Road to Ironman
Thousands of miles, hundreds of hours of training, tens of hours of preparation… and suddenly the minutes are ticking …
4:22am… ring ring… The alarm goes off and I jump out of bed. Today is the BIG day … Ironman Switzerland! I get ready promptly and quietly trying to focus on the tasks that lay ahead: 2.4 mile-swim, 112 mile-bike and 26.2 mile-run. I know I’m going to have to push the physical limits of my body and I can’t wait! I eat some breakfast as I fill with excitement and adrenaline… My goal is to complete an Ironman within only a year of competing in my first triathlon ever… I’m on target and roaring to go.
I trained so hard for this…. for this journey of human endurance, a journey without destination as the race starts and finishes in the same location by Lake Zurich. So much commitment, hard work, sacrifices from my family, support from friends, has gone into this…
A quick tram ride and we’re at the start. The bike park is already filled with fellow athletes. I look around and everyone seems so fit, I feel like in a casting for ‘Survival of the fittest’! I try not to let myself get intimidated and concentrate on sorting out the last minute activities on my bike (pump tyres, fix nutrition and hydration on bike, clip shoes on pedals). Race officials announce the water temperature in the lake is too hot (24.6C) to allow wetsuits. Everyone around seems to be panicking and worried about how slower the swim will be without the buoyancy of the wetsuit… I remain calm. My swim is the weakest of the three disciplines and I know it will be hard to be competitive. We’re all on the same playing field without wetsuits, so it doesn’t appear to be a big issue. My strategy is to limit the damage on the swim. I understand the 2.4 mile-swim is only the warm up in such an endurance event, so I don’t want to leave it all in the water. I’m hoping to make up the time lost on the swim course during the bike leg.
A quick warm-up in the lake, a good luck from Rob (who is a trooper and will be my support crew from dusk to dawn– thanks for always being there for me 🙂 ) and the gun goes… the pros are off… a few minutes later I’m off too running in the water to swim for dear life. It’s a bit of a battle at first, I get swim over and knocked a few times but after a few minutes I finally find some space in the water and settle into a rhythm.
I am really enjoying the swim, the water is warm and I’m making steady progress focusing on the next buoy, taking it one buoy at a time. Before I know it, I’m out of the water and running into transition.
I see Rob in T1 who shouts encouragements as I grab my blue bag and fly through the changing tent. No wetsuit to peel off so the transition is quick and simple. For the first time, I had decided to attempt a flying mount in a race (I had practiced before the race whilst riding up and down my street to the entertainment of my neighbours!)… I hop on my bike bare feet and manage to strap my cycling shoes as I’m pedaling… success! I flew through the transition in under 3 mins.
Having recced the course a couple of days earlier (mainly driving but a few segments riding on my bike), I understand what lies ahead. The 112 mile-course is made of 2 laps (56 miles each) with a mix of fast flat roads by Lake Zurich followed by climbs and fast descents in the Alps. I know the real challenge on the bike course will reside in reigning me in… I concentrate on executing my strategy of maintaining a steady power for the entire course, taking it easy on the ups not to burn too much energy. I’m on a mission to stick to my plan. I’m riding strong but not too strong to economise my energy. I find myself passing many other competitors. As I pass I realise I’m surrounded by men, I’m wondering where all the women are? The descents are technical and scary, but even with my still limited bike handling skills in steep descends, I’m still passing 🙂
First 56-mile lap flies by in 2h43, under 3 hours – just as I was hoping. I attack the second lap feeling excited, but I know that the race is just starting… During the second lap, I’m starting to feel the heat. Even though I am carrying with me on the bike 2.5L of water, I realise it’s not going to be sufficient so I decide to make use of the aid stations (I was initially hopping to be self-sufficient on the bike). I feel a bit fatigued on the last climbs (between hours 4 to 5 on the bike), but perk up quickly as soon as I’m attacking the descent back to Lake Zurich. Steadily I keep wheeling other competitors in and push a bit harder the last 30mins of the ride in an attempt to catch up with women at the front of the pack. I see the dismount line in site…. 5h32min for the big leg, that’s a good time for me (averaging 19.9 miles per hour). I see Rob and his friends in T2 which gives me a boost of motivation. He also shouts that I’m 4th in my age group, so I know a podium might be feasible…. Time to dig deep….
After another quick transition, I start the run feeling great. I’m still filled with adrenaline, my legs seem surprisingly fresh and my spirits are high. The marathon run consists of 4 laps in the city centre of Zurich, a scenic and flat course overlooking the lake and the mountains.
For the first two laps, I’m really enjoying the run and I seem to still be passing a good number of competitors…. I see Rob and his friends at each lap, which fills me with excitement.
After the second lap, they shout that I’m now in 3rd place, gradually closing up on the 2nd AG woman (now only 8mins ahead). I know I need to keep focus and concentrate on each stride.
The temperature is soaring with the current heat wave hitting Europe (32C in the shade, and most of the course is in the burning sunshine, so probably reaching mid-30Cs). I use all the tools available to cool me down: I run under the cold water jets at aid station, grab the icy sponges provided and squish them over my head and neck and tip cups of ice in my tri suit!
From around the half marathon point, I start to feel unwell and queasy. Perhaps I should have slowed down earlier… perhaps I started the run too aggressively… perhaps the heat and/or exhaustion are getting the best out of me… I see Rob and his friends again at lap 3 and all I can mumble is that I feel so sick…… and sure enough I need to stop at the next aid station where I’m really poorly and I vomit litres of isotonic drink. It’s all of bit of a blur now, I might have blacked out. All I remember is being held by the medics until they finally let me back on the course…. I’m so relieved to be allowed back in the race that I sprint off the aid station, in fear the medics will change their minds…. I’ve just lost 7 precious minutes with this sickness episode… I know I might have lost the podium, so I try to dig deep again to catch up… my efforts seem vain, my legs aren’t responding anymore and my body feels weak. Time to run with me mind and my soul. I’m on a mission to finish whatever it takes. I am still managing to run for the remaining lap but my pace is now reduced significantly. Finally, I get the last lap bracelet and at that moment I know I’m going to make it to the finish. A huge relief as I wasn’t sure how long I could keep going for before my body shuts down. A couple minutes later, the finish line is in sight. I am feeling so emotional! As I cross the finish line, I hear the presenter say the coveted Camille, “you are an Ironman” in his Swiss German accent… I burst into tears….so many emotions are going through my mind! Tears of happiness, relief and gratitude. I turn around to look at the clock 11:07:19… phew, that was a long day of racing!
Race in Numbers
I finished 4th woman AG only 5 mins from the podium… of course with my competitive nature I’m slightly disappointed to have missed the podium after a long 11 hours of battling through the course. It was so close… However, I raced my heart out and there was nothing left in me! I gave it my all, so I have no regrets. I’m just feeling really pleased and humbled to have completed my first Ironman!!
The list of thank you is a long one too (nearly as long as an Ironman 🙂 )! I am forever grateful and thankful to everyone who has believed in me, helped and supported me throughout this journey. None of this would have been possible without you, especially my husband Rob and our family, my support crew (thanks Chris and Ryan for joining in!), my friends, my coaches, my partners and sponsors: TriUK, CimAlp, Cervelo, Totally Wonderfuel, TYR Sport, Vifit Sport, Worldwideathlete.
Photo credits: FinisherPix and Rob King.
#dare2dream #dare2be #nevergiveup