Frankfurt IronMan, June 26th, 2022 (XL)
Race Reporter: Alain
After last year’s first in Vichy, this one was a bit different in its context and mindset. This time, I would not be the only one racing, with my tri-mates also among the participants.
Also, it was the occasion to consolidate my progress after joining the ExpaTriés club and taking part to a couple of training camps. The experiences at Triathlon des Mureaux (S) and Kraichgau (Half IM) were promising, it was time to experiment on the big format, to improve on 2021’s 13 hours, with a 12h (secret) target in mind!
Frankfurt being an international hub, travelling is simple (5 to 6-hour easy drive from Paris), and there is plenty of accommodation available at rather affordable rates, even close to the finish line. The city center is also pretty small with good public transportation and quite cycling-friendly.
The organization is excellent, with many volunteers and good information. Attending the briefing is also recommended, and it’s a nice event itself, being displayed live on the finish area, where you can watch it while having a drink in one of the touristy restaurants on the Römer!
One of the information provided during the briefing was a recommendation to use the free shuttle bus from Frankfurt city center to the lake, around 10km away, to access T1 on Saturday for the bike drop. I cannot emphasize enough how important that tip is! The Saturday shuttle buses are athletes-only, but accept bikes. The journey is a tiny bit clumsy, but offers a direct and very fluid access to T1. In comparison, going there by car is a pain, as the lake is reachable only through a tiny road, and the parking lot is small. It took me roughly 20 minutes to get there by bus, while some of my friends went by car, and it took them more than an hour!
Talking about those buses, they were the object of the only (and unfortunately rather major) organization bug of the weekend. On race day, those shuttle buses are also recommended, when they also accept the general public. Despite showing up at the bus station around 4:30am (!), we had to wait for almost 30 minutes, watching the local volunteers nervously making a bunch of phone calls, before a bus actually showed up, while the organizers had requested all athletes to be ready in their starting pens at 6:15am. Even worse, our bus driver took a wrong turn, and lost a few precious minutes. We got the beginning of an explanation for that delay when we reached the Waldsee lake: our bus driver stopped and had us alight almost a kilometer away from the start, and as we reluctantly walked our way to the entrance, we could see an impressive traffic jam of probably 20 empty buses, stuck in that single road. What exactly happened is still unclear, but something had prevented the buses from turning around, and unaware drivers had to be called in at the last minute for support. This resulted in a pretty hasty pre-race routine, and a bit of unnecessary additional efforts and stress, especially since the race schedule remained unchanged despite this issue having affected easily half of the participants. However, in the end our installation still went quite well, and we all managed to enter the starting area early enough. I think my main take-away from this mishap is: know your pre-race routine well, and maybe try to make it as simple as possible, especially if the commute to the lake/river/beach is long and thus more prone to problems.
Anyhow, we still spent a good 15 minutes waiting in the starting pen, a couple cannon shots were fired, and off we were!
(3.9km): after that rough wake-up, I finally dived in the waters of Waldsee lake around 7am. Warm temperature, and rather crowded, with an Australian exit in the middle. I felt quite comfortable overall, until we took a turn and started swimming Eastward in the final kilometer, with the sun rising right on us!
Seriously blinded by the glare, I had a tough time sighting the buoys, like everyone else, and had to pause a couple times, zigzagging quite a bit until I found the right way. Additional take away: keep in mind the shape of the buoys, their meaning (which might change depending on the race) and do not trust other athletes’ navigational skills too much. Small cylinders mean “keep straight”, triangles or big rectangles mean “turn”. It sounds very trivial, but when the sun or the weather begin playing with your line of sight, it will be very helpful! In the end, I managed to swim almost exactly the distance, and at a 2:00/100m pace. I am the most happy with that speed, as it really corresponds to my expectations and all the improvements/changes I made during this year, thanks to the various coaching sessions I went through, especially with ExpaTriés. 2021-2022 was my first season with proper swimming coaching, and I could feel the difference! I also felt pretty fresh after the swim leg, more than at Vichy. Swimming is really a lot about technique.
(180km): out of the water, and hopped on the bike! The Frankfurt IM cycling is known for being pretty flat and fast, as a matter of fact it starts with a short stretch of Autobahn back to the city! The overall D+ is roughly half of Vichy. Such routes are very favorable to triathletes on big TT bikes with big legs and big power figures… Which I am not….
Side note: it’s probably very subjective, but I have the impression the bike line-up in German triathlons is of a much higher quality range compared to France. The amount of cyclists riding brand new high-end TT bikes was impressive, while road bikes with clip-on aerobars like mine seemed to be a minority.
Anyhow, I managed a decent average speed for a lightweight like myself (30kph), as I was maintaining a steady heart rate, another lesson learned during the training.
While the countryside-ish landscape was OK, though not very spectacular, I was genuinely impressed by the crowd in the city, and also the many spectators standing on the side of the road in the small towns we rode through, drinking beer or having lunch in the local Biergarten while watching us zoom by. There were plenty of aid stations, perfectly located and well supplied, but I never had to complained about it for IM labelled races.
The small nasty surprise of the route was a short uphill section on cobblestones, that was pretty painful on the first loop! On the second loop, I did what I had read somewhere: power through it and try to “fly” above the cobbles!
As usual, the second loop was the toughest mentally, as I was getting more and more tired (also, during the first loop, I raced for almost an hour against some mysterious French girl, and that probably didn’t help! My decision after a little while to stop man-cycling her, give up and let her go away, so I could save some energy, was a late but reasonable one… )
In the end, I managed to rack my bike after just under 6 hours!
(42km): we were lucky, usually the Frankfurt IM marathon leg is under a scorching 35 degrees, but it was much cooler for us! (Although 28-29 degs are still pretty warm for running, but we dreaded much worse!).
One can see the race organizers are prepared for extreme conditions, as the aid stations were offering plenty of heat-related proposals (salt water, showers, sponges and even ice cubes!). Here, the 10k-loop along the Main river was very similar to the one in Vichy along the Allier river. But the cheering crowd, while kinda quiet, was still huge, especially during the first couple of hours, very motivating!
Despite my previous experiences, an IM marathon is still always very intense and peculiar. While I felt quite OK at the beginning, I quickly felt my legs getting heavier and heavier, and saw my pace slow down continuously. Unlike in Vichy, I chose to walk more often, at the aid stations. It’s also the first time I experienced that infamous disgust of drinking during the last ~15km, my body being very reluctant at absorbing more water after hours of almost continuous sipping and showering. I had to play mind games with myself, using tricks like having a cup of water and immediately spitting it, which apparently is (very last resort) a way to drench thirst for a short time without having to actually gulp water! In the end, I ran the final 10km without eating and while drinking only small quantities. It was a really tough experience, but crossing by my teammates during that run, and also our friends who came all the way to cheer for us helped a lot!
At km40, I had my first look of the day at my overall time, and found out I had 15 minutes to reach the finish line under 12 hours! So I suddenly found some hidden energy for a final sprint!! (Or maybe I could have run harder…)
Interesting finish line detail: as soon as you cross the line and get your medal, a volunteer will offer to walk with you to the recovery area, and watch after you as long as necessary, which is a very thoughtful touch, since the effects of the effort often show up only a few minutes after the finish!
Finish time: 11:55:54
So, I made it! The marathon was tougher than I expected, and my run time was not very different from Vichy, but overall I really felt much more comfortable, and I completely validated the additional training/coaching on the swim and bike!
To conclude, I think this can make for an excellent first full IM, with generally easy logistics, experienced organization, a quiet lake swim, and a flat cycling section. Heat is the main obstacle, but the organizers provide the tools to cope with it. For comparison, while Vichy has more simple logistics (everything in the same place) and is closer to Paris, the cycling is definitely harder (meaning: steeper) , the cheering crowd a bit less present, and the weather not necessarily milder.
Having friends in the same race is also a very different experience, even more immersive and intense, and I really loved that sharing part! Congratulations to them too!
Thanks also to everyone from ExpaTriés, coaches and admins included, with whom I shared a training session or race, it’s so much better with others!
Now I’ll get some rest and enjoy the summer, still wondering what my next tri-adventure may be…
- Did you meet your goal/have a personal best?
- Did any particular training help you achieve this (training, tri-camp)?
- First season with proper coached swimming sessions (Expats!) and 2 one-week tri-training camps (Efficience Triathlon)
- How do you rate the quality or organization of the event?
- Do you recommend to others for next year?
- Each race is different.
- Yes, I also think it can make an excellent first full IM, with generally easy logistics, experienced organization, a quiet lake swim, and a flat cycling section. Heat is the main obstacle, but the organizers provide the tools to cope with it.