Ironman Switzerland 2003
(3.8 Km Swim, 180 Km Bike, 42.2 Km Run)
Pictures are here
Arrive Zurich, pick up hire car, got lost!!! Apparently an Opel Astra has an internal light but as we couldn’t find it and thus couldn’t map read in the dark we spent the first 1½ hours of the trip sightseeing/map reading by streetlights.
Met up with a few guys at the race briefing that I had chatted to over the Internet the previous week to go around the bike course in the car. This was to be an eye opener; I have never seen hills like it in a race other than watching the Tour de France. The course is described as a fast circuit with 3 climbs. Well the first one went on for 4km and the 2nd for 3km. Both were some of the hardest climbs I have seen and certainly didn’t do anything like it in training (mental note to self for next year!). The last climb on the 60km loop was ‘Heartbreak Hill’ and represented a repeat of a climb I did earlier in the year at Powerman UK only this time it was about 1.2km long. This was all from the safety and comfort of the car!!! Now I was worried.
The other thing to note about Zurich is how expensive it is, so after spending £15 in a taxi for 10 minutes to get to the pasta party that evening we decided to walk back to the hotel afterwards. Not a good idea to traipse 5 or 6 miles around Zurich again LOST! when you are trying to conserve energy.
The temperatures were still running amok in the city and mid afternoon were still around 28 deg C and the water temperature a fantastic 25.5 deg C. This didn’t bode well for a mid pack swimmer like myself who was happier in a wetsuit but the rules state that if the water temperature exceeds 23.9 deg C then NO wetsuits. Anyway went for a swim to check out the visuals for the marker buoys so I didn’t have to rely on following people in front of me.
This was where my new compatriot (Mark from Dublin) and myself had our ‘Carlsberg’ chat. You know the adverts, “Carlsberg don’t have any banks but if they did……..” And we came up with our perfect ‘Carlsberg’ run triathlon race,
Flat calm lake, wetsuits allowed, 24 deg C
Circular wind following you all the way, 24 deg C, blue skies, no punctures
Overcast, slight drizzle, 20 deg C, no blisters.
04:00 Race day, get up go down for breakfast, go back to bed.
05:15 Get up again and pack
05:45 Decide to drive to the start as taxis were too expensive, all roads around the start closed, GOT LOST!!(Are we seeing a pattern here !)
06:10 Get to transition to find I had missed the announcement of the day. The water temperature had been taken and it was a miraculous 23.8 deg C. Wetsuits allowed
06:50 Still putting wetsuit on after having to spend 10 minutes in a queue for the toilets, having a Mexican meal the night before was beginning to feel like the wrong decision but getting to the start line was the main aim now, say goodbye to girlfriend support crew (Kelly)
07:00 All hell breaks loose as 1400 people try to get in the water at the same time, because I was late and got to the start line from the water side I was on the 3rd row at the start so just went with the flow, had to swim the first 150m with my head above the water so I didn’t lose my goggles then tried to get into a pattern of easy strokes and breathing on both sides so I could see everyone around me. Up until the first marker it was quite tough jostling for water space but once the group got round the first buoy we started to get a bit of clear water. At the end of the first lap we had to swim around an island and under a bridge, the noise was incredible, whistles, loudspeakers and cheering. One more lap to go. At this point Carlsberg are running this triathlon!!
08:04 Exit the water; nearly have to double take at my time, 5 minutes better than last time, great, now the hard work. Quick wave to Kelly, transition is crowded but everything is found easily and after just under 3 minutes I was on my way.
08:07 This was going to be the toughest bit for me, not the best climber but was going to enjoy the downhills. It became apparent after 18k that we had not driven the exact bike course and there were a few bits I hadn’t seen, some good, some not so good but I think they evened each other out. The first climb was never ending there was reasonable support most of the way which certainly helped 😉 It was a welcome relief to get to the top and start the first downhill that got me touching 40mph while I freewheeled and rehydrated, the temperatures for the day were starting to climb steadily faster than the cyclists could manage. The second climb wasn’t far after the first one so not much time to recover and this was as painful as the first.
Then the technical part through the houses and suburbs led us back down to lake level at a fair pace with speeds up to 44mph. This meant a flat cycle now for a bit until ‘Heartbreak Hill’
I didn’t actually think this was too bad the first time, painful, yes, but at just over 1km long is was much shorter than the other 2 climbs if somewhat steeper. What was waiting over the top though was superb, just after the feed station was the downhill, clocking up speeds of over 50mph felt great after such a beast and was worth the climb. Transition loomed at the end of the first lap, 1hr 45 mins. I was shocked it was so fast but glad as I knew it would get slower as the hills came and went.
2nd lap was harder but with the temperatures still rising I was drinking more and more, unfortunately this meant I started to over hydrate and had to stop twice on lap 2 to pee, still, I would rather over hydrate than start to dehydrate ! Hills were killers this time and Irish Mark passing me at exactly 56 miles proved I had slowed a little but he gave me something to aim at and I started mentally again. The downhills weren’t so much fun this time either as the winds had picked up and I didn’t fancy being blown over the side of a field at 40mph so concentrated on staying towards the middle of the road and keeping my head down. Most of the flats back into Zurich were now against the wind but I was still making reasonable time. Lap completed this time in 1hr 54 mins. I knew I was getting slower but was annoyed I wasn’t going to break 5hrs 30mins at this pace.
3rd lap was the worst, had to pee again which was losing me time but was a welcome rest. The first hill almost broke me into a walking pace but I knew when I got to the top I didn’t have to do it again so pushed harder, the wind hadn’t died down but had changed direction, was beginning to curse ‘Carlsberg’ as the circular wind was going in the wrong bloody direction. All I could think about now was if I get to the end of this lap I will finish the race, once I get off the bike its just me. ‘Heartbreak Hill’ was not a welcome sight, fortunately Kelly cheering me on at the start of the climb and the blow up banner at the top was, people were off and walking now and it made me feel great that I could still cycle it and surprisingly it didn’t feel to bad, might have had something to do with the fact that I only had about 4 miles to go. Last lap time 2hr 2 mins proved it was a struggle but after 5hrs 43 mins in the saddle I was glad to get off.
13:53 Set out on the run after a reasonable transition, lower back was hurting but I knew now that I was going to finish so my main aim was to beat 11 hours. Each lap was 14km so I broke them down mentally and aimed at 1hr 15 mins for each. 1st lap was steady, warm weather was the only downer but I was soon to be singing the praises of ‘Carlsberg’ again. Finished the first lap in 1:16 having walked through all 6 aid stations and stopping for a pee once.
2nd lap Our prayers the previous day were answered at the start of the second lap, the heavens opened and it absolutely threw it down, thunder and lightening followed and the weather eventually reduced the temperatures to about 19 deg C. I started running with one of the army guys halfway round the second lap and we chatted for a couple of miles actually keeping the pace the same. We both said afterwards that we were actually pulling each other round because both wanted to slow down but couldn’t. We also kept passing a nutty group of supporters from the UK who Kelly had joined and they were great relief to see twice a lap. Most supporters don’t know how much it means to hear your name but it was a great lift.
However, it was at this point that the most painful part of the race was for me. Turning a 90 deg bend towards the end of the lap I felt my toenail come loose and start to stab me with every step as it pushed against the end of the shoe. I told John to keep running and stopped to survey the damage. My nail was still attached at 3 sides but the shoe end had split and was causing me so much pain I had to pull it off. Unfortunately because it was raining and I was cold it took a few go’s to grab the nail, once I had hold I just held my breath and pulled. The pain was unreal but the rain was cooling it down and putting a wet sock back soothed it a little. Still had a lot of pain for the next mile and a half but adrenalin kicked in after that and I had John to catch now as well. Lap 2 was a disappointing 1hr 18 mins but I was happy I was still going.
3rd Lap was the killer; I had missed an aid station when I was supposed to take a gel and suffered for the next 2 miles until I could get more water to take with it. This must have picked me back up again because I caught John after 6k on the 3rd lap. We ran together for a while until I needed to go to the loo again with 6k to go. After that it was all in the bag, I had worked out at 9k that I had 3 miles to go and if I did 10 minute miles I would beat 11 hours no problem so I set off after the 10hrs 45 mins target. Did the last lap in 1hr 17 mins.
When I got to the final 100-metre finish straight I was greeted by John with a Union Flag to go across the finish line. Great feeling.
My stats in the end were
Calories burned………. 9503 ! Money raised………… over £1500!
Position 278th Overall/ 90th in Age Group/ 12th British Athlete out of 86.
Thanks to everyone for all their support, it was very well received in those dark training days and if you sponsored me thanks again the charity will be very pleased with the amount raised. Will I do it again, definitely, the only decision is which one !! And not even finding out that I had to fork out another £110 because I had booked Kelly on the wrong return flight a day early when we got to the airport could dampen the spirits !!