Monday, July 23, 2012

Race Report: Ironman Switzerland

This is a blow-by-blow account of Ironman Switzerland 2012. Held at Lake Zurich, this event attracted about 1,800 participants. Like Ironman South Africa, it does not sell out early and you can attempt last-minute entry for this 226K triathlon. Plan a vacation around this triathlon, and you can travel to Lucerne by train and enjoy snow in the alps. Otherwise, there is more to Switzerland than watches, cuckoo clocks, cheese and fondue meals. And, you can appreciate the high Swiss standards of living and precision approach to timeliness and exactness.

Background to my flight of plight at this Continental outing: My last excursion to European Ironman was Ironman Austria in 2009, and Ironman Lanzarote in 2011 and 2008. I had instituted my Ironman racing after a disappointing foul-weather IM New Zealand in March (a weather bomb disposed the full 226K triathlon for a 70.3 version the next morning).

Swim: This is a two-loop, 3.8K, beach-start, wetsuit swim. I exited the Transition Area early to warm up in the fresh-water lake. The outside temperature was way lower than the water, so it made sense to stay immersed and do my preliminary strokes. The professionals were flagged off earlier at 6:55am while mortals set off at 7:00pm. The first is a clockwise, semi-circle (3 buoys); the second portion is a diagonal swim to the first buoy, then second and then third. You swim under a makeshift bridge (overlooked by spectators) and exit on the islet-portion. You need to sight accurately or else swim extra distance, and risk a subtle current that sweeps beneath the fresh-water lake. I made the mistake of drafting a few swimmers who mistook the end-point buoys. Subsequently, I sighted more effectively and focused on my strokes, aiming to be fresh out of the water – which I successfully did. My sprained ankle held on with the mild kicking. This swim reminded me of Ironman Austria with the finish in a congested channel, complete with panicky first-timers and eager-beavers aiming for T1.

Ride: This is a two-loop course marked by three climbs: Egg, The Beast and Heartbreak Hill. Consider them as warm-ups for each other. The Beast is a series of intermittent climbs that ends with a scenic view of the city. Heartbreak Hill is a short 2-3K climb however it is the steepest portion of the ride, before turning into the Transition area for the second and final loop. After the first loop, done conservatively at 3:30 (recommended by Kua Harn Wei), I decided to cranked it a notch up on the flatter sections of the course, and ensure my nutrition was adequate for both second loop, and marathon. On my second loop, I received a yellow card from a race-official, for blocking him and the safety motorcycle! I was dodging part of the right lane, as I did not want to steer into the barricades due to bumpy road conditions. My left ankle was flexing and bowing, ungracefully, and the climbing was beginning to strain it further. However, I could only push on, with lower gear-ratios and complete the three dreaded climbs. I swore I would not cuss but I did, albeit, quietly to myself. I propose to rename The Beast as The Bastard! You can, of course, use compact cranks and road-bikes which makes more sense on this course. I drank a bidon filled with Hammer Nutrition 'Perpetuem' that would last me about eight hours - just in case. I used 1.5 scoops for every hour expected on the route, and mixed water to fill the bidon. I consume a mouthful of gel to the mark (used indelible ink to calibrate each hour), then chased it down with water. I carried two bidons of water, just in case it got too hot.

Run: I asked around for the ‘sin-bin’, as I thought I had to serve out my yellow-carded penalty. About 150m from the Run Exit, I found the station manned by a male and female volunteer. I learnt that I had to merely fill in details of my being, then continued with my limp – I mean, run. Fortunately, my penalty was held off, but I incurred down-time from paperwork (not my preference nor forte). No sub-4 hour marathon for me that day, since I was having difficulty placing my whole weight on my left foot. I was feeling like Daniel Day-Lewis in his Academy-winning film, ‘My Left Foot’. I strategized my run as a series of footfalls, where I placed weight on the least painful portion of my foot. My gait was not aggressive, and I had to fall back (literally) on the occasional heel-strike. I played with foot supination and pronation; in other words: with the lest stressful motions. I was glad to have done well in my kinesiology classes in the 1990’s to apply this knowledge. I had a fairly brisk first loop but faded into a manageable pace of about 140-145bpm at about a 6:30 minute/km speed.

Between uncomfortable feats of running, I visited the [horribly mutilated] porta-loos after every two aid-stations. I focused on having adequate water and carbohydrates. I took my caffeinated Perpeteum Solids to give me a lift when I got tired. I drank Coke early during the run, as I did not want to experience the ‘bonk’, and treated myself to three ‘Red Bull Shots’ (on each of the first three loops) from two attractive female volunteers. I still think Red Bull tastes like hell, but it did give me the ‘wings’ I needed to do a 5:05 marathon – my worst Ironman 42K run in years. The four loops were testing on my mental fitness and mettle, and I opted to focus on the positive aspects, and my Iron-mates who spread themselves throughout the course. I am thoroughly and deeply grateful for the encouragement and shows of concern from them.

I enjoyed a brilliant blast of enthusiasm and euphoria on my last one kilometre as I made my slow but committed entry into the finishing chute. I crossed the line, forgot to do my Blazeman Roll, and was given an insulation sheet. With that wrapped around me, I had to seek my finisher’s medal which was strangely not presented to me at the end-point. I enjoyed the last traces of daylight when I crossed the line. So, that was #13 for me with no drama or diatribe.

Post-Race RecoveryMel passed me my sweater to cover my shivering body. The hot food began to lose its caloric effect on me. Did I mention that the soup was salty as my sweat? Wrapped in the golden foil blanket around my waist, I did not appreciate the stares I earned from the locals on the trams. I did look like Michael Jackson in his ‘Remember The Time’ MTV video. However, the crackling sheet provided me with the warmth I needed. Somebody left a bicycle-pump by the ticketing machine.We boarded the next tram, loaded up my bike, and stood the four stops to the hotel. I then walked slowly back in the cold night air towards the hotel with bags and bike in tow.

After a hot shower, and soiled clothes deliberately procrastinated for the next day, I ate what I could (which was paltry: cherries, cheese) and laid in bed. It took me a few hours before I could sleep. I concluded that it was the enormous amounts of caffeine I consumed which upset my Circadian Rhythm. The next morning, we attended the Awards Banquet at 10.00am at a nice banquet hall on a hill; 30CHF for each spouses or guests, and they get an entry wristband. Breakfast/brunch consisted of bread rolls, sausages, and drinks (non-alcoholic). The awards started first, which led to the winners’ speeches. The announcement was held in both English and German. A rush of the race-day video was screened, and unfortunately it focused too much on the professionals and less on age-groupers. On our departure, volunteers presented a small bouquet of flowers to the ladies, which was a touching gesture. I sat with a few Singaporeans including Ironman finishers Chris and Kelvin. We met the excited group of Malaysian friends. Unfortunately, I missed Dex and Rachel. Dex must have been exhausted and relieved after completing three, sub-12-hours, Ironman races over 15 days in Europe. They were racing S$10,000 for children with autism. I hope that they will reach their target.

My legs were still mobile but in turmoil, because of all the adrenaline and cortisol flushed in my bloodstream. True to scientific observation, my Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) settled in only on Tuesday evening. Thankfully, my legs were not as sore as they used to be as I walked almost normally on Thursday. My left foot was, unfortunately, inflamed and I wore running-shoes for the entire week.

Beware: The cheaper hotels may not have air-conditioning, mini-bars (i.e. refrigerators with ice), and electronic-safe.

Coming Up Next: Photo-commentary of race.


K3vski said...

Very useful insight, Enrico. Pity the race didn't go exactly your way. But you persevered - that's the true Ironman spirit! Well done on adding another Ironman finish to your cap. Rest well now, you deserve it.

Enrico Varella said...

Thank you, Kevin. Thought I'd share it - warts and all. Just another day in long-distance racing. Win some, learn from all the others. I learnt a little more about my resilience last Sunday, and will apply it in my future races, i.e. Berlin and Taupo. I appreciate your encouragement, mate! Team Malaysia did well. This group of Masters age-grouper were simply brilliant. Finally met 15-time Ironman Sofian, face-to-face, in this mortal combat against time. Great group of competitors!

john cooke said...

well done Enrico .

Enrico Varella said...

Thank you, John. Good to know that you are back to triathlon training. Train safe!