The road to Ironman Zell Am See

Wednesday, November 6, 2013
Written by Arun Krishnan, 70+ years young and participant in our upcoming Dec 15th Iron Triathlon 

The road to Ironman 70.3 Zell Am See was arduous, full of twists, turns, disheartening injuries, which made even making it to the starting line seem distant and unrealistic. But in the end, the sweet success of crossing the Finish, with a time of 8 hours 27 minutes 9 seconds, made all the troubles and travails, seem worth the months of effort and sacrifices. It was a close finish as another 2 minutes 51 seconds and there would have been no Medal, Finisher’s T Shirt or Certificate!

Senior citizen like yours truly, are often guilty of basking in the praises which friends and well wishers shower quite liberally after a marathon or triathlon, is completed by the aforementioned senior. I would rather that lessons be drawn from my saga; such that they may assist young runners to train better and to achieve their objectives.

I have been running for almost 30 years starting most disastrously with the Pune Marathon of 1987, which unfortunately turned out to be a political circus conducted by Suresh Kalmadi. The Pune Marathon probably served as a platform to promote Mr Kalmadi’s influence. As could be expected, this maiden marathon experience was none too pleasant since runners were made to endure the afternoon sun for three hours and then had to run with absolutely no water support at all. The moral:
1.      Choose your races wisely. Select races organized by running groups, banks or organizations of repute. Avoid events conducted by organizations with political hues.

Of the several marathons which I ran subsequently, the Chicago Marathon 2011 and Berlin Marathon 2012, come to mind. Chicago was particularly sweet since six months prior to that event, an orthopaedic surgeon had advised that since my knees were showing signs of wear, running was out of the question and exertions such as climbing stairs were to be avoided. The soreness in the knees, were compounded by Plantar Fascitis, which refused to respond to repeated applications of shock wave and other conventional treatment. Eventually Auyurveda helped. So when injured:
2.      RICE (Rest Ice Compression Elevation) normally heals. But be ready to try out alternative remedies.

For the BMW Berlin Marathon I stuck to shibboleth of:
3.      Plan your run and run your plan.
The 16 week marathon training program which can be downloaded from Runners World was adhered to with the exception of a short two week break in the middle due to a minor injury. At the start of the race I kept reassuring myself that by holding back in the first half I could achieve a negative split and should hopefully run a sub four. This strategy worked like a dream for the first 19 km. At km 20 and km 21 the dreaded knee wobble and signs of cramping set in. The split for the half marathon was 1:59:21 as against the target of 1:57:00 which wasn’t too bad; until disaster struck. The knee wobble and cramps worsened, forcing me to walk at refreshment stations and I eventually finished at 4:22:07. Despite this setback I would recommend that all runners prepare a detailed 16 week training plan and stick to the plan.

4.      We all have quotas. Don’t exceed them.
Soon after Berlin 2012, I tried to train for the Wipro Chennai Marathon, the Mumbai Marathon and Abu Dhabi Triathlon but faltered and for good reason: I was exceeding my quota of marathons.
The chart given below is based solely on my observations and inferences over the years.
Age Group                         Maximum Number of Full Marathons per Year
15 -20                                  52
20-25                                   26
25-30                                   12
30-35                                   9
35-40                                   6
40-45                                   4
45-50                                   3
50-55                                   2
55-60                                   1
60 and above                     <1 (less than 1)
Unless you are an elite athlete, in which case you wouldn’t be reading this blog; don’t exceed your quota
The injuries were slowly healing and I had planned to run either the Dream Runners Half or the Chennai Trekking Club’s Half Triathlon. The goal was to somehow make it to the starting line of the Dream Runners Half and to survive the distance. And having run the Berlin 42.195, I felt that a half shouldn’t pose too stiff a challenge. Big mistake!
5.      Respect the Distance
A 1 km race a month after a successful full marathon should never be taken lightly and should be accorded all due respect.
At the Dream Runners Half, I decided to start slowly and to maintain a smooth and easy pace. At the start I chatted with Srinath Nagappa but moved away and to the rear as Srinath on his day, can run a scorcher.
The plan worked well for the first 2 km till I ran past a fellow Chennai Runner and exchanged a few pleasantries about the forthcoming Coimbatore Half Marathon and thereby unwitting increased my pace. Which brings up the Shibboleth:

6.      Pace not Race.
It always pays to pace yourself through the marathon instead of racing against a fellow runner as I learned to my dismay. First my knee and then my hip failed after the 16th km, after which, I had to stop running and walked slowly to finish the Half.

The Hip Injury put my training schedule out of gear for over 4 weeks. The chances of making it to the starting line of the Ironman 70.3 Zell Am See, seemed rather bleak.
It was possible to swim and cycle but even the slowest jog was causing the hip joint injury to flare up.
I therefore made a grim decision to only train on swimming and cycling but to almost completely avoid running. My running was confined to just 2 km or 3 km on the treadmill. On an exceptionally good day, I managed to run 6.5 km on the treadmill at a pace of 11 kmph which would translate to a little less than 9 kmph on the road. I hoped that all the years of training would see me through the 21.1 km and to the finish line. There is the old adage of:
7.      Miles in the Bank
In other words, the number of kilometres which a runner puts in while training could be considered as a deposit in a bank, which could be withdrawn during the course of the marathon.
These miles normally have a shelf life of about 4 to 6 weeks. But I had no option but to hope that the miles which I had put in a year ago, could be encashed.

Zell Am See is picture perfect paradise, with an enchanting lake, nested between hills. I had no illusions that the race would afford opportunities to admire the landscape.
My Swim Wave Start was at 10:20 am. I wisely moved to the periphery of the start line to avoid getting kicked and dunked by faster swimmers. But after klaxon went off and I started swimming it became apparent that not training in open water and by swimming only in a pool was a very bad decision and appallingly poor judgement. My free style (Australian Crawl) was taking me at a reasonable pace but in the wrong direction. I therefore had to switch to the breast stroke, which I had last practised three years ago.

8.      Always have Plan B.
A most miserable 1.9 km swim completed in almost double the anticipated time, I changed, mounted my bike and set off in the pouring rain for the 90 km circuit.  After the first few dangerous careening and wobbles, I abandoned all ambitions of using the aero bars and bettering the average speed of 29 kmph which I had clocked in my 93 km practise rides and decided that:
9.      In adverse conditions, safety first.
My objective was to finish. Quite a few riders were reported to have crashed. Fortunately I did not witness any such incidents as even the sight of an ambulance whizzing by with flashing lights, was quite depressing. Moral:
10.   You have first finish before you finish first.

Soaking wet, cold and shivering, I racked my bike with just minutes to spare before the bike cut off. The uncontrollable shivering was a sign of almost total glycogen depletion. So despite the time constraints, I slowly changed into fresh running gear instead of continuing in the tri suit, downed a gel and then started off on the 21.1 km run. Had I not waited, it was possible that the total lack of glycogen may have caused a system shut down. Moral:
11.   Listen to your body.

The run through the village and a loop on the lake was excruciating. But every time I completed a loop, the announcer would call out: “Arun Krishnan from India”.
The roar from the crowd would make me pick up the pace even though the body had long given up.
12.   Crowd support will in most cases, pull you through to the finish.
Being the last man, I had the honour of a police escort and with an official of Ironman, patiently following me on bikes. With 9 km to go, the official, a pleasant lady, told me that the race officials had advised me to stop my race as it was unlikely that I would finish before the cut off time of 8 hours 30 minutes.
Having come all the way and having endured the swim and the bike ride in the bone numbing cold rain, leaving Zell Am See without the medal and Ironman honorific, was not an option. With absolutely no reserves left, I announced that I was going to finish, in time and started running. All the years of training and resolve came into play and I was racing the clock. With every kilometre, I was cutting down the deficit and on the final lap running into the Finish Chute was an incredible experience with the announcer calling out “Arun Krishnan from India. Our last finisher. On several occasions he had asked whether he would make the cut off, which he has!”
The exhilaration was unbelievable as no other medal had made me draw every ounce of the strength and reserves which I did not have.
13.   Believe in yourself even when all appears to be lost.

The Medal and Finisher T shirt collected, my wife and I set off for a holiday in Spain. No running is planned for a month to enable the body to heal before the next marathon or triathlon. Which brings me to the final shibboleth.
14.   Savour the triumph of the marathon. You earned it.



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