Ironman Zurich – Blood, sweat and no gears.

Ironman Zurich – Blood, sweat and no gears.

Zurich city centre

Chrissie Wellington famously said she wanted to do a race where she really had to dig deep and push herself to the finish line. In 2011 she came off her bike before the world championships and that year experienced exactly that. She subsequently just happened to win the world champs as well! Personally, I prefer it if everything goes nice and smoothly. I have checklists and checklists of checklists. I like to dictate the controllable and manage the uncontrollable. However, this time in Zurich it wasn’t quite meant to be!

The beautiful area around Baden

We stayed about 25km out of Zurich in a very picturesque old Roman Spa town called Baden. The riding around there was amazing- with a 50m swimming pool, a track and a velodrome opening shortly it is probably the ideal location for training (at this time of year!). I have to say a huge thank you to Dave Eaves, who as a pro cyclist kindly put up four triathletes and one girlfriend for the race weekend. Thank you Dave, your hospitality was most welcome and we look forward to having you back in Portugal! Fiona and I, race team athlete Ross and his girlfriend Gemma were around for the Ironman race. Also staying was the lovely pro triathlete Holly Lawrence who was racing the 5150 race on Saturday. Holly came 4th against some big opposition having already come 2nd at Wimbleball earlier in the year. We will be keeping an eye on how you get on in the future Holly!

The Sweats

Before the race started, it was hot. Very hot. Just going to the briefing meant sweating out all the fluids you had just consumed! The day ran as a combination between the Swiss efficiency and triathlete’s faff – so only a few minutes behind schedule. It was impressive to see so many first timers at this event. Congratulations to all those who nailed their first one!

Triathlete's faff and pre race nerves – Philip: "Look at my impression of the lake monster: Woohoo!" Ross: "Ahh! You scared me!"

For me the race began really well. Looking over the results, I must have been out the water easily in the top 10 of amateur field (we started 5 mins behind the pros.) As we started the normally tranquil waters picked up a bit of a wind and it became (for the first time since arriving in Switzerland) reasonably chilly! I didn’t get a great position off the line as there were a bunch of Spanish people who insisted on hogging the start line. That was fine with me – I just swam over them. I looked up a couple of times and realised I was leading my little swim pack with clear water between me and the lead canoe. To my right was another similar pack, so I veered over and joined them- I wasn’t going to swim the whole 3.8km unassisted! My swim time seemed quite slow despite feeling great in the water, probably because the course was a little long. I hope I swam straight! Nevertheless, I went through transition reasonably quickly, although ran past my bike (new bike = harder to spot!) and was on my way down the course in about 3rd place for my age group.

No Gears...

The bike course in Switzerland is fast with only three or four noticeable hills. All of which are ‘good’ hills though – the nice alpine gradient ones not the horrid steep UK ones. I love them. The rest of the course is very flat around the lake. For the first 30km I was cruising along at my pace, good cadence and loving it, getting into a rhythm. I was over taken by a few people (notably Sam “allez, allez, allez!” Baxter from Freespeed) and when we hit the first aid station it was Ross who shouted “I think I’m going too hard" as he nailed it up the first climb! We stayed in view of each other (I could see him, but I doubt he looked back to see me) for the next 20km. I felt in control and was on pace/wattage. This was going to be awesome. I span my way to the top of “The Beast” really enjoying the views and overtaking lots of people. Happy days. I got to the top of that hill and went to drop into my biggest chainring and start enjoying the descent. It wouldn’t shift. The fancy new Di2s had ran out of battery. I still had about 130km to go.

Happy me with some gears by the looks of things

This was not cool. I had fully charged the battery on Tuesday before flying out, checked them on Friday before the race (still full) and then after an hour and 20 mins they decided to pack it in. These batteries are supposed to last a long time. Tim used to charge them every month in Portugal where he was riding every day for about 4-6 hours. What went through my mind needs not be repeated here. However, to paraphrase, I was slightly angry. When Di2s run out of battery, they put you in the small ring at the front and then a few shifts later they then put you in about the third easiest gear on the back. Then they do not shift again. As the course in Zurich is quite flat, I decided there and then to put it into about the third hardest gear on the back (15) and not change gears for the rest of the bike leg so I could still get some kind of speed out of the bike without completely draining the batteries and being forced into in a real granny ring. This meant I was spinning around at about 140-150RPM at times and in the 30-40RPM at others, grinding up every hill and trying to spin like crazy on the downhills/flats. Basically I did an interval session for 130km! For those bike geeks out there, my average power was not actually far off what I wanted it to be, however, it is how you generate the power, which makes the difference. Consistent effort went out the window!

Quadrant Analysis of Lisboa Triathlon Bike leg (with gears) – nice clump around with an unvaried pedal force or pedal velocity.

Quadrant Analysis of Ironman Zurich Bike leg (with only one gear) – with a very spread out, uneaven, varied pedal force and pedal velocity.

You can see on this Quadrant analysis that I spent all my time either grinding too hard a gear, or spinning too easy a gear, not working at the sweet spot at all. The long horizontal sausage shape is a far cry from the required clump around the cross! It shows just how erratic the effort is through the bike leg.

Blood...(I had no idea what else to put – it matches the title above...)

Tempted by a dip...

This completely drained my legs by the time I went onto the run. The last few km on the bike were to be blunt “rubbish” (

Chris Butler, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013

). When starting the run, I tried to find some sort of rhythm and I was going ok, however, I couldn’t get my normal coming off the bike. The first lap was really tough. On the second lap I began to feel better and felt good going through the field. This is the only time Sam “looking strong Philip!” Baxter was actually close to being right. As always in the marathon, there was a dark patch at some point. Mine happened at about 22-26 km. I couldn’t be bothered struggling through the race any more so I just ran hard…well tried to run. Things were seizing up now. The last 5km seemed to take forever and to top it off, in the final 2km my right knee began having excruciating pains which are unusual and still somewhat worrying. I crossed the line in 10 hours and 14 minute and 21 seconds. I was completely empty. Technically the worse Ironman result I have had in 4 years. However, on the positive side, it is a Season Best…

Thank you

Happy to hit the finish line

I had to only thank all the crowds who were there supporting everyone through the finish line and on the course. Great effort and hugely appreciated on a day when there were a huge number of people who didn’t finish due to the conditions. It was an equally hard day to spectate! Even when it began raining, the spectators were still there to cheer on even the hardest of athletes. On behalf of all of us, thank you. Special thanks go to Ironman supporter newbies and my cousins: Rory and Rose and my auntie Heather who made the trip across the country to support. You got your moneys worth!

I went through a lot of thoughts throughout the race. However, one thought in particular made me chuckle quite a lot. I said to Fiona before the race, it would be nice to race this race for Tim Butt. Tim is a close friend, training partner (if I can keep up) and fellow coach at Tri Training Harder. As many of you will know he suffered a double cardiac arrest in June and has been off training and anything remotely active since, with his future in sport still unknown. He was supposed to join us here in Zurich do some training of his own and maybe support as well. Sadly he opted not to come as he couldn’t do any of the training (some supporter he is!). Either way, when his electronic gears broke in Portugal, I couldn’t help but wind him up. It seems karma has a good way of coming back around! Nevertheless, when it got tough (especially on the bike) I thought that Tim would love this: attacking every hill etc etc. So buddy, it isn’t a glorified victory, but it was a bloody hard ride truly reminding me of exactly what it is like when you say lets go for an easy spin…

This pretty much sums it up. Thanks guys, it was a tough day out! (Sad Phil!)

I went into this race with every intention of doing really well. I knew my numbers were good. I was swimming strongly, the new bike made everything seem effortless and I knew my running was faster than last year. I was really excited. A non-wetsuit swim played into my hands as did the heat. I had the experience of racing several Ironman before and I felt very quietly confident. Two and half hours in, I was faced with the decision of finishing or not finishing. My race goal changed from competition to damage limitation to completion in the space of an hour or so. It is this sort of competition and racing that really humbles you as a long time athlete. It reminds you that nothing s guaranteed in sport. You do need some luck. I couldn’t help but laugh that through most of my race, I was doing the exact opposite of what I tell everyone I coach not to do: Don’t attack the hills, wait until the marathon to start pushing if you feel good, spin an easier gear to save yourself for the run, stick to your race plan etc.. Honestly guys,iIt is easier if you do it the right way!

Next time...

What next? No idea. I’m going to be the best supporter now for Fiona in her race in the world champs and several of my athletes who are racing in the worlds in London. Yet again, thanks to all the support both on and off the course. Well done to all those athletes related to Tri Training Harder who were racing: Ross Macdonald, Harry Eaton, Alexis Christoloulou, Gavin Prise, Jamie Watson, James Quarrington, Tim Creedon and Claus Bruder. You all achieved something you can take away and build on for the next time! And finally Congrats to Sam Baxter who stormed through being the second fastest amateur and 1st AG result.

Philip Hatzis