“Capitalizing On Your Strengths. Continue to Search for Improvements.”
Ironman Frankfurt, 2018 with Josh Amberger
I was in a unique position going into the event having already gained enough points for Kona qualification with my 2nd place in Ironman South Africa back in April. I wanted to use this to my advantage in two ways; by being able to race without worrying about the points 'distraction', and also to pick the best field possible to get more experience at the long and certainly not easy to master Ironman distance. That's how I landed in Frankfurt. Being the European Championships, it's easily the next hardest Ironman race to win next to Kona.
Before Frankfurt and Kona in 2017, Frodo (Jan Frodeno) talked to the media about swimming hard with me and tearing the race apart from the start. While I never spoke to him personally about this (I find talking before the race about race plans pointless, because like in both these instances, they most often never unfold the way you anticipated). Naturally, this kind of chatter from a prime athlete like Jan makes me excited, and Frankfurt was looking like it would be tactically favourable for me with him in the race. This kind of scenario will work in my favour everytime, as there's likely no one else in Ironman that has the capacity to swim with me, as well as contribute meaning to the front of the race on the bike. We had last year's Ironman World Champion Patrick Lange, as well as Sweden's Patrik Nilsson to fend off, two of the sports most lethal runners, and I would need every second I could muster for the run leg.
Once the gun went off, Frodo seemed to lose my feet quickly, and thus set about playing games with Patrick Lange to stifle him mentally early on in the race, and shut the door on him by the time we were running. If being World Champion is tough, being the best German athlete is almost tougher. They have won the last 5 Ironman World titles, and or the larger part, are all seemingly at odds with each other personally. But back to the race... I had no idea about at the time that Jan was toying with Lange, and I spent the first 45 minutes of the bike ride looking around and expecting Jan to ride up to me to help consolidate the break on the rest of the field. When I got the first time gap of 2:15 about 90 minutes into the race, I knew though that I needed to commit to the ride alone, and set about refocusing and preparing for the odyssey ahead. I felt strong and confident, and built my lead up to 4:15 by about 140km, but at this point my legs started to dissolve a little in the tough conditions (it was extremely windy). The last hour of the ride was extremely tough for me, and compounding this, the course was 5km longer which equated to an extra 10 minutes of cycling. I probably lost 2 minutes to Jan and the chasers in this 10 minutes alone! I only just came into T2 seconds ahead of Jan, with most of the others splintered behind him. The talk of the broadcast was apparently how close Jan sat next to me in the transition tent while we were putting our shoes and socks on. I wasn't phased about this at all, in fact it was quite thrilling. I thrive off competition and tension, and this act was a mealticket of both! Unfortunately for me though, Jan was so close that I think he stood on my sunglasses, and I pulled them out of the bags only to find them snapped in two pieces.
My legs felt good at the start of the run and I was on my target pace for a 2:48, but my mindset was fractured as to how I was going to run the marathon in the heat of the day without my glasses. When you read this it probably sounds rather juvenile, but little things like this that go wrong can really fester in your mind in Ironman. I'm normally quite good at plucking out the weeds of negativity from my mind, but this threw me off more than it should have. Nevertheless, I was near the front of the race in the European Championships after leading for a well over 5 hours, so I wasn't about to give up. I'd conceded first and second place to the two world Champions early on which was expected, but after 10km I hit a wall and never recovered my pace, finishing 5th. It was a really long and gruelling final 2 hours of the race, but I was continually inspired by the amazing crowd and really cool run course to squeeze every bit of performance left out of my body. It was one of the best race atmospheres I've ever experienced, and a real treat to finally get to the finish line in the end with a time of 8:26.16. I've yet to comb through the data on the bike to look at where I burnt too many matches, but without overcomplicating it, I think the obvious explanation for the slower run was the unrelenting bike ride.
In reflecting on the race though, I'm really happy in the way I responded to the situations on the day. My swim is consistently 2 minutes ahead of the next best swimmers, and I proved to myself I have the ability and focus to be one of the best cyclists in the game as well. While more improvement is still needed on the bike, the template of form is there. As well as being able to produce a faster run off those aggressive rides, I believe I can really take myself to another level of competitiveness in the Championship events. What I'm also hoping is that I inspire some athletes to step up to the front of the race earlier on, and keep driving the screws from the gun, because we can really change the racing if we take the race away from the runners. It can only be easier for us the more we get up front!
My next race will be another regional championships, the Ironman 70.3 Asia-Pac Champs in Cebu, Philippines. It should be another great showdown!
Written by Josh Amberger
Image credit to James Mitchell/Activ Images