Ditchy’s Ironman Switzerland Race Report
Ditchy’s first Ironman after a comedy build-up.
Having been injured almost non-stop since starting running on ’05, I decided that a bit of cycling might be good cross training, and bought a road bike. Which sat in the shed unused for a year. In ’08 I decided to try it and spent a nervous few minutes refusing to let go of HH’s shoulder whilst he attempted to explain what the different gears were for. A couple of days later I decided (inspired by pirate race reports) to enter IMCH.
I also quickly entered a sprint, and got permission from my physio to run the 5k, as long as I then stopped running for 12 weeks. A flying start!
After a few weeks of getting used to the bike, it became obvious that it was far too small for me. Unfortunately I had already damaged the ulnar nerve in my left hand, and so followed 6 weeks of no cycling apart from one-handed spin classes. On the 6th week I decided to do a sportive that I had already entered and paid for. What could possibly go wrong, doing 56 miles of Surrey hills on no training and a too-small bike? I won’t go into detail, but finishing that ride involved much cramping, some toppling over sideways, a fair amount of crying, and a “massage” from Dustboy that left me with a line of thumb-sized bruises along my quad. It was also, however, my first experience of pirate support, as Kanga, Dustboy and Barley stuck with me to the finish, refusing to go on ahead.
A few weeks later, after some successful eBaying, I finally had a bike my size, and about half the weight of the previous one, and began to get used to the idea of cycling on roads with big scary cars. Around Christmas time, the 30 week plan I had bought from Amazon started, and I more or less stuck to the first ten weeks of cycling and swimming in it, and began running again, starting with ten minutes, and building up to about 45 minutes or so. It was all starting to look do-able.
And then I got a cold. Which turned into a chest infection. Looking back at my training diary I have almost 7 weeks of less than 2 hours training per week, right where the whole of the “build” phase should be. The 8th week I managed a couple of MTB rides with some pirates and one road ride and then felt so awful I had another week off. 8 weeks lost in total. At this point my physio muttered darkly about post viral problems and heart failure and my doctor gave me an inhaler and strict instructions not to go above 160 bpm on any account. Friends started to ask if I was still planning on going ahead with it. Meldy as my mentor, got a fair few teary phone calls and emails around now as well (thanks lovely!)
So, in May, bike training started again. At this point, I was still not allowed to run due to the knee, but instead was going everyday to do some one-legged exercises in the pool. I decided to throw myself at the bike training, and entered a sportive almost every week in May and June, coming last at almost all of them. My mileage went 0, 26, 74, 108, 106, 77, 97, taper. I survived these rides at my doctor’s prescribed HR, but the average speed (about 12 mph, not counting cake stops) was dire, and I was very worried about the cut-off.
Running wise, I had now managed to get to 10 miles of run/walk, and at the end of May was to do my second tri, a middle distance. Four days before this, I was in a 4-car smash at 70mph. Now I had a sore neck and back, and could no longer bilateral breathe or use my tribars. However, the insurance company provided a hire car, and I decided to start and see how far I got. Surprisingly, I got to the finish, and enjoyed all the parts where I wasn’t throwing up gels and salty diesel-y river water.
Best of all, I’d done my longest run since Feb ’08, and the longest I would be able to do before IMCH, a whole 14 miles.
For some reason, I started to get a reputation as a disaster area. I prefer to think of myself as lucky that I wasn’t seriously injured in the crash.
So that was my prep. I have to say, the sheer inadequacy of it all kind of took the pressure off, and I didn’t suffer as badly with nerves as I was expecting. I guess I had enough excuses, but there was still time for one more. Loading my bike into HC’s van, I smacked my knee on the pedal, and it swelled up and hurt like hell.
I woke up feeling cold. My left leg had been outside the covers all night and felt very dodgy, so I held a hot shower on it for ten mins to try and warm it up. At the start, I tore my wetsuit as I was putting it on, but there was nothing I could do about it then, and as soon as I got into the water, cold water flowed in and down my left leg. The first lap was uneventful, I went very wide and had a quiet swim, no punch ups, but also never relaxing and getting into a rhythm. I had done the distance in training in about 1.25, but I knew I would be longer than this today. Getting out of the water to go over the island, my leg wasn’t keen on supporting me, and I started to worry. Halfway around the second lap it cramped, and swimming very slowly with my foot at a right angle, the rest of me started to get cold. I stopped being able to sight, got an ice cream headache, and felt very sleepy and disorientated. I began to worry about being pulled from the swim when one of the rescue boats approached to ask if I was ok. I decided to wee in the wetsuit to warm myself up (the first time I’ve ever done this). It made a big difference, and eventually I got to the end of the swim, in 1.41, a good deal down on expectations.
T1 took forever! Over 13 minutes! I kept rubbing myself with my towel trying to warm up, and because I have the worlds most uncomfortable saddle, I was also trying to put proper cycling shorts on rather than tri-shorts. Some encouragement from a lady racked near me who turned out to be a triathlon and former RW journo, and off I went.
The first 17 miles of the bike I was a mess. Shivering, miserable, cramping and also bizarrely sleepy. I really wanted to pull over and have a quick nap, and had to slap myself to stay awake. Thankfully, at mile 17 the climbing begins, and I began to warm up and think coherently, taking on some food. I did briefly think that it might have been wise to have done at least one training ride on my own, without cake stops, but too late now! Not too much to say about the bike really, amazing to see the pirate flags in the middle of nowhere with Rosey lying about how near we were to the top of the climb, and then Heartbreak Hill with the incredible noise and the pirates shouting, and HH with my change of drinks bottles. Our brief chat went “I’m not sure I can do all that again”, “Of course you can, don’t be silly”, “Oh, OK then”. One of the pros told me to keep going as he came past, which lifted my spirits as well, and was particularly nice when compared to an Italian competitor with full disc wheels who was not remotely happy at me passing him, and another who passed me on a hill and then shouted at me to “get back”. He got a “as if I’m going to try and draft you, you stupid c&nt” in return.
At some point I became aware of a funny noise coming from the vague direction of my front brake. I couldn’t work out if it was running or not, and absolutely couldn’t face getting off the bike to have a look, so I reached down and loosened it a bit and hoped it would still work.
I just kept checking my average speed as I knew I needed 14 mph to make the cut-off. It was going the wrong way……15.7, down to 14.3 by the end of lap one, and then down to 13.7 on lap two at the top of Forch. 20 miles in less than an hour and a quarter is a big ask for me, and I had a horrible sinking feeling, but remembered Haile’s text telling me that if I just kept my head I could do it, so pushed the reality of failure aside and went for denial instead. I knew to have any chance I’d have to actually manage a descent without gripping the breaks in fear, and so breathing in a slightly demented fashion, I got the average up to 13.9 by the bottom. One scary moment in the tunnel where a car’s headlights blinded me, and then I was out by the lake again, and would hopefully be able to pick up the extra 0.1 along the flat. As one of the last riders out on the course I had a motorcycle escort back to the Landiwiese, clearing stray pedestrians from my path. This stopped me slacking, and by the time I’d gone up the now-deserted HBH (but loving the pirate stickers and poster left behind) and down the other side, my average was 14.1 and I was going to make it.
Best moments on the bike – managing to take and eat a banana in motion. Worst moments – dropping my ibuprofen.
A leisurely 7 mins or so in T2 changing into running shorts, and bodygliding various bits, and out onto the run. I had decided to walk the first half mile just drinking water to try and sort my whiplashy neck and back out, and then I settled into my run / walk plan, of walking 100 paces every time my Garmin beeped a mile, and having a gel every three miles. I hooked up with a chatty fellow pirate who was two laps ahead and had been slowing, and we spent the next two laps together, me forcing him to stick to my schedule. He very sweetly later claimed this had made him speed up and helped him get his sub 12.30, and that gave me a boost, though personally I think it would have been more gentlemanly to make it an ultra and do the two extra laps with me
I loved the run. If only because I wasn’t on that saddle anymore, but also because, even though I was going slowly, I could at least be consistent, and I gained nearly 120 places on the run, seeing many pirates along the way. When I passed Seren she said how happy she was to see me after all the problems, and that made me well up, especially as she had her fair share of injuries in the build up too.
Passing the various Pirate support points along the run was amazing, and by the 3rd lap I had sore cheek muscles from grinning constantly – Aitch, Trogs and Nam at the early corner, Lindi’s Aunt by the petrol station, HH, the Major, Oxy and Garr by Crazy Station, Mrs JD who popped up all over the run course, and then the massive in the stands.
On the fourth lap I started trying to store up mental snapshots of the route, knowing it was the last time round, and remembered Barley telling me to savour it. I was congratulating everybody I passed, and those who were passing me, and then suddenly I was running past the pirates in the stands, and seeing how happy they were to see me finish is making me well up just thinking about it. Kanga, who’d babysat me on so many rides, and Bassy who’d sorted my bike out on numerous occasions are two faces that stood out from the crowd. Round the corner was HH who has been incredible – unrelentingly patient, positive and supportive throughout my disaster prone year of wibbling and selfishness. A quick kiss and then running down the finish chute. I’ve never felt emotional finishing a marathon, but this was truly overwhelming, and everything stopped hurting and I loved it.
The run took me 5 hours 10, and I finished in 15.04. Given everything that had happened in training, I would have been over the moon with 15.59, so 15.04 was unbelievable, especially with 20 mins in transition lol!
Oh and I didn’t get a single blister all day, but got one the next day walking to the pub, where I was given a huuuuuge bar of chocolate for being smiliest pirate, but to be honest – given the incredible pirate support, how could anyone not be smiley!
Note: Two months later, my left foot is still swollen. My physio and I have worked out that turning my ankle falling off a six inch high piece of decking supporting the Oly the previous day gave me a very minor injury, and doing an IM on it the next day made it a bit more grumpy.