Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Ironman Switzerland Race Report

A few numbers for you, before I get into the race report:
  • 2 Ironmans in 3 weeks
  • 5 Countries (Germany, France, Spain, UK, Switzerland) in 4 weeks
  • 6 Planes, too many Trains & 1 Boat
  • 5 Ironmans in 10 months
Anyone planning to race an Ironman would probably laugh at my pre-race activities. Or maybe think I was stupid for even attempting to race competitively at IM Switzerland. But as a pro on the very edge of qualifying for the World Championships - even with things stacked against the odds of racing well - I knew I would not be happy if I did not try.

The pre-race press conference was not in English. Which was awesome. I picked up the part about non-wetsuit swimming (because neoprene is a word that is the same in both languages). I was asked by a reporter if racing two Ironmans three weeks apart is a bad idea. I told him it was a brilliant idea.

The days leading into the race were the hottest (near 100F each day) Switzerland has seen all summer. The Swiss do not believe in air conditioning. I did my best to put my feet up and keep hydrated as I sat sweating on a couch.

Race morning transition setup. I love it when a race puts the country flag with our name because as you walk past all the pro bikes you can see how incredibly international triathlon is. 

I felt fortunate to have friends with me race morning. I grew up playing with my homestay's children. They had never been to an Ironman, but two weeks earlier when my mom contacted them to find out if her daughter could crash on their couch for a week in Zurich, they not only agreed, but fed me home cooked food for a week, made sure I knew how to get around town and came to support me on race day.

The swim was non-wetsuit for everyone and I was glad. The water was way too warm to be wearing a wetsuit.

The age group athletes started 5 minutes after the pros.

The swim consists of a square, getting out and running across the island shown in this photo, then doing the loop again. By the second loop I was sick of swimming and it felt like the swim was taking forever. (Probably because it was). I came out in 1:07, but could see a lot of bikes on the racks so figured the swim was long and didn't worry about it. As I was getting on the bike someone yelled (in English no less!) that I was 8th female.

I set out on the bike and felt fairly good for about thirty minutes. And then I didn't feel good again until two days after the race. I slogged on and for the first time ever serious contemplated dropping out - this is how awful I felt. I reached the beast climb the second time and wasn't sure I would even make it up. I really just wanted to sit down on the curb and drink an ice cold lemonade, or maybe some frosty drink with a little umbrella in it. A spectator told me I was the 23rd woman. I laughed out loud because I knew this was a horrible position and only 23 women had started. I was going backwards. Then to add insult to the day, one more pro female passed me. Ahhhh good, yes, NOW I am dead last. Age group men passed and asked if I was ok (actually I'm not sure what they asked because it was in Swiss-German, but I assume they were asking about my well being).

But each time I climbed heartbreak hill I smiled. I was racing horribly and there was no reason to go on (except I couldn't logically find a reason to drop out - I wasn't injured and I was not going to rush home and race another Ironman, so no need to save the legs - plus I didn't exactly know how to get back to transition without finishing the loop) but climbing this hill made me smile. It was a miserable experience in that it couldn't have been any hotter, I could not have possibly felt worse and yet experiencing the climb with hundreds of Swiss people cheering as if each of us were in the Tour de France is something I will remember for my entire life. I got chills going up it (maybe because I was having heat stroke), but nonetheless, it was super cool.

I could not wrap my head around running a marathon. So I convinced myself I would run one of the four loops of the run course - just to see it. I had come all the way to Switzerland after all, I might as well see the course! Then after one loop I could stop. Except I started running and didn't feel so bad. And then I started passing people. And then all of a sudden I was having the time of my life, so I just kept going. This lasted for three loops and then I death marched a final loop, because by that point there was no way in hell I was not going to finish what I started. The run took me 3:37, one of my slowest ever, but also one that I am probably most proud of.

I finished 12th in 10:23, 40 points (and one single slot) shy of qualifying for the World Championships. It would probably be a better story if I had actually qualified. But sometimes failing makes us stronger and teaches us what we are made of. I have had some time to think about how close I came, and my thoughts on that deserve a separate post.

A huge thank you to my sponsors who have stuck by me when I raced super fast, aimed for the stars and also when I fell flat on my face.
Cannondale for creating an amazing bike, Zoot for outfitting me from head to toe, SKLZ for believing in my abilities and helping me recover, Profile Design for awesome aero bars, fast wheels and hydration, Powerbar for fueling me, Extreme Endurance for helping me recover quickly, Winsole for bike shoe insoles that put more power to the pedal, Rudy Project for protecting my head and eyes, Bont for stiff and comfortable bike shoes,  Sable Water Optics for making goggles I love, and Microscope World for working with my work/racing schedule and allowing me to add an extra week to my European tour.

I'm taking a few weeks to recover, which means I'm riding my CX bike, trail running and doing a lot of non-structured fun stuff. My next race is Austin 70.3.