Phil Graves’ Blog: Running On Empty At Ironman Austria
Despite high hopes going into the race, Phil Graves came home disappointed.
Another Ironman, and sadly, another frustrating DNF for me. Everything had been going so well: I had a hard but decent swim, the bike… well, I’ll get onto that a bit later on, and I was flying on the run– until my legs fell off 10 miles from the finish.
I was lucky enough to have Richard Whitfield go with me to Austria, who was racing as a pro for the first time. He’d been training hard – doing six-hour rides on his TT bike on Saturdays while I went out with the group, racing up hills and sprinting for signs – and expectations were high. He’s had some great age-group results and wins most of the local races here in Yorkshire, but he had a baptism of fire.
My preparation had gone really well. I was flying on the swim and bike, and thought that with Ironman Lanzarote in my legs, I’d be fine on the run. I had a great swim and came out with Andreas Raelert, the pre-race favourite. I figured there wasn’t much point trying to break away early on so I just sat in the group on the bike – and I hardly had to pedal!
That’s the reality of racing a big race with a huge triathlon star, I suppose. Raelert would ride at the front, accompanied by motorbikes with media and police on, and I’d ride 10 metres behind and only have to pedal at 200 watts. It was like been sat in the middle of a huge pack at the Tour de France, and it made a bit of a mockery of the race. I wouldn’t have even classed the first 150km as a training ride – there were hard bits up the climbs but on the downhills I had to sit up like I was riding my bike to swimming practice to keep my legal 10-metre gap.
Richard, on the other hand, had a very different experience. Instead of doing a super-long individual TT on the bike, like he’d been doing in training, he found himself in a group that would ride steadily on the flat and hard up the climbs. This sort of surging riding was exactly what he hadn’t done in training, and it was a definite wake-up call. He was racing people now, not doing his own effort to get round the course, and it told. He dropped out 10km into the run, in eighth place – still an amazing performance for someone in his first pro start at an Ironman, especially someone with three kids and a full-time job.
Back to my race, and after 150km Maik Twelsiek attacked off the front and got a gap. I bridged up to him and flew past, and in the last 25km I put two minutes into Twelsiek and nearly four minutes into Raelert. I was amazed, and felt great going onto the run. I held off Raelert for 10km, and when he did run past, I didn’t think the pace he was running at was unachievable for me. Even after 15km I still had a two-minute gap on Twelsiek and was running fine.
Ironman running is all about clocking up those early kilometres, until the last 10km, when you have to really gut it out. At 20km, though, I was struggling to go forward. My legs were just shot to bits. It felt like there were hundreds of small daggers in my quads. It was ‘game over’ for me – there was no way I could have run that last 20km, and even now, my legs are much more battered than they were after Ironman Lanzarote, when I ran the entire marathon. But I guess that’s Ironman: you journey out into the unknown and anything can happen. That’s why we do it, and I can’t wait for the next one – once my quads have come back to life!