Ironman Austria, 2015

by Elaine Garvican

When I entered Ironman Austria, I had 3 specific goals in mind:

  1. Sub 10 hours
  2. A Sub 3:30 marathon
  3. Kona Qualification

There’s a certain amount of inter-connection between these three – historically, to KQ at Austria requires a sub-10; to go sub-10 I thought I would need a sub 3:30 marathon. I didn’t pluck any of these numbers out of the air, and I believed I stood a good chance of achieving at least two of the above, but as the year went on it seemed people’s reaction upon hearing these aims was most commonly a set of raised eyebrows, so I got a bit reticent about discussing it too openly. Still, I’m a bit of a geek for tick boxes, so I set several intermediate goals along the way and in March set a new half marathon PB and swam a 6:03 400m TT two weeks before we set off for Austria. So I was quietly confident that I could deliver what my training had built towards.

Klagenfurt is an absolutely stunning setting. A sleepy little town, walled by near vertical rock faces, the aspects of which changed dramatically throughout the day as the sun shifted. The lake was clean, inviting and warm, the surrounding roads well paved, the views picturesque and the temperature nigh-on perfect – hot, but not pavement-melting.


For the first time, the race changed to wave starts, with the women off at 7:15. It was firmly lodged in my head that my target was to cross the line before 17:15, and then they brought our start forward a few minutes. Never mind – the clock should never be a concern until the last 6 miles of the marathon, right?!

The actual start was incredibly civilized and very laid back – probably the “nicest” start I’ve ever had to an IM swim. We all just waded into the clear water and started swimming; no punching, no panicking, no congestion. Almost immediately I got onto the feet of a pair of great swimmers. I’m convinced these two girls knew each other, because they swam so companionably side by side throughout. I tucked in right behind them and could feel it was the ideal draft, since I had to concentrate a bit to stay there. I tried not to annoy them too much with feet-tapping, and before long we’d reached the first turn buoy. The maps had implied it was a 90 degree turn and a straight shot across the lake, but it was more like 45 degrees, which confused me a bit. I managed to hang onto the ladies until the next turn buoy, after which we were pointed directly back towards the shore, and into the sun. After that, I have little idea where I swam – wide left, that’s for sure. I couldn’t see the canal entrance (or much else, really except the people on boats wildly gesticulating that I should move over). It was frustrating, after reaching half way in what I am sure was a good time, but by a meandering route I eventually arrived at the canal entrance. I wouldn’t say this was the best kilometre I’ve ever swum. It was dirty – a comparison amplified by the gorgeous water of the main lake – crowded and personally, I couldn’t hear a thing, but that could have been all the water in my ears. My boredom threshold for swimming is about an hour, and sure enough shortly after entering the canal, I was fed up of swimming and just wanted to get out, so spying the Swiss cheese hotel through the trees was very welcome.

Swim: 1:09:07

This was a bit frustrating; I swam well, and I swam quicker than I have before, I just swam wide. I’d been banking on a swim time about 5 minutes quicker than that. Never mind – the clock should still never be a concern until the last 6 miles of the marathon! So I turned my attention to the task at hand – the seemingly long way between the canal and the bike mount line. Things would have been helped had I been able to find my bike though (not generally a problem for a poor swimmer like me!) T1 4:47 (Could/ should have been 60secs quicker!)

Bike: 5:09:07

I loved this bike course. It doesn’t come close to Nice in terms of views, but the scenery is pretty enough. It also seems to be 90% downhill, with nothing significant in the way of climbing, so it’s quick – I clocked one mile at an average of 44.5mph. I was looking forward to seeing some Pirates who’d started in previous waves, which always gives me a little boost. I was also amused by some local kamikaze wildlife – following a German guy down a long, sweeping descent, I saw a squirrel dart out from the right hand verge, then dither in total panic and change his mind two or three times about crossing the road before opting for life and staying put. As I overtook the German, we exchanged a few words, both us more than thankful the little guy had bottled out. I saw the aftermath of several crashes, and a handful of drafting penalties handed out – the bike course was crowded but where I was, after the first 10 miles it was certainly possible to avoid cheating and became increasingly so as the bike leg wore on.

I biked to heart rate and was disciplined about my cap. I don’t have elapsed time on my bike computer, but I managed to avoid getting bored and retrospectively, my Garmin tells me I rode the second lap quicker than the first. The DJ on the Rupertiberg helped a bit, although whatever he was playing whenever I rode past him was then firmly lodged in my head for miles afterwards which was a bit annoying as his personal preference was cheesey techno-pop. In the early stages of the second lap, I decided I needed a pee, but the revolted expression of the only spectator for miles as I did so was almost enough chastisement to dissuade me from doing so in the future. Apart from that, the bike was pretty uneventful. My new helmet (purchased 48 hours earlier when I discovered my current aero helmet was dangerously too big – oops!) was comfy, nutrition went in, I felt happy and relaxed – what more is there to say? A top 10 bike split (including pros) and I was delivered back at T2 where there was only one other bike racked in my section. T2 2:31 (better!)

Run 3:27:56

Having no total elapsed time (the clock is of no concern….), I was fairly sure I was back on schedule, but the fat lady sings as you set foot on the magic carpet, and not a second earlier. So I set out comfortably, letting my heart rate settle down. Swim Smooth Julian was standing on the side of the canal and yelled to me that I was second, but I wasn’t sure if he meant overall AGer, in my AG, or something else entirely, so I tried not to dwell too much.

The western leg of the run takes you along the side of the lake, through a restaurant and down towards Krumpendorf and includes a small excursion into a grassy lakeside public area (Labe Parkbad), by way of some energy-sapping gravel. Both times this leg was sunny and hot, and there is next to no shade. Weirdly, both times I ran the eastern town loop, where there is plenty of available shade along the canal, and from the buildings, the sun went behind the clouds. The town loop also contained significantly more in the way of distractions, including increasingly drunk people eating Weinerschnitzel, a slightly evil steep drop through an underpass, the Mini Mundu (which we walked round the Tuesday after the race) and, just before the turnaround dragon, a large bell strung across the course. For each time an athlete rang it, WTC made a donation to a very worthy Klagenfurt charity, so despite the extra concentration and effort needed to strike it, almost everyone at least attempted this. At the halfway point, I was overtaken by Eva Wutti, on her way to a fabulous win and got my 10 seconds on fame on the live feed.

The miles ticked off, I ran the not-so-pleasant western loop for the second time and at mile 20, I thought about the clock and started to wind up the pace a bit. Miles 21 – 24 were hard work, mentally and physically – 7:53, 7:48, 7:49, 7:42…. And then I just ran. I couldn’t remember what time of day we’d started, and I couldn’t mentally do the maths on whether I would break 10 hours or not, or whether I would run under 3:30 or not, I just ran. I didn’t know where I was in my age group or whether I was in a Kona qualifying slot or whether I actually wanted to do this all again in a few months, but I ran and I ran and I loved running those miles. I turned onto the carpet with a massive smile on my face, high-5ed Paul Kaye and crossed the line delighted with my race execution and the fact that I could now stop running.

2nd in my AG
16th overall woman (including pros)
6th amateur woman


Immediately after crossing the line, I fancied a bit of a lie down. Unfortunately, the medics on the finish line got wind of this idea and mandated that any lying down would be done on their stretcher. Initially I was fine with this (as it would likely be more comfortable than the ground) but the next thing I knew, I was being strapped in, and the stretcher relocated, at speed, over bumpy ground, to the med tent. That made me feel a little queasy, but the med tent was cool and shady and after lying still for 2 minutes, I felt much better. For some reason, the medic wanted to put me on a drip, and I had to spend several minutes arguing with him that I was fully capable of drinking and it therefore wasn’t necessary. He didn’t look convinced, so I told him I was a vet, as all doctors particularly love to be lorded over by someone more qualified than them. He said he needed to see me drink, so I polished off a nice cold bottle of water. Then I got cold, which always happens to me following endurance events, no matter how warm the ambient temperature. They got me a foil blanket and I lay there shivering for a bit while a nurse went and collected my Street Wear bag, which contained a sweater. I was still shivering when the medic came back and we started arguing again – if I let him place an IV, he said, I could have a drug to stop me shivering. I had just travelled 226km under my own steam, but I hadn’t actually taken leave of my senses, so I pointed out that I was cold, and that removing the root cause would be more sensible than just masking the symptoms. The nurse (demonstrably the smartest of any of us) asked if I would like to sit in the sun, which sounded like a remarkably good idea, so I tottered off to a bench just outside and basked in the 30°C sunshine, wearing a hoody, a foil blanket and a linen sheet. Ten minutes of that and I was good to go. Or good to stagger, stiff-legged and slowly, under Dawn’s guidance, back to the hotel for a shower anyway!

Since hearing this story, numerous people have told me I should have had the drip. If you’re one of them, you’re an idiot. I do not understand why some triathletes regard post-race medical intervention as a badge of honour. If you can drink, it is far, far better to rehydrate yourself orally. If you can’t, and you do require an IV, you screwed up your race; that’s not something to be proud of! I find it unfortunate that the medics over-reacted (in my case) and I don’t think they should be quite so willing to administer drugs when the non-medical solution is so simple, cheap and effective!

The next day, I accepted my Kona slot (two in my AG), lei, trophy and inability to walk downstairs with a perma-grin.

See you on Dig Me Beach!


In no particular order, thanks are due to:
– My Buccaneer team mates, for Fudgepackers, correct punctuation and for ensuring I never develop ideas above my station
– Julian Nagi, for swim coaching – One day I will actually swim a split you can be proud of!
– Dawn “Hope” Garwood for some much needed practical mothering, post-race
– Alan Ward at Tri Training Harder for help on my run form
– Adam, for your continued mentoring, guidance, encouragement, motivation and “Go Get ‘Em Champ” texts
– James, for everything.

IMA podium

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  1. So I’d be an ‘idiot’ for refusing the recommendation of medical professionals? Terrible advice Elaine.

  2. That’s not what I said though, is it? I didn’t need a drip; I more than adequately demonstrated that. The idiocy lies in people commenting after the fact, that I should have had one.

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