Race: IM Switzerland
Location: Zurich, Switzerland
Distance: 3.8km swim, 180km bike, 42.2km run
Date: Sunday July 13th, 2008
My goal for this Ironman was to better by Lake Placid Ironman time of 13:15 by 1 hour. I figured that would be manageable if everything went well. If I had a REALLY good day, I might even come in around 12 hours. If I had a really bad day anything was possible.
We landed in Zurich on Saturday morning one week and a day before the race so we had some time to get acclimatized. I had serious jet lag for the first day but by the second day I was fine. On the Sunday we rode most of the course. It was absolutely beautiful. We rode along the water for 30km and then we started to climb. There are 3 climbs on the course, 2 of them are decent. The first one is called “The Beast” and it is a 3km grinder that averages about 7% grade. The view from this climb was stunning; all you could see were farmers fields, houses and the backdrop of the mountains. It was breathtaking. The descents were insane! There were a couple that they wouldn’t allow you to go into your aerobars. Good thing it rained when we did that ride so I knew what it was like to go 60km an hour on a soaking wet twisty downhill (and that was with me riding my brakes!).
Midweek, we rode the infamous “Heartbreak Hill”. It is a shorter, steep climb that you it at the end of each loop. The climb is aabout 500-600m with an average grade of about 10%. On race day it was supposed to be jammed with spectators like the climbs in the Tour de France. It was a tough little climb and I figured by the second loop my legs would be screaming at me going up this.
We spent the rest of the week doing our workouts and touring around Zurich. We spent a night on a Mount Pilatus, just outside Luzern. It is the highest peak in Luzern at 7000 feet. What an amazing experience that was. We watched the Ironman village come together over the course of the week. On Thursday we picked up our race kit. It was a very efficient process to say the least, we were in and out in 2 minutes. The set up of this race was very different from Lake Placid. First of all, we didn’t have transition bags, this was set up just like a “regular” triathlon. Everything was set up beside your bike. Secondly there were no wetsuit strippers, you had to get out of our suit on your own. Thirdly, there was no body marking! Very strange. Nothing major, just different. Friday night was the pre-race party. It was held in this awesome old tavern / hall that was right beside a shooting range. They showed last year’s race video and we were treated to a perfomance by this crazy “yo-yo artist”, which was kind of cheezy but still pretty entertaining. If German was my first languange, I’m sure I would have found the evening a lot more emotional but since it is not, it just seemed to lack that emotion and inspiration that I remember feeling at Lake Placid’s dinner.
The weather leading up to the race was really nice. The Friday before the race was baking hot. A little too hot for my liking but that didn’t matter because the forecast was calling for rain all day on Saturday and Sunday. Awesome. I wasn’t happy to hear that but what can you do. Sure enough, when we got up on Saturday, it was pouring. I had to check my bike in at 4:00 pm so we swam in the morning and then did some running around before we headed back to the Ironman Village. The volunteer that checked me in was a bit surly because I forgot my race bib- I didn’t know we were supposed to have it-they didn’t mention it at the athlete’s meeting. I racked my bike, put my helmet on my aerobars and tucked it in for the night in a bike bag that they provided. Gary was supposed to check in at 6:00 pm but they were letting some people in early so he got to check in as well. We headed back home to make dinner and relax. It was about 9:00 pm when we went to bed. I think I slept for about 4 hours total. I was so nervous. My alarm went off at 3:15 am but it didn’t matter, I was already awake. I didn’t feel good when I got out of bed. My stomach was sore and crampy. Uh-oh. Mother Nature was being REALLY cruel today. Any other day of the month and I would have been ok but on RACE DAY?! Come on. Oh well, nothing I could do at this point other than take half an anaprox and hope that held off the cramps until the race start when adrenaline would take over.
I looked out the window and saw rain. Lots of it. AWESOME. This day was just getting better and better. I made my breakfast and tried to force it down. I was so nervous I had a hard time eating. I put my ipod on and listened to some Rush, hoping to calm myself down. I packed my last bit of gear and then Gary and I headed down to the start. Gary and I separated once we got to transition and we busied ourselves preparing our transition area. It was raining hard so everything was getting wet. Luckily I made up my own transition bags out of clear garbage bags so I had everything I needed for the bike in one bag and everything I needed for the run in the another bag and then another bag to cover up my knapsack. I couldn’t find our friends Rick and Sue but I did manage to find one of our other friends, Silvia, and we headed down to the water together. It was a long walk to the swim start. I didn’t manage to get a warm up swim in and, I couldn’t find Gary so I was a little freaked out. All of a sudden I heard my name and there he was. Thank goodness. I couldn’t imagine starting this day without a hug and a kiss from my husband. We said our teary goodbyes and we parted ways. I then ran into Sue my training buddy and I gave her a big hug. We made our way into the water and waited. The gun went off and the mayhem began.
The swim course was a 2 loop course in Lake Zurich. The first loop was almost a square. I say almost because instead of swimming in a straight line across the bottom, you swam around a little island, into a channel and under a bridge packed with specatators and then you came out of the water, ran across that island and jumped back into the water to start your second loop. I’m sure it was a great thing for spectators but it was AWFUL for the participants. Once everyone got into the channel, there was a huge backlog and people just got down right NASTY. I was grabbed, pushed and swam over. It was even worse when I got out on the ramp. I couldn’t get my footing and people behind me were pushing me so hard I almost got trampled. I yelled a few choice words and then a volunteer grabbed me and pulled me up. Off to do the second loop. The second loop was longer as we had to swim on a diagonal across to the first buoy and then around and back. I was trying to sight but I had a very hard time as the buoys were not that big. I ended up swimming all over the place. I probably added a couple of minutes to my swim time just from not swimming straight. I made it around the island without too much damage other than a punch to the head. My calf cramped just as I got to the ramp and a volunteer had to pull me up again.
Swim time: 1:16:44, 3 minutes better than LP! WOOHOO!
I ran into transition, peeled of my wetsuit, ran into the change tent to liberally apply chamois cream to my shorts. Back to my bike and on with the rain jacket. It was pretty cold. I think the temperature was about 14 degrees celsius. Not exactly a nice summer day.
T1: 6:57 - MUCH faster than LP. My T1 in LP was 15 minutes. Ridiculous.
I ate a gel as soon as I got on the bike. I got into my aerobars right away and soon realized that they still weren’t in the right position. Great. I tried to stay in them as much as possible. I followed my nutrition plan to the T. I usually eat a combo of cliff bars and shot bloks, which normally works for me. I motored along the first 30km which is totally flat. I made sure I drank on a regular basis even though it was cold and I didn’t feel like it. The Beast came and went. I made sure I didn’t push too hard on the climbs as I knew I had to do them again on the second loop. I was very glad I opted to put my jacket on as the descents were really chilly. It rained steadily for the first loop. Nothing too heavy but it was constant. I felt pretty good on my way back to climb Heartbreak Hill. The first sign of “problems” came at the end of the first loop when I went to climb Heartbreak Hill. My legs felt like they had nothing. That climb was a real struggle. Uh-oh. Despite that bit of panic, that climb was still really cool. It was lined with spectators even though it was cold and rainy. As I got to the top, I heard the announcer call my name. Cool! The second half of the bike was a total struggle. My feet were freezing and I couldn’t feel them, nor could I feel my fingers. My legs were also cold. My stomach was starting to cause me some problems as well. I was having a hard time getting food down. I slowed down A LOT on the second loop. I had some serious doubts about actually making it through the bike, that’s how bad I felt. I don’t know how I managed to make it through that second loop but I did. It was a HUGE struggle both mentally and physically. All I kept thinking about on the way back was getting up Heartbreak Hill. I though I was going to have to walk up it. My heart was pounding as I rounded the corner to that climb. I managed the first 150m without too much issue but then it kicks up and turns. I slowed down again and wished that I had another gear. There were still some people on the hill and they cheered me on. I was afraid to get out of my saddle as I thought my quads might cramp if I did. As I got to the top, I heard the announcer call my name again. WOOHOO. Done. The rest of the way was downhill. I rode as hard as I could on the way back to T2 just so I could get off my bike as soon as possible.
Bike: 6:46:56. Not what I was hoping for. I was hoping for 6:30. But, it was still better than Placid.
One of my other goals for this race was to run the entire marathon. Within the first 2km of the run, I knew I was in trouble. My stomach was severely bloated and I couldn’t take any food in without wanting to throw up. I stopped in almost every porta potty on that run course. My body didn’t know what it wanted to do-puke or go to the bathroom. I had some flat coke and that seemed to sit well so I had some more at the next aid station. I didn’t have any gel until about 8km into the run. My nutrition plan went right out the window. The run was 4 10km loops, which was great as the course was always lined with people and you had the opportunity to see other people you knew, which was a welcome change from the bike, where I saw nobody. I saw Rick and Glenn on the first 2 loops. I didn’t see Gary at all until I was out on my 4th loop. He was done and had come on to the course to cheer people on. I finally saw Sue on my 3rd loop. She was about 5km ahead of me, maybe a bit more. I wanted to push it to try and catch her so we could suffer together as she looked like she was hurting as much as me, but, I had nothing. Absolutely nothing. My body was struggling to move forward. I came up on Fred who was walking and I stopped to walk with him for a while. I started to run again, happy for the little break. I could feel myself slowing down as the km’s clicked by. I saw Sue again on the 4th loop and I yelled “Buddy, I love you but I am NEVER doing this again”. I was serious. I thought I knew the meaning of the word “suffer”. This Ironman re-defined that word for me. All I could think about for the last 2km was getting to the finish line to see Gary. I just wanted the day to be over. I was tired, miserable and hurting beyond belief. I saw Gary again with half a km to go. I glanced at my watch as I turned the corner into the finish chute. It said 12:40 something. I looked down the finishing chute to see Rick and Sue cheering me on. I crossed the finish line and Sue caught me and gave me a big hug as I broke down and cried. “That was the worst day of my life” I said as she hugged me. “Never again” I said and she agreed. I turned to see Gary with my finishers medal and he gave me a big hug and a kiss as I continuted to cry. Despite the horrible day I had, I PB’d by almost 35 minutes. My final time was 12:41:14 and my final marathon time was 4:26:37. Not what I had hoped for but I’ll take it. I can honestly say that I think that’s it for Ironman for me for a while. I don’t care how much my friends beg or how many drinks they may feed me to try and convince me to do another one, it’s not going to happen for a long long time.
It was another learning experience for me, one that I won’t soon forget. It was a great trip and I was happy to share it with my friends. I was sad to say goodbye to Europe, despite the tough race but I’m glad to be home.
A big thank you to Gary for keeping my head on straight and talking some sense into me when I started to lose it and to Sue, my buddy who pushed me in training and kept me motivated to work harder. Thanks for being such an awesome friend and training partner. You guys are the reason I got myself into this insanity in the first place and despite the hell I went through on race day, it was a once in a lifetime experience and I thank you for sharing it with me.
Next up, a few drinks, some chocolate, surgery and then, hopefully, Muskoka 70.3