I was awake immediatly. 4 A.M., the alarm had just gone off. Was this a joke?
No, this was that one day of the year that I had sacrificed so much for that it was almost scary.
This was that one day, the only day, in my mind, that mattered.
It was Race Day.
Can you imagine how one feels when that one day has come? Like, you know that this is it, training is over, taper is done, You and the race. How will you react? How hard will it be? Since Ironman races have been described as ”going into labor” and ”heading down a really dark ally in your mind” you really don’t know what to expect, do you?
Destination: Langener Waldsee
Before I knew it we where in the car. We were all nervous and you could feel it.
Steadily we rode to the Langener Waldsee in a procession of cars and buses that clearly had the same destination. You know, how busy can a road be at 5 A.M. in the morning?
We got stopped by a traffic supervisor “Cars can’t go this way, you have to take a different route, athletes can take the bus” 30 seconds later I was in the bus, had I said my family goodbye? No. Did they wish me goodluck? No. It had just gone to fast and now I was standing in this bus, totally lonely waiting to arrive. Hopefully I would see them before the start. Hopefully.
Arriving at the Langener Waldsee I checked my bike, strapped my mueslibars to my bike and, after looking for the rest of the clan that I couldn’t find, I changed into my wetsuit. Never had I felt such tension, you could feel that people were nervous for this, ofcourse we were, it is IRONMAN! Heading out of the transition zone I got a pat on the back. “This is your first triathlon isn’t it? Have fun and good luck!” again, someone who had recognized me from the briefing. “Thank you, I will, you too!” was my quick reply before he was off again. Then I got another pat, the man who I had talked with yesterday, he gave me a quick thumbs up.
The Swim Start
Right before the Swim start I heard someone yell: “STEFAN!”. My father! Thank god they had found me!
After some quick kisses and some hugs I had to focus again, this was still going to be an Ironman.
The speaker named some sponsors and some ‘Facts & Figures’ about this years Ironman. ”….And the youngest contestant of today is Stefan Kleinekoort from The Netherlands, He is 19 years old!…”. WHAT? I was the youngest?! Of the 3000 people that were out here, I was the youngest? I smiled, put my hand up in the air to ”claim victory” and got some handshakes for having the balls to compete in an Ironman at the age of 19. Another Dutch men even told me that I ”Inspired him” for doing this. This was going to be a good day.
After a quick warm-up I was in the water, waiting for the gun to go off and men, was I loving this! I really felt a connection with all the other athletes, we were out here with the same goal, chasing the IronDream.
Kid Rock’s – All Summer Long was the last song they played for the start, that is my song so kind of special and it made me warm and fuzzy inside, so yeah, that.
The swim itself went great! However, what can I tell about the swim? I wasn’t kicked in my face and managed my position in the field pretty well but apart from that it was swimming. I saw a lot of water so if that is what you want to hear, there you got it.
After 2 rounds I struggled my way out of the water and was in position 1067, which means top 35% in my book 🙂 In total it took me 1 hour and 11 minutes which is exactly what I had anticipated. Great start of (hopefully) a great race!
The swim may have been uneventful, Transition 1 was a total different experience. All those wet triathletes of which their feet where covered in sand and then put into their bike shoes. Sunscreen everywhere, all breathing loudly, It was a managed chaos so to call, but the fact that it was totally socially acceptable to be so disgusting was something I could appreciate. Dropped of my bag at a volunteer and then it was onto Spinergy (my bike 🙂 ) for a 180K bike ride.
Onto the bike I immediatly discovered 1 thing: I may have been in the top 1100 in swimming, I certainly wasn’t going to hold that position on the bike. Still I was riding an average of 33 Kilometres an hour which is FAR above my normal average (27.5) so what was happening here? In a desperate attempt to stay with them I rode an average of 30 kph for the first 60 Kilometres, but we will get to that later, first: Hills.
Ironman Frankfurt is known as a flat course and that may be true when you’re used to a hilly country. However, I’m from the Netherlands, the biggest hill we got is 300+ metres and quite frankly, it is the only hill in the country and located 300 kilomtres away from me. For someone who has never ridden on hills before, Ironman Frankfurt is not, I repeat not, flat.
After the first hill came the first Aid Station. My initial nutrition plan was this.
But it ended up something like this.
Reason for my change of plan was that I liked throwing away my water bottles and replacing them with the new ones from Powerbar. That and the fact that my chocolate muesli bars started to melt in the incredibly hot sun. I have trained with them before but it turns out that they start to melt at 30 degrees or higher and since the weather in this country doesn’t normally reach that temperature I didn’t know. So, from a complicated, thought out nutrition plan to an All You Can Eat Buffet. Good start indeed.
After riding through lots of villages with lots of incredible specators who really made it easier to climb those stupid mountains (Seriously, the fans and volunteers are great so again: THANK YOU! you make it so much easier on the course and you really deserve credit for that!) came along kilometre 70.
At this point I had been holding that 30kph pace but I couldn’t anymore, it was too hard. The hills + the sun + the unreasonable pace made that this was the first point in which I thought about quitting, ofcourse I was not going to, but I thought of it. The bike was uncomfortable, it was way too hot and taking into account that I still had to go 110 kilomteres on the bike + a fantastic Marathon made me doubt if I was ever going to make it! I decide to take it easier, “I am going to be passed and I might as well accept that” is what I told myself.
Right after I had thought that came “Heartbreak Hill” which is just a stupid hill that beats the living daylight out of your legs and your mind. However, there was a huge crowd which gives all the triathletes that Tour de France feeling, spectators are great!
To start this off, I didn’t knew there was going to be a second loop. “What?” I hear you wonder.
Yeah, I forgot. See, I read that it was a 2 loop bike course but I just forgot over time, with all the excitement and bags and things to take care off. It turned out that this was the exact same loop and that I had to go through it all again. After the race I thought about it and concluded that this was a good thing because if I had known at kilometre 70 that I had to do this all over again, I don’t know how I would have reacted. For the rest the second loop was the same: Hills kicked our asses, spectators and volunteers got us up and then after a horrible, painful bike ride in an incredibly hot sun, it was time.
Getting out of transition I felt that my legs couldn’t hold a decent pace. I was going 8.5kph and after 2 kilometres it was really time to walk. I was however grateful for one thing: my knee. As you may have read, my knee has been bothering me in the 6 weeks prior to Ironman and 1 week before Ironman I couldn’t even run 20 minutes without having to call it a day, but right now, after a 180K bike ride and the start of the Maraton, my knee was holding up great! Positive thinking and rest ladies and gentlemen, what more do you need?
In the meanwhile I was looking to find my “Ironman Support Crew”, they had to be here somewhere! After 5.5K I heard a scream: “STEFAN! ABSOLUTE HERO THAT YOU ARE!” Turned out that was my sister screaming. That sentence just gave me some extra power, loved it. I catched up with them and told them that this was so freaking painful that I couldn’t explain it. With the comfort of knowing that my loved ones where here to cheer me on I continued to get my first wristband.
(Since it’s a 4 loop course you need 4 different coloured wristbands: Blue, Yellow, Green, Pink)
This was basically a matter of getting through, my legs were sore, I tried to hold a decent pace and with 8kph I was doing quite well but what looked like a painfully slow shuffle in reality, was my absolute max. I walked half of the course and soaked myself in water while I was throwing ice cubes into my trisuit and stuffed bananas with cake and Iso drink down my throat. The temperature was still there with 30 degrees celcius and you can describe this run in many ways but certainly not ‘enjoyable’ ‘fun’ or ‘comfortable’ but hey, it’s an Ironman Marathon, what did you excpect?
From here it gets interesting. ‘Why?’ because I had started calculating my finish time. Here is the calculation:
I was about to get my third (green) wristband, from there on it is 14K to the finish line. If I was able to maintain this 8kph pace for this round then that gave me exactly 3 hours to finish the remaining 14K. In other words: I could walk the remainder of the course and finish 12 minutes before the cut-off time.
Struggling through this round I finally found my family, this is how the conversation went:
Me: “I’m going to walk it out!”
They assumed that this meant that I had found my positive spirit and was telling them that I had the energy to finish it running.
They: “Ofcourse you are! GO GET IT!”
Me: “No! I’m going to WALK it out.”
After briefly explaining my calculation I was off again, however, one thing had changed: My Girlfriend and Sister, decided that in a brief act of heroism, they where going to walk the first 10K of the remaining round with me. I honestly can’t tell you how much that meant at that moment. You have been on the course for 12 hours, on your own. You had the worst bike ride imaginable, have already ran 30K in which you have stopped yourself from quitting about 45 times and then, at the moment that you feel you are so alone and nobody can help you, your girlfriend and your sister stand up and support you during the last round of an Ironman Marathon which takes about 2 hours to complete at walking pace. I will always remember this, thank you.
After getting my green wristband I was so happy that I could finally walk! However, there was one thing that made me much more happy: I didn’t had to walk 14K but 10K to get to the finish line! In the extreme fatigue of running an Ironman Marathon I had made a miscalculation. with not having to walk an extra 4K I came to the coclusion that I WAS GOING TO MAKE IT! With this new motivation + the incredible support of the 2 Powerwoman I walked the remaining round and then, when my powerwoman had left me to find a seat at the finish line with my parents, I finally got the honor to collect the pink wristband. I can tell you that I have never been, and never again, will be so happy with a pink, girly wristband. It was such an amazing feeling to finally get permission to get to the finish line and have your special moment.
The last 2K
Felt amazing! Here I was, walking along the river, with the volunteers congratulating me with the fact that I could finally go and finish it, the sun was setting, this was special. It truly was. Then, finally after 1,5 year of preparation, sacrificing, training in all sorts of conditions, mental breakdowns and a lot of doubt: It was time to finish.
The volunteer finally let me pass to the finish line, and when I walked the path to victory somebody said: RUN!.
I hadn’t been able to run for the past 15K but right here, right now, knowing that it was finally my time, I could, goddamit I ran! I ran the fastest pace of my entire marathon, this was my moment, people had told me that I couldn’t do it, that I was to young, didn’t had experience, here I was, clapping my hands with the spectators who were cheering, I was a 100 metres away from absolute victory and men it felt good.
Right before the final 100 metres, when you enter the part where the stands are filled with spectators, I stopped.
I stopped because I had promised myself that I would walk the final 100 metres, I wasn’t going to run it, I was going to seize the moment and never, never, never, let it go. “There comes the youngest contestant of the day!” screamed the speaker! The crowd started cheering louder, HELL YEAH, I WAS GOING TO MAKE IT!
“STEFAN! STEFAN! HERE!” My father screamed his lungs out, I walked up to them and we celebrated, we screamed!
“I TOLD YOU I COULD MAKE IT, I TOLD YOU!!!” Was the only thing I could say.
I turned around, picked up the pace, took a big jump and BAM!. A gigantic scream right on the finish line, all the energy was coming out. I Was An Ironman.
I walked into the finisher zone, shook hands with the volunteers and claimed that long awaited, giant medal.
I was in absolute disbelief.
Before I even got time to think my parents, sister and girlfriend arrived, we hugged and then:
We cried, men did we cry, we cried like there was no tommorow. It was over. We could cry.
I cried, I couldn’t even stop when the rest had already stopped, it was all coming out, it was done. I had done it.
Of all people, I had put myself in a position that is outrageous by anyones standard, and I succeeded.