By Abe Ingersoll, October 2022
Getting here was a real faff. This was the first time I’ve traveled with a bike box, the first time to Greece and I had the entire family tagging along. The race venue was actually the southwestern coast of Athens, the southern edge of the "Riviera" along the 2004 Olympics Triathlon course. We waited a long while from flights to booking accommodation and transfers and it turned out to be way easier than we’d built it up to be in our minds. The only slight hitch was my bike’s goofy aerodynamic stem not coming apart cleanly into the bike box, then having to scramble for a stem spacer to replace a missing piece early the day of bike check-in.
My partner had heard horror stories of Athens, that it’s as bad or worse than San Francisco. That was all a load of bull or we just got lucky and missed it. We stayed near the center of Glyfadda which besides being slightly noisy late at night felt just like Santa Monica or Venice California. Flying in on Thursday for a race on Sunday was perfect. After a travel day we managed one long family outing exploring sights, then split up Saturday so I could prep for the race.
Wow what a venue. I rode to get to the bike drop off as all of the cabs were just five-seater cars. I’m glad I did — I took a wrong turn and hugged the coast, which was actually the run course. The turnaround overlooks a sheltered bay with fleets of miniature sailboats, divers in coves and clear blue water. Once you crest the final bend, it’s down a long straight into Vouliagmeni bay where the start/finish was laid out on the beach.
As far as Ironman’s go, I don’t think this one is yet as popular as it should be. The bike racking area could have fit another couple hundred bikes easily. There were 1600’ish total, with about 800 local greeks. Then all sorts with the largest contingent being British. And Americans, it’s weird to encounter American accents after being hidden up in Manchester for three years.
Check-in was largely uneventful but after seeing the run course I decided that carbon shoes with 8mm of drop would suck on the descents, opted for the new zero-drop Alta’s instead. I stocked up on gels and misc kit in case riding in Crete the week after the race was in the cards.
On race day I got up at 5am and only had coffee with milk. Then a 1500 “horse tablet” precision hydration about an hour before the race and finally a couple of GRU gels about 30 minutes before the swim start. I don’t normally eat breakfast so this routine feels natural and has worked well the last three races. I did completely gorge myself the days before, and this time I went to town on Haribo candy the night prior almost to the point of feeling sick.
What an atmosphere at the start. Being so late in October, the sun was just rising as the race set off, or maybe this is normal for all long-distance events? The water was flat as glass besides the swimmers causing wakes. And then once we were out of the shallow sandy bits, blue clear water!
It was so much fun looking left and right and seeing horrible mistakes that Kate had coached me out of. Low elbow catches, feet dragging, windmill arms, crossover arms, ugh.
Then for myself, because I could see the bottom and the water was calm, it was so, so obvious when my catch was working. I barely kicked at all and at the first turn, about 300m in, my watch suggested 1:42/100m pace. It must have been wrong or included the run in or an early fast stroke rate or who knows. There were a couple of tangles with misdirected swimmers and sighting was tricky as we were swimming somewhat into the sun but it was still so cool. I should have set off in the middle of the 30m group instead of hanging back in the 40min chute.
Coming out of the water I took my sweet time drying my feet, putting speed socks on, making certain I had gels, etc. I should easily be a couple of minutes faster out of T1 next time.
On the bike I felt really strong. No aches or pains and such amazing scenery, at least for the first five kilometres or so before the road goes a wee bit off the coast. I had two larger Maurten Gel 100's in my belt and then two SIS w/caffeine plus two smaller GRU in my pockets (~146g carbs total). Oh and two 750m bottles onboard with a single-serve stickpack of Tailwind in each (~100g?). I think I spaced that all out well and besides having to slow down to grab a water bottle at the final aid station it was easy peasy.
The first three sections out of the 2x out and back were pretty fast. I didn’t really pay attention to the first section out, just went by feel, and then focused on holding that power level and average speed for the remainder. For some reason the second leg was higher power but a longer time, which was odd. Then on the final leg it hit me -- the damn coastal wind. I suppose it was about 11am by then and suddenly it was right in our faces.
The banter with other random riders whilst cycling was fun. Then in that final leg as we started to bunch up, the Moto officials were chasing people down. It’s odd how even at 12m spacing there’s still a drafting effect, and on a 90km course people outright just DGAF about the rules. The race bibs had printed nationality flags, I wonder if there’s a correlation with which citizens break rules more than others.
Generally on the bike laps I just focused on catching people one by one, there wasn't much to it and besides the last 10km or so after a beating by the wind I felt great. No aches or pains, just had to move around the saddle a bit to keep the delicate old perennium from being stuffed up into my gizzard. Looking at stats later, I started to fade a wee bit around about when my bum got sore and I was driving into the wind. I think this is one of the highest average w/kg I’ve held over 90mins but it was still only ~80% of my FTP as guessed by TrainerRoad AI FTP. I wonder how much my prior bad bike fit has hurt me and if discomfort is keeping me from going harder.
T2 was uneventful besides that I decided to change socks and I also slathered myself with a bunch of additional suncream per Natasha skin cancer lectures ringing in my airs. I also successfully stuffed four more SIS gels w/caffeine into my pockets (+88g total carbs). Oh, also, I visited the porta-loo and I swear it was like peeing molten lead. Ye urethra or something inline with the plumbing was not a happy camper but I refused to let myself take a quick involuntary snooze in a porta potty. Also of note, these pees take forever — I did this during the Manchester Marathon as well and I could swear it was like 120s or more. Not sure what’s going on with this burn (seat fit next?) but the thought of peeing whilst riding is still just a step too far.
On the way out of T2 I ended up behind a local who was getting all sorts of hoots and hollers so I just stayed with him. At 1km the watch said 4min/km which .. felt OK but I didn’t want to die later. So I backed off as I headed into the base of the first long slow hill. I wonder if I could have just kept pacing him.
The hills were slightly murderous, had to dodge many causalities who couldn’t plod up them. Much like the bike, I just aimed to hold steady power at a comfortable pace and not spike my heart rate too much.
At each aid station I’d grab as much water as possible and dump it on my head, into my hat and generally try to get cool and wash out the white sweat stains. That worked a treat besides that my shoes got a bit waterlogged and squishy.
At the bottom of the first lap I was surprised by my girls. My oldest Naomi (just turned 15!) had figured out the tracker app and had positioned the whole brood at the perfect turnaround spot in the shade. That really made my day. Apparently it was a super nice resort and they had a jolly nice lunch on the beach waiting for me to come back around on the final lap.
I had intended to use my Stryd foot pod but it didn’t want to fire up as I started the run. So besides glancing at my watch to get a read of heart rate and pacing, the 21km was all by feel. I was aiming to come in before 5h30m all-in, but I couldn’t do the math on the fly to figure out where I was at. Also the rolling start meant that rough wall clock time didn’t help much either. I basically just wanted to not bonk and could tell I was going to make the goal time. Oh, the gels, I took them right before each downhill section. My stomach was a bit gurgly and burpy right off the bike, but it settled down and the gels were well tolerated besides that they were warm and oddly delicious by this point. I managed to gulp three with one spare left at the end.
At about kilometre 17 I had one of those endorphin rushes where my body just let go. Maybe it was at km 13 then again at 17km. Just a rush of emotion and a flash of adrenaline or something. It happened to me during the Manchester Marathon too but that time I put it up to chaffing and the techno music beneath the M56 underpass. This time, I wasn’t really in pain, I was just elated.
It’s fascinating how four or five hours of racing can go so quickly.
The final stretch through the village was cool but then you went down this long alley to reach the beach entrance. I didn’t sprint or pick it up too much but could have. Crossing the line I got hit with more elation/endorphin/chafing-made-me-see baby Jesus vibes. It was a pretty cool scene. Big ol’ party on the beach.
The gals caught up and then I jumped in the sea. I don’t ever want to do a race that doesn’t end with a final rinse in a clear blue sea.
Afterward, or really, during the final bit, my left hamstring was quite agro. And I guess the top of my right knee was a little bit punchy as well from going fast on the downhills. Other than that though, nothing. No toes bent out of shape, no bleeding nipples, no sun burn, .. just Garmin routing me through stupid hilly neighbourhoods to avoid main roads on the bike ride home.
Looking at the AG winners and my place (57 out of 200-something), I need to keep the swim training up, mix 121 sessions with a cadence that’s offset with lots of individual practice — I don’t see a reason why I can’t keep the swim improvement pace up. And then an aero bike, alongside hitting 4w/kg or better. And lots of S&C and stretching and yoga. Holy hammy.
What a wonderful adventure.