Back on the long distance, a little more than two years after my great time in Kalmar 2019. After a good performance on Rapperswil, by far my record on the course, I want to have a great race in Thun as well, in front of a lot of known spectators. Temperatures are finally warmer than expected even a week before the race, and close to the ideal or even slightly above for me.
Little nervousness for once in the tapering week. I feel ready. We still discuss the fine-tuning of the nutrition plan, the time objectives by simulating the course on bestbikesplit, etc. 8:50 is my objective, with 52 min of swimming, 4:50-55 of cycling, 2:55-3h for the marathon.
On race morning, the sun is still hidden behind the mountains, and the air is warming up nicely, as we get into the line-up. The water is pleasant at 18.4 C. The course hardly distinguishable with my tinted glasses. I will learn moreover after the finish that it misses the buoys of turns, the boat bringing them being broken down. The buoys placed are only the small directional ones, and on a 3km-course instead of 3.8 km.
The start is given without a gun shot (also in the broken down boat?), with the announcer announcing 'go, go' only. As the ground remains very shallow for a long distance, I start doing the dolphin jumps that PA taught us 15 years ago. And now, after 100 m of running, I am in the lead of the Ironman. STOP THE COUNT. Surreal. To my left and to my right, two spikes with fast swimmers form, and later catch up with me. On other Ironman, I sometimes have trouble keeping up with the bubbles in the first group, especially after 100 m of over-speed, but I'm glad to have a bit of a margin this time. I see Jan van Berkel, Daniel, a few others, and then hang on to 10th place. The pace is just right for me to keep up while gliding. I often look ahead to make sure no gaps are forming. The red balloon of the leading kayak always stays at 15 m, no worries. The group does not really stretch, it seems that nobody tries to escape. At the second buoy I take a big hit in my goggles, which will give me a black eye, but I even have time to put them back to avoid losing my contact lenses. In the end, I am almost better off at the back of the group than fighting for the front rows... My watch rings after 2.5 km and we are already turning into the marina. I try to overtake 2-3 people but I quickly realize that it would cost me too much effort. I leave the water in the first pack (39 min), in front of a harbor full of spectators, it gives me adrenaline to get on the bike!
Working on the aero lately, happy with the results.
After a smooth transition, I'm at the mount line just in time to see Jan right behind Daniel. Not my best bike climb, and in the next turn it's Joe Skipper in my wheel. Phil was right, when a week before he asked me if I would come out between the two. But he probably didn't think they would be that close... Two short kilometers of flat, with a peak of 336 W and 49.2 km/h behind Joe, and I tell myself I'd better let the group go. Ruedi Wild is still chasing, but I soon find myself with Daniel only. The course is demanding, with very few real flats afterwards, but the slopes are rarely more than 6%. It stays rolling. Sometimes I pass in front, sometimes I follow Daniel at a legal distance, but that gives a mental boost and a slight draft benefit anyway. Nice pavement, easy descents, the kilometers go by. But the computer also indicates that we are rather optimistic. Ronnie Schildknecht and a group of 4 catch up with us just before the long climb, kilometer 42, but I refuse to do more than 300 W on 18 min. It seems to me that Daniel would have tried, but almost too late, and once the gap is made it's impossible. They disappear very quickly on the horizon. At the highest point, after 62 km, my powermeter shows 264 W average, which is much more than my expected average of 240 to 250 W. The descent allows me to recover well, and to arrive already at the end of the first lap. 2h25, 254 W. Still in good shape. Daniela Ryf doesn't seem to be far, but there's a huge gap in front. It's crazy how fast PRO athletes ride.
One of the rare flat section.
A French guy passes us, he makes the gap in the climb, but does not go down very fast. So I start a chase and bring Daniel back on him too. We can take advantage of his rhythm. On the fast descent, I unfortunately leave a few meters that I have to make up for. Daniel seems confident at 90 km/h (my 84.4 km/h were enough for me). At kilometer 124 Daniela catches up with us, barely faster than us. Especially on the climbs. The flats are easy to follow. A referee bike, a photographer, the video for Facebook live, and the race director car behind. Alone but well accompanied. We stay with her until the end. Sometimes a little less power on the downhill, sometimes I have to hang on when it goes up steeply. I concentrate on eating my gels well, and drinking my drinks charged with sugar. Not a lot of total fluid intake actually, but the cool morning (according to the Garmin, 10 C when I got on the bike, 23 C at the end) almost makes me need to pee more than drink. Looking forward to the marathon. Rarely did I get off the bike so fresh on an ironman. Last straight line, Daniela prepares some gels with 2 km to go. I take the opportunity to overtake (after waving to the motorbike that was blocking in the middle of the road...). 4h47, 249 W. The group effect was well worth it.
Climbing behind Daniel and Daniela.
After a moderately good transition, I start the marathon next to Daniel. Our ambitions are not exactly the same though, and I start on very high bases. Too high maybe. I tell myself I need to slow down a bit. And another part of me tells me that I never really tried the same thing on a full distance as I did in Rappi, which then led to my best race in a very long time. Let's try something in between. Why not aim for 2:50-55? There are a lot of people on the course again, which is nice. I'm doing well. I feel really good. Ronnie in my sight, and I catch him without any problem after 8 km. Passage through town, back to the stadium. A good third done in 57 minutes. Now I just have to hold on.
Flying on the first part.
And holding on will be hard. Indeed, from the halfway point, my thigh muscles harden, the steps become harder, the heat more prominent, the energy is missing. Maybe the training miles are missing too. Anyway, I quickly gave up the goal of getting closer to 2h50 and instead hoped to stay under 3h. I grit my teeth. My steps are getting smaller. I take a pee break (my first ever in a race!), and then walk one or two aid-stations to eat a few more gels than planned. I pass Jamie who seems to be almost on top of me (one lap behind)! I have to hang on. And that's why the Thun course is tough: small curves, tight roads, gravel, wooden bridges not 100% stable. But it is also exhilarating: more noise than in Zurich, the landscape changes quickly, quite a lot of shade, very frequent refreshment stands. You can go from one place to another. Without thinking that I still have 10 km to suffer. Nicole seems to smile, why not me? Daniel seems to run, a little in pain too, but he will get to this line. The faster the better. PA encourages me to go for the 8h30. I'm not really thinking about a time, especially since the swim was so short. But I am still well within my estimates, even if we add 13 min for the lack of distance. Come on JC, "bring ihn hei". I seem to have forgotten how much you have to want it, this finish line. And then it's coming. 8:33, at the end of my reserves. 3h03 of marathon, limiting the damage. Super happy!
Hanging on to the finish line.
The others arrive one after the other, Daniel a little bit bothered by his Achilles heel but who finishes under 9 hours anyway, Jamie who goes for the amateur victory and the Kona slot, Nicole and Thibaud finishers with a smile! When is the next one?