Usual prerace nerves exacerbated by feeling very unwell on Monday and Tuesday such that on Monday I had to leave work early and spent most of Tuesday sleeping. Not sure what it was but will call it a tummy bug.
By weds I was feeling better and did a run in the evening. When I got to Switzerland via London city airport (gotta be the best place to fly from, no queues no hassle) I had enough time to book in and build my bike before joining a supervised romp around the bike course. That was a real blast. I went way to fast for the first 30 km hanging onto the heels of a big German engine chatting with Jon Hotchkiss who was venturing into IM for the first time but clearly has a lot of talent in the faster stuff. We then headed into the hills which were none to bad before charging down some real fast descents. I binned the ride at about 80km foregoing the pleasure of heartbreak hill until raceday. It was by far the hardest session I have yet done in a race week and left my legs buzzing a bit!!
Friday I managed a swim and met up with another Jon who I first met in at the start of Lanzarote in 2008, 2nd time at London Oly and this was our third meeting. We had a cool swim out into Lake Zurich and generally enjoyed the vibe of bobbing up and down in a water in the middle of some great backdrops. Saturday I focused on being as laid back as possible except for a tiny jog and a small ride down to transition. To be honest I still did not feel great unlike my prerace health before Lanza where I had felt fantastic.
Raceday and I had slept well but was still not sure how I thought it was going to go. I was worried being ill might affect the latter stages of the race and my lack of appetite may have affected my energy stores. Time telescoped and there we all were waiting for the off drifting past the start line. Eventually as is often the way in mass water starts someone at the front had enough and bolted for the open water end everybody charged after... there was no gun or signal!!!
Head down I was going well, rounded the first buoy, started hitting my stroke and felt like I was swimming well and gently passing up through the field. As we closed in on the second buoy the field tightened but there was only a bit of argy bargy, as I came out of the water to sight I could not really see in the distance so relied on what is a normally a good sense of direction but on Sunday was clearly broken. Next time I look up I am headed towards the apocalypse, well about a 1000 swimmers all coming directly towards me. I must have turned 180 degrees and was heading back where I came from. Now totally confused I spied an amused canoeist who gently showed me the way I should be heading. The rest of the swim followed with minimal mishap but my mojo was clearly blown and I struggled thereafter to find a rhythm and could not shake the nagging doubt that I was constantly headed back into more mayhem.
Finally out of the water at T1 I was surprised to find it raining slightly. Soon I was hammering out onto the bike course. I had already decided as soon as was feasible that I was gonna put the power down hard. I know it is not what the books say but 30 km on the flat is what I am made for! Sure there was some big bunches gathering but a strong headwind meant that even at a race legal 10 m you still got a big benefit from those in front making it much harder to get off the front of these packs, but on the first lap that is exactly what I did. A few rumbling discwheels came past but mostly it was me doing the overtaking. Into the hills on the first leg and I felt solid if not great. There are a few long drags then some great fast swooping downhills which I really enjoyed. A bit of light rain made me a bit tentative on the corners but otherwise it was all good. At about 70km you come back to the lake before heading round to "heartbreak hill" this is a short sharp climb quite close to the race venue and is stacked with spectators who crowd in close and give you a great lift. I was passed by several going up the hill but i had plans. On the descent I started to crank it up again and started blasting past a few riders as we hit the lakeside again for another 35km speedfest.
The second bike leg I felt strong. A headwind along the flat and a failure of the commissars to punish anyone meant that drafting was rife. I got caught by many I had already overtaken after about 10 km of the second lap. Even sitting 10m of the back (ie draft legal) there was a huge advantage as they blocked the headwind by riding 3 and 4 abreast and the same deep! Twice I tried to get of the front but with a large chasing pack they kept coming back. After the second time I chose to stay draft legal behind the pack and bide my time. With about 5 km before the turn off I jumped off the front and put in a hard effort, this worked in the pack behind spread out considerably and also meant I got to the next feed station with only a few others in close company. There was then a moderate hill where I was passed by most of the freshish riders who clearly had benefited from their draft behind me. I recovered quickly though and was sonn pushing past again. The next 30 km were amongst the best I have felt when racing IM. I dont remember many passing me but felt like I was slowly working my way through the field. I think some of this was an illusion but nonetheless I was able to hold a good pace. Soon I was back to the lake and the flat before heartbreak for the second time, this time I started slower but gradually built up pace knowing the climb and responding to the disco beats being played, I am always a sucker to a good tune, and again came flying of the top and back towards transition.
Soon I was back in for T2 and a quick change out onto the run. A quick systems check and apart from a stiff back I felt good. In the first K I was caught by a tall 50ish y.o. german wearing a kona hat. I decided to track him as his pace felt about right.. and I did a whole lap on his shoulder! He did not want to talk and I was happy to let him sort the pace out and just focus on staying with him! As the run progressed I felt good going into the second lap and worked out that with stead progress I should be able to do another sub 10 which is always good motivation! The second lap went well, once I had discovered the energy drink gave me stomach cramps (like clockwork about 60 secs after drinking it) so I changed to gels and water and the digestion issues seemed to ease, or maybe I was slowing ;0.
The third lap as ever was tough, my thighs tightened up so I changed to a high cadence short stride which at least kept me going. The battle this time was easier though and for the first time since I have started racing IM 26 miles did not seem to far. Mentally this was a great breakthrough and before I knew it I was onto the last lap. My stride eased up a bit and i found running easier for a while. Funnily it was when I realised I had about 35 minutes for the last 4.5K to go sub 10 that the pain came back. Still I kept going by visualising my normal 10 km run around Victoria Park and knowing I run that very week and imagining that was where i was. The last turnaround is about 3 km away from the finish and at this point I felt strong enough to push for home. I focused on an upright body and a good stride and.. it worked. I picked up at least 6 places in the last leg and went flying back towards the finish. I was very surprised to see the time on 9.52.5... so went hard down the shute to make sure it stayed a 9.52 (last year I did 9.53 at IM Austria).
Race done and I felt good. Big shout to Tom W and Helen T and to Jon doing his second IM.
I have found my race and with a 9.37 seeing me to Kona I think I might be back and hunting next year (59 min swim, 5hr bike, 3hr 29 run and I should have a chance for Hawaii!!). There again I said something the same last year and have not made the jump yet... but I think this time I might be able to do it.
See you out there somewhere.