Zell am See, Austria – August 30, 2015
The 70.3 World Championship has been on my calendar since racing at Ironman 70.3 Augusta last year. I qualified with a 3rd place in my age group, and then had a slight panic attack about signing up for such a huge thing as a championship race in Austria. Brian practically had to push me up to the stage to get my spot, with me saying, “We can’t go to Austria!” But, yes, we could and would go, and somehow I got up on the stage and took the spot. I also owe a thanks to the winner of my age group, who convinced me that I had to take it, that I’d absolutely love it. Now that it’s done, I am so incredibly grateful and thankful for everyone who supported me in making that decision, training for it, and cheering for me as it took place. It was so much fun!
Note: It’s the first time that the 70.3 Worlds has been held outside of North America. (Clearwater, FL, Henderson, NV, Mt. Tremblant, Quebec, and now Zell am See, Austria.) Next year it will be in Brisbane. (“I can’t go to Brisbane!”)
This is probably be the most drawn out pre-race portion of any race report I’ve done. It involves such things at getting lost in dead-end calles in Venice while running, near-whiplash from looking at the stunning scenery everywhere, and also trying to maintain a kind-of high volume training schedule due to Ironman Chattanooga four weeks later.
Our journey started a week before the race when Brian, the girls, and I flew to Munich. I ran on the neat and pretty running trails there after an evening at the famous public drinking hall, the Hofbrauhaus (where I drank a pint, if not a liter, and ate sausages and apfelstrudel).
After obligatory pics at Marienplatz and the Glockenspiel, we hopped in our rental minivan and drove to Venice, stopping to look at amazing alpine scenery on the way. The drive took all day, and we arrived in Venice at sundown, parked our car in the huge garage where everyone parks before walking into the historic city of Venice, and then rolled our suitcases over bridges and cobblestones until we found our little apartment on a canal. (We left my bike in the car, packed in its box under the rear screen, and hoped it would be there when we returned.)
Venice is a story for another post, but the race-report highlight is an incredible hour-long run through the Fondaments, Calles and Ponts of the old city. I was supposed keep my effort at Z2, which was easy to do with all the turns and obligatory stops for pictures. I jogged along through the ornate brick buildings, narrow alleyways, open squares and cobblestone streets, just trying to keep heading the same general direction. You can’t just follow a canal because sometimes the walkway ends and the canal backs straight up to the buildings. I would turn and try a different way, and sometimes run into a dead end or back at the same place. It was a perfect way to explore Venice for the first time, and then when we walked around later I felt like I knew a little of the layout. It was one of the coolest runs I’ve ever done.
After two nights, much marveling at the history and scenery, and celebrating our 14th anniversary, we headed north into the Alps to our rented chalet high up on a hillside near Zell am See (thank you Kelly Larson!), and I began to mentally get into race mode. First up after check-in was a ride of the full course because I needed the volume for Ironman CHOO. I headed out with Paul and Molly for a ride that I couldn’t believe. We weren’t the only ones riding the course: a pack of at least twenty other people of various nationalities joined us as we cruised out of town and headed for the hills. Highway 311 heading out of Zell am See was crowded with cars and cyclists, but it seemed that the Austrian drivers knew what to do, and I never really felt unsafe even with the speedy traffic. We soon left the highway to begin our climb up the Hochkönig road. (According to Wikipedia, Hochkönig is the highest mountain in the Berchtesgaden Alps and also refers to the area of three small ski towns surrounding it.) We ascended a hill nine miles to reach the ski town of Dienten (Dienten am Hochkönig). When we crested the hill, in front of us was the mountain itself, an enormous, broad limestone peak, and in front of it, a white church and steeple sitting on a green meadow. It was stunning. How could anything be so picturesque?
Paul and Molly only had part of the ride on their schedule, so after much picture-taking and many “OMGs,” I continued on, down the switchback descent and back around the course, stopping to refuel with a Bavarian pretzel in the town of Maria Alm.
Over the next two days I swam the course and ran and we even managed a tourist day in amazing Salzburg. I was feeling prepared, aside from dealing with the time change and trying to eat healthily and drink a lot (of water). Over this last season, my pre-race nerves have stayed more under control than they have in the past. I think I know some of the reasons for this, but that’s something for another post too. One of my main goals for today was to be able to execute my race plan without errors. When I raced Worlds last time, in Lake Las Vegas, my race didn’t go all that well. My nerves were too much and my body didn’t seem to respond the way it needed to. This time I was feeling better prepared and less nervous.
My race started at 11:46 AM, so the morning felt relaxed. I woke up around 8 AM, had toast, peanut butter, coffee and a lot of water. The day was already hot! The forecast was for 32C/89F. I reminded myself that it had been hot back home and I do have some heat training in me. Hope it works! Mat drove Molly, Jeremy and I into the transition area and dropped us off. I checked my bike over, put on some sunscreen and then lounged in the shade by myself to go over my race plan one more time.
The swim course, in the cold and clear Lake Zell, was a narrow rectangle shape. For the swim, I was supposed to be a little more conservative today, so I decided that it would help to start to the side, rather than front and center. When I did Las Vegas Worlds, the swimmers in the front and center were so incredibly aggressive that I expended a lot of energy at the start to try to get into a rhythm and break away. There was another woman starting beside me who said “I’m over here too because I’m staying away from that,” pointing to the center of the lineup. Staying away from that worked today. I sailed off the start line nice and smoothly and not too fast. Nobody was in my way as I angled toward the first buoy, keeping my strokes smooth and regular. I found some feet to draft here and there, and was so glad I’d swum the course the day before – it all felt familiar. The sun was in my eyes on the way back, but the buoys were placed every fifty feet, so it wasn’t a problem to see them.
Swim time: 27:27
Division place: 4
Swim over, I jogged and jogged and jogged to the bike bags, grabbed mine from its hook, and dumped everything out by a bench, sat down and threw on my shoes and helmet, and then jogged and jogged and jogged to my bike. Whew, long transition.
I was also supposed to be conservative on the bike. I had the opportunity to start the bike right behind Rocky at Victoria and observe how he started so smoothly. I’m of course temped to just take off as fast as possible, even though I’ve been told not to, and it has taken me a long time to learn how to make myself not do this. So I started as gently (a relative term!) as possible. We started on a paved bike path before hitting the highway, and it was a bit crowded, but not bad. I looked down to grab my first gel and realize that it’s not there! I still have some in my zip-bag on the top tube, but the ones in the front cup are gone. Not taking the time to speculate what had happened to them, I counted in my head what I’d put in the bag and I probably still had enough. Soon after that, something else distracted me. I noticed that everyone had their number bib on. Everyone! To back up: This morning, I’d heard you’d be disqualified if you don’t have your bib on the bike. Mine was tucked away in my run bag and checked into run transition, but I’d asked an official if I should try to get it before the start. He told me it’s recommended, but OK if you don’t. So I didn’t. And now everyone else has theirs. What if he was wrong and I really do get DQ’ed? Would they yank me off the course at the run start or let me finish it anyway?? I stewed over that while I pedaled along and finally realized it had been thirty minutes since I’ve eaten or had any water. Ugh, what’s wrong with me? I need to focus! I got back on the food schedule and slowly stopped worrying about the bike bib thing. I rode down the highway – now closed to traffic – into a tunnel, then exited the highway, down a hill, over a bridge and then The Climb was in front of me.
I climbed the first part of the Hochkönig without pressuring my pedals too much. Slow, slow slow, smooth smooth. Gotta get through a hot run. I was so glad I’d biked the course before, it felt familiar and I was ready (kind of) for that descent. Then after the alpine town of Dienten, I dumped my full lower water bottle to get rid of some weight and began to climb the last two steep kilometers. I stood up a few times to change up the muscle work and got myself to the top while trying not to get my HR above its cap. Then, the summit and tons of people cheering: Super Super Robin, Huppa! Brava! I felt like I was in the Tour de France! The descent came quickly: it got steep and steeper, like going over a bowling ball, and then began to wind to the left then right, back and forth. I wish I’d had a little more practice, but I did the best I could with a new bike and wheels and a hill I’d descended only one time before. They’d installed huge padded crash walls on the bike course to prevent you, if you lost control, from going over the side and down to the next part of the road. Scary! I would have needed a few more times on the hill to really open it up, but I tried not to ride my brakes too much and enjoyed it as much as possible. The view was as incredible as during the pre-ride, and so glad I’d gotten to take pics then.
My arms felt shaky from descending but I leaned on my aero bars and relaxed as the road finally straightened out and I could let it fly. Whooshed past the adorable town of Maria Alm where I’d had the pretzel, and back down to the valley. I knew the rest of the ride would be flat and fast – and hot. It was now approaching 3 PM and the sun was really beating down on us. I drank and drank, ate salt and the rest of my Gu’s. So far so good. I cruised into transition wrapping my head about the hot run to come.
Bike time: 2:52:28
Bike pace: 19.5 MPH
Division place: 13
T-2 is always quick. I dropped the bike on the rack, stopped in the porta-potty – exactly 15 seconds!! – grabbed my run bag and dumped it by a bench. Shoes off, shoes on, finally have my bib! and I take off running, but not too fast.
Uh oh, tummy. Sloshing and feeling a little nauseous. Okay, this has happened before, especially Augusta. It will go away. I keep running, keeping my HR in the 150s, steady and smooth. I pass Brian and the girls – awesome! Norah squirts me with a water bottle and it feels good and cold! Then we head into the town of Zell am See. Spectators are unbelievable, lining the streets three and four deep, yelling for us and calling us by name. Super, super Robin! Huppa! Brava! The course is crowded with runners, too. I head through the cobblestones and cute buildings. Now I come to a three-way chute. Ooh, quick, which way do I go? Not to the finish, not the middle, but to the far right. First loop. A volunteer slaps a green wrist band on me and I take off to the north on the paved lake trail. I drink water and take salt at each of the aid stations. I cruise along, the blue lake and mountains to my right. I’m supposed to cap my HR at 160 but I can’t get above 155. That’s weird! I’m working so hard. And it’s hot! Why am I not fighting to stay away from 170? (Later Ben informs me that this is the result of the Ironman training – ah, that makes sense!) I grab handfuls of ice and throw it down my top and shorts but then I realize that I just put wayyy to much ice in my pants. BRRRR! Too cold. But other than that, I’m feeling good, which is a relative term because I’m hot and starting to fatigue and still have nine miles to go. But I don’t feel sick and not cramping and all these spectators! And I’m in Europe on a beautiful lake, and there’s Jeremy, and Todd, and Alycia zooming by.
Second loop, get a red wristband, and I know I’ll be able to maintain. I see Heidi on the out-and-back, and we wave, but too far away for high-fives. I look for Brian and the girls but they must have missed me. There’s Annie – Jeremy’s mom – and then Mat and the Larsons cheering. Love it! That gives me another boost as I run through the cobblestone streets of town to the second loop along the lake.
I keep eating and drinking and round the turnaround at the top part of the loop and it’s only three miles back to town. I’m going to make it! My calf begins to cramp with a mile to go. What?? I am not usually prone to cramps; this feels really strange. I don’t even know if it’s a cramp or something else, but I seem to be able to keep running. I keep going with a slight limp and finally run through the finish chute, so happy to complete another race, especially this amazing one in Zell am See!
Run time: 1:47:37
Run pace: 8:13
Total time: 5:17:57
Division place: 19
Pre-race dinner: pasta and salad
Breakfast: toast, peanut butter, coffee
Bike nutrition: 6 gels, banana, 5ish bottles of water (maybe 4.5), salt every 5-10 miles
Run nutrition: 5 gels (!), water every stop, one cup of coke, salt 4 times
Because of the IM training, most likely, this was the easiest race recovery I’ve had so far, with no soreness, just some tightness in my quads. The girls and I caught a plane home the next morning, and spent the rest of the week trying to recover from jet lag and sleep through the night. I’m the least tired I’ve been after a half-ironman distance race, which is good because it’s back to training and 3 weeks to CHOO!
Huge thanks to Brian and the girls for coming all the way to Austria, as well as putting up with all of my training time at home and my neglect of some of my regular mom-duties. 🙂
Enormous thanks to Ben. His coaching has allowed me to sail through all of this training, reaching volume and pace goals that I was anxious about a year ago, as well as manage an Ironman buildup, travel, and a 70.3 just a few weeks before Ironman.
Much appreciation to Sam and Quintana Roo. When I unpacked my bike in Austria, I discovered I was missing a tiny but very important piece of my bike seat post assembly. They found one for me just in time.
And last but definitely not least, thanks to my running and biking buddies – couldn’t have done all this without you awesome ladies!!