Thank you to Ady Dench for providing us with this race report from Ironman Switzerland in Zurich. Congratulations, Ady!
I seem to remember uttering the words ‘never again!’ after our STC trip to Ironman Vichy last year. It was a race which tested the resolve of all those racing in the heat of that weekend, and for me the pain of the run was something I thought I wouldn’t forget in a hurry.
Cut forward to morning of the 26th January 2017, the day after my birthday, and as I put the wine bottles in the recycling I sensed I had done something silly the night before but what was it…….?
Cut forward to the morning of the 30th July 2017 and I find myself lining up at the edge of Lake Zurich (thankfully in a wet suit unlike Vichy) along with just short of 2000 other competitors waiting to start Ironman Switzerland. I will come back to the race a little later. In some ways race day is the smallest part of the Ironman process, it’s all those hours of training leading up to the big day which take their toll and with that in mind here’s a brief(ish) description of my build up.
I had done IM Switzerland before in 2008 and in many ways it was the perfect race. I was still relatively new to the sport and I took the training and lifestyle so seriously that I became a bit of an IM bore! It also helped that it rained that day and the weather had the feel of an autumnal day in Blighty. Do I need to say I don’t do heat very well?!
So 9 years on, hopefully a little wiser and more experienced I threw myself into the training. In early February I also managed to throw myself down some stairs in an Indian restaurant landing on my lower back resulting in some very painful deep tissue damage. It seemed the only position I could get comfortable was on my bike on the turbo!
My back continued to niggle but training was going well and my long runs were progressing nicely. Those who know me know I don’t have a natural affinity with running. My running style is regularly very vocally critiqued by members of the club and I don’t think I’ve ever had an endorphin rush which others seem to get from running. The 15-20 milers are a necessary chore which I never look forward to.
I ran a 20 miler in the middle of May which gave no indication to why I should have a painful and inflamed knee the following day. Unbeknown to me as I’d carried on training after the fall (admittedly not stretching or doing my core exercises nearly enough) my body was becoming tighter and more and more rigid until eventually it seemed every muscle, tendon and ligament was pulling in the wrong direction. Still, I had plenty of miles in the bank and regular sports massage and visits to Simeon the Osteopath helped keep me going.
Long rides were now taking in the delights of ‘Swinefleet’ and the flatlands of Lincolnshire and North Notts as well as hilly rides in the Peaks. My warm up race as last year was to be Ironman Wimbleball 70.3, the final running of that iconic race and a race which is regularly described as the ‘toughest 70.3 in the world’. I had a good race down in Exmoor but felt really battered for 2 weeks after. I had 5 weeks between Wimbleball and Zurich to recover and peak again. This request might give an indication to how that went……..If anyone is holidaying down near Wimbleball if you see my legs or mojo can you please bring them back to Sheffield?!
In hindsight Wimbleball and putting on our own race the Hathersage Hilly so close to race day wiped me out a bit, and I never really got my motivation back for lining up on Lake Zurich.
Nancy’s sister, Tracey, has lived in Zurich for over 30 years. It’s a place we know well and Tracey’s apartment is 10 minutes away from the Ironman village so at least we know we’re going to get looked after very well over here. The flip side of that is that there’s a good chance it will be a hot race. Did I mention I don’t do heat well?
Me, Nance, Dexter the Dog and 6 bikes travelled down on the Wednesday prior to the race in the van. Other IMS starters David ‘Cookie Monster’ Marsden and Chris ‘ex rugby pro’ Hallam flew over the next day bringing Millie with them, and Rekha was already here with work. Nancy had entered the Olympic distance race on the Saturday so supporting duties were put into action by us all the day before our race.
I slept extremely well the night before the race. I didn’t take this as a good sign. I normally get very little sleep the night before a big race, and the lack of nerves just didn’t seem right.
So back to the race!
The swim as mentioned earlier was thankfully a wet suit swim. I felt a bit of a fraud with my ‘gold’ swim cap on. Basically you get rewarded by IM for entering (and of course paying for) more races by scoring points which then lead to a title of ‘All World Athlete (AWA)’. I’m only a silver AWA, so not that good 😉 I lined up with Marsden, a veteran of 11 Ironman races now and you can imagine our eagerness to join in the happy clappy atmosphere!
The swim was pretty uneventful but did seem to go on a bit. I recall feeling pretty flat and thinking a long day lay ahead. The swim was long, over 4000 metres which was a bit of a surprise for the normally so efficient Swiss organisers. That’s two years running now with overly long swims! Swim time 1 hour 13 minutes 42 seconds.
The first 35km of the bike are flat and fast and then into the hills with 3 long climbs and some fantastic descents (55 mph ☺). The temperatures were rising and the sweat was flowing. Drink, eat, repeat was the mantra for the ride. No toilet stops on the bike even with fluids going in is always a bit of a concern.
A good first lap on the bike was in hindsight a little too fast. Cycling is by far my strongest discipline, and even with power meter readings to try and reign yourself in, it’s so easy to get carried away. I caught Marsden on the second lap about 120km into the bike leg. I didn’t realise I’d passed him until I heard the shout of ‘alright Dench?’ I sat up and we had a quick chat side by side, what mates wouldn’t? Next thing a draft buster has given Marsden a 5 minute drafting penalty. As the inside man he was punished for not dropping back. Very harsh and of course Marsden blames me!
I suffer with pressure pains on the soles of my feet when doing this long distance stuff. This was building on the second lap of the bike and didn’t bode well for the run. I’d already resigned myself to an unpleasant 4 hours or so in the heat on the run and this didn’t help my mood at all.
The bike was 5 hours 22minutes 9seconds including nearly 5000ft of climbing. 8 minutes quicker that 9 years ago. Would I pay the price on the run?
The first step was unpleasant and every step from then until the end even more so. It’s not that I blew up as I fuelled myself well through every feed station. I now have a fondness for Bouillon a magic liquid which should be at every IM race. My feet were in bits and every step hurt on those pressure points. It didn’t help that my feet were soaked from sweat, water, ice (I would not have finished this race without the ice and wet sponges at the feed stations – take note IM Vichy). My knee was niggling a little by this point as well, but at least that gave me something to think about to take my mind off my feet!
On that last lap I walked a little, not a lot but enough to focus my mind to cope with the discomfort. Marsden re-passed me at the start of that last lap and asked if I had it in me to try and come in under 11 hours and run the rest with him. My exact description of how I felt is not repeatable in this report! I did start up again and crossed the line with a run time of 4 hours 28minutes 5 seconds.
As I crossed the line a lady put a medal around my neck and asked if I was ok? My reply was ‘can I get these trainers off and can you put them in the nearest bin please!!’ As I write, I am still of that same mind set even though my friends are talking of which one to do next year.
Many people thought I might be disappointed with my time as it was slower than 9 years ago. The consensus is that it was a slower year this year and the heat was always going to be a factor for me. Marsden who has 11 Ironman’s under his belt said it was the second toughest he’d done (Lanzarote being his hardest – a famously tough race). You can only race conditions on any given day, and the reality is I’ve never dug as deep into my reserves as Sunday to finish anything I’ve done. For that reason I’m quite proud of finishing in the time I did – 11hours 11minutes 34seconds.