The race was happening in Finland, Lahti region. The selling point of this particular 70.3 Ironman event was that you race through “polar night” – meaning that we would start pretty late and the last finisher would still cross the finish line with bright sky. Usually races start as early as 06 – 07 am and depending on your capabilities you are done by mid-day or so. This time, this Ironman was due to start at 15:30 for the professionals, and I was expecting to start at around 15:45.
From one side – great, means that I could basically sleep a normal person’s night and not wake up at an ungodly hour. On the other hand it proved to have its own challenges – I needed to adapt my food intake and be fresh, by mid-day. How difficult it could be, right? Turned out a bit more than can be thought at first.
The way it turned out in the end is that I could not get too much sleep, due to the polar night and it being always bright outside, plus pre-race nerves. Woke up, did my stretching routine and had a good breakfast, then rested and just chilled out at home. To be honest, I could not find myself during the morning, I was neither nervous, nor calm, not rested, but not tired as well. A very strange experience to live through for 6 hours, until the race starts. Had lunch in 3-4 hours after breakfast and 4 hours before the race, as planned and felt ok. 3.5 hours before the race we moved to the transition area, racked the bikes, put the bags on. These activities usually happen the day before the race, but as we were racing at the afternoon, it meant that the we had to do it all on the race day. I tried to stay calm and not forget anything. My hamstrings started to feel sore and lock up here and there, but was trying not to focus too much on it. I decided to skip the pre-race swim, because it was windy and cold outside and if I get cold before the swim from the water – experience says that I will swim much worse. We stayed most of the time in the event center, to stay warm. I listened to some favourite songs to stay motivated and grateful. Shed some tears. Roughly 45 minutes before the start we decided to move towards the start. There I did some land warm-up and went to stand at the 30minute mark, where all the swimmers, who plan to finish faster than 30 minutes group up before the race. I had an energy gel 20 minutes to invigorate myself and put some energy in the body before the race. I felt calm, as much as I could have been.
Day before we kind of saw that it will be a choppy swim, but its choppiness has blown out of proportion at the race day and especially at 700-800 meters mark, in the middle of the lake. During the first 10-15 minutes I drank a lot of water, as I could not get into proper rhythm with the waves, or the waves were having an awkward rhythmic section (I was expecting calm-ish techno music and was greeted with drum’n’bass instead). I swam the first portion rather straight, had some lock up in my lungs, but seemed ok. Was breathing only to the done side, which might have been an indication of going too hard, but it somehow felt awkward to breathe onto both sides, when there were waves all over. The biggest mistake I’ve done prior to the race regarding the swim was – I had not counted the buoys, aka I did not know when the turn was coming and where I am. This cost me a lot of sighting and a lot of wasted energy, when trying to navigate myself. The turn was done rather smoothly, not too many people around, but then at the perpendicular straight to the shore – the choppiness was at full throttle. I did not know where I am, I could not see any people, nor the buoys and as many times as I tried to sight (and I tried to do it a LOT) – I could see only waves. I panicked a bit, thought that I swam too far off and am in “no man’s land”, which to be honest – was pretty much right. After spending some time at mathematical calculations in navigation I, I found some people and buoys, then I tried to do a sharp left and went back on track, or at least what it seemed like. Now I am swimming with people, trying to draft where possible. Still choppy, still drinking water. I am still waiting for one more left turn for the straight to the shore, but it is not happening. I am at loss. I am confused, where is it. Then after some more swimming, it seems like I am already on my way to the shore (?!?), no idea how that happened. The only explanation that goes through my mind was that I cut in line somewhere and most likely will hear “You are disqualified” after the swim. Trying to put these thoughts at rest and just swim, I increase my pace a bit, feeling rather good at the last 200-300 meters and I just hope that they did not notice that I cut the line or it was difficult to distinguish, or perhaps I swam correctly. Still, right now, I have no idea what and how that happened. Luckily, I do not hear anything about disqualification, which is amazing. I check the watch – 31+ minutes – that is disappointing, I was hoping to go sub-29 minutes. At this point and time, I do not have context, where am I placed in my group after the swim, nor I think that it was a difficult swim. I run into transition, depressed, thinking that I failed in the swim and I need to do some damage mitigation on the bike to be even a contender. I run towards transition and my calves are locking up, just by running.
I get out of the swimsuit, pretty much ok, I get the helm and run towards the bike. I run out of the bike, not too many problems, I mount it with my shoes on it and during the first few meters I am trying to put my shoes on. Heart is racing, I really need to go to toilet, I should have gone to toilet, I have not gone to toilet. Maybe the piss will settle down during the bike. Hopefully it will. I should have gone to toilet. I barely can catch breath or I am severely out of breath from the swim. At this point and time, I do not think that the swim was difficult, but as I am writing this – I know I have.
I rode the first 10-15 kilometres of the bike the day before and was pretty comfortable with the start of the 90km loop. I tried to ride the first few minutes calmly, having a drink, tried to stay in aerobars, but couldn’t, as I was out of breath, decided not to. Then when drinking I noticed that the fluids are just not going down. Seemingly I have either gastrointestinal or stomach fullness issue from the lake water. Well, nethertheless I hope it will settle down, alongside with the need to go to toilet. I try to go up the hills on aerobars, I notice my legs are out of ignition. I sit back and try to push, power through it. My heart-rate is still super high, barely getting any air, gasping for oxygen like a fish out of the water, power is not there. Disappointment strikes. Now I start being passed by other athletes, who were slower than me in the water, here and there, power is nowhere to be found – I am getting stressed. Still can not put in anything in myself, as physically I just do not have space in me. I am going at minus 20-30 power from what “doctor has prescribed”, being passed by more people. Now I start doubting everything, I am getting angry/sad as I get passed by every person, but I can not respond to those passes. When bigger groups are there, I try to pass some, but then my lungs close down and I have to go back into the line to rest, before I can pass more then 2-3 people at once. On downhills, I pass the people who passed me on the uphill and then on the straights I again can not put out the power I want to. I check the speedometer, 34km/h. Crap, I was hoping for at least 37-38 average, now I am 4km/h behind on the average. No way I will be in top of my Age-Group. Doubt, doubt doubt. I curse at the bike course – this is much more difficult than I expected. A lot more difficult. Out of breath again. Heart-rate just does not go down for longer than few seconds. Huge group starts to form in front of me, people passing me once more but then slowing down. I try to be mindful, drop down, let them ride away. But then they are so much slower than they passed me. I stand up, pass them. This game goes on for quite some time. Uphill ahead. I start passing one guy, he starts to pass someone else, that someone else stands up to accelerate a bit, does not drop down when he gets passed and I can not make the pass of those two people, lungs shut down yet again.. I go back in line, go as much right as I possibly can, so it shows that I have no intentions to draft. I hear the bike, I hear “drafting”, I see blue card. I want to say “fuck this shit, I am out of here”, drop the bike, stop the struggle and just get a drive back to the start, preferably in a comfortable car. However I nod my head, I accept the penalty, even though I do not want to comply with it, as my intention was not to draft. I just was out of breath and my power was not there. But I comply. Sadness.
Now I think my race is over for sure. I battle the negativity, I try to refocus. I force myself to think that now with the penalty, it might be a blessing in disguise. I will now just ride the bike as good as I can at this point and time and what happens happens, what happened – happened. The course flattens, there aren’t many turns or hills anymore, I can ride the straights faster, my average speed picks up. I still feel the sadness of the penalty and try to figure out how critical it can be. Now I understand that I would have ridden this course differently. The first 30 km were tougher, I should have saved myself there and gone full throttle from the middle, instead of going pedal-to-the-metal right away. Oh well. Next time.
Helm does not fit in the run bag, I need to tear it down. I do that, pick up my bandana and glasses and run to the penalty. 5 minutes is longer than I envisioned. I can see people running past me, whom I have passed on the bike. I try not to focus on it. I want to go to the toilet. Maybe it will pass, when running? It won’t. 5…4…3…2…1..”You can run”. I do run out of the transition. Half-marathon to go.
First few Ks I try to go calmly, to settle down, hamstrings are locking up on every step. Then my go-to-the-toilet dilemma comes up. Now I really need to go. Quick stop in the toilet. What a relief. Why haven’t I gone earlier. My legs are jelly, wobbly, hamstrings still ache. How am I supposed to run the half-marathon like this. Pace is good, pace makes me happy, despite the pain. But I understand I can not sustain it. I am bleeding seconds per kilometre, I am getting slower. At the turnarounds, I can see some familiar faces. I start to think again what a poor result it will be. I see Tomas, my friend who was supposed to ride the same bike power as myself, about 1.5km from me. He is running strong and confident. I only think that he has done good job tapering, resting and riding, he is going to smash it. I am happy for him, through my sadness and misery. I cheer for him. I try to run my best, still bleeding time. I want to walk. I will walk, there is no way for good result anyway. Please do not walk. I put everything in me not to walk. I withstand the desire, I keep running. All that I am repeating is “it is difficult for everyone, everyone is suffering”.
I keep going. I keep counting metres. Trying to put the distance into context and make me think that it’s just half of the lap and it will be half of it done. Half of it is an olympic distance. I keep on going, suffering, but holding on and soon I am 5k to the finish. Just hold on. I run onto the carpet, I am happy I have done it. Or at least I try to be happy. I still do not know my finish time, but I think it is 4:54. At least that is what finish line showed me. Utterly disappointed. I don’t want anything. I just sit down and listen to my friend talking to me. Later I pick up the bag, I check the phone – my actual result is 13th and 4:41! So I did a personal best? I finished 13th? Now the good feeling comes in and a lot of thoughts about the learnings from today. A lot of things to learn. Only the day after, I learn that this race allowed me to get to Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Nice.