Ironman Swiss... done!
by tiggaAug 2nd 2010
Ironman triathlon.... 3.8km Swim followed by a 180km bike ride and polished off with a marathon run. So many around the world to choose from and Zurich is where I found myself attempting my second one along with many of my South African mates, 4 or 5 of my Team Feat club mates, Stefano my mate from work and then the other 2100+ athletes from all over the world. The scene is set, the excitement has built over the months and three days before the start I travel out there to really get taste for the buzz that always surrounds an Ironman triathlon no matter where it's held!
My only other attempt at an Ironman was in New Zealand in 2005, a baptism of fire it was and I was sore for days after. This year preparation semed to go quite well, I got in some decent paced long rides but maybe I did not run quite as much as I'd have liked... but such is training around a work that sometimes something gives and this year my priority was cycling which meant I swam only twice a week maybe less and ran 40mile a week on average where ideally I'd like to have doing 50-60mile a week. All the signs were good that I was in good shape for the race though, heart rates hovering very low for Ironman pace and my weight was down to under 72kg for the first time in a few years. Now it was just down to race day I guess and hoping the legs were good the day!
Race day dawns to dry roads after two days of rain and thankfully the rain had helped knock a few degree off the water temperature which had crept over the limit of wetsuit allowable and had scared a lot of athletes as this generally adds 5-10mins to your swim time. Anyways what were we all worrying about... turns out the water temperature was almost perfect.
Target time was around the hour mark, but on average day should be 62-63min, out on the bike in 65mins. How actually panned out was not disastrous, but it was pretty scary. I was not near the front, in fact still 30-40m from the start line when the starters gun went. An hour plus long swim of chaos was to commence and if I'm honest I did not enjoy it at all. 2100 athletes all swimming like mad for the first bouy and then a 90degree right turn... as you can imagine that first right turn was a proper bunfight. I was kicked in the face, elbowed on the side of head pulled from behind.... all at the same time! I don't know how many times I said to myself 'this is just f*@king mental'. At times I simply could not swim there were so many people and could not find some clear water to swim properly, definitely think there was a lot of time I gave away but simply could not do too much about it frustratingly. At the time of the swim exit I actually did not have a watch running so I had no clue what my time was, but I'd guessed around the 65min mark and actual was 66:41. A bit disappointing really. Thankfully no real issues other than a cramping hamstring in the final 300m and it felt like I was lying in 1000+th position.
T1 was as quick as I could have hoped for given that the transition area and my location was about as bad it could get and it was super busy as I'd come out in the masses. Quick to turn the GPS on and getting on the bike.
Target time was 4hr45min, but having not recce'd the course it was a give or take a few minutes. The plan was to ride steady throughout and finish strong, the couple of easy rides I'd done in the week leading up to the race left me confident as I felt a lot of power there and 'good sensations' so I was super confident. My 450th place out the water though was to prove a huge deficit and left me right in the mix and literally packs of 20-30 athletes to get past, and those packs were only 300-400 metres apart. My first two attempts to get past a pack was to ride past, and I'd comfortably caught them up at 41(ish)km/hr on the flat opening 30km stretch, which was bang on target. Unfortunately when I got past at that pace and was at the front of the bunch, that pack would simply speed up and eventually the guy riding behind me would be brave enough to overtake. Once he overtakes so does the chap behind him and the rules don't allow you to just slot in you have wait till they have 10m gap and then you re-overtake. All I could do was see the whole group, some blatantly drafting overtake until I was at the back of the group again. This would not be an issue if they were riding at a decent pace, but as I was no longer at the front doing my 41km/hr the pace had slowed to what they were doing when I caught them up? Yes, very frustrating.
After the second time this happened and knowing I was not going to be fast enough doing that I made up my mind to go faster past them and just keep going. My GPS clocked me at 45km/hr for 10km between 15 and 25km!! That was silly fast, but as I'd drop one group I'd be on the tail of another and so the story repeated. When I did ease up I'd dragged one group up to another and now I was in the middle of a 60 strong 'peleton'. Admittedly drafting was hard to avoid, but there was also some blatant wheel sucking going on. The 30km mark also signalled the start of the climbing, now this would sort the groups out a bit. Unfortunately there was also an aid station here and the big group and some muppet slammed his brakes on and dived in towards the tables right in front of me and all I could do was hit the brakes and I simply went right over my handlebars and got a good close up view of the smooth Swiss tarmac, as smoth as it is, it's still pretty hard;-)
I spent much of the first 70km 'group' hopping and riding solid without it feeling to hard at all. I hit the final 15km to end lap one and finally I could settle into my own pace and just ride steady. A final climb of the lap is up heartbreak hill about 5km from the end, which on lap 1 seemed easy enough, unfortunately when I hit this hill on lap two, I felt quite drained and out of gas. In fact at about 150km I suddenly fely quite flat... burning more calories than I would like to have by riding in surges in the first half had caught up with me. I backed off a little knowing I was on 4:45ish pace... but the hills were all a struggle. By the time I got T2 my clock registered 4:48 and knew now that a sub 3 hour marathon was the only thing that was going to get me a sub 9 hour finish.
T2 was fairly swift, but my stomach was not too happy and decided to stop at the first loo and relieve myself.
After my 2min loo stop, and my stomach was feeling a bit better I settled down into a controlled pace, trying to take on the fuel I knew I had been sucked out of me on the bike. All was going quite well clocking 4:10 ish per km for the first 12km, and this was the first time I felt a ping in my left quad. I know my left quad had taken a knock when I crashed earlier on the bike, but hadn't really felt anything during the bike so I thought nothing of it. By 15km my right quad was now worse than my left and we took a 90 deg right bend down a steep temporary ramp and down under a road through an underpass and then a complete U turn out the other side and that was it. TWANG... my right quad/aductor just siezed up and I was doing the straight legged peg leg walk. Eventually a minute or two later I was able to walk properly, but not after a good stretch and watching other people cruise by and also aware my 9 hour was now gone. Finding the motivation to run on was quite hard, I did not want a Kona slot, I did not want a low 9 hour or whatever, so I just did a walk run effort for the next 15km and tried to fuel myself properly as I knew this was the problem. I have to admit there was always someone shouting my name and telling me to dig in, and evetually at the 30km mark and found out more or less was total time was on the clock and calculated an hour for the last 12km would bring me home faster than my last IM. Plod along I did, walking at the aid station and enjoying the atmosphere and the 'slower' competitors piled onto the run course and in places it was quite congested. Collecting the red band for the final lap was a major mental thing and I punched the air knowing I did not have to come past there again and from there on it was actually fun.
As I peeled off the marathon loop onto the final finishing chute to finish a long long day, not quite in the time I was expecting but still pretty pleased that I can have a bad day and finish in 9hr36min.
It's hard to reflect on a race so soon after a race without being disappointed I did not reach my target time... but all things considered, it wasn't that bad. Just 5 weeks before I was on a physio bed in proper back pain, moving house, the Jess saga to deal with... yep I can be happy and know that sub 9 hour will come on the right day. Will I be chasing it? I'm not sure yet, for now I'm going enjoy the rest of the years racing with zero expectations... Next up National Relay champs, then onto Powerman Zofingen. Did I say zero expectations?? Sorry, thats a lie...
A quick word of congrats to all my mates who achieved some incredible times... Our 'fines' afternoon and braai/BBQ should be a blast on Saturday! I happily sat in the finish area to greet the happy faces as they crossed the finish line and sat in the finishing tent just chatting about each of their days, eating loads of pasta all afternoon... a little reminder that everyone has their bad patches.
Great day, great race, great venue... just what I expected from I guess, just minus my goal time.