Since this was the last year of the full distance Ironman in Zurich, I will shy away from details about the specifics of the course. Rather, the objective of this report is to share my first IM experience, hoping to provide first timers with some confidence and self-assurance about their first long distance triathlon, as well as guiding more experienced triathletes about the power of their minds.
One might argue that 17 months of training for a complete triathlon rooky might not be enough to prepare the body for this race. I still remember my coach's words after I told him about my IM ambition over a year ago. 'What is it with all these athletes these days, wanting to do a full distance no matter what’? He suggested my body would need at least another year of solid training before my body, in particular my bones and joints, would be conditioned for this type of event. I think I managed to proof him wrong. After my first season, having completed 4 Olympic distances as well as two training camps, I finished my first 70.3 in Dubai earlier in February. Another training camp, this time in Lanzarote, got me ready for the hills. I felt that after consistent training my body was ready. I told myself I should stop worrying about my body; I had put in the effort.
What was left to do was to train the conditioning of my mind. I have to say the sport of triathlon has massively helped me through my emotional ups and downs over the past years. Swimming is like meditating, no phones, no one to speak to, listen to or talk to. Just me and the water. Mostly open water, which has given me the feeling of freedom. It was that what I thought about most on race morning. Lake Zurich is beautiful, and having done a practice swim two days before the swim I felt super excited to go into the beautiful water, with water so clean I felt I could drink it. It was also the mind also got me through the run. I knew that beforehand though. I had been told that it is going to hurt anyway. The bike was so beautiful and scenic, plus I felt strong, but was hesitant to go all out as I knew what was coming after; the run. The start of the run was ok; I was not as fast as I was hoping to be so kept on looking at my watch to see if I managed to pump up the pace. My legs, who had been great up until this time, started to hurt already, and I only just started the run...I tried to keep my pace for a little bit and then just decided to go at whatever my pace would be, walking through the aid stations. Then my friend caught up on me around the 8km point in the run, after falling off his bike at the 110k bike point and having severely injured himself. If he could be so mentally strong, fighting through the pain and determined to complete the race, I could do it, and at that point, my race became a race of mind over matter. I really wanted to do this, no matter what. I tried to keep my cadence up as much as I could and started to break up the marathon into more digestible 10k runs, one for each loop. Every time my mind was telling me any negative thoughts, I tried to throw those in the bin by 'being in the moment', trying to identify things I enjoyed along the course such as the crowds, music, the next corner, the sunshine, the beautiful lake, etc. This in particularly helped me a lot. I would tell myself to stop complaining and enjoy the actual race and the fact that I was capable of doing this. The feeling of completion and the weeks following the race, not having the pressure to train are amazing. Nevertheless, I am now actively looking out for my next race, loving my new lifestyle and passion for the sport.
Key learnings and advise for first timers:
trust your training
take time walking around race village and transition the days before the race. Do a practice swim. Visualize what race day will look like
arrive on time at race morning but go somewhere quiet outside the crowd to get ready. Get to the swim on time and try to skip the 'herds'
mark your plastic transition bags with a piece of tape or fabric, to stand out
keeping time in transition to change into cycling pants is totally fine, 6hrs cycling with cycling pants is so much more comfortable!
learn how to pee on the course
put all gels in one bottle and make sure you have enough solids, Dutch waffles are my favorite
don't forget to continue to take gels on the run course, also in the first two stations
smile and be in the moment :-)