It was a long day, so this is bound to be a long report... you have been warned.
This really needs a blog of it's own given the time it's taken to prepare and train for it.
The decision manifested itself back in September after I'd attempted a few triathlons, entered a half and had a little look at possibilities on the Internet. Until about November time the idea settled down to a gentle muttering in the back of my brain, then I joined my local Tri Club, and talking to people the idea came a bit further forward, I mentioned I was thinking about maybe doing one in October 2011 when someone said "what about Switzerland, there's a big group of us going from the club".
So the idea was now bouncing around the front of my brain like a crazy monkey in a cage trying to escape, I looked on line at the course, the website the details, and a week later, I'd signed up! Just like that.... then it began to dawn on me what I was about to embark on.....
3.8km swim (Not quite as far as a race for life distance but not far off)
180km bike (hilly by the look of the course profiles 4500ft of climbing!)
42.2 km run (that's a marathon to you and me)
Prior to this I'd run a couple of marathons and from reading previous running misadventures, you'll know I'm a keen runner, i hadn't however ridden more than maybe 40 miles in one go - if that! So why then was I about to embark on a 6 month training plan to get myself across the finish line in an ironman race (hopefully)!
The months passed, winter was a long cold one, so bike training on the turbo trainer was plentiful, a bit of mountain biking in the snow, an accident involving getting knocked off my bike by a car set me back 2 weeks, (and the rest) a sprained ankle had me off running for 6 weeks, reading books on ironman training, cycling training, lactate threshold and Physiological testing, new bike to replace the written off one in aforementioned accident, practice triathlons, half ironman event, failed attempts at losing weight (do you know how hungry this makes you?!) a 360 mile bike ride to Paris, weekend after weekend of 80 - 100 mile bike rides followed by short runs, long runs, swimming in a lake in April 2 weeks after an inch of ice had thawed, and for why??
To do something that the average person doesn't do of course.
The biggest challenge for me through out my entire training was to let go of my "runner" mentality. I wasn't going out to do a marathon PB, from this moment on i was a triathlete, not a runner. The run was just something that was to be an extension of a long day of aerobic exercise. This was the other struggle. I had to be very disciplined with training in the correct HR zones. Train too hard and you can risk over training, don't train hard enough and don't make gains on your fitness.... this is where I called in the professionals... in the form of vo2 max testing, which has been invaluable in my learning curve in this wonderful sport. But there's too much science to go into right now...
Basically that is the back story... now on with the fun stuff!! :-)
Taper week was a weeeeird place for me, I had been training between 14 and 20 hours a week, training 6 days a week, twice a day in most cases, the first week of the taper knocked me for 6, my training load halved, and suddenly my body went a bit mad, all it wanted to do was sleep, everything ached, pains that weren't there before (taper madness some people call it) so I went into the weekend, instead of doing the training I'd had in the plan, going out and getting smashed - self destruct button alert. The final week before the race i was only due to do 4 hours of training plus the race, still i felt shattered, so only managed a 30 min interval session to sharpen me up, a commute to work and a 45 min steady run. I felt really under prepared - stupid I know given how much training I'd done. Three nights on the trot I had weird dreams that my teeth fell out (not on the race, just in general) which i was told either meant i was coming into money or i was worried about something, so I bought a lotto ticket and won a tenner ;)
I'd been conscious for months that my running isn't where I'd like it to be due to the time off with injury I'd had but the last 6 weeks had been solid, I'd done plenty of decent runs, a few decent pace runs and my legs were strong, and running is about strength, and the last 6 months training was about endurance, the two combined should see me through the finish line.
Thursday came round all too quickly, my bike was packed (shoved in a bike bag wrapped in bubble wrap surrounded my the rest of my luggage to protect it!)
We arrived in Zurich, turbulently, in what appeared to be monsoon season. For the last two weeks, we'd been watching the weather closely, there was an upper limit on the lake temperature telling whether you could wear a wet suit or not, 24.5 degrees C or above and they re banned. the week before they'd broadcast 25.1. IT didn't really bother me too much as I'm slow either way and I'd done dorney and Florida without, so some of the others were panicking, until the rain came, and brought a welcome drop in temperature.
The rain however went on for days! We didn't want to race in the rain ! :( how had a massive 3 week heatwave broken into monsoon? how unfair was that!
9 of us were staying in a hostel about a kilometer from the race the other 10+ and their supporters were at various hotels and apartments around Zurich, including my parents. We checked in and found our "room" basically 4 beds, (bunks) with a communal showers and toilets - to be fair the place was pristine so there was nothing to complain about really plus breakfast was included, if you are happy with bread, bread, bread, bread , cheese and muesli.
Zurich itself is a beautiful city, with views up the mountains and across the lake, so tidy and clean it makes you feel ashamed to look at the state of our country. The only thing that spoiled it was the damn rain!!! It was relentless - oh and the extortionate price tags on everything, we went out to dinner that night and after seeing the "house red" was 38 francs (about 25 quid!) we decided we'd stick with tap water. The nights sleep was hot, as KT kept saying "it's hotter than the sun on this top bunk" she was right, i had a top bunk too and was muggy as you like.
On the Friday we woke early, and sweaty with the rain coming down even harder, we went down to breakfast and fed on bread bread, bread, bread and muesli, went back up and unpacked our bikes and reassembled them, my handlebars had been a bit squished on the flight but luckily it was just the hood and needed a bit of shifting. Captain Turdseye (of the Swindon to Paris adventure) had lent me some tri bars as mine I decided at the last minute were too heavy. We joked between us about not trying anything new on race day... pah, I've run a marathon with brand new trainers before! My rear tyre was also misbehaving and after about half an hour of fiddling about, Mark Q and Andy P lubed up my rim for me, and it all seemed to be working much better!
After the bikes were all sorted, we all headed down to registration in the pissing rain, expo looked more like a festival than an ironman summer event, there were people sloshing around with water proofs and umbrellas. At registration we were given a super sexy rucksack, which is the type I've wanted to buy for ages as they're perfect for running to work with as they are small but hold lots and are really stable, a drinks bottle, some pasta, some weird sachets of stuff, some detergent, suncream (perfect as this was the one thing I'd forgotten not that it looked like we'd need it)
The race briefing in English was going to be at 3pm, so we all headed into the tent to keep dry get some grub and coffee, and sit through the German briefing first. Most of the guys had a massivo sausage for lunch, i have a big plate of pork stir fry which was mostly a lot of meat.
Graham M had set up his phone so that if any of us texted him, he could distribute it to the whole group, which was cool, as it meant we could all send out messages to each other but this was slightly abused over the weekend and some of mine got vetted :( race briefing was full of the usual characters wearing the usual ironman finishers tops or loads of IM branded shite, proper peacock behaviour. I was also impressed by the quantity of hot guys on display. I'd like to have brought a few home with me......
After briefing we headed back to hostel, showered and got ready for the "Welcome party" we ordered some cabs and when the driver arrived he asked me where we were going.
"I'm not sure.."
"Die Shitsen Housen?"
"ha, the what?!"
"Die Shitsen Housen"
I looked blank, and Ian said yes that was where we were going.
Still laughing i got in the first cab, and en route I rang Ali to tell her where she needed to get the cab to drop the rest of them, she thought I was taking the piss, probably not helped by the fact that I was pissing myself laughing by telling her we were going to the Shit house for dinner... Ian was sat behind me, telling me how it was spelt....
"Die Schutzen Hausen"
Dinner was a monster meal of the following:
Salad (avec a lot of jizzy dressing)
"Pasta course" - Spag Bol and Penne Pasta! (you could go up for 2nds too, but I had given Andy half my pasta already)
"Meat Course" - Grilled chicken, loads of rice (which Andy got most of)
Dessert - was marble cake, but we left so we missed the rush getting a cab.
During dinner, we were entertained by a yodeller, accordion playing, didgeree doo joker, some Euro electro pop, and the video from last years event, which stopped my heart beating briefly! I felt bit emotional watching it - and fucking scared!
Saturday I had arranged t go to my parents hotel for breakfast, so my dad bless his heart took an hour getting to me on trains and buses, took me back to their hotel on more trains, I had a little jog and they let me feast on their amazing breakfast buffet. I was so sick of bread so all the fruit, nuts, meat, smoked salmon and eggs that were on offer was so tempting so i got stuck right in - as you do.
I sent a group text (which was vetted) "I've just put a lot of meat in my hole"
After crashing out for a bit in their room, we went to the supermarket to get some stuff for my breakfast the next morning as there were no cooking facilities I'd be doing my first ever event after not having porridge. Dad then took me back on the trains once more (he actually is the best) I could have got a train myself except that he had a pass for my mum so let me use that.
Back in our room I started getting my transition bags ready for race morning, and doing some final bike checks. I had intended doing a short bike and a swim on the days before but as the weather was so shit I couldn't be bothered. The rain had stopped now, so I took my bike out for a spin... as soon as I got on, it felt weird, the position felt all wrong, the tri bars weren't the right size, i moved my seat around to try and find the right spot, but still it felt weird. I put it down to not riding for a few days, so took bike, and helmet down to rack, the queue was frickin huge, despite being given time slots to go and rack, my time was between 3.30 and 4.30 but I didn't get down there til gone 4 and there were people from later time slots queueing.
Normally you are given a number wrist band which matches the sticker on your bike, race number and helmet, but here they took a photo of you, your number, and your bike. Great idea but time consuming.
So now bikes racked, and covered over, back to hostel for a light snack not that i was hungry at all, made some Jam sarnies to put in my bike bag for the ride and went to bed.
Race Morning I'd set my alarm for 3:45, I got woken up by Ali at 4:10 as I'd fallen back to sleep, had a couple of choc spread and banana sandwich and lazed around for a bit before going to get some coffee. Looking outside the weather looked clear! I really didn't fancy riding in the rain, that would be shit. I have no idea why bu I still wasn't feeling nervous... it was odd. We chucked on our wetsuits up to our waists (the rain had cooled the water sufficiently to be able to wear them) last minute checks of my transition gear and loaded myself up and walked back down to the transition area.
I found my bike, uncovered it and laid out my kit in piles as I'd need it and covered it over in case the rain started again, checked my watch - it was 6,30, so time for a wee, the queue wasn't massive but clearly everyone was taking a shit as it was slow moving, i finally got out of the loo at 6:50! so ran back to my bike, dumped off my jumper, grabbed my goggles, swim cap and streetwear bag (for after the race) and ran back out of transition to where i saw everyone else disappearing to. No 6:55 and the gun had gone off for the pro start, and i was still a long way from the start point. I spotted Andy P, Justin and Steve and got them to do up my wetsuit, dumped off my bag at the designated area and carried on through, realised I still had on my flip flops so ran back, put them in my bag after unburying it from the mound of bags, ran back to the guys to hear the gun go off for the mass start!
Shit! I was still at the top of the beach and the swim was meant to be a deep water floating start. After a minute I reached the water, waded in, and looked out to see where I needed to be heading. I was expecting huge buoys like they had in Florida but I could only see one large one waaaay in the distance with hundreds and thousands of yellow caps floating around and spread across about 100m of the water, still not sure which way to go, i got in and down to business, and decided to just follow the people already out there in the vague direction of the big buoy 100 miles away! (or thereabouts) I recalled what was said in the race briefing "the buoys are to your right and the boats to your left. I finally reached the start line , and tried to get a bit of rhythm, there were a few people around - not many since i was one of the last in the water! Though looking behind I could see there were some slower people still behind me, and I managed to start overtaking some of the reaaaaly shit swimmers, dodging feet and fists that were pounding the water around me, I took a gulp of air containing a gulp of water, and choked, and pulled up and skulled and treaded water for a bit whilst i cleared my windpipe and coughed out the water.
Sometimes i find it easier to get my breath back by breathing out under water so I did breast stroke for a bit and exhaled hard and tried to calm myself down, once I felt OK, i got back on with it, starting to get back into a rhythm and onto my pace. Although it wasn't really my pace, being so far back I was surrounded by lots of even shitter swimmers than me, which is saying a lot, so even though there was a decent amount of room, i was getting on top of people and having to weave around. I looked up to locate the buoys and finally found the first one - no bigger than a large kids balloon! They were numbered though so found something to occupy myself while swimming along, however I also saw that they were about 20m to the right of me, I tried to change my direction to get closer to them, but just crashed with other crap swimmers going the wrong way. I tried to battle my way nearer to the buoys as they cropped up but they still seemed to be miles away. Buoy 5 was a massive inflatable one signalling a change in direction - a right hand turn - I headed for it to round tightly to gain back some distance, when I got there there were people hanging on to it and I got round with only a few punches in the head but had to drop back to breaststroke for a bit. I got round the rest of the route with loads of clear water which was great so i started to practice my stroke technique and focus on extending and increasing my strokes per breath. I begun to enjoy the swim now, and appreciate how clean and beautiful the lake was. I looked up to my left and saw boats, looked to my right and saw hundreds of yellow hats, the reason i had so much clear water was because no other fucker was going round the buoys!!
Coming to the last buoy of the loop i could head and feel something coming - I looked left and saw a big group of swimmers going hell for leather, I pulled over and let them pass/swim over me, and i realised it was the pro's coming in to finish their first lap! how humiliating!! I had been lapped!
I swam under the bridge into the shallow water and to the ramp got helped out up the ramp, over the timing mat, down the other side and back into the lake for lap 2! I had checked my watch and it said 46 mins - fuck! and the second lap is about 300m longer than the first!
All the cheaters from the first lap were now swimming way to the left so i stuck to the buoys as best i could and got back into enjoying the scenery and underwater singing, I wasn't going to get anywhere burning myself out in the swim for the sake of saving maybe 5 mins tops. I finally swam under the bridge for the second time swam to the ramp got hauled out the other side, up the ramp with wibbly legs, whipped off hat and goggles and trotted into transition.
In T1 there were still a *few* bikes remaining! Not many mind!! I took off my wetsuit and towelled down, I'd planned on taking my time, making sure i was comfy - better to use a couple of extra mins now than get sore later and lose half an hour. So, cycling shorts on over tri shorts, top on, socks, shoes, gloves, sunnies, helmet on. Gels in back pockets, bike off rack, and walked out of transition - again no point in running and getting my HR all excited before i even get on the bike - or indeed trip over the matting! It was a bit of a trek from where i was racked to the bike exit.
I got out of transition and mounted, took a few minutes to get settled, took a drink, checked my HR; I was conscious that I'd not got inside the swim target time I'd wanted and had some catch up to do but knew I couldn't do anything about it - whats done is done, move on and focus on the next stage. So focused on keeping my HR in the right zone, not blowing up and my main plan of action was to have plenty left in the tank and my legs for the run which I didn't want a repeat of Florida. I still didn't feel like I was in the right position, i couldn't use the tri bars as they seemed too short and narrow, so I tried to ride on the drops as much as I could, but still didn't feel right, so I got off and shifted my saddle slightly.
The first 20miles were reasonably flat, still conscious of not riding at my threshold pace - yes it was a Time trial, but it was a 112 mile TT not a 10 mile TT. I picked people off as I came to them, got overtaken by others who were clearly even worse swimmers than me. For a couple of miles i had this weird locking knee pain I'd had randomly last week and started panicking a bit that i had an injury so steadied up a bit and waited for it to stop.
A cute British guy came up beside me and we rode together and chatted, he said "this hill's a bit cheeky" - he wasn't wrong. I couldn't see his name as his number was tucked up into his top. He told me he'd driven round the course the day before and "the beast" was big and about 20 km further along, but we were still climbing now.. how big was the "Beast" going to be!!? I'd seen an elevation map of the route and it did look big, but i didn't recall anything like what we were already climbing so the beast must be massive!!
We overtook each other for the next 10 miles or so, we were passed by a man wearing the tiniest pants (almost a thong!) I've ever seen on a bike, they left little to the imagination and we both pissed ourselves laughing!
Before long the "Beast" was upon us, it wasn't hugely steep, it just went on and on and my friend compared it to Alps D'hez but shorter and with only a few switch backs, it was only about 5km of climbing but knowing I had to do it all over again on the 2nd lap was difficult. Rounding a big sweeping bend was the most amazing view over the city and lake, it made the climb worth every pedal stroke, it was breath taking. I caught up with the guy on one of the switch backs and said "this'll be the beast then?" and dropped him and carried on up feeling pretty good now.
As I reached the top of the beast someone tried to overtake me, but I made chase and he good spiritedly tried to let me take the win but i didn't quite manage it, so he said i could win down the hill, ;) Down the other side was quality, topping 35 mph, into a Sharp right turn, carrying on down, there were signs up saying you weren't allowed to use your tri bars, onto a gravelly slope which could have been carnage if it was wet or you hit the brakes. A few slalommy turns, through a own, over some roundabouts, then another climb! I didn't realise there was another! This one actually felt tougher than the beast, again it wasn't steep just long and draggy and a constant pressure on the legs. But once more the reward was a big sweeping descent, through a tunnel and heading back to the start.
I saw some of our guys from club heading back out on their second lap, a good 45 ins ahead of me, waved and yelled when i spotted anyone. I looked at my bike computer and saw I'd done 50 miles and still not come across "Heartbreak hill" the infamous hill on the course, I've seen YouTube footage of it but it was hard to tell what it was going to be like.
A further couple of miles and i finally started to climb once more, i was feeling great and overtook people as they started going backwards down the hill. I'd been drinking and fuelling well and felt good, being cautious all the while of my heart rate not going too high. When it did I'd steady up and let it settle.
Anyway, back to "heartbreak" - the climb was steep steep steep but the road conditions were amazing, it had several switch backs and i overtook most the people in front of me, dancing on my pedals. Rounding the last corner was a steel band playing, and a loud speaker shouting your name out as you came up to the top, The last stretch was the steepest yet and looking up there were probably a thousand people lining the hill, cheering, shaking cowbells and yelling and waving stuff - it was awesome! they only left a gap of a bike to get up and it was like the tour De France! I had gained on "Massimo" in front and he was slwing up my pace, so i looked for a gap and overtook him to more cheers. Everyone was shouting "Hopp, Hopp" and "allez Allez!" .
I was up and over the summit, and grabbed a drink from he aid station that was just at the top of the descent. Flew down the other side letting my HR come back down.
I rolled through to the second lap and saw my parents waving, it was such a great feeling seeing them, my mum looked so happy.... out on the course it seemed a little windier and harder - probably more the fact that i was getting a bit tired. I was desperate for a piss so stopped at the WC sign (they'd said there were plenty of loo's on route and not to piss along the course this was crap - i saw 3 toilets!) so there was a queue, balls. Speaking to some of the others after - they just went in their pants, but I can't bring myself to do that at this early stage in my triathlon "career"
After emptying my bladder I got back on, a few miles down the road, I felt my saddle had slipped - I hadn't tightened it up enough from the earlier adjustment, so got off again and tightened it, got back on and i felt all wrong again! grrrr! So for the next 15 mins I rode for a couple of mins, got off, adjusted my seat, got back on, rode on, got off.. what a dickhead, I should have just gone out in the rain the days before and tested it all out properly!
The hills the 2nd time round were much tougher, although the I've done some high mileage rides , none of them have been constant as there have been breaks of at least 10 mins or lunch stops so to churn out 112 miles non stop (if you exclude wee stops and the mechanical problems) was a first.
I caught up with another girl in my age group, the flag on her number said she was Czech but she was from Manchester, we rode together and chatted for a while before I departed once more at the bottom of the "Beast" for the 2nd time. I passed "Angry Dave" walking carrying his shoe, I yelled to him to get back on and started the 10/15 miles of "rolling hills" they were much tougher this time and although my HR was much lower (prob because I was tiring) and my knee started locking out again so i took a painkiller.
The flat section towards heartbreak hill was windier still (or was I just getting more tired?) I spotted Pete then Mark N on the run and yelled andwaved, I spotted Ali coming back from her last go up Heartbreak and she yelled to me to go for it. Heartbreak the 2nd time was still great - only a dozen or so people were there now as it was getting late in the day now! Back over the summit I grabbed water and a bottle of coke and cycled under the sprinklers, down the hill drinking the coke knowing I needed to be fully fuelled for the run.....
I'd been riding with another English guy called Hamilton who was quite hot, and joked "you warmed up now to go and run a marathon?" seriously what was I doing? But in reality I was actually looking forward to the run, and had been since halfway through the second lap.
I pushed through the last few miles and into transition, hopped off and walked my bike back down to the rack, i was desperate for a piss again, my parents had walked down to my transition space and dad shouted "only 3 more hours to go!" - "and the rest!!" :)
I was going to just get changed at my bike space but as I needed a piss I ran with my kit towards the loo's which were next to the changing tent and got changed in there without worrying about getting naked in front of people.
I ran back to my bike, dumped off my cycling stuff, cap on, fuel belt of gels and sweets on, drink in hand and ran out to the run exit. I spotted Steve and bounced up to him, my legs felt great, and he was bent over swiping a wasp off his leg so i slapped his arse, he stood up and i asked how he was feeling "fucking awful!" I felt fucking great so i bounded off and left him.
Once more sticking to my pace that Filipe had told me to use back when I had my physiological testing 9and ignore in Florida!) keeping an on eye first on my HR then on my pace.
The course started off going over a bridge, then under an underpass, back up it the other side and a funny sort of figure of 8 loop for 4 circuits. \I knew that underpass would hurt later.
The run felt great, it was steady but i felt strong and in control. I religiously sipped my drink, planed on a gel every 30 mins, refilled my bottle when it emptied by carrying on jogging and grabbing a cup of water at aids stations and swigged coke. I saw all of the guys out on the course at some point or other as there were lots of out and back sections which passed each other, it was a great course for that and you got to see spectators along pretty much the entire course.
About 7k into each lap you were given a different colour wrist band to say which lap you were on, I was looking at what other people had and getting blue band envy! I was gradually working my way through the masses, people struggling, walking, talking to themselves. This is what I love doing, it's my first love and i was really enjoying it, still I was keeping an eye on my HR as I didn't want to blow up. The kilometers were ticking passed quickly - i preferred km markers to miles as they're much quicker mentally.
I got to halfway still feeling strong, if i could keep this pace i would maybe just maybe sneak inside 4 hours, but my paces started to drop a little, i was struggling to eat anything solid, so just drank coke and water.
I passed my mates, the ones who take the piss out of my shit swimming and cycling; hare and the tortoise style! :D I had seen my parents on every loop and it was great, it kept me going seeing them beaming from the crowds.
The last lap was starting to hurt a bit, I'd been counting down the kilometers from about 25 in and now only had 10 to go, i couldn't face running up the ramp of the underpass again so i allowed myself to walk for 1 min or however long it took to get there, then stuck my face in the water fountain that was just round the corner. I gave myself a 3-2-1 and go and started back at a "run" (jog/mince) again.
After this I just focused on keeping on running, "just to that lamp post" "to that sponge on the floor" "to that man walking" and so on for the next 10k, just little goals to keep reaching 5 meters in front. I wasn't going to make 4 hours but i wasn't going to walk or bonk. I reached where I knew was either a marker saying 39.5km or 40.5km i really hoped it was the latter, and i told myself if it was the first I'd have a little walk, but gladly it was 40.5 so i kept going, 1500 m to go, less than a mile! Thank fuck - my legs were now started to hurt, I went back to my 5 meter rule, and worked my way along the course, I saw the final turn around point 400m to go! and walked so i could sort out my cap for the finish line ;) Ran on once more and finally turned into the finish ramp, which zigzagged through the stadium on a bouncy blue carpet that felt like a gymnasium mat, i bounced up and i still felt reasonably good! I think I felt worse after running my first marathon.
I crossed the line in 13hr20, 200th woman, and 24th in my age group.. my splits were Swim - 1:38! (oops- Bike 7:08! (yikes) Run: 4:20 ( yay) and after 7 months of preparation I was finally an IRONMAN!!
Can't wait to smash that time next year doing another :)