day before the race – sometimes the forecast was different morning and evening. I was a bit nervous about a non-wetsuit swim as swimming is certainly not my forte.
Friday was a rest day and so after another lazy morning, we headed into town for lunch. We met some friends Katy and Simon. We met them both at Ironman Copenhagen on the flight out and we seem to keep bumping into them at races! Coincidentally Katy was also racing in Frankfurt and she was with her friend Debs. We headed to the race briefing which unusually was held in the stands at the finish line. After 35 minutes we were done and out of the heat.
We then headed to meet Wendy and David who had come out to spectate. Wendy is the reason I got into triathlon and I completed Ironman Zurich with her. After a catch up with them we headed back to the apartment to try and get a good nights sleep before race day eve.
I slept well and after breakfast went out for a very quick bike and run. (20 mins bike/10 min run at race pace) Bike and run bags packed, Rhea and I headed off to the city centre to catch the race buses down to the swim start. After a bit of queuing, and watching the German Police ruthlessly remove all the cars that had parked in the bus loading area, we were on our way down to the lake.
Rhea and I were first on the bendy bus and like typical school children, went straight to the back, where we had plenty of room to sit once we had racked our bikes on the hand rails!
Racking of bikes was very straightforward with no queues, unlike the hours I spent standing and waiting in Zurich 3 years earlier. We had a look at the lake which was in the high 23s, so very close to the 24.5 degree wetsuit cut off. Fingers crossed for Sunday.
After lunch in town, we headed to the supermarket to get food for dinner. I don’t like taking chances and eating out the night before a big race. It also means you can get an early night. Gnocchi and chicken with some veggies and then it was time to head to bed around 8pm.
Probably the worst nights sleep before an Ironman – it took me ages to get off – then the alarm went off at 3:30am. I was straight out of bed and put my race kit on along with my timing chip. Porridge and apple juice and then it was time to head off. I like to be very focused on race day, so on went my headphones and my race day playlist. We caught the early tram into town with all the late night revellers still heading home. The buses to the start had hardly any queue and we were at the start around 5:10am – just over an hour before transition closed. After attending to my bike – tyres, gas cylinders, drinks and food, it was time to head to the transition tent. The announcement had been made that it would be a wetsuit swim for the age-groupers – 24.1 degrees was the official temperature. There were a few nervous moments for me as the announcement was originally made in German and met with a mixed response, giving no indication to the English speakers what the decision had been. GCSE German didn’t help me one bit.
I headed towards the swim start with Rhea and we bumped into Katy who seemed relaxed and ready to race. Time for some quick photos before then heading to the start. I said my goodbyes to everyone and stood with Rhea for a few moments. The rolling start pens were filling up quickly so I said goodbye to Rhea and headed into my start pen. I had decided to go in the 1hr-1hr 10min pen. I was aiming for a 1:08-1:10 swim.
As I got closer to the water I could see Clare along with Rhea’s parents. Rhea’s Mum & Dad had a banner with them which made them easy to spot! Before I knew it, I was in the water and racing. I’d experienced rolling starts before so this was nothing new.
I got into a rhythm quite quickly and the far start buoy seemed to arrive quite quickly. We turned around for the return leg and the sun was low in the sky giving me very little view at all of where we were going. I ended up following the crowd which was not ideal. I had touched almost all the buoys on the way out meaning my sighting and line had been good. My watch had also got bashed once or twice so I had a feeling it may have been stopped. If I’m honest, I was bored on the swim on the way back. Maybe a strange thing to say, but I had no idea how long we had until the Australian exit and how quickly it was coming up. Being able to sight and see the buoys means you can have small mental targets. I reached the Australian exit and glanced down at my watch which confirmed what I had feared. My Garmin had stopped. I had no idea how long the 1.5km had taken. I started the watch again and quickly got back into the water.
The remaining 2.3km was equally difficult to navigate and I spent some time swimming into one of the canoes helping to direct us on the right course. My watch got bashed again – damn! I felt okay generally and was keeping up with all those around me. I felt like I’d gone off at the right time, maybe a bit earlier would have helped as I never really managed to get onto any feet and do much drafting which I usually manage.
A good 20m from the end of the swim start, people were standing up and running out. I stood up and made my way to the exit, quickly stripping my wetsuit down to my waist. We ran up the sandy beach and at the top there were some small paddling pools to run through and clean our feet. I got my bag and was in and out of transition quickly having put some sun cream on my neck – forecast was for 31 degrees.
I made it out onto the bike and saw Clare and Rhea’s parents a few hundred metres down the road. Feet into shoes and I started my usual overtaking, my bike being far better than my swim. The first part of the route was 11.5km into town before two 84km loops. A slight downhill and a nice tail wind meant sitting at 40kph was very easy. The course was busy but the roads were quite wide so passing was not an issue.
The first loop out of town went across several tram lines. Fortunately they went across the course rather than along. It still meant a few bumps however and after 15km I looked down at my elbow rest on my bike to see it had snapped and was now resting on the bars.
I had problems with one of the screws shearing in half during a training ride a fortnight before. I’d managed to repair it and get a new screw in and had no problems since. This was definitely not how I wanted to start the bike ride and it played on my mind for a while. It didn’t affect my position much whilst in the aero position and the pad itself was not loose. I pushed on and after a while forgot about it. I thought about stopping at the bike service station after about 50km but decided to leave it and keep going. My average pace was good and I felt comfortable.
After about 70km I went past Katy on the bike. She’s a great swimmer so I knew I’d be playing catch up with her. A quick few words of encouragement and I pushed on. About 20 minutes from the end of the first lap, you reach the top of a peak and you can see the Frankfurt skyline ahead of you. Aside from one climb, it’s fast and downhill into town. My back actually started to ache a bit just before getting into town because I was spending so long in the aero poison without having to change. I stretched it out as we got into town and the route got a little twisty. I saw Wendy and David although they didn’t see me. I turned left to head out for my second lap and Clare and Rhea’s parents were up on the left cheering. Easy to spot as Clare had a Yorkshire flag with her!
After 3 hours I’d managed 104km so I knew I was averaging nearly 35kph. I was very pleased with that, but knew I still had a good couple of hours to go. Time to stay focused. Half way through the second lap and we hit the cobbled section again. As I was climbing another triathlete went past me wearing Sheffield Tri Kit. I said hello to her and we had a quick chat. We kept passing each other for the rest of the bike and continued with the chats and encouragement. Another Brit called Jon also kept passing and we shared a few jokes with each other too. It really helped with the mental focus towards the end of the bike.
Before leaving the bike course, I should add that the race referees were VERY hot on drafting during the race. I had at least 8 referee bikes riding alongside me during the race and enforcing the rules. Fortunately I was either overtaking or in a good place (not drafting!) whenever the bikes pulled up. I saw one cyclist just ahead of me get a blue card (5 minute penalty) and Rhea bumped into a race referee on the Monday after the race who said 300 people received penalties. As 3,000 people were racing, that’s 10% of the field! I know Ironman get some negative comments sometimes about not enforcing the drafting rules so credit where it’s due.
As I came into town, I got my feet out of my shoes, before turning right and down the slight hill to the dismount line. A smooth dismount and I handed off my bike to a helper (who were all fantastic – thank you!) and off into T2. I was off the bike in 5hrs 12 mins. Exactly what I’d hoped for.
I knew where my bag was – it was directly in line with the last tree on the left. I ran straight to it and already had my helmet and glasses off. Into the change tent and I sat down briefly whilst changing by two helpers both handing out sun cream. I took some and whilst I was putting my trainers on, one of the helpers applied some cream to my neck – thank you very much!
Out onto the run course as I carried my visor, fresh glasses and sweatband. I put these on as I was running and immediately looked down at my watch to check my pace. 4:30km – a little fast. I was aiming for a 3:30 marathon which meant 5 min/km. My energy levels were good and I saw Clare and Rhea’s parents again a few hundred metres in. I felt comfortable and the first lap is always a voyage of discovery – finding out the exact route and where all the feed-stations were. I didn’t feel too hot, despite the weather being 31 degrees. The weather had been hot in Yorkshire the weeks before so I felt well adapted to the heat. Lap 1 passed quickly. I’d got my first lap band and I felt I was running well. Just after I got my lap band, Sebastian Kienle came past me with the camera bike and all four bands on his arm! He was clearly winning and running well. It was a nice distraction for 5 minutes as I heard him approaching and watched as he glided by.
The second lap passed in a similar vein. I had 3 energy gels of my own which I’d started to take along with water and some energy drinks. Towards the end of the second lap however, my legs started to feel very heavy. As I went out onto the third lap Clare shouted that my predicted finish time was 10 hours 28. Eh? I thought. I’m running 3:30 pace and I’ve got a rough idea of my swim time and I know my bike time. Where had I lost 28 minutes? (Conversations later revealed Clare had meant 10 hrs and 28 seconds! Not very helpful.) Anyway, it didn’t affect me. I kept doing what I was doing, however that was becoming increasingly hard.
My energy levels were starting to drop and I had to walk some aid stations. This was adding 30 seconds + per Km. I kept pushing but just couldn’t run the pace I wanted. I think I walked twice during the last 2 laps, just for 30 seconds or so. I got some encouraging cheers which was nice – your name and country flag is on your race number which is great.
By the start of the final lap, my hip-flexors were screaming. I knew I was entering that really sore phase of the race. Equally I knew I was going to finish (that was never in doubt for me) and it was time to just do what I could. The south side of the course has the longest straight on it. At the end of that part is the lap band area, around 2km from the end. I’d made the decision to push as hard as I could from that point. That’s exactly what I did and you can see from the picture above, the last two kilometres were much better.
I got to the end of the fourth lap and it was time to turn right down the finish chute. The finish line is quite long and it was full of people. Lots of people holding out their hands for high-5s which I took full advantage of. Usually I would sprint to the finish line to get the best time I could. I knew I hadn’t gone under 10 hours so I soaked up the finish line which had been hard earned as always. I crossed the line, hearing myself being called over as an Ironman for the 3rd time. I knew I’d improved on Copenhagen – by how much I had no idea. I started to think about the 10:28 that Clare had mentioned before.
I got my medal and moved along to the barriers where Clare was waiting on the other side. A big hug and a chat and I headed off to the finishers garden.
I eventually found out my time – 10:18. A 28 minute improvement. A 3:47 marathon. Only 5 minutes faster than previously.
Yes – it’s always an achievement to finish an Ironman and a big PB.
Can I do better – absolutely!
(Me, Wendy and Rhea at the finish line)