Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Ironman Switzerland Race Report

It took me over 14 hours to finish the race, hopefully it will take far less time for you to read this. But warning – this is long and I babble…quite a bit.

Before getting into the race report let me briefly run down how IMS differs from “regular” Ironman events:
- 16 Hour Time Limit - No Changing Tents - No Wetsuit Strippers - No Personal Needs Hand-Off - No Bike Retrievers/Catchers - No Body Markings

Basically we are on our own - set up at the bike, at the special needs section on the bike and run you had to find your own stuff. On the plus side, you could have your family/friends hand you food/drinks within 50 meters of certain aid stations.

Week of the Race:
Jason, Robin, and I arrived on Wed and got a run in that evening. Jason and I rode what we thought was part of the race course on Thurs(oops, missed a turn). Friday was registration, far too much walking around, and a great dinner. Saturday was a brick workout, again, too much walking/rushing around, then it was race day. Did final packing on Saturday night (should have done this on Thursday/Friday). It's amazing that my 1,000 lists boiled down to this:

Needless to say I didn’t sleep the night before. I was aware of every muscle in my body and was kicking myself for not relaxing more pre-race. While going through all of my mental angst I kept my eyes closed and focused on long, slow, deep breaths. When the first of three alarms went off at 0330 I kind of felt rested.

Meal Plan / Actual
Oatmeal / Nope
Bagel / ½ Sunflower pretzel (Switzerland’s answer to the bagel) & slice of multi-grain bread
Banana / Check
Clif Bar / Ate half
Coffee / Cappuccino
Bottle Water / Check

Bus left at 0505 arrived at transition at 0530. In memory of spectating in the rain in Lake Placid I had all of my race gear in dry bags (1 each for bike/run), shoes in gallon Ziplocs, and misc gear in another gallon bad. The race had provided us with bike covers so I used that as my base layer on the ground. As an added bonus I was right next to the Elites so I had Astroturf close by to avoid standing/sitting in dirt.

Around 0615 – 0620, I finally started to head to the swim start and ran into Robin’s friends. Two of them had yet to make it back to the hotel (reeking of booze) and had a huge picture of Catherine Deneuve that they had taken (stolen) from a bar. So, after many photo ops (which completely took my mind off of this silly little thing called Ironman) we finally went to the swim start.

Swim: Estimated 1:30, Felt Like 1:30, Real Time: 1:28:24

Cool thing about IMS is there is a separate swim start area for the women. On the down side it is WAAAAYYYY outside of the men so we had a longer swim to get near the buoys. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Ok, so we were a little late getting to the swim start (damn Catherine Deneuve). We headed into the water to get some practice strokes in and I turned around and saw everyone getting into the water. We were about 5 rows back from the front and in the center. Not where I wanted to be. I asked Robin if she wanted to head a little further back and more outside but we didn't have the time. In the end, we were front and center. I don’t recall hearing a start noise but I looked over to the right (men’s section) and they were swimming. Then I heard people on the dock yelling GO, GO, GO. So I Went, Went, Went.

I mentioned in my short and sweet race report that I didn’t get pummeled, or hit, or anything. It was the most pleasant swim experience. Every time I looked up to sight I had a clear area all around and I had managed to get close to the buoys. Basically, we did three sides of a square, went under a bridge, got hauled out of the water, went across an island, then swam diagonal across the square, did those final two legs, back under the bridge to the opposite shore from the island and out of the water.

It got congested getting to the island but I still managed to avoid contact. As I walked across the island I looked around and thought, “wow, I’m doing Ironman”.

Back into the crystal clear Lake Zurich.

The second loop was longer and my arms were getting a bit tired. I told myself I wasn’t allowed to complain until the last stretch to the bridge. By the time I was there I was comfortable again so no complaints. Made the final turn, swam to the finish, volunteers hauled me up the incline and I walked into transition thinking "one down, two to go". Whew!

T1: Estimated 00:10, Felt Like 00:15, Real Time: 00:6:24
I get into transition and the guys on either side of me were gone so I had plenty of room. I had the astro turf there so I dumped all of my cycling gear out and started to dry off. Did I mention no changing tents? No room for shyness at this race. That’s when I noticed Dude on the other side of the fence taking pictures. Umm, I have to drop trou (sp?) – you know, expose my girl parts to the world, otherwise known as the Full Monty here - please put down the camera. So, I went about putting on my cycling shirt, arm warmers, etc., kind of taking my time so he would get bored and stop documenting. Ahh, finally! I dropped my bathing suit bottoms, shimmied into my undies, lubed up with Chamois cream, into the cycling shorts, shoes, helmet, glasses, and I’m ready. I walked Penny out of transition – no need for the heart rate to sky rocket to save a minute – and started the bike ride.

Bike: Estimated 7:30 – 8:00, Felt Like 7:45, Real Time: 7:14:03 (!!)
Here is the elevation map that I’ve been staring at for a year thinking this won’t be so bad. WRONG! I apparently didn't comprehend the over 4,000 ft of elevation change. My bike computer stops working if I go less then 5mph (steep parts of the hills). When I checked my computer after the race it said I rode 102 miles – that means 10 miles were STEEP hills.

Loop 1 – My heart rate was slightly above Zone 2 so I took the first mile to relax. This area was flat with dazzling views of Lake Zurich. At mile 5 it started to drizzle. Oh, I haven’t described the weather – in a word – PERFECT. Overcast and in the 60’s. The sun would come out for a bit but then it would drizzle to cool us off. *Sigh*

Anyhow, I got into aero and kept my speed between 18-20 mph on the flat. Every once in a awhile I’d look to my right (the lake) and I’d have to sit up to marvel in the view. Around 30km we turned and entered the rolling hills. This section has a lot of farm land so the cows (with their Swiss (Team Z) cowbells) were out in force.

TMI: I had to pee since the 2nd loop of the swim and none of the rest stops had toi toi’s (Swiss word for porta potty). I tried to go on the bike - wasn’t happening. I don't know how you people do this!!! Finally, just past 40km there was a toi toi. Ahhhhh.

More rolling hills and I knew The Beast was coming. I had just passed Robert from FL and we were chatting as we started up the hill. He looked at me and said, I guess this is The Beast. OMG!!!! It was four miles of steep climbing – no flats, no rests, but a spectacular view. See:

Short, fast descent then another 5-ish miles of climbing – not quite as steep but again, this was pure climbing – no rest for the wicked. Another SWEET downhill (looked once and I was at 43mph) including a bit through a tunnel of trees then it flattened out for about 8 miles then Heartbreak Hill.

Team Z peeps – take both Tuesday night ride location’s hills. Double them both, put them together and do them without stopping. That begins to describe this hill. After passing the first band (I swear they were playing the funeral march) I dropped my chain. Yep, now I had to go up this hill from a dead stop. At each switchback I could hear the crowd getting louder so I thought "Oh thank God, I’m almost done with this". NOPE. Another switchback, and another, and another. Finally, there it is, THE hill. Imagine Tour de France – two rows of spectators so the cyclists could only go up single file. The crowd is yelling HOP, HOP, HOP (I assume this means Go, Go, Go). There was a band playing polka music. The announcer called your name. This was the most incredible moment of the race –all these people yelling – for little ole' me! As I reached the crest of the hill one of the spectators gave me a shove up over the crest and I finally was able to catch my breath, take the descent and head back out towards transition and the second loop.

When I got near the transition area the first place male was heading out to Heartbreak to finish his 2nd loop. I'm 99% positive he finished the race before I finished my second loop.

Second loop was much the same. A little more wind on the first area of flats. I kept waiting for the Beast – just to get it over with. My knee was starting to hurt and I started getting worried about the run. Then I told myself to just keep pedaling and worry about the run during the run. Hills were tough (and seemingly never ending) but the descents were still sweet. By the time I got back to Heartbreak Hills the crowds were gone except for Dude (Boyfriend of the Universe), Charles, John, and Yan (Robin’s boyfriend and other friends). Headed back into transition thinking that wasn’t so bad. Two down, one to go.

Nutrition Plan:
Drink ¼ bottle of PowerBar Endurance on the 10, 30, and 50 minute marks (I was wearing a timer). Alternate between 1 Luna Moon, 1 Shot Bloc (Margarita), and 1 Hammer Gel (all with water) at the 20, 40, 60 minute marks. At around mile 40 eat ½ an Uncrustable. I had put a baggie with a picture of my dad on one side and some quotes and a note from Dude on the other. I would flip back and forth to keep track of what I should be eating/drinking. I stuck with the plan except I eliminated the Shot Blocs after two and switched to 2 cheddar flavored Combos. I also ate the whole Uncrustable at mile 40 but that was a bit much.

T2: Estimated 00:10, Felt Like 00:15, Real Time: 00:7:41 – Shocked to see Jason there – I expected him to be about an hour ahead of me between the swim and bike. He waited for me to change and we ran out of T2 together.

Run: Estimated 5:30 – 6:00, Felt Like 5:20, Real Time: 5:22:24
We started running and it was awkward, my legs didn’t quite know what to make of this new movement. I had to go potty again and didn’t want to hold Jason up so I told him to keep going. (I also knew we wouldn’t stay together because I was going to do the 10/2 method and he was going to run the whole thing). Here’s the course (double click for details) – yes, lots of turns, but also lots of opportunity to see people. Robin’s friends were just ahead of Hot Station and Dude and Lori were at Crazy Station so we got to see “friendly faces” four times in each loop.

First lap (Blue bracelet) - Once the shock wore off of my legs I was able to keep a decent pace with the run/walk. About every other aid station I took water since I was carrying my own PowerBar Endurance. No issues on this lap but I was incredibly jealous of anyone with Yellow or Red bracelets. Saw Jason a couple of times but no sign of Robin – I was getting worried. (Not that you can tell in this pic).

Second lap (Green bracelet) – Still no issues. I kept waiting for the pain, the stomach rebellion, something. But I kept chugging along. During this lap I started walking the three small inclines – why not?! I also started eating either 2 chips or 2 pretzel sticks at the aid stations when I got water. At each stop I also grabbed two sponges – cleaned my face, soaked my head, and doused water down my chest. Robin’s friends told me they saw her and finally at the end of my loop I saw her and she was running strong.

Third lap (Yellow bracelet) – Still no issues – what?! This is really when I expected issues. I thought "great, 4th lap is going to suck" - but no time to worry about that now. When I got to Crazy Station Dude told me Jason was just ahead of me and I could catch him and pass him. I remember thinking, "why would I pass him?!" So just after the 3rd turn around (before Water Station) I caught up to him and he said his stomach was “unsettled”. I told him to stick with me, we’d do the 10/2, walk the aid stations, and get this thing done. So he did - grunting and groaning the entire way. Started drinking chicken broth and cola during this loop and kept at it through the rest of the race.

Forth Lap (Red bracelet) – I don’t get it - I remember the marathon in February really, really hurting. Why do I still feel ok? Jason and I kept chugging along – him grunting and having me count down to the next walk cycle. We were keeping to the 10/2 and walking the aid stations and we were quite disappointed when the aid stations coincided with our scheduled walk time. We were heading in for the final stretch and ran into Robin. Big hugs all around – there was no doubt there would be three new Team Z Ironman finishers this day! Jason and I took an early walk break because we didn’t want to be seen walking anywhere near the finish. When we made the final turn and were allowed to enter the finish area I just wanted to sprint. Thankfully, Jason reeled me in, saying “easy, easy, take it all in”…

Nutrition Plan:
Drink PowerBar Endurance every other 10 minutes, eat 1 Luna Moon, 1 PowerBar Burst, and 1 Hammer Gel per hour. But all that got thrown out the window. I drank the PowerBar but depended on the course to feed me. Everyone says don’t try anything new on Race Day, well, my entire eating during the run was brand spanking new. I got lucky that it worked.

Final: 14:18:56

Finish line: The crowd, while dwindling, was cheering loudly. I saw the blur of faces. Jason was on the side with more people so he had more hands to slap but I got a few in. I looked at him in those final moments and said “we really did this”. Then, just like that, we crossed the finish line. I didn’t hear my name, or Jason’s. I was just so happy, so excited, so exhilarated, and so overjoyed. Big hug from Jason, got wrapped in my finisher towel, arms stripped of bands, then I made my way to Dude and got a big kiss. More pictures taken, ate some food, then headed over to watch Robin finish. I turned to put on a long sleeve shirt and completely missed her – cartwheel and all.

Made it back to the hotel, put on my recover pants, and fell into a deep, deep sleep. Woke up the next day and felt surprisingly great. Went and packed the bike box (wearing heels no less), then headed to Lake Como (where you have to climb stairs to get anywhere). Throughout the vacation I waited for the aching, the pain, the soreness but it never came.

I should also note, since then, every time I think about that day I smile and think I Am An Ironman!

And I'm wondering, is it odd that I want to tell everyone that I deal with, from coworkers to store clerks, that I AM AN IRONMAN!

People have asked if I’ll do another one. Right now I can’t figure out why I would. I had the perfect day, a great race, no issues, recovered quickly (if that’s the right word since I didn’t hurt so I didn’t have anything to recover from). Why jinx it. Not that I’m giving up triathlons, I just think 70.3’s and Oly’s will be my thing in the tri world. I'll do more marathons and maybe start doing some distance cycling.

Finally, a boatload of Thank you's need to go out to many people and I’m sure I will miss a few:
Coach Ed for the guidance and for telling me many, many times that I could do this.
Team Z for the support.
Ironman Alumni for the wisdom that you have passed along.
The Lake Placid Ladies who I rode with for the past six months – I can’t wait to see each of you finish your race!
Jason – I told you a year ago we’d either hate each other or be best friends. Well, You are a Great Friend!
Robin – your energy is infectious. Thank you for always staying positive!
Robin’s friends (too many to name) – you brought the Team Z spirit across the pond!
Lori George - for loaning me your husband for the past year, for feeding me Sprungli, for allowing us to use your hotel as a staging area, and for your tireless cheering at the race!
Kat & Kai –for the bike box!
Ken – for saving the day and helping Jason and I get the bike box where it needed to be.
Kerry Kramer for healing me!
And finally, to Dude. I like to say your words got me to sign up for Ironman but it was your continuous support that got me to the finish line. You put up with my moodiness, tiredness, unavailability, boring “vacations” to races. Yet you remained by my side with encouraging words. I am a lucky, lucky woman to have you in my life.

Best of luck to my Team Z peeps doing Ironman USA, Moo (Wisconsin), Louisville, FL, Cancun, Canada, and Beach to Battleship. I said it before - trust in the training! I don't excel in any of the three parts of triathlon. I didn't "deserve" a perfect race day. I don't know how I had such a perfect day but it must have been the training and ZONE 2!

To my blogging friends - never underestimate your abilities. Until I signed up for Ironman Switzerland I had never (and had no desire to) run over 10 miles, cycled over 50 miles, or swam more then a mile. I found an incredible training group and some wonderful friends to train with and just believed in myself.

From Harry Ford: If you think you can do a thing or think you can't do a thing, you're right.


Pete said...

Great Race Report!!

Annie said...

ES! You are freaking incredible! I am taking in every word and cannot wait for IMOO!!

Kat and Thad said...

WAY TO GO ES~! You might even have convinced me to consider an IM one day!

Sarah said...

Yay for you! A huge congratulations. Now enjoy some rest :)