Anyone that knows me well, knows how much I love running. Before triathlon came along, running was all I knew, and I can honestly say as I hopped off the bike I was really looking forward to the marathon. This would be my 10th marathon (if I get to the finish…), but the first one I’ve done after 7 hours of continuous exercise.
Quite unbelievably, the legs actually felt quite good – light and springy. I was sure this wouldn’t last for long, and had been told my countless people to find a pace that is ridiculously easy to run at and then run even easier than that. So naturally, I ticked off my first mile in around 7 minutes – just over 3 hour marathon pace. D’oh.
They’d changed the run course in Zurich this year to celebrate the events 20th anniversary, so it took in more of the city centre – which was great for everyone as it meant there was more support out on the route and generally a better atmosphere (or so I heard). It was four 10.5km laps, taking in the old town as well as the paths running alongside the lake.
For the first few kilometres I was passing pretty much everyone, with only one male professional coming past me (he was on a later lap). I wasn’t too concerned about this as the run has always been my strength and I’m used to getting off the bike in a lower position and working my way forward. I knocked out the first 5km in just under 22 minutes, in hindsight probably a bit too tasty, but I managed to slow it down slightly and bring it under control after that.
I absolutely loved the first lap. I saw Phil after a few kilometres and he attempted to run alongside whilst taking a picture (see below). After that, I was really excited to see the family and tell them how much fun I was having, but they seemed to have disappeared and I didn’t see them for the entire first lap. I wasn’t annoyed, in fact the main thought going through my head was worry that something might have happened to one of them – thankfully all was well.
I went through 10km in around 45 minutes feeling good, but I hadn’t taken in any food – just some water and energy drink. As I passed transition to start my second loop, I decided to force down an energy gel to keep the calories going into my body. As you completed each lap you ran straight past the finish line, but you weren’t able to enter the finish chute until you’d collected your four coloured wristbands – one for each loop.
By this point it was seriously warming up, and I was conscious I never really perform well in hot conditions. At every opportunity I was trying to lower my body temperature. There were 5 aid stations per lap, which had various drinks and gels, as well as cold sponges. After taking on some drink I’d grab a few sponges and squeeze them over me, before stuffing a couple down the back of my tri-suit. It was bliss. The volunteers at these stations were awesome, you just had to shout what you needed and they’d point you to the right person.
Going with the theme of the day, up until half-way through the 2nd lap of the run, I hadn’t stopped smiling. I was high fiving people on the sides of the roads and generally just having a bit of banter with other runners and volunteers. However, I knew this wouldn’t last forever, and sure enough, an earlier mistake ended up catching up with me.
I don’t want to go into massive detail about the situation I found myself in for the rest of the run (for obvious reasons), but the problem I had with not being able to go to the loo earlier in the day was about to not be a problem anymore. Which is a problem in itself, if you’re trying to run a marathon in as fast a time as possible.
So, at the next aid station, I found myself using the facilities, stopping for a minute or two before getting straight back into a good pace. I saw the support crew for the first time and this raised my spirits massively, letting them know all was well (or as well as could be halfway through an ironman marathon). From this point onwards I saw them on each lap at various points throughout town, and their support was nothing short of superb – it made the whole experience about 20 times better having them there to share the day with.
For me, the worst bit of the each lap was between kilometres 6-8, where you’d run to the end of a park by the lake before turning around and heading back into town. This stretch was packed with supporters sitting out in the bars and cafes watching the race, as well as others eating ice-cream and barbequing – it smelt absolutely amazing. I just wanted to slump out on the grass with a burger and cold beer. Despite the temptation, I pressed on, the fatigue starting to set in.
I’d like to say my bathroom issues were short lived, but they were a constant problem for the rest of the run. I had to stop no fewer than 8 times to use the loo, which put a serious dent in my aspirations for a fast run split. By this point I knew there was little I could do to make things better, so just got on with the job at hand – putting one foot in front of the other to get me to the finish line as quickly as possible. I’d obviously got my nutrition completely wrong – something to learn next time for sure, if there is one.
I went through the halfway point with 1 hour 40 on the run clock, but starting the second half of the marathon was probably the lowest point of the day, as I knew there was still a pretty long way to go. The penultimate loop is always the worst as you know you’ve got to come around and do it all over again. However, between pit stops I was running pretty well – the legs felt ok – and it was just frustrating that my stomach wasn’t co-operating.
There was a huge fountain in the town centre and during the 3rd lap I decided to dunk my entire head into it – that certainly helped with keeping cool. As much as I was hurting, I was giving it everything, and believe it or not I was still having a great time (kinda). I knew I wouldn’t get the opportunity to do another one of these crazy things any time soon so I just wanted to make the most of every minute.
Phil kept popping up in town, having not quite mastered this supporting lark like my family had (after going awol on loop 1). Instead of shouting when he saw me, he’d wait until I’d run past him before making me aware he was there, which caused me to miss him completely most of the time. Still – knowing he was there was enough for me and his presence was massively appreciated.
Some people were finding the conditions pretty tough, and I ran past quite a few runners collapsed on the side of the road, being attended to by the paramedics – the heat had obviously got to them. By now I was playing mental games inside my head, coaxing myself to run to the next aid station, which often coincided with the next toilet stop.
Starting the last lap was a big psycholgical boost, and for the first kilometre or so I found myself having a mini resurgence, which unfortunately was short lived. It was just about survival now, and doing everything in my power to get to the finish line. I was overheating, I felt sick and I I’d just about run out of energy. I started taking on coke at the aid stations to try and get some sugar onboard.
With 5km to go I came out of the loo again (surprise, surprise), and decided enough was enough, I’m not stopping until the end of the marathon. With a bit of juice still in my legs I picked up the pace again (I ran the last 5km in around 25 minutes), and started ticking off the points of the lap that I’d never have to see again.
As I left town for the final time and headed back towards the finish area, I started to well up slightly as that was the first time I allowed myself to believe that I was going to do it, and in not too bad a time either. In those last couple of kilometres I reflected on all the hard work and sacrifices I’d made to get me to this point, and made sure to make the most of this moment – it’s not every day you complete an ironman.
Heading into the finish area was an incredible experience. The finish chute was packed with spectators, and I flashed my four coloured wristbands which let me turn and head towards the line. The atmosphere was amazing, and I spotted my awesome support crew just 20 meters or so from the finish. Mum, Katie and Meg got a kiss, with Dave the Lion getting a very formal handshake. I then let a couple more guys go past so I’d have the finish line to myself (priority here being a good finishers photo), before jogging the last few meters to complete the longest, and quite possibly hardest, day of my life.
There were no tears this time. The overriding emotions were those of utter exhaustion and pure joy, combined with the disbelief that I’d actually managed to drag myself to the finish line. Job done.
Run time: 3:41:37
Finish time: 10:39:23. 22nd in my age group and 288th overall.
The journey isn’t over yet. There’ll be one more post, with all details of what happened in the immediate aftermath of the race.