And so that is that. Two marathons, an Ultra Marathon, an Ironman and 128 days without an alcoholic beverage. What a year it has been.
The Ironman, unfortunately, ended on a slightly more sour note than the others, but I made it through, and what a day it was.
The lead up in Zurich was quite dragged out, having an activity a day to attend to and having a lot of free time where I had to resist doing anything too taxing. We landed on Wednesday morning to glorious weather that was expected to stay all week until Sunday, event day, where it was due to thunderstorm all day. Great. After putting the bikes together, Steph and I took them on a small spin to make sure they were working fine. The rest of the day was spent trying to acclimatise to the weather (sunbathing) and then out for dinner where we learned very quickly how expensive it was going to be in Zurich!
The following day registration opened and we planned to cycle up one of the hills that was on the course once we were registered. When we woke up, we went for a swim in the Lake. With my expectations fully written out for a non wetsuit swim, I didn’t take t to the lake. Boy that was slow. In hindsight, some of the slowness can be down to not knowing if I was crossing a ferry path or not… But it was a lovely swim. Clear, cool water with beautiful views of the mountains. At lunchtime we headed up to the expo and we received our bag along with our transition bags. We were in. The expo was just being built, so the opportunity to waste money on stash I didn’t need was taken away from me. Bonus! Once we had registered, we grabbed lunch from the food hall – by far the most economic place to eat! The pasta bolognese was lovely – mass produced food that was the same quality as restaurant food. Note that, schools, hospitals etc.
And off we went for a practice up ‘Heartbreak Hill’. We looked at a map to work out where we were going, turn right after Kilchberg station. Simple. We did that, climbed a hill that was taxing but nothing horrendous. We met at the top and spoke about how simple it felt. We cycled the next section and stopped at a turning with a steep incline – maybe this is Heartbreak?! A sign next to it, written in German, said something about Ironman Zurich on Sunday 19th July. So we did this hill too – tougher, but very short. The views were phenomenal.
We cycled back to the hotel, and the rest of the day was ours to relax as we liked. That evening I took a look at where we cycled online and realised that neither the first nor the second hills were Heartbreak Hill – so a third attempt to find it was required! It was harder than the others, but still not too challenging – the thought of it after 175km was a different matter though! At the English race briefing was the first time all 11 of us racing were there together, it was a great crew of people doing the event and we chilled for the afternoon before attending the pasta party that evening – all you can eat food! Saturday was the quietest day, we had to hide from the sun and check our bike and equipment in.
Race day. The alarm went off at 4.25am – a lie in compared to when some people got up. Breakfast at the hotel – porridge with apple sauce and some croissants. Back to the room to collect the rest of my stuff and get changed. The text I received from Ironman the previous night contained the bad news of wetsuits being banned due to the temperature of the water so that stayed in the room. We got the train to the start and were with our racked bags and bikes by 5.50. Water bottles and nutrition on the bike, sun cream on the body and in the run bag and I was ready.
We lined up in our expected swim time – I went in the 70-80 minute section as that was my targeted wetsuit time – I figured everybody else would be doing the same. Off we shuffles in our waves of 10, every 5 seconds going into the water. And into the water I went. Going in waves was brilliant, it was still tight and there was still a bit of fighting for space, but nothing compared to mass starts. I tried to settle into a rhythm and then thought about anything other than the swim. That didn’t really happen and the first straight went on for a long time. I worked my way around to the Australian Exit – lap 1 complete. Up on the island and ran around a few people, they were walking – I didn’t get that so I may have had to nudge a couple of people out the way and splash gracelessly back into the water. Lap 2. You couldn’t see a thing going back out, swimming straight towards the sunrise you had to rely on other people and your instinct in swimming towards the buoy. It wasn’t ideal, but I was there. My swim hat was coming off, which was annoying and eventually towards the end of the swim it came fully off. Under the bridge once more and up onto land. I clicked my watch and couldn’t believe it – 1h26. I had expected 1h20 with a wetsuit and therefore around 1h35 without. I was delighted, especially when I saw I had swam 4.2km instead of 3.8km! Transition, grab my bag. Dry my feet, socks on, shoes on, cycling helmet, glasses, toilet, bike.
The first 28.5km is a flat ride around the lake. I couldn’t get my legs to settle into any rhythm on the bike, it was seeming like a chore instead of what should have been an easy start to the bike. Part of this was the course, in my head I had convinced myself it would be dead flat – not sure why but that’s the way my head had processed it. It wasn’t hilly at all, and as roads go, it was as dead flat as you shall see but the longer slight inclines wound me up slightly, which is ridiculous. I said I wanted to have the first 30km done in an hour, as I turned at the roundabout at the end of the lake, we started a climb. Pretty simple climb and a few rolling hills for the next while. 30km – 56 minutes. Delighted. Up next was The Beast – a hill named locally as this. It was pretty steep and longer than I thought. Small cog, about half way on the rear cassette and spin. It was a fun hill, but the heat was getting up. Cheeky descent and then another climb. This one a long shallow but grinding hill, big cog territory but it was getting warmer. I reached the top of that and realised I was going to fall slightly shy of my 3hour first lap target, shame but I was happy that I didn’t blow lots of energy on the first lap – so I thought! At the aid station I picked up my cheese and ham baguette. Real food was beautiful. And down some lovely descents, back onto the lakeside and a flat around the Heartbreak Hill. I was excited for Heartbreak, the videos and the talk before was that it was like Tour de France – crowds cheering at the side and a narrow single file space to climb through the crowds. In my head, I had pictures this to be all the way up, but in hindsight that’s ridiculous, that would be 3000 people! I kept myself spinning up, not wanting to smash up it. This went well until the last 100m when the crowd was there. It was brilliant, out of the saddle and smashed it up the final bit. It was such an amazing atmosphere. Down the final descent and back to the start – 1 lap done. 3h04. Just outside what I wanted. Towards the end of the first lap, my back had started to stiffen up – a problem I had got rid of until the Ultra Marathon a few weeks ago. I tried to settle back onto my tri bars for flat section but couldn’t get comfy. A toilet break eased it a bit but it still wasn’t great. I got around to first climb and the temperature had got ridiculous. My nutrition plan was borderline gone, and when I hit The Beast it fully went. It was too warm to eat the bars I had on my bike, so I had a gel at the bottom and had picked up an extra isotonic drink at the stations and moved to a liquid only nutrition for the final 60km. As I was climbing The Beast I genuinely felt like my tri suit was melting to my body, it was horrendous. At this point, I reevaluated my target times. 6h40 on the bike, 4h run. In these temperatures I would still be delighted with that. As I got back to the lake for the final time, I felt awful. I went along the flat in a poor cycling position knowing it was costing me precious time but it was the only way to be comfortable and I knew my back would ease up on the run. Heartbreak Hill round 2 was less busy but I still couldn’t resist the out of the saddle finish on the top through the crowds. Descend and a bit of flat and I dismounted, 6h36. Happy with that. Now for the bit I was most looking forward to, the run!
I knew my nutrition was down, so I walked through the first 3 aid stations to ensure I took enough on. After 7km I felt good, I started to hit my rhythm and was going well under my 4h target speed and I was happy, smiling and enjoying it a lot. And then things went wrong. As I stretched a step out, I felt a huge twang in the hip flexor, followed by a piercing pain and the smile quickly vanished off my face. I tried to stretch it out and run it off but to no avail. I walked whilst I figured out what to do and when I had found a shuffle that half worked, I felt my left hamstring not being happy so that stopped quickly – the last thing I needed was the other leg going too! This was when I got into a sulk. I had worked out I had 3 and a half hours of walking…. I walked for an hour of that before trying something new. I was completely defeated at this point and I had settled into a walking routine next to another guy who was too tired to run. This frustrated me more, I had bundles of energy. I wasn’t too tired to run, I wasn’t malnutritioned, I was just injured. What a rubbish way to end the year. I had walked/experimented running techniques for 15km by the time I found one that worked – kinda. It was basically one legged running, dragging my right leg along. But it worked. I got up some momentum and kind of some speed and managed to get myself to the end. It was nothing short of a horrible mental experience, one which my stubbornness was actually a valuable asset! It may have been a 5h04 marathon, which I am embarrassed to write after all my running thing year but it was the hardest thing I have done. Ever.
13h20. 1h50 shy of my target, but given the conditions I would have been happy with my mid-race re-evaluated target of 12h20ish. The final nail in the coffin was the injury. Over the race I managed to lose 3kg and burnt around 9000 calories – which shows you the stress that the body goes under in such conditions.
I’m happy – I did it. But also disappointed, after having a good swim and cycle and feeling good it was my run which I was excited for the most and that’s where things went wrong. But nothing that I could have helped, it wasn’t lack of training, it wasn’t that poor of a performance on the day. I shan’t be doing another one for a few years, but I definitely need to do another one to see if I can nail all 3 disciplines on the day without luck/fate taking over and tarnishing the day slightly.
And that’s me done. Thanks to all who have helped me over the year, thanks for all who have donated. On Monday I had my first beer for 128 days and it was a fantastic feeling to know that I am finished and can have a social life back again!