*** many thanks to Peter Faulhaber for this race report ***
We landed in Zurich on Thursday July 25th and were immediately greeted by two days of sweltering temperatures and the European version of “air conditioning”. I took cold showers through race day to try to cool my body off so I could sleep. During the day we played tourist taking a boat ride around the lake, eating bratwurst, and paying hundreds of dollars for dinner (note: the $$ on TripAdvisor apparently means under $200 for a dinner for 2 people). But the setting was beautiful and the Ironman flags were flying at stations all around the lake, positioned neatly next to the Swiss flag.
The forecast was for Sunday was 37C and humid and the race announcers gave us this uplifting news in a sweltering, plastic tent on Friday before the race. It was so hot in the tent that all participants were either shirtless or soaked in sweat while being told to ‘start hydrating now.’
The race started in anti-climatic fashion since the no wetsuit decision had been announced Friday night giving everyone time to buy speedsuits on Saturday at the expo (vendors made a killing). I started the swim halfway down the beach from the aggressive swimmers but only four rows from the water. I was in the no-man’s-land between the fast swimmers crammed into four rows in front and the four rows of swimmers behind me who looked content to let everyone in front of them go ahead. I highly recommend starting in no-man’s-land if you’re a swimmer like me because until the first buoy I didn’t suffer any blows to the head, ankle pulls, or other niceties. I settled into a rhythm and made it around the first lap in 37mins, a few minutes slower than I wanted but expected given the no wetsuit swim. Something must have happened on the second lap because everyone’s second lap showed a significantly slower time and the lap was only 200m longer. I swam 45minutes on the second lap and I got out of the water at 1h22 to the tune of 4.14km. The route I swam was surprisingly straight according to GarminConnect for the first time ever. For comparison sake, my buddy Kyle swam 1h08m in Zurich after posting a 55min split at Challenge Henley last year.
I almost fell over running up the exit ramp and this old Swiss lady gave me a funny look, or maybe I had a booger on my face who knows. Regardless, I didn’t dawdle in transition and was soon arguing with my Garmin bike computer to turn on as I rode the first kms of the bike along Lake Zurich. I pushed the pace in the flat, first 30km because I knew it was uphill from 30-60kms before a few steep descents and some flatland. The first lap was great and I held my own on “the beast” hill without expending too much extra energy. I even ignored the bee sting on my thigh during one of the descents (although that flared up after the race). I arrived at Heartbreak Hill to the pumping throng of fans cheering me including my parents and my wife. In the pictures I was smiling at this time! Unfortunately, this is when I should have been eating and the second bike loop was a disaster after my 2h51m first lap.
After 120kms of cycling I found myself in a very dark place. I was cycling up a 4% hill at 9kph and even dreading the coming downhills for fears of crashing. I had eaten well during the first two hours of the bike but I had somehow forgotten to eat in the third hour. I was running out of energy on the second lap of the bike, it was hot and windy and I was spent. Thoughts of a DNF were there and I wondered what my parents would think after flying from the US to Zurich to see me only ride half the bike. I finally forced down a Honey Stinger Waffle and at least three gels and started to feel the slightest bit better but the damage was done. I realized that there was no one who was going to fix the problem but me. I decided on the bike that quitting wouldn’t solve anything and it wasn’t like Coach or you guys were going to physically carry me over the line, I was going to have to do it myself. And that’s probably the main thing I will always take away from this race: forget about the times of your friends, the expectations others have of you, hell the expectations you have of yourself because on race day it’s just you and the course and you’re all alone to fight it out. I managed something like a 3h18 second lap split, a disappointing time but I was ready to run.
I forced a nature break before starting the run since I hadn’t peed all day and the run was looking pretty dehydrating with the heat and the sun. Once I started running though I felt great. My legs didn’t ache and weren’t tired (how can you be tired going 9kph?) so I was hopeful I could run well and finish this thing. I was on a mission. I was angry at myself for letting something as silly as nutrition, which I never have a problem with, affect my race.
You could see the impact the weather was having because the run was complete carnage. I would guess that when I started the run at 7h40, half the people on the run course were walking and the ones actually running, not shuffling, appeared to be halfway finished. My first run lap was hot and I was glad I brought my desert-style hat with the neck covered. In later laps it made for easy identification for my parents so even though the sun disappeared I kept it on. My first priority on the run was to get calories and salt down. I made it out of the woods on the bike but a run blow-up is so much worse than a bike blow-up because you can’t coast on the run! So I downed four gels in the first two hours of the run in addition to water and table salt (yes, salt packets). Eventually though I got sick of the table salt so I started ‘bartending’ at each aid station mixing my table salt and water adult beverage (the swiss didn’t get the bartending joke I tried at each station). The mixture was rancid but it did the trick.
After two hours running and two laps down I switched to coke and water and man was that coke good. They should call triathlon coke “crack” it’s so good. No more gels for me just coke, water, and the casual table salt packet mixture. The reason I had so many calories, coke, and salt on the run was that after the first lap I couldn’t really turn my head while running without getting slightly disoriented or dizzy, so I stopped looking around ;-) The weather cooperated on the run and the last three laps were cool and windy and indicative of a fast approaching storm. If anything, during the latter part of the run we were running into the wind coming off the lake with ominous clouds approaching. The fan support on the run was great and I heard innumerable “USA”, “America!”, or “Go Pete” chants (and not all of these were from the usual cadre of jealous Brit-folks).
Everyone wants to hear about the race with Jimmy so I will indulge you for a minute! I first saw Jimmy on lap one of the run I think. Prior to seeing him I imagined that despite being a slower swimmer he had passed me somewhere on the bike and was well on his way to a sub-11hr finish, so I was a bit surprised to see him just behind me on the run. I gathered he had enjoyed his bike as much as I had mine. I saw Jimmy at every subsequent u-turn on the course and there were two per lap. I shouted his name when I saw him at the turnaround on lap I think and from then on we shouted the ole “looking strong” or some other lie to keep us going. We appeared to be going the same pace and he didn’t appear to get much closer to me until the fourth lap when he passed me just before the final u-turn with about 2-3km to go. At the time I felt I didn’t have a lot left in me and frankly I was kind of relieved to have that pressure of someone chasing me off my back. It’s an uncomfortable feeling having someone chase you and you never know quite how close they are or how much they have left in the tank. That being said, I will admit that I never thought I was “racing” anyone. This race was about me and getting the job done first and foremost. If I had to do it again I might not let him pass me so easily ;-)
The last two kms after Jimmy passed me were a blur. I sped up 2kms out and then the last km I really floored it, gunning it past my parents and yelling to any other competitor with four wristbands (last lappers): “let’s get this sh*t done!” I said it a bit louder to the guys stopping at the 500m-left aid station. (Seriously, who stops?) This was one of my finer American moments and I’m proud of it. I finished in 11h45 and was absolutely elated.
I’m not sure what happened to the Ironman.com timing but by my watch the four run laps were: 1h, 1h, 1h02, 1h03 for a 4:05 marathon and since I didn’t walk except 5-10 seconds at each aid station there certainly weren’t any 10-13min/ kms like the ironman.com timing showed (nor any bathroom stops). I ran 5:30-40s pretty consistently and if you add in the aid stations plus the slowdown on the last laps my overall pacing was 5:51km which I was pleased with. Could I have gone faster? Maybe, but not on the glut of nutrition in my body.
Doing an Ironman is something you see on tv in the US growing up watching NBC’s Wild World of Sports and before coming to Dubai was something that seemed slightly crazy and darn near impossible. After three years with T2A, I am proud to say that it is not impossible at all. I really enjoyed the race and I credit Jason for making me do enough training to enable that. Sadly, I am moving to Hong Kong at the end of this month so my time with T2A has come to an end. I’d like to expressly thank the entire T2A crew, the greater triathlon community in Dubai which has grown by leaps and bounds, and the usual suspects of the Friday rides and the Tuesday swims for motivating me day after day to get out there.
Lastly, and on a personal note, I want to dedicate this race to my mother who had to cancel her trip to watch me in Zurich because she was diagnosed with cancer in January and summarily underwent chemo for five months. She was so excited to come that she had the sign below made before being diagnosed (with my wife Denise and my stepmother Debbie on Heartbreak Hill. Denise had support shirts made too!). I’m happy to say that my mom finished chemo, is still playing golf, and is already planning a trip to HK next year.