The Frankfurt Ironman Experience
At home. Still high from finishing the Frankfurt Ironman on Sunday. Rewarding myself with a beer.
I can still feel the race in my whole body...literally. I go over the experience once more.
We get to Frankfurt on Friday. Christian Haep is there to greet us. A great guy who helps us throughout the weekend.
I feel nervous before the start. I know I have trained well, but will I be able to cope with the full distance of an Ironman - a 3,8 km swim, a 180 km bike ride and a 42.2 km marathon?
(Photo: Juan Martinez)
I know I have to pace myself. I can't go flat out. Patience is not a virtue that I possess. Think diesel, think diesel.
I sleep relatively well before the race. Especially a few days before. I know that is important. I feel rested. Good.
I eat well on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. My body feels loaded with carbs. On Saturday I go back to normal food.
The day before the race I go for a short swim with Tiina Boman, one of the top female triathletes of the world. Her husband, Antti Hagqvist, gives us last minute instructions. He has been my coach throughout training.
The lake feels good. The water is relatively clear.
In the afternoon we get a briefing from race director Kai Walter. Helps to settle the nerves. Now I know what to put in the blue, red and white bags which await me at the different transition areas.
I get my gear ready - towel, wetsuit, goggles, swimming cap, bike, helmet, biking shoes, drinking bottles, sunglasses, socks, running shoes, energy gels and a running cap.
My alarm goes off at 4.15 a.m. on race day. The family is asleep. I go down to have breakfast. I don't feel especially hungry, but I need my morning coffee.
I get to the lake at 5.30 a.m. I fiddle with my gear, pump the tires and give a few interviews. Tiina and I enter the water together. Time to warm up. I feel good.
There is an eerie atmosphere. Quiet. All the athletes are focused.
I can hear the starter talking about "Der Finnische Aussenminister", the Finnish Foreign Minister. Kind of him.
Then, just before the start, I hear one of my favourite bands, Sunrise Avenue. I feel even better. Ready to go.
My start is at 6.45. Bang, and we are off. Not too much pushing and shoving. I am looking for a good draft, but can't find one.
Never mind. My rhythm feels good. One-two-one-two.
After the first 900 metres I tag behind a good swimmer. I follow him to the halfway point where we have to get out of the water and swim in the other direction. I fall behind my draft and consequently slow down.
I come out of the water in 1 hour and 7 minutes. Relatively happy with my time.
I run around to transition, take off my wetsuit and change into biking gear. It all takes 4 minutes.
I start biking relatively easy, trying to get a rhythm. The first 12 km are gentle, a bit downhill.
I begin eating my energy gels. One every half an hour. I stick to the plan until the end, and end up gulping 21 energy gels and some 10 litres of liquids during the journey.
On the bike I stick to my own sports drink and water.
The Frankfurt country side is beatiful...and fortunately not too hilly. Only three bigger hills and "The Hell", a 600 metre cobblestone bit.
The crowds are great. Every little village is packed with cheering spectators. They give me energy. Danke sehr.
The bike ride consists of two loops. I see my family, Finnish flags and all, in downtown Frankfurt. They give me more energy than the energy gels.
I feel comfortable on the bike. It is probably my strongest discipline thanks to my "ice-hockey thighs", but I don't want to push because I know that a marathon awaits.
I keep a steady, conservative pace, and finish the 180 kilometres in 5 hours and 21 minutes. My odometre tells me that my average speed is 34,1 km/h, the official timer gives me slightly slower average.
The transition to the run feels smooth. I have done it countless times in training, but I have never faced a marathon after a long bike ride.
I pace myself. Four loops of 10,5 km. I feel confident.
The crowds are fantastic. Packed along the River Main. Tens of thousands cheering. I hear "Go Alexander Go". And I keep going.
(Photo: M. Yliluoma)
In the beginning the fast runners keep on passing me. No worries. I am focused on my own race. I can't imagine what it would feel like to race against someone else. I am going for my own dream. I want to finish.
There is a service station every 1,5 km. I use everyone of them. The pattern remains the same: ice down my back, water, a sip of pepsi cola or red bull and finally four sponges of ice cold water over my head.
I need all the refreshment I can get. Sunshine and 28 degrees celsius can be treacherous.
(Photo: Sandra Böhncke)
My family, Tiina's family and Antti's family cheer me on. Every time I see them I feel better, my steps feel lighter.
Not once do I contemplate stopping. Not once do I feel like stopping. The only time I have to pull over for a few minutes is when I get my toes patched for blisters. No major problems, just a bit uncomfortable.
Pauli Kiuru, a legendary triathete (once 2nd in Hawaii and twice 3rd) told me before the race that an Ironman is about controlling pain. I decide that blisters are a part of that pain.
The first loop feels good. The second one is a bit tougher. The third one is the worst. That is when I have to take care of the blisters. After that it all feels good. I am able to pick up the pace for the last lap.
Throughout the run I have to stop thinking about the finishing line. I have to do it for two reasons. One, I am not there yet. Two, I get emotional.
I try to stay focused, kilometre after kilometre. I do not allow myself to think about the finish. Stick to the plan! Drink, take a gel, cool down. Keep at it.
I approach the final turning point. I know I only have some 400 metres to go. I can see my dream at the end of the tunnel. I allow myself to see it.
I feel delirious. I don't remember any of it, yet I remember it all.
200 meters to go. The finish line. Thousands of spectators. I see a Finnish flag. I grab it. I throw my running cap into the crowd.
I wave the flag and give "high fives" to the crowd. I don't want it to end.
Then I see my children, Emilie and Oliver, and my wife, Suzanne. The kids jump over the barrier and race me to finish. We embrace. I cry.
I have never experienced anything like it. My marathon time was 4 hours. The whole journey took a total of 10 hours, 35 minutes and 45 seconds. Every second was worth it.
I am escorted to the athlete area together with the other finishers. I jump into a bucket of ice. Feels good on the thighs.
I look around. A bunch of tired smiles.
I see Tiina Boman and Christian Ossig, a friend from my year in Bruges. We hug and congratulate eachother. We know that we are a bit crazy, but at least we are crazy and happy.
After a shower and a gentle massage it is time to eat. There is nothing like a couple of big beers and a juicy steak after a long day at work.
I want to thank the whole Ironman team and all the volunteers in Frankfurt for a fantastic experience. Special thanks to Ben Fertic, Kurt Denk, Kai Walter and Christian Haep for a making the weekend pitch-perfect.
One day I hope that we could organise an "exotic" Ironman event here in Finland. The land of the midnight sun and tens of thousands of lakes would be a great place for an Ironman. We Finns are nuts about sports.
John F. Kennedy said famously that "Ich bin ein Berliner" (sic.). Well, in that case I can say that "Ich bin ein Frankfurter". Vielen Dank Hessen!
PS. We will insert some pictures from the race later. Please feel free to share your Frankfurt Ironman experience or any other comments.