Rolling out of transition I saw Katie and my Mum again which was awesome, and I gave them another massive grin. I also went straight past a club-mate Anna, who I gave a shout of ‘Go Chasers’ – she obviously had a great swim. After having a few swigs of energy drink, I tried to settle into a rhythm, which was extremely difficult with the adrenaline pumping and the support as we rode through the city centre.
It’s a 2 lap course in Zurich, with the distance on the bike totalling 112 miles. The first 20 miles or so of the course are pancake flat around the lake, so it was a chance to hold a consistent pace before the climbs to come later on. I don’t have one of these fancy power metres to measure my effort, so I was riding purely on feel, which I knew could be difficult to judge.
Despite thinking that I was holding back, I absolutely flew through the opening section, and in hindsight, probably should have backed off slightly. However, at the time, the effort felt ridiculously easy, so I carried on, saying hello to fellow riders and waving at all the people at the side of the road.
Some of the other people taking part probably thought I had something wrong with me. I was just grinning like a maniac in the opening stages, and at one point I even started talking to myself whilst I was happily pedalling along. Something along the lines of ‘I can’t believe I’m actually here and finally doing an Ironman’. Pretty strange, I accept, but I was having too much of a good time to care.
Everyone had a race number on with their name and the flag of the country they were from in the corner, so whenever I saw a fellow Brit I made sure to say hello and wish them well. Everyone was being really friendly (apart from some of the super-serious Europeans), and chatting to others briefly made the time fly by.
After 20 miles or so we turned off the lake and onto some hillier terrain. The route was incredibly scenic, taking us through some picturesque Swiss villages with all the locals outside their homes supporting the riders by either ringing giant cow bells or shouting ‘Hop, Hop, Hop’, which I took to mean ‘Go, Go, Go’ rather than them telling me to get off and start hopping up the hill.
I made sure to keep the effort level low on the hills, saving energy for later in the day. I continuously swapped places with a fellow Brit – Ian, and we chatted as we kept passing one another. I was messing around with my drinks bottles, which led to me accidently pressing the button on my watch that made it think I had then started the run – rookie error. I had to reset it completely so my average speed for the bike was wiped and started again from mile 30.
I then hit the first of the two major climbs. There was nothing too scary about them – they weren’t that steep, they just lasted for a fairly long time. I span my way to the top, surprised at the number of people I was passing – I thought I was rubbish at climbing. Maybe they were just riding a bit smarter than I was.
I flew down the descent and before long found myself at the bottom of the second ‘bump’. Again, I kept the effort at what I thought was an easy pace, tapping away to the top. By this point it was warming up considerably, and I made sure to keep drinking regularly. Every 15 miles or so there was an aid station, so you would chuck your bottles into the litter zone before grabbing fresh ones at speed – I had a pretty high success rate, but managed to drop at least a couple.
I was now on the road back into Zurich, and was excited to see my support crew for the first time in a couple of hours. As I came towards town I saw the fast boys already well into their second lap – they were absolutely flying. I also had my first encounter with a couple of Belgian chaps who were quite clearly ‘drafting’ – one was basically riding so close behind the other that his nose was practically touching the other guys saddle in front.
Ironman is meant to be a solo event, with no drafting allowed – you’re meant to have a gap of at least 12 meters between riders, to limit any aerodynamic benefit that riding in a line can give. I politely told them that they weren’t quite playing by the rules, and got a barrage of abuse back. I grinned and carried on with my day. I couldn’t quite help laughing out loud when on the second lap, I saw one of the chaps in the penalty tent serving a 5 minute time penalty for drafting. Justice.
At the end of the lap you head straight past the transition area and the other way down the lake to make up the full 90km. This section also included the infamous ‘Heartbreak Hill’, where I’d heard that the crowds were meant to be great, spilling out into the road like one of the climbs on the Tour De France.
It’s not a particularly big hill, just short and steep, and as I’d ridden it a couple of days ago I knew exactly what to expect. The support was insane, with loud music pumping out of the sound system and people on both sides of the roads making tonnes of noise. As I neared the top I spotted my family, telling them all was ok, and saying something along the lines of ‘I’m absolutely loving it’. I really was – I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun!
I careered back down the other side of the hill and started the second and final lap. The first flat 30km seemed to be taking longer than before and I knew I was beginning to flag slightly. I knew my time splits were being posted and people back home were tracking me, which definitely gave me a real boost in some of the darker moments.
I hit the hills in the middle of the lap, and I definitely wasn’t moving up them as well as the first time round. By this point it was really warm and a few people were coming by me; probably more than I was going past. I concentrated on keeping up my nutrition, and I’d eat something every 30 minutes (either an energy gel or a cliff bar) as well as taking on plenty of sports drink.
However, I was starting to become really bloated by this point, and decided to try and relieve the pressure by stopping and going to the loo. I spent a minute and a half sitting in a sauna-like portaloo at the top of one of the climbs without any success. As annoying as this was, all I could really do was press on and hope for the best.
Fortunately, it was probably one of the most beautiful bike rides I’ve ever done, and I can honestly say that at no point was I fed up of being on the bike and wanting to get off. At this point I wasn’t thinking about the marathon I had to run at the end of the bike, I was just ticking off each 10km marker and looking forward to seeing my family again out on the run.
I rolled back through the city centre and noted that there was already a fair few athletes already out on the run course. I still had my final circuit of heartbreak hill to complete, and I just made sure I kept the effort low to save my legs for the run. Once up and over that, it was all downhill back into transition.
Bike time: 5:38:22. Total race time: 6:55:46.
At this point I’d moved up to 492nd overall and 30th in my age group.
Bike strava activity – part 1
Bike strava activity – part 2
I took my feet out of my shoes and jumped off the bike while it was still moving – fortunately, my legs didn’t cave in on me and if anything they actually felt quite good! I ran my bike back to my racking point, before grabbing my run bag and heading into the change tent. On the way some of the volunteers plastered my back and shoulders with sun cream, which by that point was definitely much too late, as I’d find out later on.
There wasn’t too much to do after that – shoes on, helmet back in the bag, and visor on my head. I had a little see-through bag with some gels and sun cream in that I could load into my back pockets on the go, so I grabbed that and left transition, with just the marathon left to go.
Transition 2 time: 2:00