This was my third time of entering IMCH and my second time of racing after pulling out in 2010. My first race here was pretty good. I thought this was a course suited to my strengths with a fast bike course with some steady hills and then an "interesting" run which was protected from the sun and to my mind provided enough variation to keep from getting overwhelmed by the distance.
Preparation had been patchy this year as the shere volume of work has left me unable or unwilling to meet the previous years training volumes. The endless rain had not helped, seeing me fail to get out for several weekends when I could not face getting drenched, but with a confidence built from experience and my previous race here I was quietly confident of a good performance around 10 hours and talking my self up even thought a 9:45 was possible.
Build up was OK and travel arrangements all went smoothly.
Race day arrived with mixed weather assumed and soon we were at the swim start. In 2009 we started in the water this year we started on the bank. As I stood waiting I chatted with a German who was calm and mentioned how he was a bit underwhelmed being at the start of another ironman (I guess he had done a few). The swim started and the next 10 minutes were some of the toughest swimming I have ever had. People could not swim straight and kept going over my legs pushing me down. I was maxxed out until we reached the first buoy. Having trained to recover in the swim I was able to get it under control but it was a tough start. The rest of the swim went smoothly, with no repeat of getting lost as I managed in 2009. In fact having bothered to work out the sighting from the second buoy I swam a much straighter line than most from the second buoy since I swam to the bridge and not to the island. Out onto the island you then run across and jump back in for a second lap. All felt well and I was swimming what felt a good time.
Out of the water and got some cheers from LFTRI club supporters, a first for me coming out of the swim! In T1 I decided on a gilet and arm warmers and was soon out zipping with the lake to my side. I felt I was not pushing too hard but was at a level I thought I could sustain. My heart rate was around 150 which was probably too high!! the first 40 km were nailed in 1:04 (a lot of flat and a small hill). The draft fest of previous years was not so obvious and the busters were out there doing their work with plenty of whistling, words and a few yellow cards. The first inkling of trouble to come came at the beast, a climb a bit like boxhill only longer. I was one paced up the hill and had no zip, OK I thought my legs are misbehaving they will come back. I pushed on and went through the first lap in 2:31 a repeat of 2009. Back alongside the Lake and I was still going well and until we turned inland and up the hill. First one went fine, then there was some descent and then another small hill,
Suddenly it felt like it was all over! I started to bonk, lost all power and had to really concentrate to stay upright. Slowing I concentrated on eating and drinking. I realised I had not been fuelling properly and my lack of recent cycling became apparent. The next 50 km were tough. There is a long drag up past the tram line which seemed to last forever. Rain, hail, sun whatever the weather made little practical difference to me as I battled with my body to keep going. Back into Zurich and I rallied a bit only to blow again in the last 10km. It is a funny thing to look down at your legs and wonder why they just wont work. I was struggling to get 20 mph on a flat road with the wind behind me. Finally I entered T2 my race plan blown and the realisation that I still had a marathon to do from the worst position I could think of.
T2 was slow. I broke my watch and thought long and hard about whether I really wanted to struggle through a marathon. The thoughts of all my team mates and supporters was enough to get me out on the run but it felt tough and the idea of completing seemed unlikely. However 8 previous ironman races has some advantages. I knew I just had to keep going if I was to finish. I knew I needed to concentrate on feeding and beating the fatigue and not worry how fast I was going. I knew that their would be some better patches at some point when I might be able to pick up time. I knew to not think about the whole but to focus on short goals, the next feed station the next distance marker the next lap. I also knew to find energy from supporters helpers other athletes, each interaction however small breaks up the mental battle with yourself, a smile, a little shout of support a brief shared moment all help to break the mental challenge or persuading your body to do something it does not want to. It was not pretty but it was done. In fact the fastest split of the day was my last 3 km (running at a pace that last year I sustained for the whole of the marathon).
So it was done.
Some more reflections are needed but the reality is that my race represents my training fairly. The challenges of work this year have left me with less time and energy to commit to my training. 10 hrs 30 minutes is respectable but not where I want to race at this time so a review of my goals is needed. Perhaps it is time to take the pressure out of my hobby and race for fun rather than for performance.