School finished on Wednesday 26th June and I left with tons of good wishes from both staff and students. The rest of the day was spent taking the dogs to kennels, getting bags packed, tidying house, eating and trying to sleep.
Thursday's alarm went off at 2:45 a.m. and after a shower and a cup of coffee I headed out in the Transit to pick up Lorna's Mum's luggage and head to the airport. This is where things went a little pear-shaped…
We parked up at Edinburgh at 4:15 a.m. and ventured into the terminal to check in for our 6 a.m. KLM flight to Amsterdam feeling very worthy… right behind about 100 scouts heading out on the same plane. We tried to check in using the online terminals but they weren't working for us, and the KLM staff member was distinctly unhelpful saying 'sometimes they don't work'. Well, thanks for that. We bumped into a couple of ladies who were travelling with the same company (Nirvana) to IM Austria and got chatting away to them… It was only after about 15 mins or so Lorna's Mum said the words that I will never forget…"My ticket says our flight is from Glasgow Airport". Eeeeeeek.
Well, after my heart started beating again and the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach masked the fact that I hadn't had any breakfast, we did in fact confirm we were (spectacularly) in the wrong airport. Lorna dashed off to the KLM desk but unfortunately the Edinburgh flight was full, so our only option was to get back in the car / van and tear back along the M8 in order to make the 8:20 a.m. flight from Glasgow.
I know car parking can be steep, but £144 for around 20 minutes probably takes some beating.
That was a long drive for us, me all alone in the Transit with the luggage and Lorna, her Mum and kids in the car. We were all remarkably calm, all things considered, but this was not the start to race weekend that either of us had planned.
We eventually got to Glasgow Airport and a very nice KLM lady managed to change our 6 a.m. shuttle tickets to 8:20 a.m. tickets for £300 (ouch). If we'd noticed at Edinburgh straight away, we'd have probably had time to make our original flight - doh.
Once we got on the plane we actually had a slim chance to make our connecting flight to Vienna where we were being met by our travel company Nirvana who would then take us on to Klagenfurt. However, after the plane sat on the tarmac for 30 minutes that small chance evaporated so we going to be further delayed. My name was mud! I suspect I'll NEVER live this one down!
Arrived at Amsterdam Schipol airport and as expected we'd missed the flight to Vienna, however, the KLM staff changed our tickets to the later flight without money changing hands (phew) and we set about killing 5 hours until the next leg of our journey.
Nirvana were waiting for us when we reached Vienna, our bikes had made it but our luggage hadn't… You'd have thought 5 hours in Amsterdam would have been enough time for the baggage handlers to get our stuff on the correct flight but seemingly not. Chris from Nirvana was brilliant and loaded us and our 2 bike cases into the Transit and fired along the autostrasse for the best part of 3 hours until we reached Klagenfurt. Perhaps we might actually make this race after all!
We arrived at the hotel around 11:30 p.m. and food and room service had stopped - but of an issue given we were starving. The Night Porter let us into the bar and checked that they could make some pizzas for us, we ordered 5 thinking they would be 'snack' sized, however, they turned out to be at least 12" each… I think we ate about 3 in total and offered the other 2 to some other late arrivers. The beer was delicious - more carb loading before the event!
|Can I have a Flake in that please?|
On Friday we registered at the Expo and started buying more Ironman branded goods that was sensible. If you've ever been to Disney and your kids go through the stores you'll realise what I mean by this was 'Disney for Adults'! The credit card took a battering that day.
We had dinner down on the lake and watched the finishing chute being built up… excitement levels were rising. We attended the race briefing - most if not all of the 3000 participants were there and the race director did a great job in boosting everyone up for the race. Many of us were first time IM competitors and had journeyed from near and far to get to this point.
We decided to head back to the hotel and go for a quick swim in the canal (the last 900m of the race on Sunday). The water was warm (unusual for us in Scotland) and within no time we were happily swimming along in the open water. This was a great confidence booster - especially as the canal was only maybe 1-1.5 m deep meaning I could stand up, handy if I was getting tired on race day ;-)
Lorna's bike was due for a bike service at the hotel so we started pulling our bikes together. My frame and forks had come loose in transit so I tightened up the head set bolts and got everything back in working order. I noticed Lorna's frame and forks were also loose, so I started tightening everything up. Then 'snap' and disaster had struck once more. The bolt holding the headset cap in place had sheared off inside the fork steerer bung making the bike un-rideable. At this point Lorna must have thought I was deliberately trying to sabotage her race and I was not in line to win 'husband of the year 2013' or any year after.
We took the bike down to the mechanic who said he would get round to it and not to worry… difficult when you've spent 15 months (or 2 years in Lorna's case) training for a day that was now just 1.5 days away. When he did manage to look at it he confirmed what we thought - a new carbon fork steerer bung and head bolt required. He said they'd send out one of their mechanics to a local bike shop tomorrow and that it would be fixed in time for bike check in and not to worry, but worry we did… Not much sleep that night!
Saturday and we went to the expo to see if we could buy the necessary part and surprisingly it was one of the few bike bits that wasn't on sale - the only option was for us or Nirvana to pick the parts up. Nirvana said they'd already sent out one of their guys to pick the but up and I managed to get Lorna onto the bus tour of the course to take her mind off the fact her bike was in pieces. Stress levels were running high and there were a few tears until she received a text confirming her bike was now all sorted - phew… that was me off the hook again, and I expect I'll never get asked to 'fix' her bike again!
Off the bus tour we met up with the family, had lunch (yet more pasta) and headed off to the hotel to get everything ready for check in. We picked up Lorna's bike and headed out for a quick 10 minute cycle to check everything was working well. My bike had developed a strange clicking noise but given my previous bike maintenance skills I decided to leave it well alone!
We got all our gear together in 3 bags; 1 for street wear (stuff you could wear down to the lake in the morning and after the race had finished),1 for bike gear and 1 for run gear. Their transition area is 'clean' in the fact that only your bike is racked, you get changed between disciplines in the transition tents.
At bike check in they took photos of you with your bike to ensure that after the race nobody decides to wheel off that lovely looking super bike that they's always fancied…
With the bikes and the bags all checked in, our timing chips attached around our ankles we were all sorted… Nothing to do now but eat yet more pasta, set the alarm for 4:30 a.m. and try to get some sleep.
Sunday 30th June: Race Day!
Well, after 15 months of solid training the alarm goes off and race day is here. I jumped into the shower knowing that in a couple of hours I'd be getting into a lake anyway but it's all part of the morning routine. We go downstairs for breakfast at 4:30 a.m. and the restaurant is busy with lots of other nervous and excited athletes.
We sat next to a group from Ireland, a couple of first timers and couple of folks who had done one before and had been cajoled back into making another appearance. We had a great laugh over croissants and coffee and it really helped ease the pre-race nerves. We wished each other well and headed back to the room to make final preparations.
Leaving the hotel at 5 a.m. and the day had already begun. The early morning light was sparkling off the still waters of the canal, which, in a few hours time would no doubt be churned up by 3000 sets of flailing arms. Euro-pop music blasted from a huge P.A. stand built up on the corner just outside the hotel and the bier garten (which took up half the car park) was well served with cask upon cask of Stiegl - the race beer. We joined hundreds of other athletes all heading for transition to make our final bike checks (adding nutrition, pumping up bike tyres, removing rain cover)… and wouldn't you know it but my new Irish pals were racked in the same bike racks as me!
We entered the Lido and started getting into our wetsuits, checked out the start area then headed across to the Ironman dome to hand in our street wear bag. On queueing for the loo (for the umpteenth time that morning) I discovered I'd lost my ear plugs when getting into my wetsuit. Thankfully I'd packed a spare pair on my street bag so I managed to retrieve them before heading over to the starting zone.
Fully suited up with our shiny Gold 15th Anniversary IM Austria swim hats on, I felt really calm and was really looking forward to the day ahead. The gun went off at 6:45 a.m. and a huge cheer rose for the professionals and age group athletes as they jumped into the lake from the pontoon. The crowds were cheering and the cheerleaders were strutting their funky stuff as we lined up on the beach. That 15 minutes flew by and before I knew it the gun had gone off, the tape was lifted and we were off. This was getting VERY real!
I gave Lorna a big hug and a kiss and wished her well - I had no doubts she'd be fine, we both waited what seemed like a few minutes, but was probably only 30 seconds or so, for the 'keener' swimmers to get in the water.
Then I remembered what one of my pals, Mark Russell, said before the race…"just breathe". I thought about all the messages of support I had received, the money we were raising for charity and imagined having to tell all those who had believed in me that I'd thrown in the towel at the first hurdle. As Lord Flasheart would say "I tweak the nose of terror"… or in cycling terms… I needed to obey rule 5.
I started swimming in a section of clear water, my wetsuit helping to keep my legs buoyant and I concentrated on a long, smooth catch, exhaling completely (too much CO2 in your system can increase the feeling of panic) and smooth breathing. Within a few minutes I had regained my rhythm and was started to glide through the water. I CAN do this!
My sighting was good and I seemed to be keeping a pretty straight line to the first buoy. I was actually overtaking many swimmers and I was starting to find this easy. How I can go from mortal dread to enjoyment within a few minutes is beyond me! The turn was the bunfight I had expected, so I held an outside line to avoid met of the carnage and made the left turn towards buoy number 2.
This came up faster than expected, and by now, without realising, I had clawed my way back up the field and it was really congested going around the final turn. I took a kick in the left leg which set my calf into spasm and as I tried to avoid being swum over by the engulfing hordes behind me, my right leg was yanked back and now my right calf went into spasm! I decided to kick like hell to get out of the maelstrom and moved to the right to get some clear water.
Within a couple of minutes my calves had settled back down which was good news, since the last time they cramped on my last 3.8km training swim they took 3 days to recover! As I swam along I caught up with someone on my right… I noticed the wedding ring at first - then said hello to my Wife! She was pretty surprised to see me and we swam along together in the sunlight heading for the entrance to the canal.
Now it is fair to say that Lorna can swim like a fish but not necessarily in a straight line, so we soon parted company. I also imagined the mickey-taking if we got out of the water at the same time!!! :-)
The canal entrance signalled the final 900m of the swim - easy days, most of the swim behind me and the ability to stand up if an issue arose… What a bun fight!!! At only 10 m wide the crystal clear waters of the Worthersee were being churned up good and proper and trying to find any clear space was nightmare. It was really cool turning your head out of the water and seeing the banks absolutely lined with spectators both sides and hearing their muffled shouts through my ear plugs and head cap.
Then, without warning, someone deliberately ducked my head under the water. I stood up to see some Italian bloke gesticulating wildly at me before he swam off. Not quite sure what indiscretion I had committed, but I gave him a good Geordie send off and wished him well..
I started to recognise where Lorna and I had been swimming a couple of nights previously and knew the exit to the swim area was near. I moved slightly away from the right bank and into the middle to avoid the tree stumps which seemed to catch a few unsuspecting swimmers out. Before I knew it, I had made the beach and was able to walk up the exit ramp where I was helped out of the water by one of the many, amazing (unpaid) volunteers.
I looked down at my watch and was amazed: 1 hour 13 minutes - the fastest time I have ever swum that distance (only the 7th open water swim I've ever done and the longest open water swim to boot). All that training with ATHelite (thanks Nic and John especially!!!!) had paid off. I had truly conquered my demons and felt ecstatic.
I saw Luke and Zoe and Lorna's Mum, Meg in the crowd and let out a ridiculous cheer. I had survived what I knew would be my weakest part of the event and I could now go and 'enjoy' the rest of the race.
Do I look happy?
I soaked up the atmosphere as I ran (if you can call it that) along the blue carpet to transition to get ready for…
The bikeI managed to find my kit bag easily and found a bench in the tent to get changed, It has to be said that I must have faffed about something wicked as this took a whole 14 minutes! I decided that given I was going to be cycling 180km that comfort was priority, so the judicious use of Assos chamois cream was called for, heart rate strap put on, shorts, top, socks, shoes…. dammit, forgot the calf guards… more time wasted. I saw Lorna disappear out of transition and knew that I'd have to catch her up on the bike.
The sun was shining and the temperature was rising, probably 22-24C by now - a beautiful day for a bike ride. I managed to get clipped in and started pedalling in the low chain ring in a fairly low gear just to get the legs spinning and ensure I didn't set off too quickly.
Rounding the first turn:
The Garmin on my bike was displaying some error message or other but in the sunlight with my shades on it was difficult to see what was going on. I almost had an off the road moment trying to sort it out and thought how deeply embarrassing that would be, time to concentrate on what I was doing!
I was making sure my heart rate was less than 145 bpm and even though it felt easy at 157 bpm I took my foot off the gas. I was really conscious about the no drafting rule - you have to maintain at least 10 m between you and the bike in front, you only have 15 seconds to come up along side, then pass the person in front, and if passed you need to back off pedalling and drop back 10m. There were marshals riding on the back of Harleys all around the course - get caught drafting, yellow flag and a 6 minute wait in the next penalty box you come across. Get caught a second time and it is game over - disqualified from the race. I decided that a DQ was not a good idea so obeyed the rules, although I observed a number who certainly didn't.
Later on in the race I saw a few folks in a penalty box, looking decidedly annoyed. Lorna saw a number of folk remonstrating with officials, one of whom she reckoned had just been disqualified… ouch.
The first section of the race followed along the side of the lake and it was difficult not to be transfixed by the stunning scenery. The ride felt super easy and my legs were telling me to push harder, but my heart rate was in the correct zone so I knew I was going as fast as was sensible.
After 15 or 20 minutes I eventually caught up with Lorna and shouted on my support. I knew she was going to put in a good bike split as she was holding a good pace and has worked really hard on her bike over the last couple of years. I shouted my swim time to her… "no way!" was her response, so that put a little grin on my face as I pedalled up the hill.
The bike felt like one of our many long Saturday morning ATHelite rides, only with less company (no drafting, remember!), warmer weather and considerably smoother tarmac. In fact the quality of the road surface was outstanding and my Zipp wheels were purring along nicely.
The climbs at Drollbollach and Rupertiberg were nothing like I'd ever experienced. Not because of their gradient or length (we live in Scotland remember, everything seems to be uphill on our rides here!) but the support - it was amazing. Euro-pop blasted out of speakers near the summits and alcohol fuelled supporters ran along side shouting "hopp, hopp, hopp!" and "super!". It felt like we were on La Tour. Amazing. Even staying in the saddle I picked off a number of folks on much more expensive bikes with pointy helmets - training in the bitter Scottish conditions was paying off.
A couple of times up the hill I got cheers on with "Go on Chris Froome!" If only!!! That made me laugh, a lot :-)
I decided to push a little harder on the second half of the bike course, and in the last 10km I was absolutely flying… At one point one of the BMW service cars had to pull over to let me past as I was pushing well over 40 km/hr. Nothing overtook me in that last 10km. I crossed the line in transition in 6 hours 12 minutes, so no negative split - but it did make me laugh how consistent I'd been on both loops!
I got off the bike and was actually looking forward to the run. At no point did I concentrate on how L O N G the run was going to be. I nipped to the loo quickly for a no.1 before getting into transition and taking another age (10+ mins) to get out on my feet.
The run actually started pretty well. I kept focused on my Chi technique and I was strolling along nicely at a sub 5 min/km pace but my heart rate was too elevated to sustain this, despite feeling perfectly happy with my RPE (relative perceived exertion). I actually stopped and walked for a couple of minutes and soaked myself with cold sponges and walked through a garden hose until my heart rate came down from 157 or so to 140-145.
My pace remained fairly steady between 5:30 and 6:00 min / km as planned until I hit about 50 minutes and bam! Stomach Cramps. I was absolutely doubled over in pain. I tried to walk it off and then keep on running, but the old digestive system had obviously consumed too much of the wrong type of gloop over the previous 6 hours and wasn't happy with me.
This was now a battle of will. My legs felt great, no pain in my knees or I.T. band, my c.v. system was doing great, if I could have removed my stomach at that point and stuck it on ice to the end of the race I would have. I was in my second dark place… but this time I KNEW I was going to finish, come hell or high water.
I kept plodding along, almost embarrassed at how slowly I was having to move then I saw a guy, probably in his late 20s or early 30s running along with a prosthetic leg. He truly was an Ironman - HUGE RESPECT.
I almost forgot about nutrition on the run, something I'd not paid enough attention to prior to the race so I kept on drinking the Iso at each of the aid stations and every now and then I would try a banana or a gel. Nothing seemed to take the cramps away so I just resorted to a run walk strategy to try and minimise my total time.
After I'd passed the Lindworm for the first time I caught sight of Lorna and stopped and gave her a big hug and a kiss. She wasn't far behind me and knowing how many marathons she had under her belt I knew my advantage (at my current pace) was a very slim one.
I must admit, having to run past Iron City as it was called, 5 times was a little demoralising when you were not running at the speed you know you can run at. I guess I was being a little hard on myself at that point in time… If it was just a marathon I would maybe have had justification but I was kind of forgetting the previous swim and bike - funny how your mind plays tricks on you!
With every approaching footstep I expected Lorna to catch and pass me but she didn't appear. I knew she must also be struggling with her running and it turned out she'd taken a tumble in the first 5km or so and badly bruised her ribs and hurt her knee. She kept on going, like the trooper she is, they build 'em tough up here <3
I kept on plugging away but my goal of finishing in 12 something hours was slipping away, so I decided that I was going to ignore the pain for the final 6km and just run. I counted down every one of those last km markers and when I came to turn left into the home stretch towards Iron City and the finishing chute, rather than right for another loop of the course I started grinning…
|A mixture of elation, tears of joy and pain|
|Not bad heel lift - Nick would be proud ;-)|
As I turned left into the finishing chute the atmosphere was electric, I had done it. I looked around the crowd to spot the kids and Meg but couldn't see them. I raised my hands in the air and I'd done it. Mission Accomplished. I could call myself an Ironman!
|Do I look happy?|
|Mission Accomplished. Gavin Gall - YOU are an IronMan!!!|
So after floating across the line and receiving my finisher's medal and a Stiegl beer, I headed off to the crowd to find Luke, Zoe and Meg. Not long after, Lorna came home in a brilliant 12 hours and 48 minutes. We rushed down to give her big hugs and went off to get changed back into our street gear.
It was that point when I turned on the phone and saw just how many people had been cheering us on through FB and watching the video streamed live over the web. Really humbling - and we are both so, so thankful for the support and kind wishes. As I said earlier, without YOUR support I don't think I would have finished - so thanks for being part of this amazing journey!
Click on the race video below and see if you can spot me :-)
So, what next? Another Ironman, or as Doug suggested, pogo-sticking to the moon! Who knows… I'd love to say I'm relaxing at present, but to be honest I must have picked up a bug from the final section of the swim and I haven't been able to keep anything down for the last 4 days. At this point in time I couldn't run a bath let alone a marathon!
So thanks for sticking with me, for taking your valuable time to read about some nutter on what many would consider a mad challenge. Hopefully it has inspired you to take on your own challenge, and if so, I wish you every luck in the world. If you can visualise it, you can make it happen.
I'll sign off for now, but as one of my favourite Austrian actors has said… "I'll be back!!!"
Edited to add: Click on the link to view the Ironman Austria TV show - shown on Channel 4, UK