Monday, 21 July 2008

Ironman Fire and Rain - Switzerland

I arrived in Zurich on Wednesday afternoon with the idea of getting the bike together, then doing a short ride and a swim at the race site. Of course, the initial activities of arriving in a new city took much longer than planned, so I did not get a ride or swim in that day, but I did take a look at the transition and expo area. The next two days included a short, moderately hard BRICK on Thursday morning before breakfast, then a 30min swim at the race site in the afternoon. I tried to keep my emotions and energy levels down to conserve both mental and physical energy and I also tried to stay off my feet, but it was tough to do in a city like Zurich. In fact, on Wednesday afternoon we walked all the way from our hotel to the race site and back, which was about 8 or 9km walk.

Friday morning I did another 30min swim at the race site with Lisa, then tried to relax as much as possible until the race briefing. After the race briefing, we all went out to dinner to celebrate my birthday. It was a quiet affair as the three of us who were racing on Sunday were watching what we ate and drank and were keen to keep it an early night. Up till that day, the weather had been perfect, if not a bit too hot in the mid 80’s, but Saturday brought a major change and we woke up to rain, rain, rain! I had planned to do a very short swim, bike, run workout with an emphasis on the transitions, but the rain quickly changed my mind to just swimming and doing a short run. The transition practice would have been quite difficult as I would have had to do the transitions in the hotel, or just leave my stuff outside to get soaked (which would have just made the race transitions more difficult).

After breakfast, Angie and I checked out a museum, had lunch and then I went about the work of getting my race kit prepped. Everything came together pretty well, except for the pump I purchased a couple days prior. It had a slightly different way of connecting to the tube, and I struggled to get it to work, which caused some alarm. Finally, I did figure out the pump and got the bike ready to be checked in, which I did that afternoon in my allotted time spot. Of course, it was a madhouse at the race site, as they were running a sprint and Olympic races at the same time the Ironman bike check in was scheduled. After some difficult driving detours, we made our way to the transition area and got our bikes in our spots with no other issues. The race provided big plastic covers for the bikes, which proved to be a much needed item as it continued to rain harder through the night. (These covers later worked well as ponchos for the spectators during the race in their effort to stay dry from all the rain) After we finished there, we just headed to an early dinner and then back to the hotel for some stretching and a review of the day ahead.

I tried to go to sleep early, but of course I was not tired so I just watched a little TV and relaxed until around 10pm when I finally felt tired enough to call it a night.

Race Morning
Came damn early at 4am, with my pre-ordered breakfast arriving promptly at 4:15am. It was a decent meal with yoghurt and muesli, some OJ, a banana, some oatmeal (brought from home) and a muffin from Starbucks along with an iced latte. I did one final check of the race bag and then headed down to meet the taxi a few minutes before 5am. Two Brits joined us in the taxi and we quickly made our way to the race site. Oy! What a wet, wet, morning! And cold too! I did not know what to think of the conditions and decided to delay my transition set up until the last minute to see if the rain would subside. It did not and I had to find a way to get into my wetsuit while getting poured on (was a fun experience!)… Did get the bike and run stuff laid out under a plastic trash bag to keep as much of it dry as possible, and then I did one last check of the bike before heading over to meet Angie near the swim start.

The Swim
The swim started from the beach of the Landiwiesse. It was a deep water start that was a triangle shape of a loop. The 50 odd pros went off at 6:55, with the AG off at 7am. I seeded myself near the outside third near the front row. I was unsure of the best spot, but since there were over 2250 racers, it seemed that nowhere would be too calm. Unfortunately for me, I chose a spot that remained super chaotic for 75% or more of the two loop course. The two loops included a tight under bridge passing that led to a little island we exited the water onto and ran across then dove back in for the second lap. Going into the bridge bottleneck I got my right hand caught in a guide cable and nearly drowned at swimmers went over me left, right and center. I took a quick look at my watch as I exited the first loop and saw just over 30min, which was nice, but I knew the second loop was around 150-200m longer and any thoughts of a sub 60 minute swim disappeared. The second lap was a bit better as far as the chaos, but I never really felt like I was able to swim without being knocked, kicked, or grabbed for more than a few moments at a time. The group I was swimming with seemed to swim off the straightest line a couple of times, and then I seem to swim off line on my own which led me to swim back into the scrum to stay on track. As the lake is so big, and is surround by rolling green hills, and was also under the shroud of low, dense rain clouds, there were few landmarks to site from and the orange turn buoys were small in infrequent. Anyhow, the second lap did feel a bit easier and I did enjoy it overall, which is a nice little surprise as swimming is not my strength. I came out of the water and saw just over 67min on my watch and was immediately furious at doing the second lap 7min slower than the first.

As my transition spot was right near the swim exit, I got to it with my wetsuit still fully on and just full of anger and aggression. I literally tore at my wetsuit to get it off, which I am sure was not the fastest or easiest on my psyche or energy needs… I threw my wetsuit aside and then went about putting on my soaking wet socks, shoes, helmet and race belt. I took a long look at my vest and arm warmers, but was so warm from the swim that I thought the air temperature was warm enough to keep me from suffering from the rain. Was I wrong… Overall, a fairly efficient transition with the excess emotion and I got out in a respectable 3min or so.

The Bike
The bike course was a 2 loop affair with two distinct hills per lap. The first hill, called ‘the beast’ is a long rolling kind of hill that is never super steep, but just drags for about 6km. The second is called ‘heartbreak hill’ and it is a short (1km) but very steep little monster. The rest of the course is fast with some technical descents off the climbs. I started my ride with a plan to ride the first 45km at around 215 watts, then up it to 220-225 for the second 45km, then 225-235 for the third 45km, and then keep it at 235+ for the last segment. In hindsight, I think I should have planned it differently as the hills were fairly big events and were spaced in a way that a strategy around them might have been more effective. I froze my arse off on the first lap, and could not believe how idiotic I felt for leaving my vest and arm warmers behind. I didn’t let the rain or cold get me down and I continued to push, but it was super hard to eat and drink as my hands got so numb that I kept dropping everything.

On the road, I felt good on the first 30km before ‘the beast’ and then took it at a nice and controlled effort, but did notice that 300+ efforts were common. I passed just a ton of people on that first lap and started to see few riders as I neared the climb up ‘heartbreak hill’. Once I got on the hill I was greeted with a very Tour de France like climb with people lining the hill and reducing the road to a single tiny lane. I loved it, and enjoyed every moment of going up the hill, and I also loved that I knew a short descent and 5km on the flats was all that remained of lap 1. I rolled through the start/finish area and looked at my watch and saw 2:29:xx which put me on track for a sub 5 hour ride if my pacing strategy was smart. Unfortunately, I began to question that strategy as a bit of fatigue was felt, and I decided to take it a bit easy on the 30km of flat before the hills began on the second lap (that decision would come to haunt me). The rain and cold were really getting to me at that point and I am sure my core body temperature was being knocked down, as my concentration and focus was really lacking on the second lap.
As I neared the end of the 30km flat before the hills, I found myself in a group of 4-8 other riders who were all going a similar pace, and it seemed no one could or would (on my part) push on and leave the group behind, or when they did one, two then a whole train would get on the leaders wheel (somewhere near a 7 meter distance). I was about to just give it a good effort to blow up the group when a handful of riders came up on my left and blocked me from passing. See, the road at that point was a narrow one with a solid center line, and the race official said anyone crossing the solid center line would DQ’d. As there wasn’t enough room to ride three abreast, I decided to wait until a spot opened for me to pass and drive on….then the race marshal rolled up on her motorbike and popped out a nice little treat for me…a black card representing a penalty! I was astounded and could not believe I got a penalty, but in hindsight recognize that as I waited for a chance to pass, the gap to the rider in front of me shrank to less than the legal limit. What crap! I was even more ticked off at myself because not only did it let me get into a situation that put me in a drafting position, but I did so because I did not follow my race plan. Had I followed my race plan I would have blown past those guys and never been around when that group formed… Oh well, lesson learned for sure. My stomach was very noticeable on the second lap, and I seemed to be filling up with gas (not sure what was driving that and will spend a lot of time cracking that code). I kept trying to get my nutrition, but only got in about 75% or so of the planned number of kcalories…

The rest of the lap was ok, but fatigue began to be more noticeable and the climbs were definitely tougher. On the descents I went into a two wheel slide on two occasions which woke my synapses right up and I was lucky to have stayed upright. Ah, but I love to descend and even with cold, numb fingers, hands, feet and damn near everything else, I wanted to push it like ‘il Falco’ Savodelli. As I went back around the lake towards the final climb up ‘heartbreak hill’ I noticed that there were stretches of minutes where I didn’t see another rider and I knew I had climbed way up in the field. Once more up the TDF’ like climb and a new wave of energy hit me, along with quite a few hands from the super enthusiastic spectators. I flew down the descent, but with a little more care to avoid pushing lady luck too far and got back to T2 in just over 5hours of riding time.

I dismounted a little stiffly then jogged to my spot and went about getting out my dry (thank god!) running socks, shoes, and visor. My stomach was still feeling really bloated and I knew a likely port-a-loo stop would be in the near future, but hoped that it was just gas that would pass as I opened up my posture from a bike position to a running position. There wasn’t much else to do so off I went and cleared T2 in less than two minutes.

The Run
The run was a 4 loop affair that was pretty featureless, but did double back on itself quite a bit to keep the spectators very close. As I left the transition area, I mentally told myself to go easy as this was a long run and I needed to be patient. My stomach made it clear that it was not going to immediately feel better and I had to start thinking about what I was going to do to empty it out.

Before I could go far, I came across the penalty box where I had to stop for 6min to serve my drafting penalty. I kept my cool and just did some light stretching while I waited for the ok to resume racing. Once I got running again, I settled into a nice pace of around 4:20-4:30 per KM, which was my plan. After about 5km, my stomach was in an uproar and I had to stop at a port-a-loo, which was definitely not part of the plan and was the first moment of real disappointment in myself of the day. After I got running again, I ran ok for a few more KMs but then my energy levels went off a cliff and I slowed to a near walk. I didn’t recognize what was happening right away and thought that I was just paying for going too hard on the bike or something. I managed to shuffle to the next aid station and had some Coke, which almost immediately gave me an energy boost and it hit me. I was suffering from an energy bonk. From that point on, I began to grab Coke at nearly every aid station, but I could never get my energy levels back up to run near my plan. I did hold a decent pace until I bonked again some where around the 20km mark, and from there I took Coke and other bits of food (banana bites, and orange slices mostly) at every aid station to the end. I even had some Red Bull to get me from one aid station to the next at the lowest point of the run.
During the 3rd lap my stomach was still a mess and another port-a-loo stop was necessary, and my mind began to really worry that Kona was going to be in jeopardy. The third 10.5km loop was the hardest mentally as I was fighting to recover from my second energy bonk, and I got really down on myself after my loo stop and I spent a fair amount of time questioning whether I wanted to even finish. Somehow, I managed to hold it all together and got to the 4th and final loop where I immediately had more mental strength, but unfortunately my energy levels were still very low and the fatigue of running the 30+km was taking its toll. I began to really break the loop into little segments and ran to each one with as much gusto as I could muster. As I got to the last 3km, I began to get a lot of positive emotions and they began to propel me faster and I passed two guys from my age group in the last 1.5km and never let them get back to me.

Once I got in the finishing chute, I had mixed emotions as I was ecstatic to be finishing my first Ironman, but was quite bummed to see the time that was far above my goal and likely outside the Kona placing slots. Run split was 3:25:xx + 6min for the penalty and the overall time was 9:46:xx or 9:40 without the penalty. A 9:40 would have placed me 11th in my age group and netted me a slot to Kona….

Post Race
Ouch… that is the one word that came to my mind, both from a physical standpoint but also from an emotional and mental one too. My stomach was a complete disaster and my legs were as weak as I have ever experienced. I was cold to the bone and I just felt lost in space and moved like a zombie. I did manage to get a hot shower and into some sorta dry clothes then linked up again with Angie, and my crew. Found out that Lisa had a rough day and tried to console her, as she had suffered so badly on the first loop of the bike course both from crashing and a massive drop in her core body temperature which caused her to black out and crash a second time, ending her day. After chatting for a bit we packed up our gear and rode back to the hotel. It was initially hard for me to consider getting back on my bike for the short ride to the hotel, but the thought of a latte from Starbucks perked me up and we took it real easy getting there. Unfortunately, my stomach was in no mood for anything and I had to toss my latte in a trash bin after two sips caused major upheaval. Back at the hotel, another long, hot shower and short sleep then dinner with everyone in the hotel’s Thai restaurant. All I could eat was a bit of soup and then it was back to the room to crash.

All in all, it was an amazing experience and one that will live with me forever. I feel I prepared pretty well for the race, but did not do enough to test my kcalorie needs or put my stomach in that position. I also did not prepare for the things I could not control, such as the weather. Those two lessons, along with ensuring I don’t get on the wrong side of a race rules will be ones I will take to heart going forward. With this performance being good enough to qualify for Kona, I will now turn my attention to the next opportunity in Western Australia on December 7th!

My stats for the day:
Swim: 1:07:xx
T1: 2:39
Bike: 5:03:xx
T2: 1:50
Run: 3:24:xx
Penalty 6:00
Total 9:46:46

Bike data: Norm Power: 245, Average 227, Bike TSS 327,
Kcals burned: ~7050
Average HR:136 (not including swim)

1 comment:

M&M said...


Congratulations on an awesome performance!!! I know, I know, it wasn't what you wanted, but for us amateur amateurs out there, it is quite inspiring...For God's sake, a 3:20 marathon after all that swimming and's almost incomprehensible.

Thanks again for a great read--quite a bit of drama kept me glued to the screen. And that's saying alot when you're in Alaska and there are very cool things and animals all around!

Your traveling pal,


P.S. Howdy Ang!