Completing Ironman Switzerland 70.3 with a smile

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And so I'm an Ironman or a half Ironman at least.  I feel a massive sense of pride that the hard work paid off and the lack of social life for a few months ultimately allowed me to achieve my goal.  I’m even more pleased that in signing up for the

Ironman70.3 Rapperswil-Jona

 I forced myself out of my running comfort zone.  I hadn’t swum for longer than twenty minutes since I was eleven years old, I’d certainly never delved into the world of open water swimming and my idea of a bike ride was a four mile commute to work on my old mountain bike.

 [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0XRwhqpD-0]

I was ridiculously nervous in the few days leading up to flying out to Switzerland. It was the sort of horrible nerves I used to get before maths exams. I was scared of either not finishing, or coming last.  As we drove from Zurich airport to our hotel in Horgen, I had gone very quiet and barely spoke to Baldy and Miller, my partners in crime.

But once we arrived in

Rapperswil

and we registered at the Ironman village, my nerves turned more to excitement.  This was cool; shiny bikes, new equipment and toned bodies everywhere you looked. We put our bikes back together and had them checked by the bike doctor. As soon as he said mine was ok, I relaxed.  Now it was down to me and my

mental and physical strength

to get across the finish line.

We decided to recce the challenging bits of the bike course and pedalling alongside Lake Zurich, it hit home why we had come to Switzerland to tackle the Ironman 70.3.   We were surrounded by beautiful mountains, clear water and fresh mountain air.

rapperswil

rapperswil

The first ascent was “Witches Hill”. It was steep enough to get you out of your saddle, breathing hard and hurting. But it didn't last long and it levelled out at the top.  After a five minute recovery on the flat, we were hit with “The Beast,” a long drag up. It wasn't uncomfortably steep, but it was a case of just getting in gear and keeping the pedals turning.

Witches Hill

Witches Hill

After about forty minutes of constant uphill we flew back down the other side. Then followed a brief encounter with a local policeman.  Let me explain.  We had ended up cycling into a dark road tunnel. Not good when the tunnel was unlit and none of us had lights on our bikes. But with a bit of my dodgy french, the policeman pointed us in the right direction to get back to the car so we could return to our hotel.

On the Saturday morning we headed into Rapperswil again to check out the swim course.  Compared to my first outdoor swim on a freezing cold Thursday afternoon in Cheshire, this was on a whole new level.   The water temperature was around 16 degrees and with the sun beaming down on us and the backdrop of snow capped peaks, it was pure bliss.

Lake Zurich

Lake Zurich

After more food, we had a slow jog by the lake to loosen our legs, before racking our bikes.  And that was it. All of the training, trials runs and recces were over. It was time to head back into Horgen, fuel up, get some good sleep and prepare for race day.

I made the final touches to my transition box, before heading out for what felt like a farewell dinner with our support crew. My brother and my best friend were both there, along with Miller’s sister and mum and Baldy’s girlfriend.  I had also had good luck cards and messages from my nearest and dearest and it was topped off by a motivational good luck e-mail from one of the most ridiculously inspiring people I know - the person who helped give me the nudge to click “Enter” in the first pace.

It was so good to have all of the support from family and friends.  It felt great to know they believed in what I was trying to achieve.  It all hit home a bit at the dinner table though.  This was for real.  I had people behind me all of the way.  I had

sponsorship

riding on this.  I had to make me and them proud.

Unsurprisingly I didn’t have the best night’s sleep.  I got up just before 6am and forced down two bowls of porridge, a banana and a bagel with peanut butter.  Looking out over the lake, the sunshine from the day before had disappeared, replaced by thick, black, ominous looking clouds.

The rain started to fall as we left our hotel and by the time we got to Rapperswil, it was chucking it down. Suddenly our mood dropped. This was going to be an effort.  I wasn’t enthralled by the prospect of four hours on my bike in the pouring rain.  In fact I was dreading it.

Nervous looking faces before hand

Nervous looking faces before hand

Miraculously, by the time I lined up for the swim and the start of the race, it had stopped raining. But my nerves had got ten times worse. Over the loudspeaker, I could hear the pros were getting ready for their start and five minutes later, it would be the women.  Three hundred and fifty nine bright pink hats contrasted with the dark wetsuits covering the athletic bodies beneath.  Some nervous looking eyes were hidden under goggles. Others had clearly done this before and were smiling and laughing. Not me. I could barely breathe and felt horrendous. What was I actually doing? Why was I putting myself through this?  What was I trying to prove? All of the questions whizzed around in my head and I had no answer but I knew I just needed to get going.

I got in the water five minutes before our 9am start time to get my body used to the temperature.  I hung back and went over to one side, in an attempt to avoid getting crushed at the start.  It sort of worked, but when the gun went off, there were arms and legs everywhere.  I got hit and kicked and unusually for me, I was breathing every two strokes. I only started to feel relaxed after about 500m when I got into a more comfortable rhythm.  Once I reached the half way point I had more space around me, I felt good and I was breathing every four strokes.

The lake Swim for Ironman Switzerland 70.3

The lake Swim for Ironman Switzerland 70.3

I was out of the water after 40 minutes and I semi-ran, semi-waddled into T1. Now came my weakest bit – the bike.  I felt fine coming out of transition and tried to take on some carb drink and a Clif bar before the first climb up Witches Hill.  Compared to two days previously on our recce, there was a carnival like atmosphere, with people lining both sides of the road, willing us up the steep incline with shouts of “Hopp, Hopp” and “Heija, Heija.” I felt particularly good when I passed a fellow female competitor with a full-on time trial helmet and flashy bike who had actually got off to push it up the hill.

Next up it was “The Beast”. And as soon as I noticed people heading off to the left, I realised this was the point we had gone ridiculously wrong on our bike recce on the Friday and why we had ended up in a dark tunnel! The Beast was another short, sharp, nasty lung busting hill.  Russian girl got off her bike again. I didn’t and the encouragement from the crowds pushed me to the top.

goldingen

goldingen

The sun broke through the clouds as we started the long drag up towards Goldingen and although I wasn’t quick, I began to enjoy the ride. It was two loops of 45km and once I was heading back into Rapperswil to complete the first lap, I looked at my watch and knew if I could maintain my pace, I’d finish the course in around 3h30. Just knowing this boosted my confidence and seeing our support team screaming their heads off at me, blowing whistles, shaking rattles and generally acting in a daft way ensured I set off on the second lap feeling positive and most importantly, smiling.  The hills were more painful than the first time around, but I managed to maintain my rhythm.  I was desperate to finish in three and a half hours, so I really pushed myself over the last few kilometres.

As I hit the carpet for T2 the clock on my bike read 3’30. I was absolutely chuffed. Now all I had to do was run a half marathon. Two laps of 10.5km and I’d be crossing the finishing line.   But as soon as I started to try to run I realised this was going to be the hardest half marathon I had ever done in my life.  I’ve run half marathons on three hours sleep before which were not fun and within the first few hundred metres, it was clear this was going to be a greater struggle. I felt dehydrated and had nothing in the tank.  In my mind I was aiming for two hours, but I could sense I was moving so slowly that I was likely to be out there for longer.

On the 21km run course

On the 21km run course

It really was a case of digging deep and thinking of the words in that email “never let your head drop...” I thought about my brother and my best friend who had come all of the way to watch me, my family and friends who were willing me on at home and the charities I was raising money for.  In particular I thought about

Nightingale House

and my friend’s Dad who had passed away in January.  What was two hours of pain and hard work in the grand scheme of things?

The crowds gathered as we weaved our way through Rapperswil which made things easier. There were more shouts of encouragement and then one person started waving madly at me. It was a friend from Geneva who had done an Ironman the year before. She told me I looked “amazing.” I really didn’t, but that was enough to make me smile and give me another push to keep going.

Then came “Stairway to Heaven.” It sounds fairly harmless.  I can confirm after a 1.9km swim, 90 km on the bike and nearly 8km running, it wasn’t.  A flight of steps in the middle of the course. Who planned that?  But it was actually the most fun part in terms of support. I got a shout out on the loud speaker and my brother was yelling at me to get to the top.

Stairway to Heaven

Stairway to Heaven

By the time I hit the stairs on the second lap it had started to rain, but I didn’t care.  By this point I knew I only had a few kilometres to go. Looking at my watch I was also aware that if I kept up my pace, I’d be able to do around 2h10 for the half marathon which would mean I could finish the whole race in under 6h30; something deep down I had hoped I could do, but really hadn’t expected.

Running through the crowds at the finish was amazing and the sense of elation was topped off sprinting down the finishing chute. It was one of the best feelings I’ve experienced.

Pasta and medal moment

Pasta and medal moment

 It's a crazy mix of emotions; you know it’s a massive achievement and there's also an immense feeling of satisfaction because you’ve pushed your body to the limit and tested your mental capabilities to the extreme.

I crossed the line in 6h27 minutes (2.08 for the half marathon) with the biggest smile on my face.  Less than 12 months ago I had never done a triathlon. I didn't even know what T1 was. But since September 2011 I've been on the most amazing journey and it won't stop there.  Ironman 2013? Hell yeah!

This is part of a series of challenges I’m doing to raise £3,000 for charity before I’m 30.