Ironman Greece 70.3 Vicky Gounari

1. Pre-race bike drama (Friday 12th Apr)
We arrived at Costa Navarino around 11 am. The plan was to assemble the bike and go for a short ride, to check out the steepest part of the course.
Unfortunately while trying to put the saddle back on, one of the components that hold it in place fell into the frame and got badly stuck. After all our attempts to take it out failed, we took the bike to the bike service area which thankfully was not too busy yet. There I watched as 3 bike mechanics were trying to get that thing out. Of course I was panicking and even cried a little bit. After 30 mins they managed to get it out and things were looking up. Before I left the service area I checked to see if the di2 was working fine. And it wasn’t working at all. So then they had to take the saddle out again and check the cables, and luckily nothing was damaged, it was just a matter of plugging the cable to the battery properly.
Around 4 pm, we were finally ready to go for our ride. The bike was fine, the pouring rain had stopped and life was good.
My first impressions from the bike course were good. There were some steep parts at 9 to 11% gradient, but they were quite short. Most of it was less than 5%. So quite manageable. Going downhill was not that bad either. The road was wet but didn’t feel too slippery and the turns were quite wide, so no need to brake really.
I got back just in time for the race briefing, then pasta party and early to bed.
2. Testing the water and a bit more bike drama (Saturday 13th Apr)
At 8 am, I was in my wetsuit and down at the beach. My 2 biggest concerns coming into this race was the water temperature (as I had never swam in anything less than 22 C, and the sea here was around 16 C) and the fatigue during the run, given the bike would be very demanding on the legs.
A few other people were there too, I followed their advice and went right in, swimming hard for the first few meters. My body felt fine, the wetsuit was keeping me nice and warm, but my hands, feet and face were freezing. However, after a while they went completely numb, and  you weren’t really feeling anything so I went to breakfast reassured that the swim would be ok. I have to mention that on Saturday the sea was calm as a pond.
Around noon, I started preparing my stuff for the bike check in. It was then that I noticed my flat front tire.  It looked like I had gotten a slow puncture the previous day. This would not have been an issue had I gotten the right spare tubes with me. But I hadn’t. It seems that not all tubes have valves that can attach to the extenders. I didn’t know that, but now I do! It was not that big a deal but enough to stress me out again. Anyway, I managed to find the right tube, fixed it and checked the bike in.
3.1 Race Day – Swim
We walked down to the beach and as soon as I saw the sea my heart sank. With 2m high waves, the sea looked really rough. I had some hope that they would cancel or shorten the swim, but didn’t happen.
I told myself that getting in and out would be hard but inside would be better, and heard all the advice my super-swimmer friends were giving me. Dive in for the first few waves, and then you’ll be good. So off I went, and managed to get underwater for the first big wave but as soon as I came up, a second one came and before I knew it I felt I like I was in the washing machine. Naturally I panicked and started breast stroking and treading water mainly, just trying to stay afloat. It took me 4 mins to get to that first buoy, around 100 m out. And the further in we were going, the worse it seemed to get. Meanwhile, people all around me were flagging down the rescuers on the canoes and  jet skis, and I won’t lie,I thought about quitting myself. But then I decided to go for it, I was sure I wouldn’t make the cut-off time anyway, so at least I could say I tried. The only good thing was that the cold water was of no concern at this point. Didn’t even feel it.
Around 10 mins into the swim I managed to pull myself together and finally start swimming. It was slow and hard but I started feeling there might be a chance I’ll make the cut-off. Last highlight of my swim was when I was exiting, I stood up at knee-depth water to run outside and a wave knocked me down. Thankfully lifeguards were everywhere and one of them pulled me out!
The transition was super long, around 800m run uphill and some stairs to make it more fun. But I was so happy I was out of the water that I didn’t even mind. Once the steepest part was over I started jogging and felt pretty good.
3.2 Race Day – Bike
Not much to say about the bike. It was tough but I loved it. I felt very well prepared with all the hill training I had done these last few months.Kept a steady pace for the first 15km climb and tried to step on it going downhill. The road was wet and there were some pretty strong crosswinds going down, so I had to get out of the bars a few times, to make sure I have good control of the bike but didn’t brake once, which is a major achievement for me.
From 30 to 37 km it was again uphill, a lot less steep than the first section but there was headwind which made it equally, if not more, hard.
I was feeling great throughout and only started feeling a bit tired at around 70 km
3.3 Race Day – Run
Once I was off the bike I could finally relax. I love the run because it’s all up to your mind and legs. No waves or mechanical issues can affect you.
The temperature was great and the route was stunning and I was feeling good up until km 12. Then I really started to feel fatigued.
The run course was mainly rolling hills and around 8 km of it was on gravel. Add to that the demanding bike from before, and it’s no surprise that everything started hurting.
But still it was manageable. I didn’t have any doubt that I would make it or any thought of walking. I was just pushing through.
Overall, I loved it! Definitely going back for it next year.
The race was incredibly well organized (which I was not expecting for a first time race to be honest) and the volunteers and spectators were amazing. Every time we would pass by a group of people or an aid station we would get such a boost!
Key takeaways:
Coming 11th in my Ag shows I’m improving after only a few months ago I was 25th in Ironman Dubai and a top 10 is the next target
Get better with my swimming, especially in rough sea
Be better prepared for bike mechanical issues
And don’t panic!

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