Race Report: Ironman Switerzland

Heart Break Hill

After less than 2 hours sleep, I clamber out of bed at 4.30am, nervously gather all my swim bits together, and unsuccessfully try to force down some porridge and banana, washed down with a bit of coffee. Is it possible to do an ironman on only a couple of hours sleep?  I honestly thought at points in the night, I'll be doing an ironman on zero sleep.

Dad kindly drove me Charlie, Alex and Stephen as close to the  start line as we could drive. Nerves were high and I was shattered already, although I felt better after Alex tells me she’s previously completed an ironman after zero sleep.

We head over to the transition area to check on our bikes, our tyres, popped Mum’s jam and peanut butter sandwiches in the fuel storage bag, had a wee, squeezed myself into the wetsuit on then headed down to the start line. I haven’t been this nervous in a very long time. The sunrise was absolutely incredible, the sun slowly rising over the lake and surrounding mountains, it took my mind off the nerves a bit and I knew it was going to be an amazing day.

Many of the triathlete’s were warming up in the lake, I chose to just flush out the wetsuit a bit to get the body used to temperature and positioned myself into the start pen.

I placed myself into the first pen ‘under 60 minutes’ and hustled my way further to the front, through lots of strong looking male athletes. Trying not to let it intimidate me and have faith in my training and previous competitive swimming days. Chloe came and gave me a big hug over the fence just before we were set off, I can’t tell you how much I needed to see a friendly face and hug to help ease my nerves!!

It was a seeding start so athlete’s were set off 8 at a time. When it was my turn I ran and launched myself in the water in no way of an elegant or professional dive. The water was quite churned up from all the swimmers but a few metres in and the water became sparkly and transparent. It was incredible to swim in such a beautiful lake, seeing a few fish as I swam along. The route was one very long lap, a large rectangular shape. I’ve never swam in a race with so many people, almost 2,000 competitors. I was constantly surrounded by other swimmers but tried to position myself at the side of the pack to avoid bumping into people.

After 10/15 minutes I finally settled into a rhythm once my muscles are all warmed up and feeling a lot more comfortable. The views of the mountains over the lake were insane, so I made sure to make the most of it, taking in ALL of the scenery with each breath. I finished the swim in 1 hour 5 minutes which is quite respectable. I knew it could have made under an 1 hour but I held back knowing it was a long journey ahead.

T1

I ran out of the water, immediately took off the ironman swim hat to reveal my Threo swim hat so my family could spot me easily. I grabbed my bike bag, ran into the tents, poured all my stuff out, took my wetsuit off and dried myself. I sprayed a pathetic amount of suncream on (I have no idea why so little) Everyone seemed in such a rush. I was surrounded by lean, very athletic muscley male athletes which was again a bit intimidating. They were rushing their transitions so quickly, which swept me away with them. After popping on my clip in shoes, race belt, helmet, sunglasses and gloves I ran to unrack my bike and headed to the cycle start. I saw Matt and the family as I was running out of transition with my bike. It was so good to see them!

Cycle

Right - now to start the cycle! The cycle route took us clockwise all the way along the lake to the south east party where we took a slow climb up to Gruningen. Cycling through villages, past Swiss farms. I can’t describe how beautiful and stunning the route was. I enjoyed it so much and the time went really quickly.

0-70km in

I settled into the bike quite nicely. It was a good 30km flat route around the lake. I settled into my aero bars and was average around 33kmph. It felt strong without pushing too hard. I kept asking myself, can I sustain this pace for another 7 hours? We turned off about 30km in into the mountains so slight incline but absolutely loved it.

I’m blown away by the amount of amazing staff and volunteers on the day. There were so many feed stations offering water, isotonic drinks, coke, gels, energy bars, fruit. It was fantastic. I tried to time my fuelling every half an hour for a piece of Mum’s peanut butter and jam sandwiches. So back to climbing, with some fantastic views, I was overwhelmed so many times on the ride by the incredible scenery over the lake, mountains, beautiful quaint country villages. We past 4 young farm boys collecting athletes empty bottles and giving us high fives.

The Beast and the Egg climbs were the main hill to look out for. The beast I was least looking forward to, but delivered the most INSANE views along the way. Incredible. It was a slow climb so more chance to meet and chat to other cyclists who had also slowed. The Egg, well this was surprisingly hard. It was a very slow gradual climb along a railway. It was more mentally tough that anything, or perhaps the fact it was straight after the Beast hill. As i neared the end of the Egg I heard a shout from Dad, which gave me the boost I needed. Dad, Matt and my sister drove through the mountains to different stops. At the top the marshals directed me left, where Matt and my sister were, I was so so happy to see them. Another tear to my eye. Fortunately there was also a feed station. Food, more water, and family. It was a great moment. In all the excitement I grabbed a couple of water bottles, one of which I poured all over me to cool down a bit. Although it started to dawn on me that what I thought was water was actually coke!!  So I proceeded to pouring my actual water bottle over me.

70km - 130km

After the Egg it was a quick descent back down to Lake Zurich and a straight flat back past the start line then up to HEARTBREAK HILL. Now… this was my favourite moment of the whole ironman. The notorious Heart Break Hill where all the spectators can get a bus too. As I hit the bottom of the hill my big bro appeared, I was so happy to see him. Then mum appeared with a cow bell ringing to hard! Straight after this I hit what felt like every single spectator! Two lines of people cheering so loudly, creating a small line that I could cycle through to the top. I literally felt like I was in Tour De France. My arm hairs were standing upright. Knowing I’d hit the half way point in the cycle, and my legs were feeling ok. I was so so happy. Nearing the top of the hill I then see Milou and Matt Chart. I felt on top of the world. I can’t describe it, pure, utter, excitement, realisation I was doing an IRONMAN. Something I’ve dreamt of for so many years. The sun was out, we were in one of the most beautiful scenic places, all my family were here. Just pure pure happiness. At the top I felt utterly overwhelmed and shed a few tears of happiness. Haha.

It was then a quick descent back to the lake then a 40km around the lake, starting my second lap. At 90km my back was now playing up, I managed to find a suitable stretch that helped my left erector spinae muscle which seemed to be spasming now. This calmed down after around 130km thankfully. I thought I was in for a painful 2nd lap!

130km - 180km

Turning off the lake back up to the first ascent, Feldbach Hornbrechtikon. I saw Hannah matt and Dad up this hill. Now… as I was pulling off my wetsuit after the swim, my Garmin skipped from T1 to Bike. So I had to save the swim and restart the bike. I had no idea of my overall time for the whole event. I had to start a new activity for just the bike. As a strong swimmer, but not so strong cyclist, what felt like ALL the competitors overtook me on the bike. I had no idea about those behind me. So when I saw my sister I kept asking her how I was doing. She ran next to me up the hill and gave me an update on how I was getting on timewise. It was so so nice to speak to her for a while up the hill. It gets a little lonely out on the course. It was good to hear I wasn’t going as slowly as I had anticipated!

Having already completed one lap of the bike course I knew what to expect and how to pace myself up the hills. My back was easing, i was still trying to pace myself ensuring I had as fresh legs as possible for the run.

As I hit Heart Break Hill for the 2nd time the crowds had eased but this time I saw Stephen, Anna and Chloe. So great to see these guys, having support along the way really gives the boost you need. Knowing that after Heart Break Hill it was a 10km back to T2!

T2

It felt good to finish the bike. Instead of running to rack my bike up I took the opportunity to walk and ease my body/legs into transition. I racked the bike up, headed to my run bag. Now I didn’t mention before. I met a very nice man called Andrew from the UK Wakefield Triathlon club. I told him how I hadn’t put suncream on and knew I was burning. He told me to dip into his run bag at T2 to grab his suncream. When I returned to my run bag, Andrew had remembered my race number and put his suncream in it. The flood gates opened again, probably through tiredness but also knowing, you have so much to think for yourself  the ironman, for Andrew to be selfless and think about me and my sunburn, just really made me emotional and so happy.

So by this time my back is sunburnt so I popped my Threo t-shirt on to protect my back from the sun.

RUN

So the run took us through 4 laps. I broke it down to management chunks in my head, 4 x 10km’s. That’s doable right? I began to run. Although I tried to finish the bike with as fresh legs as possible, my legs were still relatively tired legs. I got the biggest shock when reaching the first distance maker, it felt like I had been running for at least 6km, the marker said 3km. 3KM!!???? My heart sank, and realisation hit me that it was going to be a LONG run.

The run broke many times, it was hot, my legs were aching, and I was very very tired. However four laps meant four chances to see each of the support crew. I saw Charlie’s parents a few times, Chloe Anna & Stephen, my family, Nicola Waters. It was great to get their support during the part where I needed it the most.

My back was holding out and didn’t hurt, but I could only manage small shuffle/run steps. My aim was to run for the whole course but walk through each feed station. Thankfully this really helped my pacing throughout the whole marathon, although my last lap was so tough.

The last 10k was excruciatingly painful, I had no idea of my overall time, but kept plodding. 

Hitting the red carpet towards the finish line, I can’t explain the feeling. I had absolutely nothing left in me. I always try to sprint and go for it at the end, so I tried the best I could. Hearing my family shouting and cheering, then hearing the words ironman. I couldn’t believe it. I AM AN IRONMAN! In 13 hours 2 minutes!

THANKS

I wouldn't have been able to get to the Ironman without an amazing support crew in the past 6 months. Thank you to Dan at Swim For Tri for your amazing swim sets, Ricky Davis Chiropractor at Summit Wellbeing for getting me to the start line with no injuries, Wei at Foundation fit for fitting my bike, Threo and Dirty Wknd for all your Thursday morning laps and Swains Lane hill repeats, Charlie, Chloe and Millie for being amazing training partners on the bike and running, all my family and friends for checking in, your patience when I had to sacrifice many social events, my amazing team at Undertone for listening to me when I've been moaning/celebrating training. Matt my husband for being there on all the high's and low's, being there for most of my training sessions on the bike, getting up at 5.30am with me even when you didn't need to train. My family for being there every step of the way. Stacey for giving me 121 Yoga restorative yoga sessions. Thank you for all the good luck messages and cards, and finally, thank you to everyone who sponsored me, I raised over £1,115 for the MIND charity. Thank you thank you thank you!

I will post on more advice and my high's and low's of the ironman another time.

Alice x

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