After Ironman Switzerland Thun last year I was keen to go to an even bigger event and what would be bigger in Europe than the Ironman European Championship Frankfurt. So I signed up in September 2022 and in October 2022 I stared my preparation.
For Ironman Switzerland I trained with power & pace and I wanted to stay with them and use one of there plans for Ironman Frankfurt. This time I thought I take it a little bit easier and I trained with the “Finisher” plan instead of the “Qualifier” Plan. Which has less volume and less trainings sessions per week. I had also the chance to stay with my family for 7 weeks in Australia over Christmas and do some great training there.
But after my return to Germany in January 2023 things started to fall apart. I constantly shivered the whole day at work and started to stuff everything eatable into my mouth to feel warmer. So I gained kilo after kilo. In March I had 83 kg, 5 kg more than I wanted. In addition I felt so tired all the time. At least I was not sick and could do my training as planned. I hoped that with warmer weather and longer days all this will disappear and I would be able to show up on race day in perfect condition. As it turned out, wishful thinking. At least I lost 2 kg, but still 81 kg was too much. The fatigue was a little bit better, but still I didn’t feel at 100%.
The swim was in the Langener Waldsee which is 13 km from T2 and the Finish line in the city. It is a small lake and it warms up quite fast in summer. The week before the race the water temperature was at 25°C. Over 24,5°C wetsuits are not allowed for agegroupers and I started to fear that this could be a long swim without wetsuit. But then the weather changed and the water temperature dropped to 22.9°C on race day. Still too much for the pro women. They were not allowed to swim with a wetsuit. Outside temperature was around 15°C and the wind didn’t make this warmer. So I decided to warmup on dry land to stay warm.
This was a good decision and in addition I could watch a jet ski, which was send around the course shortly before the race was started. The course was divided into tow parts with an Australian exit in between. So 1500 m and then a short run on the beach and back into the lake for the rest. Because of the jet ski I could guess that on the first leg must be two more buoys, which I couldn’t really see. Later I found out that the were black. Black buoys in the dark lake in front of a dark forest. Not so nice.
Anyway everyone was lining up for the start. I guessed 1:20h for my swim and went into the group 1:20h-1:30h. Then the pro women started and shortly after followed the agegroupers with a rolling start. Six people or so every couple of seconds. Finally it was my turn and I jumped in. The water was quite choppy, because of the wind and I tried to find my rhythm, which worked out quit well. Orientation was sort of difficult, but I managed to get to the two black turning boys. On the way back to the Australian exit the sun was directly in front of me and I couldn’t see a thing. I got way to far left and missed one buoy with some other people around me. Nobody stopped us from doing this, so I guess this was alright and at the end I had done 100m more.
The Australian exit was nice to shake out the arms and get some cheers from the spectators. On the second part nothing special happened. I tried to stay out of trouble and swim as good as I could. On the last 200m I suddenly felt my calve cramping, but I managed to get rid of it without stopping. The way to T1 is through deep sand and up a little hill. I opened my wetsuit on the run, got my arms out and then I pulled off my glaces and swimcap. This was bad, because I wanted my hands free to get into my trisuit which was rolled down to my hips. Somehow I managed it, before I entered T1 and grapped my bag with the helmet, shoes, bip number, socks and some nutrition. It was busy and a lot of bikes were still in T1 waiting for there riders. So I guessed that I did I solid swim. The official time was 1:21:03. Good. Transition time was with 8 min not so fast, but it’s a long way from the lake to the start of the bike course.
The Bike Ride
From the lake it is around 13km to the city center, were the two lap course really starts. There is also T2 at the river bank of the river Main. Through the city of Frankfurt the roads are quite rough. It goes over manhole covers, tram tracks and all sorts of little bumps. There is also always the risk that some pedestrian could cross the road, when you try to stay in aero position and navigate the obstacles. So full concentration is needed.
This ends when the first climb “The Beast” starts at around 20km. The roads get better and better and the city is left behind. The Beast was not in beast mode and I could climb up easily in the first round. The road winds through the countryside and little villages with cheering spectators. The next little climb is called “The Hell”, not because it is long or steep, but because of the cobblestones. Everything gets shaken up. Good that I didn’t lost anything. After 33km starts another climb up the Hühnerberg, which is alright as well. A local Tri Club was standing there partying. Nice. The course continued with rolling hills. Somehow I had in my head that the last 30km will slowly descent back into the city, but I was wrong. Instead there is a last little hill with around 100m elevation gain and the then last 10km is the descent.
On the second loop the wind started to pick up. Not much, but enough to make the last 30km with head wind a little bit more strenuous than I wanted. But everything went smooth so far and I was confident that I will be able to have a good run. Before T2 I thought that I can get out of my shoes and ran than on socks into T2. Like a pro, I good out and placed my feet onto the shoes, but somehow I was still far away from T2. Suddenly somehow one insole managed to “crawl” out of the shoe and started to hit the spokes. So I tried, in full speed, to pick up the insole to stuff it into my trisuit. This worked out without crashing and finally I reached the transition zone. I was relived and got rid of my bike and ran into the changing tent with my running bag. After putting my running shoes on I wanted to exit, but I realized that I had forgotten my Garmin Forerunner on the bike. So I had to run against the incoming people, find my bike and get the watch. Lost some time here, 6:19min total in T2. Don’t know where my thoughts were, but it was somehow hilarious.
I still felt good after the bike and started the four laps with confidence that I could do it under 5h. First thing I noticed after 3km, I was way too fast. Instead of running around 7min/km I was running around 6:15min/km. All this faster runners who had probably completed already one or even two laps, were dragging me with them. I slowed down and tried to take in everything I could on the many aid stations along the riverbanks.
There were a ton of spectators and they tried there best to motivate everyone passing by. The temperature was around 25°C and the wind was still present. All in all very good conditions for the run. So I jogged along the rive side in a meditative state. This worked quit well for me up until I couldn’t take in anything into me. This happened around 8 km from the finish line. I felt nauseated and very weak. I started to walk and talk with another walkers. Peter for instance told me that he is 71 and that this will be definitely his last Ironman. He said that he was trying to save some energy for the last kilometre and the finish line. In the middle of the conversation he suddenly said that he is now ready for the final spurt and he took off. I was left amazed behind and still couldn’t pull myself together.
3 km before the finish line my Garmin Forerunner 935 indicated that the battery was at 5%. So I decided to stop the activity and save it. Last year in Thun I didn’t do this and the file was corrupted, when the watch switched off. It took nearly 2 km to save the activity and I was so worried that it will fail, that I didn’t think about my nausea or my tiredness. Eventually I reached the red carpet with the finish line.
The party was still full on and the crowed was pushing everyone over the line. Somehow I couldn’t enjoy the moment. It was a little bit too much. I didn’t even here the famous words “you are an Ironman”. I got my medal and some water, but I could still not drink it. This was completely bizarre and I walked through athletes garden like a zombie. After picking up my normal clothes I tried to take a shower, but couldn’t open my running shoes without getting dizzy. I then walked 10 min in front of the medical tents, but nobody invited me to get in.
Finally I went in and a nurse told me to sit down. Then a doctor came and talked to me. It seemed that both weren’t to worried, so I started to relax. After another 10 min the nurse gave me a soup to drink. First I sipped a little bit and when I was sure that it will stay inside I poured in the whole cup. Immediately I felt much better, I thanked them, took a shower, got something to eat, picked up my stuff from T2 and rode my bike “home” to my camper van. I think my electrolyte balance was completely off balance. 5:48:50 for the run was not what I wanted, but it is like it is.
It is no secret that Maurten is one of the suppliers for this event and I already trained with their gels and solids to get used to them. After the swim I directly ate a gel and on the bike I took roughly every 30min another one. I had two solid bars with me which I ate as well. The day before I had prepared a bootle of water mixed with GU gel, but then I forget the bottle in the car. So I had only water to drink. There were 12 aid stations on the bike course and I grapped always a bootle of water and one or two gels. Sometimes a half banana. That was in total 10 gels (each 100kcal, 40g, 25g carbs, 50mg salt) and two bars (each 225kcal, 60g, 44.6g carbs, 0.66g salt).
On the run I had two Maurten gels left in my trisuit and took them again every 30min. But after that I couldn’t eat them any more. I tried it with apple pieces, bananas and little pretzels and plenty of water. There was as well Red Bull, Cola, Gatorade and 226ers bars, which I wouldn’t even try, because I was not used to them. So I was running low on energy and couldn’t do anything against it and it got even worse at the end, when I was not able to drink some water or eat bananas.
My best guess is that I lost a lot of electrolytes due to sweating. But I didn’t realize it, because it was not hot and I didn’t felt that I was sweating at all.
Ironman Frankfurt is special. They have two transition zones, which are far apart. It is a little bit more strenuous to manage the bike drop off and to get to the swim start in the morning, but if you use the provide bus transfer it is not a problem. The race is in and around a big city, which is quite interesting in many ways. There is the lake in a forest setting, the bike ride mostly through the calm country side and then the run through a vibrant city alongside the river Main, with thousands of spectators. I liked it.
My goal was to finish the race under 13h. I failed with 13:36:53, but at the end I am glad that I made it to the finish line. On the last loop I was not sure if I could finish the run. I felt terrible like never before. I was not asking myself why I am doing this, I was asking why this could happen? And I have still no good answers, only guesses. Best would be to do a sweat test to see what I would really need on the electrolyte side.
On the other hand I have to figure out, why I am not able to reduce my weight, despite all the training. And then there is the mental part. Will I get myself together to do it again next year? Were will I start? We will see. In any case, it was a great weekend and I would not have wanted to miss this experience.