June 27, 2007

Ironman Switzerland Race Report

I arrived in Zurich Thursday morning and nearly immediately met Chris and Jesse, 2 of the Gear West Tri Club crew that I would be hanging with for the weekend. We shuttled to the hotel, assembled our bikes and then went riding.

Ken Glah, the mastermind of Endurance Sports Travel and 51 time Ironman finisher (now that, my friends, is crazy...), led us on a 40 mile ride around the course. Let me pause here and say that this was an amazing bike course - a few super-challenging hills (fittingly called The Beast and Heartbreak Hill) mixed with some long flat straights and an occasional peek at the snow-capped Alps in the distance.

Thursday afternoon after the bike ride there was a knock on my door and - finally! - I got to meet IronMomJenny and see IronGirlNyhus again! Jenny is super - competitive and witty and inspiring.(in the 6 weeks before this Ironman she did a half ironman and 2 marathons!).
Friday I swam in Lake Zurich and - woohoo!! - it wasn’t 50 degrees as advertised! It was at least upper 60's water temperature and amazingly clear. My roommate for the week Andy and his dad David and I swam with the fish for a half hour, got registered, then went over to the pre-race dinner at a lodge overlooking Zurich.

Saturday we cheered Helen and one of the EST travel-assistants Richard (who runs
a company called Eurocycler that offers cycling camps/tours throughout Europe) as they raced the Olympic tri. It struck us as odd that the organizers separate the different waves by at least 30 minutes so there were racers starting and finishing all day long. This along with a relative lack of volunteers led Jenny and I to become temporary volunteers and help some of the racers find their way out of T2 while we were waiting on Helen to come in on the bike.

Saturday night I loaded up with a salmon lasagna (yummy!!), and a cheeseburger and then climbed into bed for a reasonably restful 5 hours of sleep.

Race Day morning started at 0445 with
breakfast and then a 0530 shuttle to finish setting up my transition zone. Our race numbers were organized alphabetically by country name, so all of the Americans were grouped together within about 10 yards of the bike exit/entrance. Perfect! I got organized, zoned with mellow ipod tunes, and then called Stronger in Coeur d'Alene for a final bit of inspiration and strength before I donned my wetsuit and headed to the beach.

Jenny, Laura, Greg, Nick, Timmy, and I all walked over together and then huddled for a prayer before staking out our respective spots. I moved far left on the beach to avoid getting pinched at the first buoy by the crowd starting on the right side.

And finally it started...

The swim started east into a blue sky and glorious sun that made it impossible to see any of the buoys. Race organizers -
The first 400 yards I was in survival-swim mode. Head above the water, breathing every stroke, anxious. Just like in every
tri I’ve done, there were a few minutes when I thought about pulling up and getting on a boat. Luckily, I recognized this anxiety as transient and pushed on, and the panic was gone by half a mile when we were now heading south and the buoys were visible.

Before I knew it, the first lap was over and I was feeling comfortable. The 2nd lap was about the best I’ve ever felt swimming. I had periods when I pushed harder and felt my stroke become smoother, and then I would rest for periods and do my lazy stroke. By the time my 2nd lap was almost over, I had lost track of time and effort and was simply enjoying swimming. It felt so good I almost didn’t want to get out, but alas I did. Swim time - 1:34:34

No wetsuit strippers in Zurich, so I stripped it myself and threw on my shoes and helmet and escaped from T1 in 2:26

The bike was a 3 loop course through and out of Zurich, through a bit of the Swiss countryside, up and over a mountain, then back into Zurich for a climb up Heartbreak Hill. The first 15k of each lap was flat before the first hill, "The Beauty." The only thing beautiful about this hill was that it wasn’t 5 kilometers long like "The Beast," which followed The Beauty by less than a kilometer.

After you conquer The Beast there is a 15% grade downhill for about 2 or 3 kilometers. It’s so steep and curvy in places that using your aerobars will cost you a 6 minute penalty. Jesse told me after the race that he was upright at 48 mph and was getting passed on this section. I went naked (no computer, no Garmin) for this race so I don’t know how fast I was going for my first pass on this section; but, I can tell you that it was too fast. I wasn’t on the aerobars, but I was crouched completely horizontal with my hands on brakes that I wasn’t using. I passed people like they weren’t moving coming down that hill... Until I got to the bottom of the hill where there happened to be a sharp and narrow right turn. I saw the curve with a 100 meters notice, but it wasn’t enough. I braked hard, and my rear wheel locked and shimmied. I released the brake then braked again trying not to lock it, but it locked again. I had just released and squeezed a third time when I realized there wasn’t enough time and laid the bike down just as I got to the outside of the curve. I crashed onto the sidewalk and into a chainlink fence erected to keep out-of-control bikers (uhm, like me?) from careening off the mountain. As soon as I stopped, I hopped up and glanced at my elbow (which was the only thing that immediately hurt) and saw no bones poking through. I then confirmed that my bike and wheels weren’t shattered. Everything looked good, so I jumped on my bike and took off again! As I was riding off the medics that were running toward me stopped with jaws open and pointed - "He’s up, He’s up" they shouted! I knew then that I had just given up one of my 9 lives...

The rest of the bike course wasn’t nearly as adventurous. The absolute best part of the bike, and the race overall, was climbing Heartbreak Hill. This is only a 0.7 km climb, but it’s steep. Spectators lined the climb, even spilling into the road and forcing the racers to ascend single file down the middle of the road. The crowd was yelling, making noise, ringing cowbells, running along side of you. "Hop Hop" was the favorite cheer. I felt like I was riding in le Tour de France... At the top of Heartbreak an announcer called out your name and country. Perfect!

By the 3rd lap of the bike my ass was hurting and I was ready to start running. My only crash related pain at that time was the roadrash on my left elbow since it was in the exact spot where my arm rests in aero. I finally got into T2 with a bike time of 6:15:11.

I changed shoes and discarded the helmet, peed, then ran out of T2 in 1:45. I didn’t realize I still had my cycling gloves on for about a 1/3 of a mile, and then I just tossed them at the first aid station.

The run was a 4 loop course that was flat and went out and back twice on each loop. This was a perfect set-up for spectators and for racers to see everyone in front of and behind you. There were ample aid stations, although they were unevenly dispersed at times. Sometimes they were 2 less than a half mile apart and sometimes it was almost 2 miles.

The first lap of the run I noticed that my left ankle was hurting. I took a look at it and noticed a nasty bruise on the lower 1/3 of my left shin, the result of the concrete block I hit as I slid into the fence when I crashed. It didn’t bother me initially, but by the time the first 10k was over each step sent a pain from my ankle up my shin-bone to my knee.

I started walking some on the 2nd lap, and continued to walk-run the remainder of the marathon. When I ran, I could keep the pace I wanted but there was the pain. I was having too much fun to be in a lot of pain, and I didn’t want to risk making any minor injury anything that might jeopardize the rest of my race season. So I walked periodically, encouraged the other racers, and had fun!

I was walking on my 3rd lap when Andy jogged up beside me on his 4th and final lap. He had about 2 miles to go, so I ran him to the finish line and got to hear his name called for his first (of many, I’m sure) Ironman finish!

Finally, I finished my last lap and ran across the line in 12:28:43.

I grabbed my medal, posed for the obligatory post-race photo, and then walked to transition to call Stronger and thank her for giving me extra strength and inspiration. My mom and sister called as soon as my finishing time popped up on Ironmanlive. I showered, scarfed the provided pasta, and then went to the finish line to cheer on the rest of the crew for the next 3 1/2 hours.

You know, several people who have finished an Ironman have told me that the race itself is almost anticlimactic - that once you finish, you realize it was the training and the journey itself that made you an Ironman, not the race. And I have to agree with this.

Finishing an Ironman is not a defining moment for me. It is not a notch in the belt, nor the best moment of my life. Ironman is neither magical nor epic. It doesn't make you better or stronger or more confident or more attractive.

But the journey to Ironman is a lot of those things.

Finishing an Ironman was the culmination of a 6 month training session in which I prepared my body and mind to stress itself for a 12 or 13 hour period. I learned a few things along the way, and I’ve met some people that will be forever a part of my life.

But Ironman isn’t - my life. And I’m no more special or deserving today than I was prior to Sunday.

That said, Sunday was a perfect and beautiful day, and I can guarantee I will spend more Sundays trudging along Ironman courses.

The destination is costly, but the journey.... the journey is priceless...
Somewhere between Switzerland and home about 300 photos have disappeared from my computer. :( Grrrrr.


TJ said...

Great report Jack. Sounds like you had an awesome day, even with the spill on the bike.
Bummer about the photos...

rocketpants said...

Awesome race report! Sounds like the perfect day. Congrats

stronger said...

Look, you needed the sandals after all! Nice to see you home all in one piece. You earned the finish- see you at the next one.

Bike Chick said...

Great race report! Holy cow, that was some crash. I'm glad it turned out okay. I think you must have a guardian angel looking out for you because even when things go slightly wrong (wheels, crash) you still come out great.

Sorry about the pics too.

Bolder said...

you called Stronger for inspiration and strength and thanks... before and after -- i don't get it ;)

was Dave Scott not available?

i was reading about your crash, and then, when i read that you were saving yourself for the remainder of the season, i thought -- wow, is that ever dumb!

then, i went and looked at your race schedule, and remembered that you are doing Wisconsin...


guess that means TWO peeps with me at The Big Show!!!!!!!!

great race, great report.


see you soon!

Iron Eric said...

Wonderful job!! Your time was awesome too!

momo said...

exactly, trijack. the journey is what makes you an ironman. and you were - way before you crossed that finish line.

congratulations on a great race, i hope you're healing up quick. lots to do coming up here soon... :-)

ironjenny said...

Hi, Buddy! The Journey is the Reward... indeed. But you are still an Ironman, and it is TOO cool!! No, it does not define us; but it declares that we have guts!

I am so glad I got to spend these few days with you... you are every bit as fun, kind and pleasant as you are in your blog. You were a very calming force for this veteran. ;-)
Like Carrie said... see you at the next one!

ZBUCK said...

Great race, especially after the crash. Way to be an Ironman!

Laurie said...

Congratulations Ironman!

Great race report. I am glad that the crash didn't affect your race too much. Heal up!

Kylie said...

wow scary crash! Great job though! And I love the mentality: just walking to be sure all is ok and training can continue, and use the time to cheer as well. Again, great job, and congrats!

Matt said...

Great report and great thoughts. Jack, you continue to impress me with your take on life and your accomplishments.
"But Ironman isn’t - my life. And I’m no more special or deserving today than I was prior to Sunday. " -- Perfecto

Shelley said...

You trained with Iron spirit, you live with an Iron spirit, you are an IRONMAN!!! Congrats again!!

hak said...

Nicely done! Sorry to hear you had to lay down your bike. Hopefully there were minimal scratches to your pony and glad to hear that you did't get too dinged up yourself.

Congratulations on a great race.


Andy said...

AWESOME CRASH REPORT! If you're gonna wipe, make it a good one!
As long as you and the ride are servicable, it's all good
Congrats Ironman!

Cliff Tam said...


I just want to say thanks for your videos. I've been watching those on youtube.

What a great race you gone through.

RunBubbaRun said...

You said it, the race can be nothing after awhile, the journey of getting there is the best part.

Great job at the race, fast IM time brother.. See ya at IMWI...

Brent Buckner said...

Sad about photos :-(

Happy about race - great report!

See you at IMMoo!

trinick said...

Great report! You conquered all of the challenges put in front on the day of the race and you crossed the finish line, that’s what makes Ironman! I'm glad I was there to experince this awesome moment with you. GREAT JOB!

marz_racer said...

Great race!!! It was nice to hang with you for a while after the race. The stairs in Baden might have been a little out of hand though.

Michele said...

Great report.
Scary crash, glad you were able to get up and finish.
Too bad about the photos, that's a real bummer.

Congrats, Ironman!!!

LoneStarCrank said...

As always...great summation and a job well-done. TriJack you hit it dead on....here's to hoping this is the first of many journey's for you.

You've achieved much to be proud of but your greatest wisdom comes from knowing there is more to come!

tarheeltri said...

Great report! Congratulations Ironman!

SkiRough said...

Awesome report! You killed it on the swim!! I am psyched for you :)

Hopefully you'll get those pics back too?

Yay race report!!

Robin said...

Awesome race report. Glad to hear you had such a glorious day (minus the bike crash, but every Ironman seems to have to have *something* go wrong). Glad you weren't injured worse and were able to enjoy your Ironman day. Congrats!