Let’s get the confessions out of the way first: it is going to be VERY difficult to stick to purely a ‘race’ report here, so if I go off track I apologise. It’s only because this was so much more than just about a race. The entire weekend was incredibly special – from the company, the environment, the people, supporters, food … to be honest I think all this together made the main event that much more memorable. I’ll try and stick to facts, though, I promise.
First, however, it’s important to clarify that EVERYTHING here was going to be special, primarily because my No. 1 Triathlon fan who has followed me around tirelessly at every long-distance (and occasional short) triathlon – to Australia, France, Sweden … – was for the first time going to compete alongside me. My daughter Caitriona, not only competing, but competing in her first ever triathlon. No, really. She had never even done a sprint! Nutter, but then again why not?
Sankt Poelten welcomed us with open arms. We arrived at our hotel to the easiest check-in ever, which went along the lines of ‘Ah, you must be Amanda. You’re on the second floor. Key is here. Just press 9 if you need anything.’ This friendly, unflustered and informal greeting, in hindsight, summed up everything about our Austrian experience over the whole five days.
Apart from the bit about ‘rest’, the two days prior to our race went pretty much to plan. I’d done my usual time-tabling; I just didn’t allow for parking a fair distance from the venue and then spending a good hour searching for the TriBikeTransport van to retrieve our bikes. Ah well. The race briefing was clear, to-the-point and highlighted by an extremely inappropriate (if funny) joke about the water temperature (cold, cold) which a young man sitting beside us proceeded to attempt to ‘demonstrate’ as he thought we hadn’t understood? Enough said! Best laugh of the day. Water temp 14.9C. Erm …
Registration, bag collection, bike transport van ‘hunting’, race day fuel-sorting and much back-and-forth texting to and from my husband in an effort to quickly learn enough Austrian German to order food – was all done Friday. Food, I hasten to add, was fabulous – perfectly cooked and normal human portions – ideal for racing. Even better, the rain and storms which had been threatening for the weeks before had suddenly moved on and we had sunshine with us all weekend.
Saturday was bike day and we spent quite a lot of time walking through transition several times over until Caitriona was comfortable with where to go and what to do. After that it was time to greet our two most extraordinary supporters Amy and Christine – Caitriona’s friends who had flown all the way to see her through her first big race. I was so thrilled for her. Everyone needs friends like that. I’m so lucky to have several and as her mum it meant the world to me that she has them, too.
Although we weren’t in the water until a very respectable 8 a.m. transition was only open until 6.30 a.m. so we were breakfasted, out the door and setting up bikes by 5.45. Nerves and adrenalin were a-plenty but all in all it was the most relaxing race morning I can remember. We spent an hour sitting with our two lovely supporters and giggled as we demonstrated just how crap we both are at putting on wetsuits.
Our time to line up came all too quickly. Thankfully the water temp had increased to a balmy 18C so we didn’t dread the swim quite so much. There was the possibility of a warm-up swim but everyone had to clear the water by 6.45 and we were worried we’d get really cold hanging around until 8 a.m. so the best we could come up with was to pour a couple of bottles of cold water down our wetsuits just before lining up. At least the ‘initial’ shock would be somehow dampened (excuse pun).
Water entry was either by steps or a dive off the side. We had already separated to take our own ‘time’ before the race start. We both chose to dive in and oh my goodness that water – BEAUTIFUL! Couldn’t have asked for better. Clean, clear and gorgeous. And so went the swim. About 2/3 of the swim was in one lake, then we had to get out and run across a bridge (c. 300m) to another lake for an out-and- back to the swim finish. The rolling start on a narrow pontoon meant that clear water was easy to find the whole way around. By far the easiest swim I’ve done, if not the fastest. I think I might have enjoyed it a bit too much.
In the interest of brevity the bike could possibly be described in just one expletive (or many ten). However, I suppose it deserves more than that. The views, the views, the views – simply stunning the whole way around. There was never nothing to look at. Mountains, castles, lakes, trees, green, green … truly gorgeous. Fast, too – for the first half. Averaged c. 40 kph over the first 20km and after the first hill (which I’m just going to ignore because it was frighteningly evil and the sudden 3-4 km of it took my body by surprise) but I will forgive it (a little) because the other side was AWESOME! Hit an exciting new PB for me of 56.4kph. Wow, this was going well.
And then … and then … yes, we knew it was coming – but that 9km climb was far far more relentless than I’d thought. Sapped body AND mind. ‘Hills don’t go straight up,’ they’d said. ‘Steep hills always go up and level out a bit, then climb, then level etc. etc.’ they’d said. I have news for you. Some hills don’t – like this one. 4-5 km it climbed just enough that after about half I stuttered to a halt and was forced to walk. Cue the mental demons. I wasn’t alone, though, which at least was slightly comforting. I decided I’d just walk around a couple of corners until it levelled out a little. It didn’t happen. Another corner. Nope. This one? Nope! Finally, I thought I’d just have to battle with that embarrassing feat of attempting to clip in on an incline, suck it up and get on with it. Slightly freshened legs helped and I got to the water station where it flattened out nicely, I switched bottles, took a deep breath and looked forward to an equally long downhill …. which never came! Well, ok, there was one amazing stretch but then … more hills and sneaky sneaky little climbs – you know where it looks flat but your legs know you’re climbing? Yeah, that!
I heard a shout of ‘Mum’ behind me and realised I’d just overtaken Caitriona. I climbed to a ‘level’ bit and waited for her. She was struggling as I was and I could tell the mental demons were in full battle mode. Oh my, we were SO lucky! Or unlucky! I mean, we cycled side by side for, say, about 3 minutes – just enough time to compare notes, swear, curse and boost each other up and in EXACTLY those 3 minutes along came the drafting marshalls!!! Yeah! All we needed, really. Five minute penalty – Ha! Thankfully, bless them, they were kind and gave us a firm and clear warning instead. Phew!
I had really hoped I was going to whop this bike course and do better than my race last year. Unfortunately, the course had other plans and whopped me instead. I rolled into transition with very little energy left but was lifted to a new plane of enthusiasm by the screams and roars from the two best supporters ever!
A misnomer, I think, but whatever. ‘Run’ was a bit optimistic but I did everything I possibly could. There were tears, there were tantrums, I felt like a lost child at one point (ok, lost adult (I really was lost), but behaving like a lost child), there was a lot of swearing and yes, puking too.
Not even all that could detract from the beauty of the course, though. It was simply wonderful. A flat river-side path along the Danube, crossing pretty pedestrian bridges, a little foray in an around the town, through the main square, around the church and, in case you were short of a bit of spectator support there was the Iron Mile – an out-and-back few hundred metres around the finish line that meant you went past the jammed spectator stands a total of 5 times by the time you took the red carpet at the end of the second run loop. Only the most spoiltest of bratses could find anything to complain about this run course. I was just so exhausted my brain wasn’t really working (not enough fuel, I know, I know …….). Water stations were amazing with soaking sponges galore and all the drinks and fruit you might want. I usually stick to water until the last 5k and then will basically drink anything and everything. I was so tired, though, that I decided I needed an early energy boost AND I was probably dehydrated, so I opted for the energy drink and a shot of coke near the beginning – and continued to boost these every second station etc. All ok and sticking to plan (run 15 mins walk 5) until Loop 2. I passed the 12k sign and then the next one was 19k!! Cue the tantrums as I frantically tried to ask where I’d gone wrong, how to get back and also make them understand that I’d already completed the first loop! Frustration. Heaps of frustration. FINALLY, backtracked, took another wrong turn, found a helpful finisher who put me back on track, take a deep breath Amanda, let’s do this! Best part of an extra mile. I really needed that. It’s what happens when you have head down, focussing, peaked cap, see a cone, take it as a directional cone (it wasn’t – it was actually indicating the opposite). D’oh! Rookie error Number 10 billion and something.
Frustration, tears, stress, realisation I wouldn’t make the cut-off, fear of failure, more stress … all led to yet another five minutes at a standstill doing my best to remain standing at the side of the path and chucking up all that sugar! Jesus, Amanda, will you EVER learn???
Wow! Felt sooooooooooooo much better after that, though – and look! It’s déjà vu! There’s the 19km sign! Again!
Best of all, along comes a finisher with his bike, walking the opposite direction and shouting encouragement. ‘Thank you,’ I say, ‘but too late for me now. I won’t make it.’
I pass him.
Suddenly, footsteps running behind me. He’s ditched his bike (carefully I hope). He’s got his phone open and he’s calculating times, running alongside me. ‘You’re wrong,’ he says, ‘you’ve got this. Come on. Pick up those knees. It’s (whatever time he said). You’ve got 23 minutes. Now GO!’
Bless his heart, his timing could not have been better. THANK YOU, whoever you are.
Got to have a little paragraph all of its own because it was just the best finish line. I mean, usually there’s no one left when I come in, but this time I was deafened. Bernie was introducing me, I was Caitriona’s mum etc. etc. I had to put my hand over my ears at one point because lo and behold he was standing talking to Caitriona, Amy and Christine who were all screaming directly into the microphone as I made my way up that Iron Mile and back down through the finish line. How could I not be smiling? I had high fives from him, from the other German-speaking commentator, a line of cheerleaders AND finish line tape to run through. Fabulous fun.
OK. That’s it. Hope it didn’t ramble toooooo much. I would say I would HUGELY recommend this 70.3 but sadly that was their last one in St Poelten – for now, anyway.
So TA-RA St Poelten. You were evil but stunningly beautiful, friendly and very very special.
Things I learned
St Poelten likes cash, not cards.
Pizza and kebabs are a favourite, not pizza and pasta.
La Dolce Vita – best restaurant.
The Greek restaurant in the main square – highest score for rudest waiter.
Avoid sugar before the final 5k.
For God’s sake fuel on the bloody bike! How many times ……..
Matt Fitzgerald’s Training Peaks plans are fantastic. No DOMS! Perfect training.
Shipmytribike – still the best bike transport.
Don’t book fancy restaurants for celebrations. Appetite didn’t come back for 3 days. Gin, however, was perfectly welcome 😊
Any time before the cut-off is a great time.
Post race blues are shit.
Supporters can never be thanked enough.
Steve McMenamin can never be thanked enough.
HUGE HUGE CONGRATULATIONS to my amazing partner in crime Caitriona. What memories! I hope you’ll forgive me for dangling this massive goal in front of you – but WHAT AN ACHIEVEMENT! You are amazing. #anythingispossible
Cait – Swim: 00:46:25 – Bike: 04:13:53 – Run: 02:33:47 – Total: 07:50:13
Me: Swim: 00:47:01 – Bike: 04:02:02 – Run: 03:01:15 – Total: 08:07:21