It was raining when I got up at 4:30am; it was raining as the swim started at 7:00; and it only finally stopped some 7 hours later as I neared the end of the bike ride. At one point, on a fast descent, it was raining so hard the drops hurt as they hit your face. The guy next to me was laughing grimly, he’d forgotten his glasses and couldn’t see. Luckily, the temperature remained reasonably high, still low enough for some of the low BMI types to be shivering uncontrollably as their skinny frames tried to deal with being soaked for 6 hours. I had planned superbly for just this scenario: my pre race diet of high fat German food had left me with the constitution to laugh off the effects of the rain and I didn’t feel cold at all.
Ironman Regensburg was my first beach start for a triathlon which considering there were over 2,000 starters made me a little nervous. I needn’t have been, it all went off very smoothly. The warm and clean water of the Guggenberger See and the 4 open water swims I’d done in Austria the week before quickly allowed me to settle into a relaxed rhythm. I completed the swim in 1:34 which wasn’t fast, but I felt fine as I cleared T1 in less than 5 minutes and immediately settled into an aero tuck heading for the hills above Regensburg. The bike course is most definitely a game of 2 halves (or should I say, 4 quarters, as it consists of 2 80km loops followed by a 20km run into the centre of Regensburg). After a pan flat start the route starts climbing after about 8km and continues in that vein for the next 25km or so. None of the climbs are steep and they are punctuated by some fast descents. Once you reach the small town of Brennberg the course loops south and you lose all that height that you gained with some “fast as you dare” descents. Once back in the valley of the Danube you’re on the aerobars and you are going to stay that way for the next 2 hours until you finish loop 1 and set off up the climb to Brennberg again.
For some reason I don’t seem to be bothered by the rain and I found the ascents pretty easy compared to what I’m used to in North Lancashire. The smooth roads also inspire confidence in descending so, despite the notoriously bad braking that you get with carbon wheels in the wet, I fairly ripped through the first half of loop 1. The second half is all about aero dynamic efficiency and is pretty dull to be honest. The few gentle rises come as a welcome relief as the tension builds in the shoulders from kilometres in an aero tuck. Even with the awful weather, the support in every village was tremendous with the burghers of Mintraching carrying the honours of noisiest and most enthusiastic crowd.
I finished loop one in under 2 hours and 40 minutes which was way faster than my best schedule and put me on a 6 hour bike schedule. This was a matter of some concern. Was I going too fast? Would I pay for it later? The climbs on lap 2 felt a little harder, but nothing that I couldn’t cope with. It was only when I got back to the Danube flood plain for the second time that I began to feel tired. The extended periods on the tri bars built up extra tension in the shoulders and hips making the ride increasingly uncomfortable. Being doubled up also had the added effect of making the consumption of energy gels ever less appealing. The light headwind was taking its toll and I was dropping a gear or 2 down the cassette. Long periods of high gear grinding was building up pain in my knees, but I’ve noticed in the past that this usually quickly dissipates on the run, so I wasn’t unduly concerned. In fact, I kept up good form until the final 10km flat run into town where I eased right back to take on a couple of gels and extra water to try and help with the start of the run. My bike split was 6:14, a personal best of some 40 minutes, which considering that 5:30 of it had been raining, was fairly pleasing.
At least it was dry as I exited T2 but I knew right from the start that I would be in for a hard time. The run was 4 loops of 10.5k through the picturesque old town of Regensburg and nearby parks. There are no gradients worth mentioning and it would present an ideal course for a fast marathon. The enthusiastic crowd in the altstadt helps to keep you motivated when mind and body begin to flag.
I started the run with a nasty stitch which reduced me to a shuffle almost immediately. Luckily it didn’t last too long and by walking the feeds and taking on plenty of cola I managed to complete the first 2 laps without a break from my shuffle. It wasn’t pretty, but progress was steady, which, if sustained would have given me a sub 13 hour finish. Sadly, on the 3rd lap the mind caved and the walks, after taking on cola and cake at the feedstops, became longer. At the start of the final lap I had a real light headed wobble and had to walk for a sustained period before recovering enough to pick pick up a slow but painful jog. It was turning out to be my slowest Ironman marathon yet, surely as a result of a a bike time that was beyond my ambitions.
Seeing my family wearing their custom “Team John” t shirts was a massive boost on each lap, especially knowing that Rachel, my sister-in-law and her husband, Kev, had flown out to support me. But even that didn’t prevent making that last lap a real Calvary. I finally staggered in to the finish in 5:24 giving me an overall finish time of 13:36, just 6 minutes outside my target time.
That’s 3 Ironman finishes now and each one has been faster than the last. Significantly, each time my bike split gets faster, but the concomitant to that is a slower run. I suspect that this is the result of me only managing an average of 7 hours a week training: it’s enough to get me to the finish of an Ironman, but not enough to sustain me through the run in any sort of style.
Ironman Regensburg is done and dusted. I think it would make an excellent race for any Ironman first timer: it’s well organised and the course is fast. In a future post I’ll be giving some tips on travel, logistics and race planning for anyone thinking about putting this race on their schedule.
I’m writing this on the flight home from Munich to Manchester with a very tired family. I’m stiff and tired, but nothing is broken; pain is most definitely temporary, but the memories of Ironman Regensburg will remain for a long time.