Ironman Zurich 2012 by Lee Pegram

Wed 25 Jul 2012

IRONMAN Zurich – 15th July 2012

Scene Setting

Following a fantastic year of events in 2011, it was early autumn and my thoughts turned to what 2012 might hold.  Yet despite being (at that point) as trim and fit as I had been in years, my rather different internal system was clearly not right and it was getting worse.  Problems had been lurking in the background for some time and I was concerned that I might have over done it a little in 2011. What with the La Marmotte and Ironman UK falling within four weeks of each other.  Time proved this was actually incorrect, post these events, things continued to decline.  This struck me most prominently around September 2011 when I got dropped by everyone on a Saturday training ride before we had even got to Bramfield!  This was not the Lee of early 2011.

Some months passed, my GP and hospital tested everything and threw all available medication at me until eventually things started to calm down.  To date it is still unclear what was wrong – just one of those things.  However, any form of training structure had disappeared.

In spite of my physical deterioration I concluded that what I really needed was an event to work towards in 2012 and with exquisite  timing (a week before the Majorca training week was announced) I booked Ironman Zurich 2012 and managed to convince two good friends (Paul and Mark) that it would be good for them too!

Some Training (but not too much)

Reflecting on 2011 I had recalled feeling stronger earlier in the year, and felt that maybe I had peaked too soon.  So I considered for 2012, when would be the appropriate time to start – should I leave it a little later?  Demanding work commitments also influenced this and consequentially serious training got pushed back further and further into the spring of 2012.  Once again I committed to a number of training events which contributed to some level of training structure.  These included the Tunbridge Wells half marathon in February (1hr 59m), a 90K MTB enduro ride on a hilly Isle of Wight course (6hr 58m) and the Beaver half Ironman distance triathlon (5hr, 41m) in May, and a 5K open water swim at Box End in Bedford (1hr 59m) and finally the Flat out in the Fens 154 mile Cyclosportive on a very exposed and windy day (9hr,24m) in June.  Alongside these events I also followed a 12 week prescribed programme for Ironman training.

Collectively this got me back in to some sort of shape, albeit I was still a good 5kg heavier than in 2011 – too much comfort eating in those dark winter days!  I admit to questioning more than once whether I was really ready and/or in shape for the event but I’m not good at turning back…

The Main Event

So on to the event we travelled.  IM Zurich is one of the more established events on the Ironman tour and 2012 was the 16th year it has been held in the city.  We flew in on the preceding Friday via an excellent BA flight (they didn’t lose the bike box) and from arriving it just felt like a great place to be.  Negotiating the train to our booked hotel in Horgen on the lower side of Lake Zurich was surprisingly easy and without too much stress we were booked in to an Ironman hotel. Although it has to be said they were a bit worried about so many bikes in the lift!  Now, the whole event was becoming very real.  Eleanor and I had gone on an earlier flight than Paul and Debbie, Mark and Julie, which enabled us to go to the English version of the race briefing and no detail was missed.  In truth it turned out to be the usual triathlon stuff on how to get yourself DQ’d.

The Ironman Village was a lakeside set-up at Landiwiese, very professional and very convenient to our hotel with a direct 15min train service between to two areas.  Even on the Friday you could feel the energy/stress building with the significant number of really fit athletes that surrounded you.

With registration complete for all, we familiarised ourselves with the village and various transition entrances/exits and then headed back to the hotel to relax.

Saturday 14th July 2012

The day before the race, an early morning bike build was undertaken and then we had a really calm and enjoyable day strolling into Zurich as we awaited our given bike check-in time at 17.30, in transition central.  We all seemed calm.  Around mid afternoon we headed back to the hotel, got on our bikes and rode the five or so miles back to transition.  This was a welcome chance to stretch the legs a little and ensure the bikes were OK.  Paul was having some ‘big ring’ problems so headed directly to the Scott mechanics for assistance.

Upon entering transition you were photographed with your bike as a security measure – this was checked again at the end and seemed a great idea.  With the bikes safely off-loaded we again headed back to our Hotel to load transition rucksacks and to try and relax.

Sunday 15th July 2012 – RACE DAY

A 4.00am alarm was followed by some breakfast and then across the road to catch the 4.51am train to the event.  We got on, just as the night clubbers were getting off – an interesting mix!  We arrived at Ironman central shortly after 5am, joined others in transition, removed the plastic covers of our bikes and set about getting ready and in the zone.  IM Zurich is a little different to other IM competitions in that all your clothing/equipment is held around your racked bike (like most sprint triathlons) rather than in separate bags within tents.  This would be fine if there was a little more room.  To avoid getting my stuff kicked around I simply left it in my rucksack in the right order.  Eventually we dressed in rubber and shuffled over to the swim start.

Swim – 2.4 miles (1hr 24m 38s)

We gathered on a slopped bank on the lake edge – it was a shore start.  The Swiss national anthem was played, then the professionals went of at 06.55 and five minutes later we joined them.  What an experience.  I have done a few mass start swims before but this was crazy.  1700 athletes heading out together and it was carnage.  You dare not stop, as you would have been swum over!  In all this chaos I was getting worked up and couldn’t settle my breathing down.  Many others were the same, given by the number of them starting with breaststroke.  Fortunately the lake was very clean – as I was drinking too much of it!  Eventually I settled and got in to a rhythm as we headed to the first turn.

Interestingly at approximately half way there is an ‘Australian Exit’ whereby you exit the water, run over a short island before undertaking the second lap.  This was great fun and enabled spectator’s opportunity to cheer everyone on.

Without too much further stress the swim was complete and it was a short run in to transition.

T1 (8m 41s)

In my traditional fashion I was slow here but I made sure I had everything.  In a very continental way you were allowed to fully change in transition without the need to go in to an enclosed tent.  This was going so well for me until I tripped, trying to get my right leg in to my bib shorts – on to my back I went like a turtle with bits hanging everywhere. Eleanor wished she had had telephoto lens!  Oh well nobody seemed to care!  Queuing for the WC in T1 was the most stressful part – just wasted time.

Bike – 112 miles (07hr 01m 16s)

This was a great bike course of two identical loops with long flat fast stretches around the lake mixed with mini alpine type climbs.  The biggest climb being about 4kM of 7%. In total the course had circa 1400m of ascent.

The weather forecast for Sunday had not been good all week and we duly had it all - rain, lighting, thunder, gusting wind, hail and brilliant sunshine.  I started well but again got delayed waiting at WC’s.  I had no choice I just had to be patient but it seemed like forever when other riders are going through.  Mark (with a similar swim time) went past on the early stages and that was the last I saw of him until later. Midway around the first lap I got my first soaking of the day and so did the girls who decided to disco dance through it!

Further on towards the end of the loop our fantastic supporters awaited at one of the feed stations where spectators passing food, is allowed.  This was at the top of a popular climb ‘Heartbreak Hill’ where spectators line the route cheering you up, Tour de France style.  The agreed dispatch of Marmite rolls was great!

Fortunately, except for  the mad weather and a further soaking with only 10miles to go, it was an uneventful ride and relief passed through me as I realised that it had come to an end and no mechanical issues had intervened.

T2 (12m 42s)

Again I was as methodical as ever and with nice fresh wet run gear to put on, out on to the run course I trooped.

Run – 26.2 miles (05hr 29m 31s)

Oh dear.  This actually started quite well with the first 10.5kM lap completed without stopping expect at the feed stations but once on the second lap things turned nasty.  Again I needed the WC and started to feel sick and shaky.  Support from Eleanor and the girls was unyielding - it was time for me to simply ‘man-up’.  I just had to keep walking and make whatever progress I could until it passed.  Around this time I saw both Mark and Paul who appeared to be going well but there was nothing they could do for me, this is the test of the Ironman.  Eventually, as I entered the final lap and with a further Swiss downpour, I heard an Italian accent from behind say ‘you run with me’!  Ricardo and I were new best friends for this turbulent last stage.

The final lap actually became enjoyable as you pass landmarks for the last time and the scent of completion gets stronger.  Ricardo was a great lift and we collectively encouraged anyone else we passed.  Our pace picked up again and finally to the finish we went.

Finish (14hr 16m 38s)

You can never get bored with going down the final finish chute and this was no exception.  The time is certainly not competitive but with my preceding year I was delighted.  Having completed this second event, the enormity of the event is certainly not lost and I actually respect it even more.  As the saying goes in Ironman – every finish is a win!

Mark had an excellent first event and completed in 12hr 32m24s.  Paul battled through a bike mechanical (his ‘big ring’ still did not work) and despite this came in with an impressive 15hr 15m 07s.

We celebrated, collected our gear and headed back to the hotel shattered but on a massive high. Two Ironmen in my 40th year cannot be bad.

The final treat was to come, upon arriving at Heathrow T5, the next day.  T5 was primed and ready for Olympians arriving from around the globe.  Enter stage left, Paul and myself (and about ten other Ironman finishers dotted around the terminal) proudly wearing our matching ‘finishers’ tee-shirts, carrying Ironmen rucksacks and pushing our bikeboxes  –  Snap! Snap! We were papped!  Heaven knows who the photographer thought he was photographing but I doubt he would have wasted his disc space had he realised – we laughed all the way home!





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