I know there are a few triathletes and aspiring triathletes on here, so I thought some of you might appreciate my account from the weekend
Warning - very long, lots of pictures
TL;DR - it was tough, but I finished
I had set myself a goal time of 10 hours for the Ironman a few months back. This was considering a perfect race - 1:20 for a 3.8km wetsuit swim, 5 hours for the 180km cycle (average 36kph) and 3:30 for the marathon. This would leave my 10 minutes for transition and a bit of time slip. It was an ambitious target, but my theory is that easy targets aren't worth setting!
Things started to go wrong at the end of May when I broke my arm. This was supposed to be the time when my training was peaking, maximum hours of swimming, cycling and running, at high intensities. This would be before tapering for a couple of weeks to be well rested for the race at the end of July.
The second cast with vent holes drilled
Not being able to swim or cycle I increased my running considerably, but was concious about the risk of injury from this. I was aware that I had lost a lot of swimming fitness while being out of action, even though I did cut my cast off a week early, so was far from confident about the swim. Despite getting in the pool regularly I was still struggling, not helped by the fact that the Gachibowli Stadium pool was shut for over a week for a junior championship. I managed to secure a guest membership at the Jubilee Hills Club shortly before leaving for Switzerland, the only other 50m pool in Hyderabad, so I could swim twice a day. A few days before departing things suddenly seemed to come together, and I was able to swim 1km without any stops, so my panic about not completing the first leg of the triathlon was somewhat abated!
race suit specially for the event with company sponsor
I was fairly confident with my running, the 3 varied runs every week had been going pretty well. I did however feel that my cycling may be a weakness as I hadn't got as many hard rides in as I would have liked. During the few days I had in London before the event I had another swimming lesson from the same guy who had dramatically improved my technique prior to my first 70.3 race (half Ironman) last year. He made various suggestions and pointed out a few areas for improvement which I'm sure made a difference.
I arrived in Zurich a few days before the event so had the opportunity to swim in the lake and ride the bike course. The water was beautifully clear and a lovely temperature, however this meant that it was too warm for a wetsuit, so the first leg of the race was going to be a fair amount slower.
Swimming in the lake in the week before the race
The bike course had some long climbs, although nothing too steep, but after all the climbing the descents were over in a flash, hitting speeds of around 80kph, which was interesting with a bit of rain.
on a pre-ride of the course
Pre-race prep went without any hiccups, I was using one bottle on my bike purely for gels (14 of them in total which I would take a swig from every 20 minutes) and a bottle between my aero bars for fluids. This I would top up from water-stations along the route to minimise additional weight of fluids to carry. Bikes were checked in on Saturday evening along with transition bags (swim to bike with helmet and number belt, bike to run with shoes, glasses and cap) then it was just a case of eating and getting an early night.
bike all checked in
Sunday morning, the alarm went off at 4am and I tried to eat some breakfast. The train down to the start almost ended in disaster when changing at the main station, accidentally getting on one going back to where we had come from! A taxi was the simple solution and we were in transition doing last minute preparations with time to spare. Some last minute additions to transition bags and filling water bottles on bikes and it was off to the swim start.
transition on race morning
With 2400 athletes about to embark on a swim, it's going to be pretty crowded, and the start of a triathlon (especially an Ironman where everyone starts at the same time) is frequently described as 'the washing machine' where everyone is fighting for their own bit of water. If you are a slow swimmer towards the front of the pack, being swum over, punched and kicked by lots of faster swimmers, you're not going to have a particularly fun start to the day! As such I placed myself right at the back and at one edge - getting into the water 20 seconds after the starting horn was small price to pay for having pretty much clear water for the whole time.
nearly ready to go
Being a pretty weak swimmer compared to most, it was the first leg of the race which I was most nervous about. The longest I had ever swum previously was 3km, and that was with a wetsuit, so to even complete the swim was going to be an achievement in it's own right! However, once I got going and settled into a comfortable rhythm, I actually started to enjoy the swim. The water was a lovely temperature, the visibility was great, I managed to avoid getting kicked and grabbed too frequently, and 1 hour 36 minutes later I was running into transition pretty satisfied. Although I was already 16 minutes behind schedule, this was to be expected as there were no wetsuits, so I don't think I could have hoped to be significantly quicker.
I didn't have much to worry about in T1 (swim to bike transition) just put my number belt and helmet on, plus my arm coolers, but as I couldn't get the left one on over my Garmin watch, I decided I wouldn't bother with them. No problem finding my bike, grabbed it, ran out of transition, and after crossing the mount line, jumped on. I keep my shoes attached to my pedals and use rubber bands to keep them horizontal while running, which snap as soon as you start pedalling. No issues with them, feet in without problems and I was quickly up to speed overtaking lots of people heading north up the west side of the lake. I was aiming to maintain an average power output of 175 watts during the ride, and not deviate too far above or below this to work as efficiently as possible to keep as much in reserve for the run.
start of the bike leg
I was a bit above this for the first 30km of flat road, about 200 watts and close to 40kph, but was feeling good but there was plenty more to come. Unfortunately just after the first aid station at the start of the first incline my chain came off. In the process it must have knocked off the little magnet which my power meter uses to detect cadence (pedalling speed) and without that it cannot calculate power (power = torque x cadence). While being slightly annoying, it wasn't going to detract from the job in hand, but I had lost my primary pacing tool. From this point on I was riding by feel and heart rate, making sure I didn't push too hard. I was glad that I had fitted a decent size cassette to my bike so that my bottom gear was quite low as it meant I could ride up the relatively steep hills at a nice steady pace without exerting myself too much. Not everyone was in the same boat, as several were toiling up out of the saddle expending a lot more energy for a similar speed. The nature of the hills on the course means that you spend quite a long time gaining height, but you lose it all very quickly with steep descents. I was hitting 80kph on the final run down to the lake which with some cross-winds on deep carbon wheels can lead to some rather exciting wobbles! I stopped for a pee at about 100km, which although lost me a bit of time, did indicate that I was staying well hydrated. The temperature was reaching 39 degrees C which for some was clearly on the warm side, but was fairly normal for a training ride for me, so not an issue. The organisers had recommended avoiding aero helmets for the specific reason they have less ventilation (mine has virtually none, plus an integrated visor) and wanted riders to be able to keep cool. My training buddy had bought a new helmet the day before having found his aero helmet too hot during the course ride a few days before. Every 20 minutes I was taking a squirt of nutrition from my bottle which contained 14 caffeinated gels. I wasn't entirely sure I was taking a full 30ml each time, but checking my bottle at the end it was nearly empty, so I had taken in the majority of my planned calories.
race face on
At about 120km I was starting to feel rather fatigued, and I was noticing my average speed drop. I was no longer constantly passing other riders, but it was nice to have a quick chat to others on the hills where there was no drafting to be concerned about. One nice feature of these races is having your name and nationality on your number belt. That way you can identify other competitors and give them encouragement, overall camaraderie was good between the riders. I did upset one German at one point though, he overtook me just before the top of a climb, but then braked a lot during the subsequent short fast descent. He wasn't particularly impressed by me using him as a chicane as I swept between him and another slow rider trying to carry as much momentum as possible onto the next climb. We did have a bit of banter later as we passed each other several times, so I think he eventually forgave me! Support on the short steep climb near transition called Heartbreak Hill was fantastic. You could almost feel like a Tour de France rider ascending Alp d'Huez with the volume and density of the crowd!
climbing through the crowds
When you're suffering at the end of a hard ride, every little helps! My parents had arranged a holiday around supporting me in the race so it was nice to see them as I sped by. Back to transition and it was nearly a text-book dismount apart from losing my left shoe as I jumped off my bike. I wasn't worried as I've done this before and always managed to retrieve it after the race. I manage to run down the aisle to rack my bike, so didn't exactly hang it up where I was supposed to, hopefully I didn't inconvenience anyone else too much by stealing their spot! I had missed my 5 hour goal by a considerably 35 minutes, so my overall target of 10 hours was totally gone. Even if I improved on my personal best marathon time of 2:59 I would still be a few minutes over, and that certainly wasn't going to happen! However, you have to be prepared to adjust your expectations during races and realise when trying to push to hit certain targets is going to be counter-productive. The goal had now reverted to simply finishing!
Again, there wasn't much in my T2 (bike to run transition) bag, just shoes, socks, cap and glasses which went on without a hitch. I had put a couple of strips of insulation tape on my bags making them more easily identifiable while hanging up which meant I didn't have to spend any time searching for them. The run was a 4 lap affair, supposedly entirely flat, but I did discover that wasn't entirely the case. When you're tired and trying to run as fast as possible, every incline counts! Getting the legs going properly on the first lap was a challenge, and I did walk a few times for a short section which I've never done in any previous races.
1 lap down
Each lap you picked up a coloured arm-band to indicate which lap you were on. Towards the start of the run it was rather demoralising to see how many people were one or more laps ahead, however that was reversed a few laps later seeing that I was the one ahead! Seeing my parents each lap was appreciated, and I also accepted the only solid food of the whole race in the form of half a banana from my mum at about half-distance. In retrospect I probably should have taken on board more calories during the run, I think I only consumed 4 gels while it should have been double that. With the run being mainly 2-way running traffic there was ample opportunity to see most of the other runners and I spotted a few friends along the way to give and receive encouragement to and from. At one point in the run the route passed through a part with various fountains and ponds. I spotted one guy lying happily in one of these taking a rest and cooling down, and I quickly jumped in and ran through too. This did cool me down nicely, but also soaked my trainers which I had neglected to consider.
2 laps down
The aid stations were excellent, stocked well with cold wet sponges, ice, water, isotonic drink, coke, energy gels, fruit, biscuits etc.I was putting a handful of ice down my back everywhere it was available which I had discovered in previous races is a fantastic cooling effect, sitting right next to your kidneys. However, when you chuck too much down your back, gravity takes over and it cools other less effective areas! At one point I grabbed what I thought was an isotonic drink but it actually turned out to be hot soup. Quite why anyone would want to consume hot soup while running a marathon in high 30 degree temperatures, I've no idea. After one unpleasant sip that was quickly discarded in favour of something cold and sweet! I had hit some pretty low points mentally during the run, and it was a challenge to keep going at times, but once I was on the last lap, the end was in sight and I was sure I would finish.
3 laps down
It wasn't going to be a particularly impressive time, but I was going to get there. With about 3km to go I decided that I had a fair amount left in my legs, and could make an all-out effort to the finish. My pace up until that point had been 5:30/km, but had dropped to 5:24/km by the finish. I kept on seeing runners with 4 coloured armbands indicating that they were also about to finish, and once one was in my sight I would catch and pass them, and then look for the next. After maintaining an average heart rate of 153 for the run, it climbed to 184 for the finish indicating that I had indeed pushed myself pretty hard!
I did pay the price for that effort though as the legs pretty quickly decided that they had had enough punishment and wanted a rest. I'm sure that had I kept a steady pace until the end I would have been in much better shape, and probably only a minute slower overall, but that's not my style!
poorly timed Garmin watch stopping
After receiving my finisher medal and having a bit of a sit-down I was chatting to a guy who had crossed the line just a few minutes ahead of me. He was sure that the world championships in Kona had been an easier race and we had just completed a pretty tough event.
looking a bit happier
I found my parents in the crowd who had been cheering me over the line and started on my recovery drinks, specifically designed for rehydrating and replacing the nutrients the body needs after a hard effort.
a bit tired
However these didn't quite work as intended as within a few minutes of drinking, they would be deposited back on the ground. After attempting to drink 1 1/2 litres and not keeping any of it down, and gradually feeling progressively worse, I decided that another source of rehydration was required. Fortunately the medical facilities were excellent, and a very short while later I was hooked up to a saline drip and feeling much better!
the lazy way to rehydrate
It was certainly the hardest event I've ever participated in by a considerable margin. Half Ironman races and full marathons are short and fun by comparison! Having said that I had no intention of doing another any time soon, I seem to already be looking at future events to improve my time!