Will Thames

swim, bike, run, tech

Ironman Switzerland Race Report

We arrived in Zurich on Thursday evening and didn’t really do much other than get to the hotel and go to bed. Friday we went to see a bit of Zurich in what turned out to be the pouring rain, before Peta returned to the hotel and I went to register and to the compulsory briefing. Registration was very efficient - took me about 5 minutes, and I then had a brief look around the expo, although the rain (or Swiss Franc prices) didn’t tempt me to do more than quickly browse. The race briefing was very thorough, and was well worth attending for my first Ironman. In the evening I went on the Nirvana-provided coach tour of the bike route, which didn’t help my confidence much but did help me realise that the hills were long and that I should take them easy and treat them with respect.

On Saturday we took it easy with a trip to Rapperswil by ferry, a quick pizza lunch and then the ferry trip back, before I took my bike to transition. Again, considering they were photographing every athlete with their bikes for security reasons, this was remarkably quick. I headed back to the hotel and we then went for a meal at the local trattoria, which was great food, although the one waiter was rushed off his feet serving everyone and it all took a little longer than I’d hoped. Got to bed just after 11, and set my alarm for 04:15!

When the alarm went off I got up, headed down for a couple of bowls of muesli and a coffee, and then went back to the room to pick up my bags and drinks ready for the race. The coach left the hotel at 5am, and headed to the Ibis to pick up the other Nirvana athletes. They were loaded on, some spectators were unloaded to make room, and we set off, arriving at the race site around 05:40. Once at the race site it didn’t take long to set up my transition area and so I put my wetsuit on and headed to the swim warm up which was supposed to open at 6am, according to the race briefing. It finally opened at 06:15, and after a quick trip to the loos I entered the water, which was beautiful - lovely and warm and clear. I didn’t swim very far, just enough to feel loose and ready to go.

After the pro start, they let us into the water at 2 minutes to go, but I hadn’t even got to the start line before the race had started, but I didn’t mind too much - better a little behind at the back than cramped up in the biff at the front. I found plenty of feet to draft off, I sighted well, and even the buoys weren’t too much of a fight. Had a couple of very minor knocks, but nothing race affecting. The channel onto the island at the end of lap one was ridiculously narrow and shallow, and I just pulled myself along the bottom using my hands, ran across the island, back in the water for lap 2. Lap two was fine too, other than the end again - this time the other side of the narrow channel, it got very congested and I was stopped at one point. I thought I could stand on the bottom, but it was too deep and this just gave me massive cramp. This caused me to panic a little, but I remembered to bend my foot and keep swimming - creates more drag and I had to thrash a bit, but by the time I was out the water the cramp was gone and I headed to T1.

T1 was ok, except that I forgot to put on my HRM before putting my gel flasks in my pockets - and the flasks fell out when putting the HRM which cost a little time (probably only fifteen seconds really). The main thing was that I was on the bike within 90 minutes, which was pretty much my swim target, so I was happy there.

Bike was a great ride, if it had been one lap rather than two it would have been a very pleasant ride in the country. I was very pleased with my uphill performance, I overtook loads of people going up (most of them on heavy timetrial bikes who then proceeded to get me back on the flat or downhills). Not bad considering my easiest gear refused to engage (not sure if the hanger got bent on the way over or something). The Beast was nowhere near as bad as it had been made out - it was no worse than a slightly longer, but more gentle, Box Hill. Heartbreak Hill wasn’t too steep either, and I took quite a few people here. I was suffering major stomach cramps at the start of lap two, and I wondered if I could survive until 120km where the next toilet was. However, I made it and after a pit stop I got back on the bike feeling nicely rested, ready for the next 60km. My bike pretty much followed race plan, which was to enjoy the flats and make the most of the downhills and tailwinds. Some people were a bit annoying and were too close to the middle of the road to overtake easily, perhaps I should have passed them earlier.

Finished the bike a little under 6 hours 30, so after around 8 hours, and had hopes for a sub-12 hour result at this point.

Doing a marathon is hard (I speak only from this one experience). I felt after 2km as if I’d already run 20km, which was a worry. My early pace was strong, and I was still on for a four hour marathon by the end of lap one, although it was close. However, I was suffering from the heat quite badly, and was very thirsty (perhaps I should have drank more on the bike?), so was having to stop at pretty much every aid station. Even the kilometres when I wasn’t stopping, I had slowed significantly. By the end of lap two my dreams of a sub-12 finish were fading (as I’d only had these dreams for a few hours it wasn’t too bad) and I just had to dig in to complete the race. If the aid stations had been less frequent I’d have had to go to a run-walk strategy, but as it was, I just ran in between them all and walked the stations.

By the third lap my stomach had settled a little too, and as I started counting down kilometres to go, it started to feel better, until the fourth lap which I managed to almost enjoy (having a blister from wet feet from all the sponges for the last 5km did not help though) - the temperature had cooled too, and I didn’t need as much energy, so managed to skip a few aid stations. Finishing the run in around 4:20 was not a bad result under the circumstances.

You can see me finish - search for 1465.

Final time was 12 hours 17 minutes. I was very happy to pull that out from the depths of the second run lap.

So, I am now officially an Ironman! It’s been a great journey over the last eight months to get here, I won’t be doing it again this year, and probably won’t do another one abroad next year, but haven’t ruled out further challenges. Middle distance triathlon is now officially my favourite though, Long distance is loooooong. Thanks to everyone who has supported me or trained with me!

Ironman! taken by Paul

I do believe I have the potential to do much better in future, I think I could shave at least 20 minutes off each of the splits with better technique in the swim, better bike fitness and more endurance for the run, but I am proud of what I have achieved and the training that I have done so far - saying I can do better is just accepting that I still have untapped potential and working to reduce my limiters and build on my strengths (such as being able to endure a 12 hour race) will not be a waste - I am still far off my potential peak.