A race report from Switzerland

Unfortunately not all races go as hoped but we can still learn from them

This was my season-opening race and the first as part of the IRONMAN
Alps Tour 2017. The goal set at the end of last season was to finish the
race to be eligible for the Alps Tour Medal and to finish in the first
half of my age group (AG 35-39). In 2016, this required a time of 5h23m.
Before the race, I had done a few computer simulations on how to best
split the race to finish in around 5h23m and it looked like the best
splits would be:
Swim: 39m (2m03s / 100m)
T1: 4m
Bike: 2h45m (32.7 km/h)
T2: 2m
Run: 1h53m (5m21s / km)

The story that’s about to be told, however, is a very different one.
Three weeks before the race I happened to be travelling to Portugal on
holidays and returned one week before the race. I did a few runs in very
hot weather but for those two weeks away that was what I called
training. I was slightly concerned as to how that was going to impact my
pre-season training but I was hoping that I could slightly avert a
disaster on the week of my return. As I returned, I had a good hard run
training session which went well but two very poor unfinished turbo
sessions that left me concerned and frustrated. Sessions which, before
the holiday felt especially easy.

I departed nonetheless for the run on Friday, June 9 towards
Rapperswil-Jona temporary IRONMAN campsite. The 4h30m car journey with
my wife and children took a lot longer due to our several stops and
missed exits. As a result, we missed my children’s IRONKIDS registration
and my own registration. Managed to arrive, set up the tent, cook some
dinner and spent the rest of the evening trying to get the children in
their sleeping bags. The temperature difference between Germany and
Switzerland was high and was not easy to sleep in a baking hot tent. It
was not easy for us or two excited children. As we woke up to Saturday
many things were on the todo list. So many that I knew from the start
something was going to give. I went to my race registration, my
children’s race registration, their own race, my race briefing, my race
check-in, bike course reckon and somehow managed to eat and drink
something. The day was hot and during the Welcome Dinner I could really
barely move and could hardly understand how I was going to race the
following day since I was not physically or mentally in the mood for
racing. If I was tired, the children were doubly tired which made for an
even more /interesting/ evening. The race was to start later than usual
at 8.47am (AG 35-39) with the Bike Transition closing at 7.30am. So I
put my alarm at 5.30am, fell in the sleeping bag at around 10 pm and
woke up after a better night in the tent. Early in the morning, the
temperature was already in the comfortable twenties and I had some
renewed confidence that all would work just fine. The morning went
smoothly and I found finally some minutes to breath and focus on the
race while setting up the nutrition on the bike. I went to see the Pros
start and the waves of swimmers as my time approached. I was still not
in the mood or energised but I was hoping the swim would change that and
I would come out of the water with renewed energy.

My wave departed between 8.47am and 8.50am and as I jumped into the
water I got quickly into a good pace on the swim overtaking a few
others. The water during the swim was quite choppy towards the middle of
the lake with wave after wave splashing on my face as I struggled to
breathe. Nonetheless, I was quite confident and had no problem finishing
the swim at a comfortable pace. As I exit the water my clock is marking
a few seconds shy of 39m, which was spot on my goal time. I knew that
and with confidence picked up my bike from transition. Right at the
beginning, there was my family screaming for me full of support posters.
The bike ride was a two loop course where the first dozen of kilometres
were undulating, but certainly not hilly. However, the fun began after
km 12. The first hill, known as Witches Hill steep hill lasting a couple
kilometres with the grade constantly hitting 14%. After a very short
downhill I came to the second hill, known as The Beast, lasting about
5km taking you to yet another level of fatigue. After these hills, the
ride was mostly downhill with an ascent of 550m per loop, i.e. 1100m total.

My biggest concern was Witches Hill. It was a steep business and I knew
I was going to have to power myself through it and blast through the
250w max I had established with my coach. My first ascent of Witches was
the highlight of the race since I had Daniela Ryf trying to overtake me
on the steepest part of the hill. However, I was at that point pushing
close to 300w and she was probably putting just slightly over that which
meant her passing took quite a few minutes and I managed to enjoy a
painfully steep hill riding next to Daniela Ryf. However, she was
quickly gone and I was back into my own world of pain once again. Once
finished Witches felt easier than expected and I welcomed The Beast with
open arms. I reached Witches with an average speed of 32km/h and by the
time I finished The Beast, I was at 27km/h and knew I had to make up the
time on the downhill and powered myself down as if I was still climbing.
I drank and drank some more as the day turned from hot to baking hot.
However, reality settled in when by the turn around point I had a 30km/h
average. and I could hardly output 180w on a flat. I knew now that there
was no way I could hit the 32.7km/h average goal. Plan B was to power
myself through the bike and then blast the run. My body had something
else in store. The second loop was a messy one with lots of struggling
on the steep uphills and barely pedalling on the downhills, which saw my
NP drop from 190w from the first turnaround point to 170w at the end of
the bike course. Back into transition, the change was quick and I was
off onto the run course. It was only a matter of a half marathon, right?
Wrong!

As I step onto the run course after a quick transition I knew something
was wrong. My legs were stiff and after 100m my stomach felt like it
weighed a tonne. I couldn’t run the first kilometre and resorted to a
walk run. Needless to say, the remaining of the race was not pretty. It
was a slow run/walk/drag to the finish line. With the temperatures
soaring into the mid-30s, I tried several strategies to improve my
stomach and leg fatigue but none worked and I kept moving at a snail’s
pace toward the finish line with several moments of complete
desperation. At this point, there were two things keeping me going: my
family who were on the course supporting me and writing messages on the
asphalt and knowing that I only needed to cross the finish line to still
be eligible for the Alps Tour Medal. After 21 excruciating kilometres
through hellish heat, I stopped, removed my cap, closed my tri suit and
smiled. Then ran the last few hundred meters to the finish line. And so
it was that I finish in the frustrating time of 6h20m47s.
It’s hard to pinpoint why the run was so hard except by saying that
there were a variety of reasons, of which:

– Poor preparation the weeks before the race due to ill-planned holidays;
– not enough rest in the lead to the race;
– poor pacing on the bike, and probably
– bad fueling strategy on the bike;

On top of that, I noticed only in the later stages of the run while I
scrambled for a reason for my cramps that I had forgotten to take in the
past 3 weeks the tabs I have been religiously taking to avoid cramps in
the past year.
Hopefully, this was an eye opener for future races, so that mistakes
made on this day shall not be repeated in the future. However, in the
end, it was worth it. The run in the magic carpet towards the finish
line with my family cheering me on was incredible. Certainly one of the
moments I race for. And at that point, all the pains just vanishes.

The final times were:
Swim: 39m04s
Bike: 3h02m31s
Run: 2h31m03s
Total: 6h20m47s

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