When I asked people to describe their first Ironman race I would often get an answer that it’s hard to describe. Now, when I’m about to write about my first Ironman race I’m also having difficulties finding words to describe it.
I raced Challenge Roth this past Sunday. Roth is a very special race. Not just for me but I think for all participants. Organisation is flawless but what makes this race special are spectators. German police estimated there were 180.000 of them lined along the course on Sunday. It felt like the whole region is living for this event. Even now I get goose bumps when I think about certain points on that course. I’d go back just to be able to ride up Solarer Berg again. They say it’s the biggest Ironman distance race in the world. There’s more than 5.000 competitors (3.300 individual, the rest in relays), more than 5.000 volunteers and I already mentioned the number of spectators. At the awards ceremony Felix said their web site had more than 3 million loads during race day which is more than the number London marathon web site had.
The day didn’t start well. I got out of the water in 53 minutes, 4 minutes behind the guys I swam with lately. Maybe I was still sleeping or I was a little bit afraid to go too hard on a start of a such a long race. Good thing about Ironman is that it has plenty of kilometers to make up for the lost time.
Once out of the water I grabbed my bag, took off my wetsuit and when I was about to put it into the bag I run into a slight problem. The bag wasn’t there. I was sure I picked it up so I stood there for a couple of seconds confused. Then I figured out I must have dropped it while running to the changing tent and went back to find it somewhere among 5.000 other bags which differed only by the number printed on them. Luck was on my side and I found it quickly. Looking at my transition time I’d say I lost a little more than a minute here. What is one minute in a 8h race? We’ll see…
I passed a lot of people during the first 40k of the bike what came as confirmation that I had a really bad swim. Most of them had three digit start numbers (fast AGers) and there were only a few with two digit number (pros). From there on I haven’t passed many people but at least there were no three digit start numbers any more. The wind picked up a bit in the second loop and my legs got a bit heavy but I managed to hold my speed. I had 4.29 bike split and 5.26h on my watch leaving T2.
Once on the run the legs felt great, like I just started the race. First few kilometers were a bit fast but then I settled at around 4.10 min/km pace. It felt very easy but I kept reminding myself to be patient. I was expecting this pace to become challenging later in the race so I planned to hold it until half way point and see if I can pick up the speed in the second half. After 12k we got to the first turnaround and I could finally judge my position. Raelert and Kienle were in a different time zone, then came James and then a bunch of guys not too far ahead of me. I thought this could be my day. Since I still felt excellent I decided to lift up the pace.
I was still in 14th place around 20k mark but then I started to overtake people. Ten kilometers later I was well within TOP10. At the second turnaround, about 10k before the finish I saw I even had a chance for the podium. It was hard to hide a smile on my face. The pace got a bit slower but I still felt like I’m running faster than the guys in front of me. The hardest part of the race was between kilometers 35 and 40. I was still below 4.20 min/km but that smile transformed itself into a grimace. At the 38k mark I got passed for the first time since exiting the water. And I got passed by a girl. Just when I started to think I’ll be able to stay in front. Last two kilometers were run trough city center and the crowd once again made you forget how hard your body is hurting. At the end I finished in 6th place with 8.19.19h on the clock and with 2.52h for my first marathon. I improved Croatian IM best time by 9 minutes.
I was 3 minutes behind third place and a little more than 1 minute behind 4th. Remember that bag I mentioned earlier? Turns out there were 1900€ in that dropped bag :-).
Overall I’m very happy with my time and placement. I’d like to thank Joseph and Brett for making me a lot faster in only 6 months. This was my first Ironman but during the race I never felt like I’m in unknown territory. It felt like I did it all a dozen times in training.
The guys are lifting the game now and I know there’s still a lot of work to do to close the gap. I’m confident I can do it and this race showed I’m on the right path.