Ironman Frankfurt 2018 Race Report

Ironman Frankfurt has been on my bucket list for many years. This year, I felt my fitness had improved a lot with at least 10 months of consistent training. I was encouraged by my good performance in Ironman 70.3 Mallorca and I thought it was the right time to tick off Ironman Frankfurt on my list. Thanks to my coach Chris and the consistent training, I was on the start line in my best shape.

The swim

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The swim takes place in Langener Waldsee, a small lake at around 13km from Frankfurt center. The swim course is a 1500m loop followed by an Australian exit then a second loop of 2300m. The water temperature on race day was 23°C, so the wetsuits were allowed. The Ironman Frankfurt swim has a rolling swim start with 10 athletes starting every 5 seconds. I started at the end of the 1h10 wave. The gun went off at 6:30 am for the pros and 6:40 am for the age groupers. I was in the water at 6:48 am. As I didn't specifically train to improve my swim this year, my goal was to have a relaxed swim, focus on the technique and draft as much as possible. The first few hundred meters were really tough, the water was very crowded. I got kicked many times by other swimmers, especially those who chose to swim breaststroke... It was difficult to get into a rhythm but I was swimming relatively straight lines between the buoys. So I didn't try to avoid the other swimmers and find clear waters. After the first turnaround buoy, we were facing the sun and I couldn't see anything. I lifted my head a few times trying to find the next buoy without success. So I just gave up and followed other swimmers hoping they wouldn't zigzag too much. I reached the Australian exit in 29'21". The second part of the swim was a bit better than the first one. It was still very crowded but I was surrounded with swimmers having about the same pace. There was also a long section facing the sun with no visibility at all. I finished the swim in 1h15'18" (1'59"/100m). 

T1

After exiting the water, my legs felt fresh which was a good sign. Thanks to my AWA status, my bike was at a great position, right next to T1 exit. But I didn't really take advantage of this as I lost too much time taking off the wetsuit and getting ready for the bike. I spent 6'45" in the transition area. I need to practice more to save some minutes. 

The bike

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The Ironman Frankfurt bike course is a 13 km flat section from T1 to Frankfurt center followed by two loops of 86 km in Frankfurt surroundings. The total elevation is around 1450 meters. In this year's edition, the total distance is 185 km instead of 180 km. The organizers added the extra 5 km to avoid some road work. The weather was expected to be hot with some light wind. My choice of wheels was a Zipp 808 at the front and a disc wheel at the back.

My goal on the bike was to ride a conservative pace and save my legs for the run. With a 3h06 standalone marathon PB, I consider myself as a good runner and I really wanted to translate this into a good performance on the Ironman marathon. So I had no intention to kill myself on the bike, just be patient, ride within my limits and set myself up for a good run.

As soon as I left T1, I discovered that the wind was rather strong. At first I was a bit worried about crosswinds and how to handle my bike with my deep section front wheel. But the bike behaviour was totally predictable and there was no reason to worry.

My nutrition plan was to have one energy bar per hour then switch to gels in the final hour of the bike leg. I was drinking water and isotonic drink provided in the aid stations. I had set my bike computer to beep every 20 minutes to remind me to eat and drink. I respected this plan religiously.

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My power output was in zone 1 and 2 in 70% of the bike duration. I was in low zone 3 for 25% of the time, mostly when going uphill. In the second lap, the wind got a bit stronger and I voluntarily reduced my power output to make sure my legs wouldn’t get too tired for the run. As a result, I was 15 minutes slower in the second lap than in the first lap. This is not the best pacing strategy but when I reached T2, my legs felt relatively good after a 6h20:51 bike ride at 175W NP.

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T2

When I entered T2, the temperature was approaching 30ºC. I racked my bike, picked up my running bag and got ready for the run. I left the transition area after 5’48” and found myself running behind Patrick Lange who was about to finish. I encouraged him and continued my way, I had a marathon to run .. :-)

The run

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The marathon course is a four lap run along the Main river. Thousands of spectators were gathered along the way which makes the atmosphere really great. My wife, my kids and my in-laws were on the run course. Their encouragements boosted me every time I passed by them.

My plan was to find an easy pace and stick to it until the finish. It should be enough to beat my time in Challenge Roth (12h47) by a good margin. I started at a 5’00"/km pace and slowed down to 5’30"/km which felt really comfortable. I was walking through aid stations to take my gels and cool down my body temperature. After the first lap, I was still feeling great and I thought I was on target to complete the marathon without struggles.

Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face!
— Mike Tyson

After the 15th kilometre, I started having some discomfort in my stomach and had to visit a porta potti. A few hundred meters later I had a second visit, and a few more visits in the next 2-3 kilometres. By kilometre 18, I realised that my stomach couldn’t hold anything anymore. Even drinking water resulted in a stop at the next porta potti. At this point I decided to give my stomach a break, I stopped taking gels and drinking. This basically meant that I had to stop running. With 24 kilometres to go, I knew that the race against the clock was over. The challenge was to survive the heat and the distance for whatever time it would take to get to the finish line. I had still 2,5 laps to go, I started walking and focused on finishing the lap. Without eating nor drinking, walking got painful so I focused on the next kilometre, then the next tree and ended up just thinking about putting one step in front of the other. From time to time I tried to run again but I was back to walking shortly after. The long walk of death lasted 3h30.

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The finish

I reached the final aid station and had still a few hundred meters to go. I took a cup of coke and started running. It was painful but I was approaching the finish and I could hear the crowds cheering. It was getting louder and louder, that gave me the motivation to keep running. I took the final turn towards the finish line, the atmosphere was electric and the energy was so high! I saw my wife Olivia on the side line, I probably wouldn’t be running on this red carpet without her support during the long months of training. My friend Seb who had an amazing performance and finished the race 3 hours earlier was also cheering from the stands. All the pain and suffering disappeared and I really enjoyed these last moments of the race. I crossed the finish line in 13h08:50.

A big thank you to my wife Olivia for her amazing support in training and racing. Thanks to my coach Chris for his high quality coaching. Thanks Seb for his support before, during and after the race. Thanks to my Coaching Zone teammates and all my friends who were following the race online and cheering from start to finish!.

Race afterthoughts

Finishing an Ironman is always a big achievement whether it is in sub 8 hours or 16 hours. I am definitely proud of finishing Ironman Frankfurt in 13h08:50. Even though I didn't have any performance goals at the start of the race, I thought that if I put a good effort I would be around 11h - 12h. And I was almost certain that running a sub 4 hours marathon was within reach. I would lie if I said I was not disappointed by the outcome of the race. It took me weeks to get over it and put my performance into perspective (and months to write down this race report). My frustration comes from the fact that for my second Ironman, I am still not able to run the marathon, even by adopting a very conservative pacing strategy. My training went very well, I was in a great shape and I had absolutely no excuse to not perform well. BUT, in long distance racing, anything can happen on race day. I only can control what I can control. When I realised that I couldn’t run anymore I had still 24 kilometres to go, I never thought about quitting and I just kept going. That was the toughest and most painful walk I have ever had. It was achieved by determination and will power. What helped me overcome my frustration is to remember how I started. Just six years ago I was overweight and my biggest challenge was to run 2 laps in the local park. Over the years, I saw my goals and challenges getting bigger as I got fitter. Now that I am writing these line, I am in peace with my performance at Ironman Frankfurt and I am definitely happy that I was able to start and finish the race. At the end of the day, it is all about the journey!

Brussels 20km - May 2012

Brussels 20km - May 2012

Ironman Frankfurt - July 2018

Ironman Frankfurt - July 2018

What next?

My plan was to run Frankfurt Marathon in October. Unfortunately, I got injured and couldn’t get back to training early enough to be ready for the race. So I signed up for Sevilla Marathon in February 2019, my goal is to run a sub 3 hour marathon.

I have no other races planned for 2019, it will all depend on my performance in Sevilla. If I reach my goal I would start looking at some 70.3 late in the season. Otherwise I would be chasing the sub 3 hour marathon until I get it.

Thanks for reading! ;-)