Frankfurt last year was Rushteam's big yearly excursion, and brought many newbies and experimented iron(wo)men to the world of long distance. This year there would be fewer oranges at the start line, but starting in Zürich was the guarantee to see plenty of known faces along the course. The road to Zürich started early. Very early. Despite a busy schedule with work and everything around, we registered as PROs and summed up a tad above 200k of swimming, 5000k of biking and 1000k of running over the first 7 months of 2018. They weren't all easy, I've seen ups and downs, FTP breakthroughs as well as blow-outs and painful plantar.
But there I was, on a warm Friday evening, lining up in the yacht resort serving as media center. PRO briefing and bib number pick up. Around me only fit people, all eagerly awaiting the gun shot of Sunday morning. I am rather confident on my race shape, though probably more stressed than ever before, with the exception of Frankfurt (the “most xx than ever before, except Frankfurt” is a recurrent theme, brace yourself…).
Not much to say for Saturday, an easy day mostly spent at home, one tab open on the tracker of the 5i50, the other on MeteoSchweiz. At 4pm we rack the bikes in transition zone, and get back home quickly. Dinner for 8, thank god friends and family are here for a relaxed atmosphere, because I'd be dying otherwise.
On Sunday morning once the bike is pumped up, the bags filled, the Garmin set up in racing mode, we get towards the start area. A few familiar faces wish me good luck, contrary to other races I think I might need some this time…
As usual before a race I am not very talkative (some may even say as usual would suffice).
You're on the front line
You know it's serious we're getting closer
Starting as a PRO means you get to compare to the very best only. While very cool, it's also some added pressure on a good result.
The start line isn't very packed, yet as soon as the gun goes off there is no extra politeness. You gotta fight for your space, and while I can do that against the first guy next to me, when Ronnie pushes for some feet I'm not really armed to fight… (and it's probably not worth the effort).
After the first turn at the yellow buoy, I get sort of nauseous. A few hundred meters later part of my breakfast finds its way backwards into my mouth. There's no holding it, nor swallowing completely back in, so off goes a little “fish nutrition”. Throwing up in the lake, though not much, wasn't the ideal vision for a good Ironman start. But hey as they always say, “prepare for the unexpected, and get ready to be surprised nevertheless”. It's gonna be a long day.
I lost a few positions in the process I believe, and get towards what seems to be the back of the second swimming group. I switch temporarily to 6-beat kick to secure the connection at the second buoy. Once in the slipstream, time to glide. 2-beat kick, long arm pulls, no worries it'll be ok.
Along the long stretch opposite Mythenquai our group splits in two, and I keep right with what seems to be the slightly slower guys but shorter path. Not much to say here, I could be swimming slightly faster but at the expense of a lot more efforts than drafting. At the very end of the straight line the group merges again, which causes some chaos, I have to get out of comfort zone slightly to not lose connection, but get back into gliding pace before the swim exit. I try to pee a bit before exiting the water, but can't. It should then hold for the next 8 hours …
Standing up on the green carpet next to Ronnie, I get a glance to the watch. Slightly above 55min (I actually started it too early, it was rather slightly below). Not too bad, perfectly in the planned pace.
In T1 I start eating already, put my stuff on, grab my bike and here we go. Shoes laced up, and getting up to speed. Ronnie is way too fast, Samuel Hürzeler as well, but around km 10 a Spaniard and a French overtake me at a pace that seem negotiable. Barely faster than me alone, and with legal drafting at 10-12m certainly much less efforts. I stay with them until Meilen, get to the front of the group, back behind again, until they explode at the first little climb going away from the lake. I lose a gel because my box stayed open from the previous one I took. It ends up in the chainring with a loud noise, but after one pedal spin backwards it falls off and all is sorted out. Two german überbikers pass me; even at 300w I can't stay with them, and thus decide to let them go.
Getting closer to The Beast the pace is ok, legs are feeling great. The stomach is another story, but that's nothing the head can't shut off as a mere inconvenience. I enjoy the climb, getting out of the bars and climbing at reasonably high wattage. No familiar faces at the top, probably the only place I expected it but didn't see anyone.
In the descent towards Egg I surprise myself by being much more cautious than I thought I would be in a race. No biggy, relax and push on the next climb. Towards Forch it's then full pace on the aerobars, and here we are, ready to descend, at 36km/h avg but with mostly climbs only.
The descent is again not my forte; I eat a bar, and start along the lake with renewed motivation. I look forward to getting towards Bellevue, Mythenquai and Heart Break Hill. There are so many people cheering on me, it's like 20 bonus watts coming from the air around. Especially Heart Break Hill. Almost feels flat. Literally pulled up by people. Amazing feeling. Just look at the crowd. I love it.
I'm on my way.
Meeting Dani and the rest of the PROs that are quite a bit ahead of me is another kind of news to swallow. But hey my plan is my plan, and I asked people not to give me ranking infos before km 20 on the marathon. Because an Ironman is still mostly a race against your own limits. And some days your limits are closer than you expect. I've thought of giving up on the bike already, I'd be lying to say the opposite. But I couldn't do that to the people who've come to support, spend the day in the heat to see me pass by, to the many trainings I've completing for the sole reason of being ready on that very day.
Taking a bottle from Jamie I also realize what I suspected since a few miles: I've been following my eating plan, but drinking much less than anticipated. It didn't use to be a problem in recent races, but with the stomach in pain I might have overlooked that until km 80. 2h36 and some seconds on the first lap, no need to go faster anyways.
I'm getting better at reading those signs I believe, and start to slow down slightly, anticipating some bad times ahead. While the head was especially good at shutting down the stomach pain, the legs are more pushy when they ask for some relief. Along the lake some wind has come up as well, and I tend to get out of the bars here or there in the tiny little climbs. Come on JC, drop low and show the world your nice new CdA of the latest trainings.
Flying through Mythenquai.
I'm actually happy once in Hombrechtikon. I can start climbing. Philip is there as a nice surprise. The first two age groupers as well as PRO women overtake me in close drafting pack, even forcing me to pull on the brakes when they steer to the right of the road nearly in my front wheel. The referee is apparently more concerned of me getting in the group than the others riding together. Whatever. They're in a different race. I've been doing a solo ride for 100k now.
In the climb 20k later I'll catch some of them again, despite not holding up on the pace of the first round. It's tough out here, and the pace in Forch is somewhat slower but still anticipating a sub5 bike ride.
The part along the lake from Küsnacht to the finish line is longer than I wished, and the power meter showing smaller numbers than I want to read. The marathon won't be a honeymoon; it wasn't planned to be. 5h00 on the bike, just a few minutes slower than I wished, the 3h marathon would be a perfect sub9.
But I know that hoping for a 3h marathon in those conditions is utopic. I don't have the energy, and the heat is too oppressive. I'll get a quick glimpse at the watch km 1 and 2, and stop looking at it afterwards. I'm not here for a time any longer; I'm here to finish that fight. Show them I am stronger than the pain, and prove to myself that even if the day wasn't perfect, it isn't that bad either (sometimes I am more proud of not fading too much in bad situations than the top speed on an ideal day). As Sophie said a week before, “your bad day would only be a slower marathon”.
Similar to Frankfurt, running instead of biking is a nice change of gears, and I have some enjoyable kilometers (not many) before signs of critical emptiness of the energy tank show again. Contrary to Frankfurt I eat, and eat a lot. Because I've learnt in Ironman that you can barely eat enough, and probably not too much, on the marathon. So I swallow 7 gels and other snacks in the first half marathon. Not because I wanted to, but because I could. The pace is not getting faster, but at least I'm not bonking. It also keeps me hopeful that the end will turn out ok, that I'll run my plan eventually, at least for part of it. Iso and ice very often, water always, bouillon once, even a banana piece as well as a quarter of an apricot. Whatever fits the bill of being easily grabbed while running through an aid station and doesn't sound disgusting (redbull I'm looking at you).
Km 13 at Bürkli platz, I'm in autopilotmode. Going past the Samaritan tent, two of them get up, grab a bike and start to ride next to me. Oh shit, I must look like hell. Never mind, as long as you keep running it'll be fine. They can't force me to stop if I'm running. The little climb along Rennweg was unexpected on the first lap but works better on the next ones, the uneven ground on Chinawiese still as painful, the sun just as hot. But I got a third done, who thought it'd go by so fast (ok not that fast, but somehow it could be worse). Instead of smiling or not responding I start telling everyone how much it hurts, and “I wouldn't recommend this”. Once again being in Zürich is amazing, and I couldn't imagine doing it without the many friends along the road. You guys have done an amazing job at cheering me up. Even Philip tricking me into thinking top20 is an amazing position while nearly all behind 22nd had given up already. Even Gio telling me the podium was few seconds ahead when he knew perfectly they had just lapped me. Even the many who told me my cadence looked good.
At this point I also tell PA and Phil how I needed to throw up early morning, it all sounds so far away right now. The plantar is a bit hurting but definitely not the limiting factor. Jamie seems to be in pain for me when Gianna hands me the Hot Shot. Now I'm sure I'll finish, and it seems somewhere between 9h15 and 9h30. That's more than the 8h50-9h15 window I allowed myself going into the race, but that is what it is.
RW starts playing “catch me if you can” with me, overtaking me twice and me overtaking him twice as well. While he wants to wait for me when I am in pain, I advise him to race his own race. And internally thinks he could run a 3h marathon, or maybe he would just hit the wall. The line is sometimes very thin. Joanna is always smiling and cheering on, but I don't really ever answer, my apologies.
Just keep running.
I pick up the pace again, slow down a tiny bit, before finally running properly the last stretch. It's a weird feeling missing your objective, but carrying home the best your body had to give on race day. On the one hand I cannot be too disappointed, because there wasn't more than 10min to go grab in that particular shape on that particular day. On the other hand, I believe I could do better in a day like Rapperswil, and am somewhat eager to show it. The carpet is also more of a relief, coming back from a battle without losing, rather than the magical feeling of Frankfurt.
I'm also very happy for Silvan and Joanna grabbing their Kona slots moments later. Have this feeling of not wanting to do anything but still hurting even just lying down for a few hours, I didn't miss that. Muscle soreness is bad; not quite as much as last year, but my second worst ever. I lost 3.2kg during the day, and as in Frankfurt badly need a very warm shower at the finish garden (despite the outside heat). It's like a fever, even coughing in the first hour. Sleep and eating habits heavily perturbed for the next two days.
Finish line, not quite a party.
It takes me a while to actually ask and get told I ran a 9h20, and finished 18th PRO (28 at the start line). I wished for a top 15, for that we'll have to try again. I would also have easily grabbed a Kona slot as an AG, but I don't regret the choice of starting as a PRO (while many people seemed to question that). I got my own empty streets, no drafting problems (though some may have been riding as packs in front), my own race. It's my result, and I'll have to learn from it in order to grow stronger. There's probably going to be a next one, but I don't know when.
Finally, once again, thank you to everyone in Zürich or away, sending messages, cheering, shouting, watching, tracking, providing the little extra motivation to dig deep. You are the best!