Team athlete Claire Shea-Simonds reports on Ironman Austria…
“I set myself a pretty lofty target for Ironman Austria, one that sat very much on the periphery of my (limited) talent but one that with hard work, some prevailing luck and self-belief, was within my reach. I desperately wanted a finish time that started with a 9 (9:59:59 would do!)… A sub 10 attempt meant being prepared to ‘roll the dice’ and I knew potential for f**k up was high!
Doing the hard work has never been difficult for me, I am highly motivated with a high threshold for hard graft, week after week the sessions got done under the watchful and expert eye of my coach Jack Maitland. I achieved some excellent consistency in my training and the numbers looked better and better with every training block that passed. My final training block before Austria included the Outlaw Half slap bang in the middle, in which I turned in a very respectable performance, and saw me complete one of my hardest and biggest training blocks ever.
Self-belief has always been my biggest limiter and, as an athlete I suffer rather fragile confidence… My ego had taken a real battering at the end of 2015 with a very below par performance in Kona and my confidence and self-belief was at an all-time low at the start of the 2016 race season. I am fortunate to be good friends with Elliott Newell, a top class sports psychologist who has really supported me in moving forward from that Kona disappointment.
The first step was to get comfortable with the uncomfortable reality that we all have an ego, I came to realise I attach a lot of self-worth to success, learnt behaviour that has become very much hard wired. As I came to better understand the emotions I was experiencing around races and performance, a more confident Claire started showing up to races and I would even go as far as to describe myself as ‘quietly confident’ going into Ironman Austria… Sadly that confidence was occasionally pricked with moments of crashing self-doubt as I contemplated whether I was in fact deluded for believing I could go sub 10 hours, but it was a huge move forward from the usual terror and gripping self-doubt that ordinarily hijacks my head for the entirety of ironman race week… I got to the start with no hysteria and porta loo melt downs (don’t ask!) – progress indeed!
Klagenfurt is a beautiful place and the race course, particularly the lake and the bike course, is simply stunning. My final few sessions in race week were a complete treat. I particularly enjoyed a recce of the last 35k of the bike course, the Liv Avow felt fast, really fast on the descents and inspires confidence even when descending on the aero bars. There are about 4 climbs, 2 of which are a bit punchy, on the lap but that also offers the opportunity to gain time on the fast descents which aren’t overly technical and on pretty good road surfaces. I was excited to get racing and see what I could do.
Race day promised some changeable weather but temperatures were set to remain warm, quite a contrast to the chilly temperatures and rain I’d endured at my preceding UK races. The swim gave me my first experience of a ‘rolling start’, very civilised and an almost ‘biff free’ swim in the beautiful Worthersee. The swim at Austria is unique as you leave the lake using the river canal that takes you ‘inland’ to the Seepark Hotel and T1. On entering the river canal I quickly spotted my Husband Duncan, giving me a real lift and I could see him jumping up and down like a lunatic and willing me on. I exited the water in 1hr and 17secs… damn it, would have preferred 59:59 but hey, close enough! I’d actually exited the water 9th overall lady and 2nd in my AG, so solid swim. A smoothly executed transition saw me onto my bike and on my way. Again I spotted Dunc, he confirmed my AG position and I quickly settled into my rhythm, paying careful attention to my power meter to ensure I didn’t get ‘over excited’ in the opening miles.
The first lap was uneventful, the power meter data and my nutritional strategy held my focus and I tried not to be too distracted by the beautiful scenery. A couple of ladies came by me at the end of lap one but I stayed resolute to riding to power and keeping the effort constant. Then came the rain, it started fairly light but by midway into lap 2 it was pouring down and rivers of water ran down the roads. I did not want to take any risks on the fast descents so backed off a bit, I perhaps lost a little bit of time but did keep the bike ‘rubber side down’ so entered T2 in 5:24, 2nd in AG – exactly on schedule.
With a sub 3:30 marathon a sub 10 was within my grasp and I was up at the sharp end of the race. I was in some of my best ever run form coming in to the race and I probably did allow myself to get a little over excited in the opening 10k, Jack later described my sub 3:15 pacing as a “tad ambitious” and I was to pay for that early exuberance later.
In the first lap I’d closed the gap to the leader to less than a minute. At about 15k I passed by the eventual AG winner who was running like a gazelle through the field so was back to 3rd in AG. I’d started to slow at this stage and the legs began to feel heavier and heavier, the gap to 2nd started to grow and I was really suffering.
I knew I had to keep running – as long as I could keep running (no matter how slowly) I felt confident I could hold off any threats from behind as I’d got a good buffer over the 4th place athlete but it was a struggle and I had some very dark moments during the last 25k or so. Luckily I had Duncan and many of my friends out on the course who continued to rally me and I fought a very strong protest from my legs to salvage a 3:39 marathon – a long way from my best, or what I am capable of, but good enough to cut the tape in 10:11, 15th overall, 3rd in AG and 1st Brit. It would also prove to be good enough to gain my 3rd Kona qualification, but it is not in my plans this year so I will not be going to Kona in 2016 – I haven’t finished paying for my 2015 Kona trip yet!
5 days on and it is very hard not to be slightly disappointed not to break 10hrs despite it being my fastest Ironman to date. However, it has shown me I was not completely deluded to have sub 10 in my sights and the next time I line up for a sub 10 attempt my belief will be galvanised and take me closer to my target. Thanks as ever to Jack (my coach), Duncan (my rock) and all my fabulous friends, on the course and supporting from home, for their support. A special mention to my lovely friend Alex, who drove the 7hrs from Germany to support me – you are a treasure Didi!
After a few weeks of recovery (and excessive cake eating!), my next stop is Ironman Wales in September.
Thanks as ever to Racetime Events, Giant UK, Skechers, Zone 3, Champion System, Swimzi and USN for support that goes way beyond just providing me with the best kit available to race in, they are sponsors who have become treasured friends. You guys are special and I couldn’t have achieved what I have without you.”