Is it possible to cough up a lung?

May 22, City Hotel St Polten, Austria

Well you can probably tell from the title….  the day didn’t pan out exactly as I hoped.   I was up at 4am, had my prescribed Ironman breakfast of bread and bananas, and got a taxi to the race area.   I borrowed a pump from a delightful Austrian girl, sorted out my tires and made sure my bottles were all sorted for my bike.   Wandered over to the swim prep area, got my wetsuit on to the waist (mostly because I was freezing) and found a cafe for a latte….  I was so organised, I was ready an hour before the race.   Everyone was super friendly and supportive, a random stranger wandered past and helped me hoick up my wetsuit.  Pretty soon we were all in the pens getting ready for the rolling start.   I had easily swum the distance in 43 minutes in training, so I assumed that was a reasonable estimate for the swim.  I made lots of friends in the pen, and feeling calm and zen, plunged into the water.

And thats when it all started going wrong.  The water was freezing and black.  Within about 10 meters I had sucked in what felt like a litre of water into my lungs.   I tried to swim freestyle but couldn’t breathe, couldn’t even get my head into the water let alone do normal strokes.   I tried to do a weird freestyle version with my head out of the water like a drowning puppy, but that didn’t work either, and I was coughing and spluttering like a wheezy old emphysema sufferer.    Well, I ended up doing a weird side stroke for the entire distance…. it was honestly the longest and toughest hour of my life…. punctuated by the swim officials paddling up to see if I was ok.  The swim was split across two lakes, and by the time I got out of the water in the first lake, I would have been happy never to have seen water again.   Darling Hubby was there when I got out of the first lake and ran with me to the second lake.  What a legend!!!  I wanted to die, I had to stop a couple of times to try and cough up my lungs (the coughing didn’t actually stop until mid afternoon).

With tenacity I didn’t know I possessed, I got into the second lake and kept swimming…. or at least approximating a swim….. another 1km of side stroke with a fantastic nonstop coughing symphony.  I was clearly in terrible shape, because in this lake the swim officials paddled next to me for all of the race, handing me off from one to the other.  They did ask if I wanted to stop, but I wanted to keep going.  I knew if I could just get on to the bike things would be better.   The agony finally ended as I stumbled out of the water.  Darling hubby has some video footage, but nobody needs to see that.   I summoned all the energy I had and ran to transition, worried that I was not going to make it under the cut off time for the swim (you only have an hour and 15 minutes to get out of the bike zone or you are out of the race).   I was pretty sure I was going to be too late as pretty much the entire field had passed me in the water.  A lovely Israeli girl helped me get my wetsuit off (this is much harder to do than you might think), and I geared up and sprinted to my bike.     A very scary looking Austrian lady stopped me taking my bike off the rack and said I was done.   The race director checked my time, and confirmed that I was just under two minutes over the cut off so I was out.

I am really bummed I didn’t get to go on, though I probably wouldn’t have turned in a stellar performance given my lack of training and the shape my shins and back were in.  I also felt incredibly guilty that I had dragged my Darling Hubby to Austria, shipped my bike, spent a lot of money, and all for a vile 1 hour and 15 minutes of coughing up my lungs in a freezing lake.   I am mostly trying to stay zen about it, and in my more grown up moments I am excited about the potential to overcome the lake demon and get in some more practice swims (oh yes – confession time – I had never swum in open water before the race, and only been in my wetsuit once in the tooting bec lido).    On the bright side, I was genuinely impressed with how wonderful the volunteers were, I wouldn’t have made it around the lake without them.  And, I am proud of myself for giving it a shot, and not quitting, although there were a couple of times in the lake where I did consider swimming up to the official boat and getting a ride back.

We did enjoy some of the day, we watched the first finishers come in, in some truly astounding times!  Then we wandered back to the hotel along the run course past some truly varied body shapes….. I am wildly impressed at the age and shape of some of my fellow competitors….. and some of the chubbier runners were doing times at least 40% faster than I would have ever been able to do.

Huge thanks to my darling hubby, who has my eternal gratitude for his support.  It wasn’t fun having to go back to the race later in the day to pick up my bike and hand in my timing chip surrounded by tired but elated finishers. It was even less fun going to dinner that night and being surrounded by people wearing their finishers medals.    My husband was an absolute darling and kept me company the whole time! and amused me by joking about the nobs.    Love ya babe!!!

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