I’VE just passed the 60km sign and I’m elated - only 30km to go and I’ve got the energy and strength to push towards the finish line.
My legs are pumping away as I reach the two-thirds point of the cycling section, in the Austrian Ironman 70.3 competition, in Zell am See in the Austrian Alps.
The number refers to the combined total mileage of the three disciplines that make up this extreme triathlon, which is popular with both professional athletes and amateurs seeking a gruelling challenge.
The course consists of a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride and 13.1-mile run, completed in sections by a relay team or brave individuals.
Knowing my limits, I’ve opted to be part of a relay team.
Our swimmer, Amy, gets us off to a good start, battling with 2,200 competitors to cross the mountain-framed Lake Zell.
Now it’s up to me to ensure our team make it through to the next leg. I have to complete the 90km course in less than four-and-a-half hours, or we’ll be disqualified.
The race organisers have redesigned the cycling course, and in the race briefing, the enthusiastic compere had taken great schadenfreude in dramatically outlining the 'speed bump' recently introduced.
The cycling section is a 700m ascent over 13km, with the final 2km being truly steep.
Preparing for the race, I’d concentrated on speed intervals along flat seafront roads, with no gradient, so I’m pleasantly surprised when the climbs, with their 15 per cent gradient, come easily enough to my legs.
I set off at a restrained pace, unsure how the climb will impact on my energy levels for the remainder of the race, and it’s with some trepidation that I pass the sign declaring the start of the uphill segment. I settle into a low gear on my superbly light KTM racer and decide to take it easy, but as I keep those pedals turning, I’m able to start admiring the beautiful countryside around me - luscious green fields and gingerbread-style Alpine houses.
As I climb, the mist thickens, cooling the temperature and making it easier to start passing other cyclists as we wind up to the mountain pass.
Occasionally, there are roaring cheers from the roadside as we pass one tiny hamlet after another; a few locals even stick out their hands for a high-five.
As I approach the mountain pass, the heavens open and any sense of excitement at reaching the 1,280m summit disappears. I’m soaked to the core.
I continue downhill until we reach drier stretches where I can finally let rip and enjoy the freedom of these closed-off roads.
It’s this dramatic mountain scenery that makes the trip to Austria worthwhile for ‘Ironman widows and widowers’, as they watch from the sidelines.
While loved ones prepare for the race, they can make use of Europe’s biggest open funicular to hike to the 3,203m Kitzsteinhorn summit and its glacier, which offers snowy scenes all year round.
They can explore mountain meadows on guided herb tours, or relax in one of the hotels in the area, such as the welcoming Hotel Stadt Wien, which offers typical Austrian facilities of saunas and heated swimming pools. I’m dreaming of a massage in the hotel spa as I head towards the finish line.
Just as I’m beginning to suffer the effects of fatigue, hysterical happiness kicks in and I push harder. After reaching the bike dismount sign, I face the final challenge - trying to run, or hobble, through the transition area, to hand over the baton to Laura, our runner.
A good-luck handshake and she’s off. Once Laura crosses the finish line in the town centre, it’s time for us to collect our well-deserved medals and t-shirts, and celebrate with a Zipfer beer.
So how did we do? I came in well before the cut-off time on three hours 32 minutes, and we had a combined time of six hours, 19 minutes, placing us in 16th out of 20 in the mixed relay. Well, at least we weren’t last!
This year, the Ironman 70.3 Zell Am See-Kaprun takes place on August 29. Registration for the event costs from 240 euros. Visit eu.ironman.com Rooms at Hotel Stadt Wien (hotel-stadt-wien.com) in Zell am See start from 157 euros with breakfast.