It had been raining heavily the entire day before the race. I was hoping that this would rain itself out by the morning. However when the alarm sounded at 4 am Sunday morning these hopes were well and truly dashed by the sound of torrential rain on the trees outside my open hotel room window. As it got nearer to the start of the race the rain just seemed to get heavier. This was not good.
Utter carnage. I have never been in a swim like it. The swim course was 2 laps separated by a quick run across an island. I thought I had positioned myself well to avoid the mess at the first buoy. I was quite wrong. Rounding it was complete pandemonium. Bodies everywhere! My goggles were knocked and dislodged twice and I was constantly kicked and hit. It was like some sort of ferry disaster in rough seas, where hundreds of survivors are fighting for the remaining life raft. The second buoy was much the same as was going under the bridge leading into the second lap. As the field got a little more strung out in the second lap the swimming became a lot easier and I was able to get into a much more relaxed rhythm. I was glad to get to the end of the swim, although it was still raining hard when I got back into transition. I had no idea of my time as I had forgotten to start my stopwatch at the beginning of the swim, only starting it on the second lap. My swim split turned out to be 1.01.51, which was slower than I hoped but quicker than I thought it would be after the scrum in the water.
Transition was slower than I would ideally want, as I opted to put arm warmers and a cycling gillet on. The bike course consisted of 2 laps of 90km (56 miles). Basically, a flat bit to start, heading out of Zurich, a lumpy bit in the middle (which included one monster Tour de France style climb that seemed to last forever), then another flat bit coming back into Zurich. I was pretty happy with my bike leg of the race, apart from the rain and the flat tyre I got on Heartbreak Hill. The rain meant no one could really push it too hard. I was constantly afraid of coming off, especially on some of the scary downhills of the course. I had almost got one rather wet lap out the way without incident and my time was pretty good considering the weather when my back tyre went flat. I was going up the famed Heartbreak Hill of the course (I think most IM races have one of these hills) at the time. Having never changed a tub before I was a little worried about how this was going to go, but in the end it turned out to be easy. Much easier and quicker than clinchers I have to say. Unfortunately I then had to fiddle with my brakes to realign them. In all the stoppage cost me 10 mins (I would later come to realise this would cost me my sub 10). I got a little downhearted for a while after this. It is funny how your mood swings up and down over the day. Sometimes you are feeling really good then 30 mins later you are feeling really down and negative. I had no idea of my actual time at this point so I had pretty much discounted getting under 10 now. Now the main priority would be to finish in as reasonable time as possible. The rest of the bike went without incident. My eventual bike split was 5.37.55, which was ok considering the weather and flat. I have to say that drafting was a real problem throughout. There were packs of riders who were blatantly using each other to benefit. At one point I followed a group of six who did this for at least 30 mins. The draft busters appeared to do nothing about this at all. Going up Heartbreak Hill was brilliant. It was just like the TdF where competitors ride between people lining each side of the road within touching distance. It was a real inspiration to push up the hill.
T2 was a lot quicker. I stripped down to my tri suit (the rain had actually abated towards the end of the bike) and set off. The run hurt from the very first step to the finish. For the first 10k I had really bad lower back-ache and cursed the fact I had forgotten to pack some pain killers in transition. My ankle was hurting as well, which did worry me a little. I just hoped this wouldn’t get any worse. As it happened it didn’t and the back pain eventually went. The marathon was hard going. It was a 4-lap course, which was good for pacing. My first 10k seemed to be around 45 mins and I aimed to maintain this. I did slow over each split however, which I suppose was always going to happen. Despite the pain I did feel I was running strongly and can only remember being passed a couple of times. They were operating a coloured band system to designate which lap you were on. It felt really good to pass someone with fewer bands than you. One downside of a lapped marathon is that each lap feels like they take an eternity to run. By lap 2 those negative thoughts were appearing again and it was now becoming a real test of will power and determination to keep the pace up. I eventually got to the final 10k. By this time I knew I was almost there and although it was still hurting the end was in sight. Turning into the finishing chute was the first real time I was aware of my overall time. 10.03! I couldn’t believe how close to 10 I had got. Damn that flat! Run split was 3.17.21.
One word describes the feeling you get coming over the finish line – elation. I hugged the lady who handed me my medal. What an amazing feeling. I also felt a sense of disbelief over what I had actually done over the last 10 hours. I wondered into the athletes` tent to the picnic they lay on for you afterwards. By this time my body had got over the elation of crossing the finish and was now reminding me that I had just done non-stop exercise, much of it in the rain, for the last 10 hours. I started to feel utterly exhausted – like complete **** – not to put too finer point on it. It took me at least an hour to be able to contemplate anything in my stomach except sugary tea. I spent the next 20 min lying down wrapped in a space blanket.
To my father, who was there at the start in the pouring rain right up to when I finally staggered out of the athletes’ tent. It is not only a long day for those competing. My wife, for putting up with my commitment to training over the last 6 months and the associated highs and lows. And finally MBH for being such a great club with so many supportive members.
If anybody is contemplating doing an Ironman then they could do far worse than Switzerland. The organisation was top notch and support fantastic. I must say far better than that of UK. And you never know you might get to race in the sun.