This year's Ironman Kalmar turned out to be quite a lot tougher than last year's, both due to the weather conditions and the way my body reacted to the mistakes in hydration and nutrition I made on the bike. The weather forecast was beautiful clear skies but with a strong easterly wind at 7-9 m/s. This meant we would have a quite choppy swim and some pretty nasty crosswinds for much of the bike segment.
With everything prepared according to plan on race morning we made our way to the swim start and donned our wetsuits. IM Kalmar uses a rolling start with self-seeding according to one's expected swim time. I placed myself in the 1:20 group and waited for the long snake of swimmers to finally start making its way towards the ramp into the water. The conditions were choppy indeed, with the first leg of the swim going almost directly into the wind. I almost panicked for a while before getting used to the water and conditions but eventually settled into a decent rhythm. Everything went well enough until the double turn at the northernmost part of the harbor. Suddenly everyone started going the wrong way and I got disoriented and ended up going completely off course. When I finally spotted the orange buoy that marked the point where you're supposed to turn right towards the quay I was all by myself and had to swim quite a bit further than expected. I finally did reach the turning point and made for the quay, followed it for a while and into the canal where the water was much calmer but instead I found myself among slower swimmers (including some breaststrokers) that I kept swimming into. When I finally got out of the water and headed for transition I had swam for almost two hours which is way longer than what I had planned. The fact that the chop made some swimmers struggle was not lost on the media which almost reported more on the less fortunate people who had to abandon the race during the swim than the race itself. I'm not a good swimmer by any means but was able to deal with the chop just fine apart from the first 100 m or so. My main problem is that I'm a terrible navigator and and end up drifting off course, often to the left.
Heading out of Kalmar the bike course almost immediately turns east and crosses the long bridge towards Öland. With easterly winds the segment across the bridge became super slow and never seemed to end but I finally got towards the point where the course turns south for almost 60 km. I was able to keep a semi-decent speed despite the crosswinds and sudden gusts that took some getting used to since they wanted to blow my front and rear wheels in different directions. I know it's technically not windshear by the strict definition of it but that's what I call it since the effect is similar - a sudden burst of wind that can cause loss of control. Some people didn't have problems with the wind at all but I'm not as used to it so my speed definetly suffered from it. At the southern part of the island the course turns east and then north. Predictably enough the headwinds weren't fun. Heading northwards the crosswinds came in from the right for a change but became even worse as there isn't much to shelter the road from the sea and speed unfortunately dropped even more compared to what I had hoped to maintain. I avoided going into the trap of pushing hard to maintain speed by looking at power and heart rate and realizing I was pretty much where I could afford to be heart rate wise but low in power. This might actually have been the first warning sign that something was wrong with me.. When I finally reached the segment where you head west across the island across "Alvaret" I had the wind at my back (completely opposite to the punishing headwinds we had for the same segment last year) and I enjoyed being able to finally pick up some speed but still had problems maintaining the planned power output at a given heart rate - for some reason my heart was working harder than normal for a given effort. After a short section northwards I reached the bridge and used the wind to really pick up speed. On the way down on the Kalmar side speed had picked up enough to become scary and I even had to brake to slow down a bit as I'm not that used to speeds above 50 km/h and I didn't want to risk becoming unstable and crashing. I also knew that the wheels I'm using exhibited a wobble at around 55 km/h on my road bike, but on my tri bike they actually felt nice and solid so maybe it doesn't have anything to do with the wheels themselves. The 68 km second loop of the bike course was uneventful and winds weren't too bad. Unfortunately I started feeling hotter and hotter and that my power output kept dropping with no corresponding drop in heart rate. I felt really drained as I finally rolled into T2.
Let hell begin. After a long-ish transition that included a much needed visit to the porta-potty I made my way out on the run course just to see one of the top female pros finish. I was able to keep a decent pace a bit faster than 6 minutes per km for the first few kilometers but after about 5 km things started falling apart as my heart rate was going through the roof and I started feeling sick. The only choice was to start walking and also start taking in hydration, electrolytes and energy to try and get the heart rate down to sane levels. At a couple of points spectators were out in force with their garden hoses which proved to be a godsend, providing some much needed cooling. As if the problems with my body weren't enough my watch kept behaving strangely and the pace numbers seemed to jump all over the place. The only data I had that was reliable was heart rate but that was more than enough in the state I was in. After a first lap that took way longer than planned I started being able to pick up the pace again during the second lap and I ran most of the third lap at a very stable 6:00/km pace with legs that felt really good. I even picked it up to 5:30 towards the end with no ill effects at all. I could probably have picked up the pace earlier but I just didn't want to push the envelope too much and risk crashing again. I ended up finishing the marathon just a few seconds shy of 5 hours despite all the walking and the entire race a couple of minutes below the 14 hour mark. Not much to write home about but I'm glad I made it to the finish line at all.
In an Ironman there's nothing to be taken for granted no matter how well laid out your plans are or how much you trained for it. "Anything is possible" is the motto of Ironman, but "Anything can happen" is just as true. This time it was the inability to take in proper hydration and electrolytes on the bike that killed me, not to mention the navigation error that cost me a lot of time during the swim. Every race does result in a bunch of lessons to learn and a list of things to improve for next time. I need a hydration system for my handlebars, that's for sure. By making it easier to drink I can drink more and I'll also make sure to bring electrolyte tablets to prevent the type of crash I experienced on the run. On the plus side I didn't have any adverse reactions to the Indie Bars, and my strategy to not take in any solids (except for the salted cucumbers I downed en masse to replenish those electrolytes) during the run also paid off.
Overall, I felt like I had won the race even though I came in almost 6 hours after the winner! And of course registration for next year's IM Kalmar is already taken care of..
- Swim: 1:50:22
- T1: 8:14
- Bike: 6:48:27
- T2: 11:05
- Run: 4:59:54