Ironman Austria 2015 – The Whole Story!

Wow, what a trip – one of things I like about racing triathlon is that it brings with it the opportunity to travel to different places in the world, some that you may have always wanted to visit and others that you may never have thought of!  My race calendar this year has changed a number of times for various reasons and ended up with race #1 of 2015 being Ironman Austria.  This adventure came about after Challenge North America cancelled the pro race at Challenge Atlantic City about a month and a half ago.  I’m going to tell the whole story of getting my mom, my bike, and myself to Klagenfurt and then getting myself to starting line and the finish line of this race.

Last Thursday we (my mom and I) headed to Toronto Airport to begin our trip.  Our final flight destination was Venice, Italy and we had a short 40 minute stop-over scheduled in Vienna.  From Venice our plan was to drive to Klagenfurt, Austria, where the Ironman was going to take place.  We got to the airport almost 3 hours early, thinking we would have more than enough time to get ourselves checked in, through security and to the gate and we would not have to stress about time.  When we got to the airport and found the Air Canada check-in area, we put our passports into the self-check-in machines and our reservation was not found.  Okay, well, we had a piece of paper with us that told us our AC flight number and the time and date, so after making sure we had that right we went to see an agent.  We then found out it was actually Austrian Airlines that we were going to fly with and learned of the new flight number.  So away we went to the Austrian check-in area.  The check-in line was pretty short so we were happy to see that.  We got to the agent at the desk pretty quickly and she takes our luggage minus the bike, tags it, sends it away, and then begins to look into checking in the bike.  There looked to be some confusion and she said “I cannot check in your bike, you have to call your travel agent and pre-book it, or you can go over there to the ticketing area and she can do it for you, and then come back.”  Okay.  So.  We head to the lady at ticketing.  She says she can book the bike to Vienna but not Venice and as a result we cannot take the bike at all.   I speak with her a minute and then someone else comes over and tells me to call our travel agent – which we don’t have because we booked it directly with Air Canada.  I call Air Canada and explain the situation and they laugh and say they have no idea, it’s Austrian Airlines we are dealing with and they can’t do anything about it.  I ask the lady at the airport if she can speak with the person on the line w/ Air Canada and explain what they need and she says “No, we are not permitted to speak with them.”   Eventually I find someone else to speak with.  He puts in a call to someone else at Austrian and asked for special permission to put the bike on the plan from Vienna to Venice.  He says “wait 20 minutes and then come back” and he would let us know then, he said he’d asked for special permission and that there were no guarantee’s.  You can imagine how much time has gone by at this point.  Here we are, my mom and I, in Pearson Airport with this bike box, wondering if we are going to get on a plane at all, or if our luggage was going without us and we were staying in Toronto with this bike.  I think my heart rate was running in zone 4 throughout this ordeal.  The good news is, after 20 minutes I went back to this “guy” and he said okay, you can take the bike, now go back to the agent and check it in.  We go to her.  She says “go to ticketing, she has to do it there so you can pay.”  It’s about 6 minutes before our check-in deadline at this point.  There’s a line-up.  Everyone let us go ahead of them and we got the thing checked in and then ran with it to the oversized baggage area and they took it.  We have to then get ourselves through security, now it’s boarding time for the airplane.  They let us skip the line through security.  We get through and we run to the gate… to be told we have no seat, the plane was overbooked and is now full.  We DID get assigned a seat eventually though, thank goodness!  We got on that plane, we got to Vienna, we RAN through Vienna airport to try and catch our connection, assuming we were not going to since it was already 5 mins past when it was supposed to be leaving when we got out of the first plane, but we made it!!! Big sigh of relief.  We were going to get to Venice after all!!  That flight was short and sweet.  We got off and headed to the area to pick up our luggage.  We get our bags.  We go to oversized luggage area and some bikes come off.  Not mine though!  Oh the adventure continues.  We see the lost and found people and fill in some forms and the guy says not to worry, they would have a courier drive it to Austria to where we were staying and it would arrive in the morning.  Okay, that’s fine, they knew where it was and it was going to get to us the next day.  Off we go to get our rental car and we drive to Klagenfurt.  The next morning we do a few necessary things related to the race and there’s no word from the airport.  I go to the pro meeting, then call the airport.  They have my bike there.  They’re not couriering it after all.  They said they could send it on a plane to Vienna that night, have it then go on another plane to Klagenfurt and then come to our hotel by courier the next day.  By then it would be Saturday morning.  My confidence in that bike betting to Vienna, making a connection to Klagenfurt and then getting to me was not high.  I lost my cool at that point and told that guy he better find a way to get that bike to me today or he could keep it.  The words that I actually used were slightly different than that.  I guess that’s what you have to do, because in the end they did end up couriering it to me that day and it arrived at about 8:30pm on Friday.  *Phew*!

Saturday was bike check-in day.  I had built the bike on Friday night and took it for a short spin on Saturday morning to make sure all was good and it was ready to go.  These legs hadn’t ridden for a number of days, but hey, that extra rest could be a good thing right?  I drop the bike and my transition bags in transition and we head back to where we were staying (which was a really nice apartment in Portschach at a placed called Haus Pickert – I would recommend this place to anyone racing IM Austria).  All is good, I always feel a little bit more relaxed when things are dropped and I can’t do anything else with it but show up and race the next day!  We went about our day, fell asleep pretty early and woke up at 3:15am for breakfast.  All good.  We got in the car and headed to the race.  We got there and my bike shoes are not there.  “Oh man, this race is not meant to be”.  I took a deep breath and I found someone to talk to about this.  Somehow I found a guy who had a bike shop at the expo.  He loaded me into his car and we drove to the expo, found my size of shoes, he put some cleats on them and we drove back to transition.  *Phew*.  I quickly got things set up properly, found my mom and we walked the mile or so to the swim start.  At that point I realized that everything was going to work out, I really was going to do this race.  I’ve never started a race with so many less than ideal things happening in the days before, but hey, “let’s just go for it and enjoy it and see what happens”.

I get the warm up in, and get on the dock to start.  Pro athletes at this race have to dive off a dock to start.  I think that has something to do with the race being broadcast live on an Austrian sports station.  I laugh to myself that everyone watching that sports station is going to see me do a belly flop and my goggles fly off.  Hahaha.  I didn’t care, I just laughed to myself about that.  The gun went off and all was fine.  The swim was nice, it was nice clear waters and calm.  The swim is usually my weakest link but has improved a lot in the past year working with QT2.  I was able to stay with the pack for the first 500m or so and then settled in with a couple of other girls.  The course was a little bit difficult to navigate because of the sun rising but we did it and it was all good.  Through T1 we go and onto our bikes.  Into my new bike shoes.  I laughed to myself a bit about the whole thing and start pedalling.  My mom and I had driven the bike course the day before to take a look at it.  It was really nice!  Lots of hills and curving roads, through lots of nice towns.  It was a two loop course.  I didn’t feel great on that first loop – physically and mentally.  I decided eventually to just ride my bike and look around and enjoy the fact that I was riding through Austria and not be stressed by the data and the details.  That was a good call.  The second loop went better after I decided to do that.  My bike time was significantly slower than I would have liked and lower power than it should have been, but I had been struggling with some health/hormone stuff for the few weeks before the race so I just went with it and did what I could on the day.   T2 was quick and smooth and out onto the run course.  As many of you know, I had a hip injury for about five months this past fall/winter, a nagging thing that just wouldn’t go away.  I finally got that sorted out in March and started running at the beginning of April.  As a result, run mileage was about half of what it ideally should have been, with a long run of about 13 miles leading up to the race.  Coach Tara had told me “don’t worry, the run will be a bit of an unknown but you will be okay, I think you will just be a little bit more sore after the race than usual.”  I took that in but I wasn’t so sure :).  I started out cautiously as she suggested, and kept going at between 7:30 and just under 8:00/mile for the first half, knowing I had a long way to go and hoping I could just get myself through it running, without causing any injuries.  I had decided I was going to get to the end of this Ironman whether I was running or walking, so if I could just keep running no matter what the speed, that’d be the best case scenario rather than running a fast half and then walking a slow one.  At about the 14 mile mark my legs started feeling the way they normally do at mile 20, tightening and stiffening and feeling like something was going to give.  I decided to slow down a lot and just jog my way as far as I could.  I talked to some people along the way, stayed positive as best as I could, realizing I was here in Austria doing a race and that’s pretty cool.  Aside from walking a few aid stations to take in anything and everything I possibly could, I managed to jog my way through the marathon, crushing 9:30 miles for much of that second half :).  I have to say, I was happy to see that finish line!  I was okay at the end, one of the only Ironman’s I have done without needing some medical attention at the end.  My legs were sore and couldn’t move much more, but that was to be expected considering I had just “run” a marathon off a 13 mile long run, but the rest of me was okay.

This was definitely not an Ironman experience I would dream of, but you can’t expect the best every time.  I felt that this one was a success just by getting to the finish line after for months earlier wondering if I was ever going to be able to run pain-free again.  I like to learn things from every race experience, and my thoughts from this one are:

  1. If you want your bike to get to Europe, you should probably ship it some other way than with the airline. It’s probably not that much more expensive to do that either, the fee’s to bring a bike between continents are not cheap!
  2. Always arrive at the race early. You never know what you might need to do once you get there.  Find a new pair of cycling shoes!  Race morning is stressful enough already!
  3. Sometimes you just need to chill out and do what you love. Things don’t always go your way, even when you do your best to prepare yourself.  Shut off your technology if necessary and just do your thing.  Racing should be fun, for most of us it’s a hobby and not a job.  For me it is a little bit of both, but it still needs to be kept in perspective.
  4. Klagenfurt and the surrounding areas is beautiful. Crystal clear waters and mountains all around.  It’s safe and clean and the people (at least those that I met) are very nice and happy to have foreigners visit.

Post-Race my mom and I went back to Venice and spent a few days there.  What an interesting place – one unlike any other I’ve seen.  A few thousand locals and a few million tourists.  A water town with no motor vehicles, no bicycles, and no roads at all.  Everything built centuries ago and unable to be changed.  All travel is on foot through narrow stone alleys with tall buildings on either side.  Very minimal greenery, mostly in the form of plants on people’s balconies.  Public transportation is by boat which takes you to various terminals around the islands, functioning pretty much like the bus transportation system in Toronto.   Overall, really an interesting place to visit!

Before signing off, I’d like to say some “Thank You’s” to those who have helped and supported me along my triathlon journey.  Firstly to my own sponsors and QT2 team sponsors, including Quintana Roo Bicycles, Pearl Izumi, PowerBar, Normatec Recovery, Smith Optics, Base Performance and Rick Choy of Reel Kool Products.  Secondly, to my family and friends who continue to support my pursuit of goals they may see as “crazy” :).  Thanks to Jeff, friend and Physio extraordinaire, for putting this body back together again when no one else could.  To Shiela, the best RMT and co-worker I know (as well as a great friend).  To Coach Tara of QT2 Systems for having the patience to work with me through this hip issue I’ve had “forever” and getting me to the starting line at all.  To my triathlete friends from around the world who are always there with encouragement and motivation when it’s needed.  And special thank you to my boyfriend Al Caballero not only for just being awesome all around but also for supporting me no matter what – including spending so many of his weekends keeping me company in the pool, on the bike and on the road.  (And for putting up with me falling asleep 14 seconds in to any move or TV program we ever put on).  What will the future hold?  It’s time to sit down and look at what’s next!  Stay tuned 🙂

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