“Ironman Zurich Sunday 28th July 2013……a participants report”
Paul Walsh Bib No: 00966
We registered on Sat 27th in 36C heat in the Athletes village in Lindewisse on the banks of the beautiful lake Zurich. In the race briefing we were told to expect temperatures of 37C on race day (suffering Jesus!), and our only objective should be to finish safely. It was also announced it was going to be a non-wetsuit swim. This only managed to put the fear of God into all pale skinned athletes who had done ALL their open water training in cold temperatures with two swim hats in full wetsuits (holy suffering Jesus)! We checked in our bikes, racked our bags, and a good old fashion look around! The level of bike envy was off the scale. All good to go…
Ger Kirby, John Fogarty and I stayed in the Bristol hotel that night. We were all planning to go to bed nice and early until Ger rang us to say he had lost his white race bag with his swim suit, goggles and swim hat in it. Poor devil was trying to be calm, but this was the LAST thing needed 8hrs before start time. John “two of everything” Fogarty came to the rescue with a spare tri-suit, and john’s pal from Kilkenny (Greg) had a spare pair of goggles (another OCD sufferer). Ger was sorted – but he didn’t know that till we met at breakfast at 4am, so he probably had zero sleep!! Crisis averted!! All four of us piled into a taxi at 5am and headed to Athletes village. I double checked my bike (dunno why really, maybe in the hope that it had been vandalised/stolen and I could drop out!!). We all then went our separate ways, to allow us to focus/zone-in/pray…..whatever you’re having yourself. Next thing is we’re off…..
A 3.8km non wetsuit swim takes a lot longer (and a lot more energy) than a wetsuit swim. The water was crystal clear and a balmy 25.8C. It was a two-lap course: first 2km and second slightly shorter at 1.8km. The weather was warm but overcast so it was ideal for a swim. I had planned to swim at my own pace and move out to the side (away from the madness!), my own pace as it turns out was quiet slow, getting out of the water in 1hr 57 mins. I had done my calf stretches before getting into water to try and prevent the dreaded cramps I get. It didn’t work!! My calfs started cramping after 1km, and I had to give myself a ‘mental massage’ (I know, right) to try and get rid of the cramping. That provided some relief, I promised my legs I would stretch them out again when we reached the Australian Island at 2km mark.
On approach to this island I saw we were in shallow water, I put my foot down to stand up and I stood on glass which sliced the sole of my foot (maybe grazed is the more accurate term here but at the time it felt like a slice (ok!,). The 2nd lap was more mental massaging and trying to convince myself that Jaws was behind me following the non-existant trail of blood from my feet! Mind games, eh? There was a strong current in the lake and I kept ‘pulling to the left’ – maybe it was just my poor swim technique…no, it was definitely the current! The ‘current’ issue resulted in me having a really slow swim, so much so, I looked to my left with 200m to go and I was being passed by an elderly woman doing the back crawl (lucky nobody saw it). Jumped out of the water like I was in first place, and into T1. There were only about 9 bikes left in there, so I had no trouble finding ‘betsy’.
After spending enough time in T1 to have had a shower, a 3 course meal, and a power nap, I eventually exited ready to chew up the bike course. It was a 2 lap ’90km’ route with a 1300m climb. Problem was the cloud cover had disappeared and it was getting damn hot. I had read a really good article on how to handle the heat (thanks to Training peaks blog). The basic principle is to drink plenty of sodium & glucose rich liquid to allow your body to transport the heat to your skin quickly, and then to employ evaporative cooling technique to keep your body cool. I loved the thoughts of combining a work related technology to my sport life (wait till I tell the boys at work!,). This involved continuously dousing my head, cycling jersey and arms (covered with white skins) with cold water…..all in all it worked a treat. I was flying on the bike, I had promised myself I was going to enjoy the day so I was waving at people on the roadside, smiling at the marshals, and enjoying the experience of being out of the water.
The first 35km was flat so I was powering on, passing loads of people (most of who looked unfit, asking myself was I really THAT slow in the swim that they could be faster than me, heaven forbid!). Anyway to focus back on the cycling…..the climbing then started, from 35 to 45km it was slow and gradual…..then we hit ‘The beast’. This was a 5km slog with the gradient varying from 5% to 12%, there were loads of locals out roaring support at us and there were a few cold water hoses being sprayed on us (which was manna from heaven). The views of lake Zurich with the Alps in the background was stunning – if only they could be enjoyed more. Once at the top we descended rapidly (I mean rapidly…67km max speed) down into Zurich. Then we cycled past the Athletes village and up into ‘heartbreak hill’, at the 85km stage of a 90km route this climb is aptly named. Again there were loads of people lining the route on the short climb, it was similar to the scenes from the Tour De France with people waving Irish flags in your face and the gap in the converging crowd only 1bike wide. It was kinda cool, I felt like Chris Froome if only for 10 minutes.
Back down the hill again, past the Athlete Village and off again for the 2nd lap….phew. It was now well over 35C but the breeze in our face and the layers of SPF 50 kept us safe from the sun. The second lap was a repeat of the first except I stopped at 150km ( top of ‘the beast’) to eat a jam sandwich I had made at breakfast and brought with me. Sean Kelly swears by the kick he gets from a sandwich and you know what, he’s not wrong. It was great to get off the bike for 5mins and get some real food into my stomach, there are only so many gels/ powerbars you can take before the gag reflexes clicks in. I passed loads of people on the bike (what a great feeling) and I actually felt good on the hills, all that hard work around Portroe/Latteragh was paying off! At the 170km point Eimear recognised my Tipperary Water jersey and let a loud Gurtagarry roar at me ” gwannnn Paulie”, I was delighted to hear a familiar voice and hadn’t been expecting Eimear to arrive until well into the run, so it was a lovely boost to morale. Back to Athlete village and into T2. Total cycle time 6hrs 30min ( including my stop) very happy with that.
After another eternity in T2, changing all my gear (I made another pre-race decision to change all my gear in each transition and it was an inspired choice). When a minute or two make shagall difference it is great to get into proper bike/run gear and not to have to wear tri-suit. So with my proper running gear on (and trying not to think of what distance was ahead of me) I headed out to start the marathon. It was a 4 x 10km loop in and around Zurich city.
It was sunny when we started out on the run so I started running with a soft wide-rim hat on me (the cheap Tesco version). I’d say the other runners though I was a homeless wino about to mug them! The fashion gods intervened and it clouded over so I carefully placed my hat in the nearest bin (much to the delight of my wife). Lap 1 was like an adventure seeing where they were going to bring us around the city, so it passed relatively quickly. I ran it in 1hr flat, conscious not to make the rookie mistake of going out to hard and being wrecked for Lap 3 and 4 (another successful strategy employed).
Lap 2 was a bit of a slog but meeting Eimear at the start was a timely boost. All I could say was “ah jaysus this is ridiculous”. At the end of Lap 2 the announcer said as I passed ‘well done Paul, you have done a half marathon, only 13miles to go’. For some reason that really phased me, I wasn’t ready in my head for 13 more miles so my legs went limp and I had to start walking. I walked for about 2miles and bumped into an English guy (Alex) who I had met at registration. He was wrecked too so we made a pact to drag each other to the finish line by hook or by crook. It was a blessing to have someone to chat to, this took our minds off the pain in the legs every time we struck the ground. We employed a run-walk strategy for the remainder of the marathon, targeting the aid stations as indicators when would start walking, and go again after 100m.
At the end of Lap 3 it started to rain (I know!), we were secretly delighted as it provided great cooling effect for us, and we did most of our training in similar conditions. We started into Lap 4, and made a decision to run as much of it as we could (i.e. no stopping!). It didn’t quite work out like that though as we HAD to stop twice (or risk collapse). We were on track to finish the marathon in 4hrs 40min.
Then into the finishers chute…..the final 50m sprint to glory! I let my new English mate ahead of me to allow him his moment of glory. Then it was my turn…..9 months of hard training (thanks Russell!), sacrificing family time, putting blood sweat and tears into completing a mammoth event such as this were now seconds from becoming time-well-spent. The constant focus on just getting to the finishing line of my first Ironman was becoming mentally (and physically) exhausting so I was SO glad to be 20m from the line.
I did some kind of cool dance crossing the line, which kind of resembled an epileptic seizure but I didn’t care. The announcer shouted those golden words “Paul Walsh – you are an IRONMAN”. The time was 13hrs 32mins which I was delighted with. The emotions of the day all came to a head and I burst into tears, I gave Eimear a huge sweaty hug and savoured the moment. I had just finished a nine month journey and it was a great experience. “