It seemed a long time coming then all of a sudden it was upon us and we were heading down to Manchester Airport at the crack of dawn on Thursday for the journey to Zurich, Switzerland.
This time round Colin, Genevieve & Pam were on their 3rd Ironman distance race, Graeme & Johnny were on their 2nd and we had two first timers Gareth & Dawn –one of whom was very excited, the other of whom was looking sick & had been for 6 months at the prospect of this trip. We also had a further 11 people in the support crew either with us or joining us a bit later in Zurich.
Having completed the uneventful flight and slickly transferred by the easy to use train service we exited Zurich HB main station and were immediately hit by the heat as we dragged our bike boxes across the city centre over dressed as foreigners in jeans & warm tops. Once we had all checked in to the hotel we jumped on the tram & headed across to the expo by Lake Zurich for race registration. As we entered the expo we got our first sight of the finish line which is always a goose bump moment & went quickly through the registration process. The lake was looking beautiful in the sun, right in the middle of the city but surrounded by hills & mountains on all sides.
Having spent a couple of hours buying Ironman goodies we headed back for the most expensive pizza ever and off to bed. It was at this point that we discovered that whilst the hotel was great, it was slap bang in the hub of Zurich’s red light district. From our front facing rooms we could hear & witness the goings on of at least 20 ‘ladies ‘on the night shift from 10.00pm till 5.00am. Not much sleep for us on the first night & from then on we had to try & sleep with the windows closed & the shutters down in the hot non-air conditioned rooms.
We headed down to the lake on Friday morning for a fantastic swim in the Lake & a short run before heading back for bike construction & testing. The only hitch I encountered was that I put my hand right through the shoulder of my wetsuit, & not through the normal arm hole. Having been told at the Expo that it was un-reparable I took it back to the hotel & did the best repair job I could myself. Friday pm was the race briefing & a great 4 course pasta party in the evening. Great pasta & cake, dubious drum show on stage.
Saturday morning was just time spent getting organised then we headed down after lunch for bike racking & transition set up. The transition area was very tight, especially as there were no tents for Swim, Bike & Run bags & you had to set up your gear next to your bike as you would do for a smaller Tri at home. Everyone got their areas set up well, though Pam needed hers streamlining as she seemed to have just empted her suitcase on the ground & left it. Dawn was still looking sick & just stared into open space with one eye twitching. All that was left now was dinner & the last night of attempted sleep before the 3.45am alarm on race morning.
It rained heavily as I lay awake on & off through the night listening to the girls outside and they were still going strong as we left in the 5.00am taxi down to the start line. Not much to do once we were down there other than double check everything & hang out with the supporters for a while. Everyone seemed fairly relaxed though Dawn must have had a bad dream as she kept crying & I wondered how she would get those puffy eyes into her swim goggles.
As 7.00am approached we headed to the adjacent swim start area. It was very congested and at first we couldn’t even get into the start area because of all the crowds of supporters. I squeezed through & found myself on the far right hand side of the beach. Not where I had planned to be as the first buoy was a right turn & it was a guaranteed bottleneck but it was too packed to move anywhere else so there I stayed. The girls had headed off left to the unidentifiable female start section and we waited nervously for 5 minutes for the hooter.
The first 5 metres were a walk into the water & from that point onwards we all experienced the roughest swim we have ever had to endure. Jack had warned me that we would be swimming into the sun & unable to sight on the first buoy about ½ km out & this was the case but it was also the very least of our worries. I got swum over, swum under, crushed, elbowed & punched repeatedly for about 300 metres. At one point my goggles fogged up then I was punched in the face & they cleared – result! It was impossible to swim properly as people constantly tried to swim up your back & pushed your legs downwards. At one point & could feel the panic rising in my breathing but I managed to get a few longer strokes of bi-lateral breathing in & got it under control. I found myself a little bit of space & speeded up towards the first buoy & the inevitable crushing again. The swim opened up a little after this point & I felt like I swam strongly round to the narrow Island where we had to exit up a ramp (at which point my wetsuit shoulder burst again), run over the Island & dive back again for the slightly less traumatic 2nd lap. I was disappointed when I looked at my watch as I was hoping for 1.03ish for the 2.8km swim but I was also just glad to have survived it. Some people struggled more with the swim or just held back as you can see from the swim times below.
Swim times (2.4 miles)
Having planned our route from the swim exit to the bikes carefully the previous day it was a bit of a shock to find that the transition entrance had been fenced off & there are various photos of Genevieve & myself running around in circles looking desperately for our bikes. Despite this we both got through T1 quickly. Some people took longer. Some took MUCH longer, we don’t really know what they were doing in there.
Out onto the bikes and a long flat 30k alongside the lake for starters. The weather was warm & roads were fairly good other than a lot of manhole covers & a stretch of road works where we were actually riding along the pavement at 25 mph.
At the bottom end of the lake the road turns left & you commence the first climb. Nothing too taxing here though at the first descent & easy corner I came across two riders who must have collided & both come down face first into the road. A reminder to be careful. There was a lot of drafting going on but also a lot of people in the penalty boxes. Why they do it I never know.
The route continued to undulate along for a while & the views were stunning – beautiful Swiss villages & farms & cows by the side of the road with their cow bells ringing - just as you would imagine it to be.
After a long descent back to the lake side we took in the diversion around the road works that annoyingly turned the bike into 115 miles instead of 112. It was not so much the extra distance but the fact that we now joined the ‘Beast’ climb an extra km lower down. The two consecutive climbs were certainly a slog in the hot sun & seemed to go on for a long time but were not too tough on the first lap. Having topped out on the highest point there was a death defying technical descent back to the lake side and back on the flat. We were teasingly taken straight past the transition entrance & out for the shorter sharper Heartbreak Hill climb. This zigzags up towards the crowds & noise at the top. Not quite as busy & ‘Tour de France’ like as I expected but still good fun. We were then onto the second loop which was certainly a good deal tougher than the first, especially the Beast & the long climb afterwards. The loop seemed to go on forever & I was looking at my watch trying to work out times. I had hoped for about 5.15/5.20 on the bike but that time slipped past with still a few miles to go. Having ridden Heartbreak hill for the 2nd time we headed back & into T2. My watch showed that I was along way off target at 5.53 with maybe 15/20 mins being accounted for by the extra mileage & climbing. All the other guys had good rides with no problems other than sore legs.
Bike times (115 miles)
T2 was pretty easy to get in & out of & myself & Genevieve rattled though in under 2 minutes.
The run course was quite a tricky affair with lots of small loops, out & backs, dark underpasses, cobbles & narrow stretches with runners going in both directions. If you were to run this as a straight marathon you would certainly not get a quick time on it. I had expected to see lots of the other guys on the course but actually hardly saw any one other than Pam a few times but our supporters were great & a welcome sight in their spot near the transition area.
I was a little concerned about the run as my Achilles had been bothering me for a month before the race & I had only been running short once a week. I felt good on the first two 10km loops & felt that I would be near to the 3.20 marathon time that I wanted. Unfortunately with my slight lack of run fitness I seemed to lose half an hour in the second half marathon. I could see that I wasn’t going to hit any time I wanted but knew with 10km to go that I would get under 11 hours which would do me. On my last lap I saw all the other ATHelite guys so it was comforting to know that they would all finish.
The finish line was fantastic & our support crew were right there for us. I crossed the line & Alan Cardwell was there with two delicious pints of (alcohol free) beer for us. Within 5 mins I had eaten Beef Stroganoff & 4 pieces of cake & waited in the finish area for the rest of the gang. They all came in one by one looking tired but happy.
Run times (26.2 miles)
Total finish times
There were lots of different emotions at the end of this event. Myself & Genevieve were both so pleased to have finished our 3rd Ironman distance but both slightly disappointed that we were about 45 mins to an hour off the times that we had been training for. We certainly maybe felt slightly less hungry for this one & probably need a year off but are certainly very proud of doing it & especially proud of all the guys that came along with us and completed this great event alongside us.
Pams aim in this race was just to finish & she had a great safe race and put aside the problems that she encountered in her last Ironman. Johnny had a great race too & was strong & steady throughout & he has some cracking photos of him running down the finish chute with his girls. Graeme missed a good chunk of training earlier in the year & had to re-set his targets. He managed to come through a dark patch on the bike to finish strong on the run.
Best of all was seeing the two first timers Gareth & Dawn completing their first Ironman events. Gareth was so focussed all the way through training & other than a difficult swim came through strong & smiling right to the end. And Dawn? Well the hardest bit for Dawn was the 6 months up to the event where she had wobbles & tears & self doubt mixed in with her training but with (a lot!) of help & coercing by us & everyone around her she made it through as we knew she would & completed an event that most people cannot even contemplate.
We had a wonderful relaxing day walking round in the sun on Monday with a few beers. Great company & a beautiful city.
Well done TEAM ATHELITE!!!!!