May 29, 2021 - My first IRONMAN since 2001. A challenging course with lots of rain on the technical bike course.
Race recap IRONMAN Tulsa May 23rd, 2021
It is always hard to write a race recap if the race did not go how you wanted it to be.
You never know what happens during a full distance and I guess there will never be a perfect race on an Ironman…. the important part is to learn from the things going wrong and move on to the next race. It was my first Ironman after I finished my pro career with Ironman Europe in 2001.
On race morning before the race everything went well. I was feeling great and was incredibly happy to race. The alarm clock went of at 2:30am after a good 6-hour sleep. Hydration and nutrition intake went as planned without any stomach issues. At 3:30am we took off to drive 30 minutes to T2 in Tulsa. The organization of the race made it mandatory for athletes to take a shuttle from T2 to T1, a 20-25 min drive, on race day. We booked a campsite near the swim start and T1 which was worthless because of the mandatory shuttle. No one knew about the shuttle till the athlete guide came out 10 days before the race. Arriving at the T2 area in Tulsa at about 4:00am there was already a huge traffic jam to get to the shuttle drop off. After being in the traffic jam for about 30 min I decided to walk the last ¾ mile to the shuttle take off to get to T1. We arrived at 5:00am and it started to rain. At T1, I checked on the bike and did some final preparations. The swim start was about 1.2 miles away from T1 and we had to walk that distance in groups by estimated swim times. With my goal to be under 60 minutes for the swim, I joined the group for 60 minutes or less. Arriving at the swim start at about 6:10 am, I decided to go to the restroom. Well, there were only 4 porta potties available for athletes. After standing in line for 20 minutes I decided to go behind a boat in the marina and have a pee there, because my swim start was in 15 minutes, and the wait time was at least another 15-20 minutes. There are some improvements what need to be made for the 2022 race.
I made it to the swim start on time, and I was overly excited but could not do a warmup. I was still feeling great and was ready to go. Finally, the canon went off and 4 athletes jumped into the water every 3 seconds. On the first 200m I was feeling great but shortly after my left calf muscle started to cramp. My first thought was it was because of the missing warm up and I was able to get it under control very quick. I never got a cramp during a swim in my entire career. Unfortunately, the left calf muscle started to cramp about every 10 minutes. I was able to get it under control with a short stretch very quick and started thinking how it would react running up that relatively steep boat ramp to the bike transition. Luckily, it was not an issue for my calf, and I finished the swim in 01:06:31. About 7-8 minutes slower as my plan was. My Garmin showed that the swim was a little over 4000m, but you never know how accurate everything is.
The transition went well. COVID guidelines made us to have everything (bike shoes, helmet) inside the transition bag and pack the wetsuit, googles and swim cap into the bag. With that and a little longer uphill run to the bike mount line, I am pretty happy with a T1 time of 00:03:58.
The rain increased, and it didn’t stop for the next 3.5 hours. There were many speculations how the challenging bike course would be with bad road conditions, uncountable hills, and many sharp corners. After the first couple miles I realized something is wrong. I had a weak feeling in my left leg and a feeling of not getting enough power on the left pedal. After the first longer climb my left leg started to feel more and more week and my average speed was about 1-2 mph slower as planned. Heart rate was about 5 – 8 beats blow the plan, but I could feel that my right leg had to work much harder, and I didn’t wanted to overpower it. There were sections on the course with awfully bad road conditions, very rough and big potholes. The rain made it extremely difficult to spot these potholes. I have never seen so many athletes with punctures and bike defects, or so many visors from helmets, water bottles and nutrition packages laying around in these bad sections on other Ironmans…. and I was one of the early starters with many athletes behind me.
Overall, I really liked the course with the many hills, technical aspects, and a beautiful countryside… and it was worth a North American Championship. After 3.5 hours, the rain stopped for about 30 minutes, till a stronger storm moved in with nasty winds and increased headwinds on the last 30 miles. Surprisingly, I did not have any cramps during the bike portion, but the weakness of the left leg was very present. I finished the bike course in 05:28:13. With an anticipated bike split from 05:00-05:15 it was 15-30 slower than I wanted.
At T2 it was the same, everything had to be packed back in the bags. After putting my running gear on, I did some stretches for my left hamstrings and calf muscles. With a transition time of 00:06:07, it was about a minute slower than wanted.
I stared the run with the planned pace of 07:00 – 07:20 per mile and the first mile went well. But suddenly after a mile my entire left leg started to cramp. Really, I do not mean the calf muscles or the hamstrings alone…. literally, the entire leg, calf, thigh, hamstrings, hip flexors, and glutes cramped! I had to stop and started to stretch, after a while I was ready to go again. This was so weird and never had to deal with the entire leg cramping up. I decided to take an extra salt capsule beside the Base salt I used during the entire race. I was good for another 1.5 miles with a slightly slower pace of 07:35-07:45 per mile till the cramping got worse. I was close to drop out of the race, but that is not my personality and a DNF was not an option for me. I never had a DNF on an Ironman and only had 1 DNF in an Olympic triathlon after a severe bike crash in my entire career. I thought it might get better if I walk for a half mile. Well, it turned out that it had to be a run/walk with a slow run pace of 09:00 plus per mile till about mile 20. After mile 20, I was able to run with a pace between 09:30 – 09:45 per mile for the remaining 6 miles. The run course along the Arkansas River was beautiful and absolutely worth a North American Championship! Some hills at the beginning and end of the marathon with a mainly flat course along the Arkansas River with aid stations about every mile, and the amazing volunteers motivated me to stay in the race.
Seeing Patrick Lange leading the pro field by a good margin gave a little extra motivation… GO GERMANY! ?? ?? ??
I finished the marathon in 04:15:17 about an hour slower as anticipated.
Total time for Ironman Tulsa, 11:01:05. With a goal of going sub 09:45 and competing for a podium it was over an hour slower ?….
But as I wrote in the beginning, an Ironman is unpredictable and as long you learn from the race, it was a good race. I did some research about my issues during the race and could get some confirmation, that it was a late reaction to the 2nd COVID vaccination I received 12 days before the race. I heard from two other athletes (1 ultra-runner and 1 marathon runner), who experienced the same weakness in one leg and massive cramping at races 2-3 weeks after their 2nd COVID shot. But who knows, it could also be something else like an internal infection or so. I rule out nutrition or hydration. I was spot on with my intake and it was tested in many rides, runs and races without ever having problems. I used Infinit Custom Bike Blend for the bike portion and decided to use nutrition provided on the run course for the run. I packed a bottle with concentrated Infinit Custom Run Blend in my special need run bag, which was available at mile 15 and used it for the next couple miles too.
So, I came in 23rd out of 210 in my age group and 228th out of 1,738 overall. Not a too bad result (still my slowest Ironman ever ?) and I still can hope for a Kona slot. With 18 slots available in my AG, there is a chance for a roll down spot. I’ve to wait till after May 31st, the deadline for claiming a spot.
I would not say that I have earned the spot with that performance, but of course I’ll take it, since it was the main goal for Ironman Tulsa. So, please cross your fingers! ??
Next race is a local mid distance mid-July and Ironman 70.3 Boulder.