Wednesday, July 20, 2011

2011 Ironman Switzerland Race Report


The time between finishing Ironman 70.3 Switzerland and the week leading up to Ironman Switzerland had flown over, due to both personal and work obligations, and a  few other issues I was dealing with, keeping to my training plan had “not been possible”.

Coming into the week of the Ironman I was completely disorganised, everything was left to the last minute, to the point were I only realised I had missed the obligatory race briefing, and the welcome meal, Friday afternoon and evening respectively, on Saturday morning. Not a big deal, but a shame nevertheless.

The obligatory racked bike photograph - a nice grassy transition zone
I hadn't even given any thought about what time might be possible, a few people asked me and I answered “no idea” to which I got the reply “yeah, right, you must have some idea, you must want to hit a target”, all I wanted to do was finish and pick up that finishers medal. My boy and his Mummy had said they would happily come along and watch me finish, so I had to quickly put my thinking cap on come Saturday night and come up with some timings, this is what I wrote down for them:

The swim will take me between 1:20 and 1:30 Hours
The bike will take me between 6:00 and 7:00 Hours
I think I'll be starting the run after approximately 8:30 hours = 3:30pm
The run will take me between 4:00 and 5:00 hours 
So I’ll finish between approximately 7 to 8:30pm

This put my finish time anywhere between 12 and 13 and a half hours, but in truth I had no idea, I was even joking about rolling in at 11pm, the cut off hour, with a time of 17 hours. Now, of course, they could just have used the Ironman live tracking…and that always works, right? ;-)

I was up at 4am on the morning of the event, finally arriving in the transition area just after 6:15am, luckily for me a kind fellow triathlete pointed me to the correct train from Zürich station to the start near Wollishofen, otherwise I may not have been on the shores of lake Zürich come the swim start!

The transition area on the morning of the race..6:30am, perfect conditions
After arriving with little time to spare I realised I had made some real mess ups in the transition area, I still hadn't attached my gels and energy bars to my bike (which I could have done that the day before, doh!), this involved taping then to the bike stem with masking tape, the other issue was that the little case for my GoPro HD camera, that I use to make my bike videos, was full of condensation and I “had to” waste a load of time drying it out before loading my camera (results show I wasn't very successful drying it 100%, doh part II).

The results of all this messing around in transition meant that by the time we were called down to the swim start I was walking whilst trying to get one leg into my wetsuit, luckily again another triathlete helped me zip up, and then I found myself holding a spectators coffee while he returned the favour to my second saviour of the day.

I had to push my way through the crowd of spectators to get into position, and there I was, in amongst 2000 triathletes, all sporting yellow Ironman swim caps standing on a little piece of sandy shore, at the crazy time of 7am.


The days prior to the Ironman I'd been trying to get confirmation of the swim circuit, the pdf detailing the route had been taken down from the official website with no word as to why, from what I had seen previously it was a crazy triangle shaped loop, I'd grabbed an event program on the Saturday and inside it confirmed this, although looking out into Lake Zurich it was very difficult finding the swim buoys in clear view and as it was impossible, due to safety issues, to swim out into the middle of the lake to check, navigating on the day was going to come down some on the fly decisions, as it turns out I wasn't going to make many good ones ;)

My swim tactics were to start mid pack, go at my normal leisurely pace, pushing best I could, and hopefully finishing around the 1 hour 20 minute mark. Things were going pretty well and I was soon approaching the first buoy, I could see plenty of swimmers around me and no big scraps in the water. Now I have to make an confession here, I never got around to swimming more that 3KM in my training leading up to the event, in fact the furthest I had ever swam up to this point was 3KM, so I was heading into the unknown big time!

Ironman Switzerland 2011 Swim Start

One thing I noticed from the start, and continued throughout the swim start was the complete lack of markers on the water, buoys, boats, canoeists, no much at all, it made navigating a real challenge, excuses, excuses ;-).

I was solely navigating using the larger orange buoys I could seen on the horizon, the orange buoys I had seen on the maps published in the official event program, as I approached the first turn I also noticed a yellow inflatable triangle on the water, I'm assuming it was a powerbar advertisement but as I was concentrating on not doing the drowning maneuverer I can't be certain, anyway, as I got near to the first turn I breathed to my right and noticed all of a sudden that 95% of the swimmers had decided to turn at this "powerbar" inflatable, cutting a massive 30-40 metres off the corner of the first turning point. I’ve put together a canny little diagram to highlight what happened at this part of the swim, check it out ;-)

GPS from swim loop with details on my swim course mess ;-)
Now I don't think anyone purposely avoided swimming around the first official buoy, more that, as I've mentioned, the turn was not clearly marked, and from what I could see there was only only guy in a canoe floating around it, no way he could have got anyone's attention by shouting out "er, guys..erm..wrong way..go back, quick...ahh feck it"...I stopped for a second wondering if I should follow and then decided that there was no way I wanted to get to the end and find that my Garmin (which was snug under my swim cap) gave me a distance short of 3.8KM, which is ironic considering what my Garmin told me come the end of the swim! ;-)

So off I swam, around the first buoy, and now I was out in the middle of nowhere away from the main pack of age groupers, the next 1KM or so was trying to ensure I wasn't going completely off course now I was away from the mass of yellow caps. It took me till the first turn over the island at Mythenquai before I was again surrounded by the yellow caps again.

As I got back into the water for the second loop I was greeted by an older guy in a nice pair of speedo's, doing breast stroke, uhhh, had I suddenly gone of course and bumped into a Sunday morning swimmer....nope..unfortunately not, as I passed him I saw his yellow cap, talk about moment of realisation of how much of a terrible swimmer I am, and massive kudos to the dude swimming in cold morning lake water, in speedos, doing breast stroke, and still the bike and run to go, and kicking my ass into next week! 

Island at Mythenquai, it's crossed at the half way point. 
I'd now got the navigation locked in, and the second loop was much smoother, the Garmin data shows I got the lines right, as I approached the shore for the final time, with about 400 metres to go I was amazed when my Garmin vibrated in my cap (sounds so wrong) for the 4th time, uhh, that's 4KM I swam already??!! my first thought was that I had used the wrong buoys at the turning points, and obviously that's the organisers fault!! oh well, not my fault, and as I exited the water, I took off my cap, pulled the Garmin out and hit the lap button, the time 1 hours 30 minutes, not surprising since they messed up the marking on the swim course, right??!!

Well, unfortunately for me, I had to swallow some humble pie when I finally had a look at my Garmin GPS data after the event, as it turned out on the first lap I hadn't swam in straight lines, more swimming in curves, adding the excess on myself, I was to blame..oops :)

Here’s the garmin data for anyone interested…

After seeing my swim time, and I had really been expecting something around 1 hour 20 minutes if I'm honest, I wasn’t too concerned, if anything it just relaxed me for what was ahead, slowly the time was becoming even less important that it already wasn't ;)

Transition was a normal affair, punctured by a call of nature I headed to the lovely portaloos, two minutes too late to use the waterworks in Lake Zurich hehe, where a nice security dude couldn't help but try and usher me towards the bike do you say "I need a piss?".

My location from the bike exit from Transition one
I did consider putting my shoes on and running out with the bike for this event, as I was right next to the exit, but in the end fixed my shoes to the trusty D6 first thing that morning, so it was a simple case of grabbing the bike and straight out onto the road, I jumped on, a few peddles down the road and my right foot was in place, I went to grab the fastener on my left shoe and disaster, the strap came away from the fastening and the velcro snapped shut, basically my foot was in the shoe but the strap was loose.

For a moment I tried to unloosen the strap and thread it back through the fastener, but I soon realised I just wasn’t skilled enough to do this while keeping momentum and not falling off the bike, so in the end I just left it as it was, deciding that if it became an issue I would just have to pull over and sort it out, luckily I didn’t notice it once during the whole ride, but with hindsight putting the shoes on before mounting the bike would have saved me a load of bother!

Bike shoe as ridden with for 180KM
The first half of the bike was pretty uneventful, because I was so slow on the swim I managed to pull in what seemed, and turned out to be, hundreds of places, I was passing people every few kilometres and making up for lost time, my heart rate was low and I was averaging a steady 30 km per hour pace, just as I had hoped before the race, and I felt in good enough shape to hit 6 hours for the 180KM.

Footage from the first lap of my bike split

The thing is, both in training and racing, I had only ever biked for 3 hours 30 mins tops (and that was on a indoor turbo trainer ;-)), or 80KM in distance, not exactly Ironman preparation, I've got a number of excuses as to why I never put in any longer rides but the fact was once I passed the half way point, after heartbreak hill, I was into unknown territory, this is were the bike started to go wrong for me.

Heartbreak Hill 2011..not filmed by me and I'm not in the video either ;)

There’s nothing like a long list of excuses, so here are mine.. : –)

First up, the right hand side of body, from the knee up to the hip and lower back started to ach badly, the same side I had issues with during Ironman 70.3 Switzerland, getting down in an aero dynamic position became more and more difficult and more and more painful, I spent most of the second loop having to stretch upright to stop my lower back from shooting pain through my body, I was trying to ignore it and get down into an aero position and push hard, but the thing was I was also cooked, I’ve always wanted to say this “I got the nutrition on the bike all wrong” I was all out of energy, I’d lost track of when and how many energy gel’s I’d consumed, and got sick of the taste of the high caffeine powerbar gels I’d taken with me (note: mix the flavours or prepared to want to puke for three hours).
Profile of one loop of the bike course, with my favourite climb to Egg ;-)
The second bike loop was slow, and as I hit the second climb up to a little town called Egg, feeling rather eggy myself, I did something I’ve never had to do in any triathlon, I took a bottle of coke, no, not the drug…that would be cheating ;-), the sugary caffeine filled caramel stuff, and drunk it in one, without a doubt it got me to the end of the bike and from that point till the final few kilometres of the run I was powered by coca-cola!

Full Garmin stuff here:


I've already said I didn’t have any time goals, but one little personal goal I had set myself was to actually run the run, no walking, stopping, to keep plodding along till the finish line, this was going to be a task within itself.
I managed this for the first 10KM before fatigue started to kick in and my pace started to slow, as my Garmin alerted me that 10KM had past I looked down and saw the last 1KM had taken me 5 minutes 59 seconds and straight away all hope of posting a decent marathon time were gone, which wasn’t entirely true as a 4 hour 12 min marathon wouldn’t have been that bad and would have put me quiet a few places up in the rankings.

It just goes to show how much you can “suffer” mentally during an Ironman, trying to work out timings on the fly was impossible, and I started to be convinced that I would be finishing with a 14 hour total on the clock or even worse.

At this point I had to have “a word” with myself, I was feeling pretty sorry for myself, I looked around, people were suffering, it was now raining and there was the occasional sound of thunder nearby, but one thing remained the same, the people supporting from the side-lines and the volunteers were all trying their best to have fun and seemed to be enjoying themselves, it suddenly hit me, I had signed up for this because I wanted to do it, no one was forcing me to take part, I wanted to experience it for myself, to have fun, and pick up the medal, I couldn’t help but have a small chuckle and all of a sudden I had a smile on my face…it was helped in some part by the decision to take a Redbull shot, something that nearly made me throw up, but once it was in my system I was buzzing away. ;-)

From Kilometre 11 onwards I began to alternate between brisk walking and running the best I could, every 1KM or so I would put in a run as quick as I could to ensure I didn’t slip back to far. I had a few laughs with the volunteers, screamed and shouted along with the supporters and thanked anyone who shouted out my name in support, it was a blast, it was exactly what I had hoped for, I’d turned around my mood and increased my energy and I actually started to feel like I was throwing out some quicker run splits as well.

Unbeknown to be the Ironman live tracker had stopped working for my chip, and this was causing panic within friends and family, had I dropped out, was I spread-eagled eagled at the side of the run course get CPR!! I had a good chuckle at the mass of messages on my Facebook wall when I returned, and was a little concerned there would be no record of me finishing...

The run consisted of four laps of approximately 10KM, 4KM into which you are handed a different coloured hair band to put around your arm to signify you have completed the previous lap, now I can’t for the hell of me remember when I got which colour, or off the top of my head which colours they were, but I do remember jokingly begging the volunteers for the remaining bands when I came in for the second lap, which got a few laughs and lightened the mood, I also remember coming in for the last band and being told I had “6KM to go, so go for it”, for the last 6KM I tried to pick up the pace and by the time I could see only 3KM to go I was pushing hard and making a sound like a mating donkey (probably ;-)), as I reached the finishing chute I went a bit nuts…and why not, if you’re going to finish any Ironman distance event why not celebrate like you’ve won it!!
Running up the finishing chute..woop woop
Finally I had that medal, a title of Ironman and a not too shabby time of 12 Hours 48 Minutes and 13 Seconds, considering everything I would have happily taken that at the start of the day!
Medal around neck, erdinger and finishers t-shirt in hand, and  more importantly family next to me :-)


If you've read this far, Thank you ;-).

The week after the race I went away to Lisbon on holiday for 6 days, which was great, however, after the flight over there I got to the hotel, looked down at my ankles and realised they had swollen up to Elephantman style proportions, not a good look, a quick massage and they soon returned to less freaking looking size and by next morning they were normal again. However at that point my sciatic nerve problems flared up and I spent the next four days in real discomfort…not nice, but also not the worst thing in the world.

I’ve had plenty of time to consider my experience and what I got wrong during the event, so here are a few things which might be of use to anyone planning to take part in their first Iron-distance triathlon anytime in the future
  • If the swim has a weird course layout, try and practice on it before hand or replicate it at another location, navigating on the day could really screw with your timing
  • Is putting the shoes on the bike and mounting out of Transition 2 worth it to save a few seconds, I’m in two minds now, base it on where your bike is located in relation to the bike exit
  • Get the nutrition on the bike right, it can mess up the whole day, the only way I can think this is possible to test/try different combinations of gels etc. on a proper 5 hour plus bike throughout the training period…this isn't something I did and I lost so much time on the day. (yep, it’s a no brainer to all you coached/club athletes I know ;-))
  • Don’t be shy to walk on the run, if you get it right you probably won’t loose time anyway…example, walk the aid stations and refuel properly
  • coca-cola works, bike or run it kicks ass, use it, I also recommend Redbull shots although they did give me a lot of stomach reflux haha
  • Enjoy it and look around on the run, if you don’t you will miss a lot of fun/support which will give you a lot of positive energy when you need it.
  • When you cross the line celebrate, for fuck sake you just paid a lot of money for the pleasure of suffering, show everyone how much it means to you to finish ;-)
See you at the next one, Challenge Henley-on-Thames for me :)