Wednesday, 22 July 2015

IM Switzerland 2015 race report

It's been a while since I updated the blog; work, life and training got in the way... but since I've been asked for the race report I thought I'd fire up the old blogger once more. Get yourself a cup of your favourite brew and a pack of biscuits, it may take some time to read ;-)

Training for IM Switzerland has been a bit of a mixed bag. My bike and run training had gone well but I suffered a shoulder injury at the end of March which meant I'd done NO (nada, zilch, S.F.A.!!) swim training in the 15 weeks leading up the race. Not ideal. My most excellent physio, John Trevena, reckoned I'd torn my rotator cuff (set of muscles that essentially hold your shoulder in place) and apparently they're quite useful for swimming.

Now, given swimming is my weakest discipline that wasn't great news but I decided to push ahead with the race rather than ask for a partial race refund and see if it would hold out for the 3.8km on the day.

Recovery was going well enough, pain was subsiding and mobility returning until we went out for what we thought would be our normal dog walk 2 weeks ago. Unfortunately it was far from normal, and without wanting to go into details online (not a happy story), I ended up placing the shoulder under a lot of stress undoing a lot of the previous 13 weeks healing. Doh. Not only that but this caused quite a few sleeplesss nights and messed with the mental preparations for the race. Double doh.

Lorna had organised Switzerland in conjunction with Kate at Race Force and about 10 days prior to the race a chap came and collected our bikes and transported them to Zurich. Normally they would only have needed a couple of days but given the French were revolting (again) and closing off the Calais ports they decided to take the bikes early to ensure they were there for race day. For anyone that has ever travelled with their bike in a bike box you will know what a nightmare it is. I would thoroughly recommend doing this - takes away so much stress from the journey!

Have to say, Kate and the Race Force Team were utterly awesome - like having your own back up team at the race; organising reccy swims and rides on the Saturday (not that we got to them!) cheering us on over the bike and run route and collecting bikes and whisking them away at the end of the race. Totally brill - thanks Kate!

Lorna's Mum, Meg was coming with us to look after Luke and Zoë whilst we spent a day messing about in Zurich. We travelled through to Edinburgh airpot on Friday morning after I'd checked the tickets and booking references about twenty times to make sure we were at the correct airport. If you've read my earlier posts you'll know why I'm paranoid travelling there  ;-)

The landing into Zurich airport was aborted at the last minute as there was another plane still on the runway but after doing his best impression of Top Gun (afterburners on full!)  the pilot circled back round and performed probably the smoothest landing I've ever been on.

Now, I'd heard Switzerland was expensive but I didn't reckon on the taxi drivers pootling about in S-class Mercedes. Pretty smooth way to arrive at the hotel - I could get used to that... although I'd end up bankrupt after about 10 days.

The bikes arrived at the hotel an hour or so later and we met up with Kate who gave us information from the mandatory race briefing (that we'd missed) - oops!

We were in the West end of Zurich - once the dodgy end of town, and now built up with new industrial complexes, hotels, restaurants and cafes. Maybe not the most scenic view from the bedroom window but the snow-capped mountains in the distance looked awesome. And BIG!

Did I say it was hot? It was flippin' roasting! The weather in Zurich had been 30+C pretty much all week and the chance of a wetsuit swim was evaporating faster than an ice cream dropped on a pavement.

We headed down to the Landiwiese (after figuring out how the ticket system for the trams worked) and got our bearings for the whole IM Switzerland site...

Finish chute under construction

 Expo and part of athlete village 

 Snow capped mountains in the distance refusing to cool the lake down!

Panorama of the bridge leading to the island - the Australian swim exit

 Even in the early evening people were swimming sans wetsuit in the lake... Either they were incredibly hardy or I was out of luck...

 On the Island for the Australian exit

Swim exit

 looking confident (but 100% bricking it!)

 Finish chute under construction

Swim exit under construction

Not only had my metaphorical '99' evaporated but my confidence had gone too. I was absolutely bricking it. I climbed aboard an emotional rollercoaster and sat silently on the tram back to the hotel.

On Saturday morning we headed back down to the Expo to register - picking up a new rucksack...

Now, given Ironman is usually shortened to IM maybe their marketing and design guys need to rethink the position of the logo... "Anything is IM Possible" was NOT what I wanted to be carrying about on my back - there was already a millstone there and it was tweaking my rotator cuff nicely!

We headed back to the hotel to pick up our bikes and bumped into a couple of guys, Lee from Portsmouth (number 906) and James from London, who would be joining us on the startline on Sunday. We had an easy pedal to transition, trying to avoid the tram tracks and racked the bikes together with our bike and run gear. It was all getting very real. I suddenly was overcome with a wave of confidence and reckoned I may just 'bally well' do this thing! Bring it on!!

After yet another pasta meal on Saturday night I headed to bed at around 8:30 p.m., knowing that best case a few hours actual sleep would be all I'd manage. I was right. I saw  every hour until the 4 a.m. wake up call. Maybe the text confirming that tomorrow was definitely going to be non-wetsuit was not the best message to send me off to sleep. Without wanting to sound melodramatic, I was convinced the only way I was going to make it out of the lake was in a boat or a wooden box - I was now properly sh*****g myself! I was properly scared and was questioning my sanity. 

Sunday Morning - race day:

On with the P20 factor 50 and I struggled to eat a couple of croissants and a yogurt. Fired in a couple of coffees and grabbing our white street wear bags we headed down to meet the first tram of the day at 5:18 a.m. We'd been nervous whether or not this was the best way to get to the start line but needless to say, with perfect efficiency the tram arrived and we boarded with many other competitors and a host of clubbers who were looking a little worse for wear.

Lorna and I headed for transition to load up our bikes with 'nutrition' = high energy gloop for the day and I pumped up my tyres to the correct pressure. The sun rose across the lake and it already felt like it was going to be a warm day.

Next stop. The portaloos. Never a great experience but I managed to avoid the wobbly one at the end. Two bits of great advice that have served me well over the last couple of years; never trust a fart in an Ironman and never use a wobbly portaloo. It has to be said, even at 6 a.m they were rank and I struggled not to puke sitting on the loo. (I told Lorna tonight that I nearly chucked into the hand wash receptacle - she informed me it was a urinal... lucky escape!).

Sun breaking over Lake Zurich and the transition area

With the bikes checked and the bowels emptied it was time to head across to the swim start. We'd missed the swim practice but I headed down to the lake to check the water temp and see if I could remember how to swim. The water was like a warm bath, but unlike the VA pool I could actually see where I was going. After 4 or 5 front crawl strokes I decided I could swim and maybe, just maybe, I could do this after all...

The swim start has thankfully changed to a rolling start - competitors get to pick their starting pen according to their estimated swim finish time and are released 5 at a time every 10 seconds. This avoids the 'pub fight in a washing machine' scenario that often happens - mentioning no names, Tony ;-)

I bumped into Lee at the start of the 1 hour 30 min + pen and we wished each other luck and headed out into the water...

That's me in the green cap.

I'd been petrified in the run up to this, especially given the non-wetsuit status of the swim. I decided to take a full bottle of MTFU tablets but it turns out they're pretty heavy and must have adversely affected my buoyancy... They must have worked somehow because I found myself swimming in the lake - not fast, but swimming none the less. My confidence grew and I keep Dory's mantra in my head..."just keep swimming, just keep swimming". At times I think I was actually enjoying it - the sun was out, the lake was warm, the water was clear, I was edging forwards AND there were still people behind me. I was thinking 'I might be rubbish but I'm not drowning, yet!". 

After what seemed like a long time I was on the finishing straight (of the first loop) and heading for the Island. Then the pros came through and I felt like I was going backwards. Someone managed to catch me in the left calf and my leg seized up just before the Australian exit across the island. I started flapping my legs about like a bluebottle on its back to try and release the muscles and they came back to life just before I got dragged out onto the platform. I checked my watch: 50 mins - 'ooooh I thought, I might be on for a 1:30 swim here...' Perhaps if I'd been able to get to the race briefing I'd have figured out the second lap was longer :-(

I wandered back into the water, conscious that my 'dives' generally result in my abs taking a slap and causing too much amusement to those around. I noticed fewer and fewer fellow competitors on the lake and it was obvious that I was now giving the rest of the field a rather overly generous advantage on the bike and run sections of the course. When I eventually turned round the final buoy and headed for the swim exit it was like the scene in The Shining when the corridor lengthens... Each time I sighted, the exit looked further and further away. Was I actually swimming backwards? Maybe checking my Garmin would yield some clues. 

The water was so clear it was easy to check my elapsed time; 1:30, 1:35, 1:40, 1:45, 1:50 (where the hell is the exit?), 1:55, 2:00... eventually I could see the bottom of the lake and was hauled out of the water in 2:06:57 - the longest swim I've ever done, both time wise and distance 4,210m. The best/worst swim of my life. (As a reminder I did Austria in 1:13 !!!!).  Never again. Managed to avoid the cut off by 13 minutes and 3 seconds... close ;-) 

Do I look happy to be out of the water?

T1 was (relatively) uneventful for me. Dried off, slapped on the chamois cream, Knight of Sufferlandria kit on and checked number belt was in place ;-) One of the bonuses about being crap in the swim was it was *really* easy to find my bags and the bike. Always a silver lining.

Headed off onto the bike course and tried to keep power around 180W but my heart rate was very elevated - around 165-170 bpm, would normally be <140 bpm... must have been somewhat fatigued by the swim... I wonder why?


First 33km is pretty flat, following the banks of Lake Zurich through some stunning scenery and amazing houses overlooking the lake. The next 42km are, let's say, a little lumpy, taking in The Beast and The Egg climbs. The Egg runs alongside a railway line and the gradient isn't too bad but it seems to go on forever... I've never liked eggs. The descent from Egg was good - a 7km descent falling about 300m. Managed to hit a new top speed of 82.1 km/hr... felt like I was descending like Mr Galbraith ;-)

Saw Lorna on the bike loop and she looked pretty relieved to see me - she was about 30km ahead and looking good.

Next 11km are pretty flat, then a nice right hander and you head up Heartbreak Hill which rises up 80m over 1.2km... Just what you need after 80km or so. I loved it - the atmosphere was phenomenal - people cheering and shouting right beside you then clearing out of your path just before you ran them over - utterly ace.

Once over Heartbreak Hill there was a short descent and then a flat loop back to transition area to complete the loop once again. I'd completed the first lap in around 3:47 so I knew I wasn't qualifying for Kona but decided to try and pick the pace up for the next 90km. By now it was getting pretty toasty out there, with some reports suggesting it hit 37C on the bike course.

I was sweating so much salt into my eyes at times it was actually difficult to see where I was going. Thankfully the locals were out in force with water hoses and one kind guy actually dumped an entire bucket of water over my head - utter bliss. Thankfully we were in Switzerland and the water was clear and not yellow like those Frenchies poured on Froome...

The bike went OK and I was only passed by the pros on their second lap, managed to reel in any mountain goats on the flats or the descents so picked up around 100 places overall. Eventually rolled into T2 in 7:14:19 - slower than I'd hoped but then again I hadn't really trained for 37C!!!

Full change into the mighty ATHelite gear in T2 and bumped into Lee once again, wishing him luck before he set off. Managed to run the first 7km or so at roughly 6min/km pace and stopped and walked at each of the aid stations for water / iso. Caught up with Lee and decided to run together until the finish.

The volunteers and marshals were brilliant - always a smile and a positive word and I made a conscious effort to thank them all, without them I knew the race would not be possible.  The biggest thanks were always for the coloured band dispensers - the colour of which indicated which lap (of 4) you were on. There was a lot of band envy going on that afternoon until I eventually got my hands on a green band and knew at that stage with around 5km to go that I could turn left down the finish chute rather than passing on for another lap.

I'd managed to reel in Lorna at this point and was hoping I'd catch her before she got to the finish so we could cross the line together. As I approached the finish line I heard "...and from Glasgow, Lorna... you are an ironman". I turned to my left to see her just crossing the line and I 'sprinted' the last 50m or so and turned left into the finish chute.

The sun had pretty much set and the finish was lit up with cheerleaders strutting their stuff and Europop blasting out of the speakers. I looked out for Luke, Zoë and Meg but couldn't see them in the crowd - lots of faces, flashing lights and noise. I high-fived the crowds on the way down on the red carpet and tried to get a finishing line photo like Tony's from the Outlaw. The photographer missed it but hopefully Wendy will testify that I had enough energy to jump up like an eejit crossing the line!


 Across the line, eventually.

I found Lorna on the other side of the finishing line looking down the course to see where I was - she must have crossed the line 30 seconds ahead of me.

We both look utterly knackered - and we were.

My Garmin had run out of battery 2+ hours previously so I only figured out my times once we got back to the hotel. Worse than that, they'd run out of beer :-(

We went and got some food, medals engraved and met up with our support team. Luke had seen us both finish but Meg and Zoë were at the loo when we crossed - stupid IronTrac app had let us down again and they weren't sure where we were on the course.

So after 14 hours, 54 minutes and 9 seconds it was done. Almost 2.5 hours slower than Austria / Outlaw but probably more satisfying since I didn't really know if I'd cross the start line let alone finish line on this one... (441 athletes out of 2077 didn't get across that line on Sunday). However, I got the Medal and the T-shirt for a 3rd long course event...phew! 
Never, ever, ever, ever, EVER again. 
Although I seem to recall saying that last year. And the year before.

Thanks to all the brilliant people who make ATHelite the best tri club I could imagine - it's an honour and a pleasure to train with you all. Thanks to Meg for looking after Luke and Zoë on race day and to our brilliant, talented, patient kids for putting up with all of the training we need to do to sustain this lifestyle. Thanks to my gorgeous wife for your support and unwavering belief.

And if you're still reading, thanks for staying awake this long - you could probably have completed your own Ironman in less time :-)

We scrubbed up a bit better the next day after a sleep and several coffees...

Race video for your delectation...


Hodge said...

Great write up mate and a fantastic effort! Really get a feel for the emotions that you went through, enjoy the recovery : )

PaulaG said...

What a lovely race report! I did Switzerland last year, in a similar time - I was lucky enough to have a wetsuit swim and cooler weather though :-) Although I did fall off my bike on the tram tracks the day before so started with bloody knees.
Reading your report brought back lots of fabulous memories. Hoping to do Outlaw next year so off to read your report of that :-)

Dr Gall said...

Many thanks Lee and Paula! :-)

Mark Horrigan said...

I will be at Switzerland next year to compete I mean hopefully complete the course. I've not even run a half marathon yet, my first is in Cardiff in October. Loved reading your story and am a nervous wreck already having not even swam for years. Swimming trying starts tomorrow though so hopefully I'll get there. Any advice for a first timer? Regards Mark

Mark Horrigan said...

I will be at Switzerland next year to compete I mean hopefully complete the course. I've not even run a half marathon yet, my first is in Cardiff in October. Loved reading your story and am a nervous wreck already having not even swam for years. Swimming trying starts tomorrow though so hopefully I'll get there. Any advice for a first timer? Regards Mark

Dr Gall said...

Hi Mark - thanks for your comments!
Good luck with the half in October and I hope the swimming has gone well.
My first key tip would be to join a local tri club and attend as many sessions as you can. Training with other people will help your skills, boost your motivation and make training fun. Swimming especially is sooooo much easier when you've had some lessons - it really is all about technique - swim fitness will come quickly so concentrate on form for the next few months.
I'd get a plan - like Don Fink's "Be Iron Fit" and stick to it over the coming months. Make sure you have at least one rest day per week - your body can only adapt to training when you rest, so never miss out on rest days!
If you've not had a bike fit - get one. It's essential to be comfortable on the bike.
Likewise, go to good running shop and get advice on the correct trainers for you. Most decent places will have a treadmill that they can analyse your gait and ensure you leave the store with trainers that will provide the correct level of support.
But most importantly, enjoy your training. The race is simply the cherry on the top!
Best wishes,

Mark Robinson said...

I came all the way from Canada to do the race (first full) and I can my recap would be much similar. It was my first and I had no idea how I would cope in that heat but I persevered while I perspired :)


Dr Gall said...

Thanks Mark,

...and congratulations to you too! 14:35 - great effort!

"Mark Robinson - you are An IronMan!" Worth all that perspiration :-)

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