Race Report : Ironman Zurich 2013 – Bike

* Race report menu for Ironman Zurich 2013*

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Most cyclists wouldn’t laugh at someone falling off the bike while still clipped onto the pedals; as a fellow cyclist, it just isn’t that funny.

When a friend told me he fell while clipping in at the start of the bike leg at one of his triathlons, I thought it could happen to anyone.

Today was my day! My legs were a little wobbly after the swim and the liquids in my head were still swishing about; I fell while clipping in, the crowd went “OOoooo” for like 2 seconds…sharing the pain (and embarrassment) with me…then the cheering just continued, people continued ringing bells and blowing their whistles to cheer on their friends. I on the other hand, just wished the road would swallow me up and spit me out again 100m down the start.

remember where you parked!

After that mini boo-boo (a quick check and I didn’t find a single scratch on me from that fall, thank goodness), I calmed myself down and zoomed out of there as quickly as I could. The first 30km was nice and flat I managed 33-35kmh while fueling up with my trusty Clif bar. I was aiming to keep my “tank” full for as long as possible as digestion and absorption of nutrients would become more difficult at the later part of the race.

Nutrition list on the bike : –

  • 2 Clif Bar
  • 6 Powerbar gel
  • 3 drinks – 1 Isotonic (Powerbar Perform), 1 water, 1 Ensure.

Some should be wondering why I’m drinking Ensure, I read about it here, and decided to give it a go. It doesn’t contain lactose so at least it’ll lessen the chance of diarrhoea, and it’s packed with calories, carbohydrates, Potassium, sodium and a lot of goodies needed on a long day.

Aid Stations

Aid Stations were available every 20km – 30km so some form of planning was required to make sure you don’t find yourself empty in between. All of them provided water, but only some had isotonic drinks and food. Remember what you have in your bottle cages and be prepared to dispose your bottles for new ones. There was one part where I threw away 2 bottles and almost couldn’t grab 2 new bottles before leaving the station, I had to stop and join a short queue as there were just too many people reaching for drinks. There are designated areas to dispose your litter (you get penalised if you litter) and I think it’s the least we could do, in keeping the race route litter free. Portable toilets were available near most of the aid stations as well.

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The mountains in my head

Now back to the ride, the lovely 90km route would take us through the lovely city of Zurich and up some hills with breathtaking views of the lake, it goes up about 1500m over the 2 loops (180km) and if there’s anything I remember from this ride, it’s the climbs and descents.

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The first climb was a gradual one lasting for about 5km (15mins), then cruising through narrow roads of some residential areas and later, some open fields. The second climb was the more memorable one, “the beast” was a 3km climb which took me about 14mins (average 12km/h) to crawl up. The sun was up in full force by now and you could see the mirage in a distance as the road was so hot. I probably have an advantage of being used to such hot conditions, it is much worse back home in Singapore if you head out in the afternoon; but combined with the magnitude of this ride and the long climbs, this was killing me, and we’re not even done with the 1st loop.

The uncertainty of how long this suffering was going to last was really taking a toll on me mentally. It wasn’t about just completing this climb (I was struggling up), it was about how much energy I would have left on the 2nd loop when I see “the beast” again, AND the marathon after that.

Sometimes while my mind was swarmed with thoughts about battling this race, I just look up and the breathtaking view would take away the pain for that moment; I felt lucky to be here, to race in this Ironman.

After the dizzying effort to get all the way up, the riders were rearing to rip the decent. Rules were in place where you are not allowed to be on your aerobars on certain descents because they were really steep and fast. I clocked a 70kmh and that’s already with me being scared and tapping the brakes once in a while to keep it under control, there were people saying they managed a 75kmh!!!. Once that mad rush was over, it was a nice flat ride back to the event site.

Heartbreak Hill

Just before finishing the 1st lap, the route takes us up the “Heartbreak Hill” where a really steep climb awaits. The atmosphere there was exhilarating!! Even with legs burning from the climb, screaming for you to stop (this nonsense); the crowds that line up on both sides of the course giving you barely 2 metres width of space, are cheering you on with so much enthusiasm that you forget the pain, put on that smile, and work through that last few metres of climbing. It was intense!

Supporters – Hop Hop Hop!!

There were tons of supporters everywhere, a lot of them were near the event area. And there were plenty of them cheering along the climbs as well, fellow cyclists on their Sunday morning ride would be telling you how close you are to the top (of the beast). There were residents who were having a BBQ while ringing bells and shouting “hop! hop! hop!”, someone had a garden hose and was just spraying the riders as we passed the house, it was about 33-35 degrees C and we needed all the help we could get to tackle the heat.

2nd lap nutrition

By now I have transitioned to gels and finished up my bottle of Ensure, my stomach was feeling good and hydration was well taken care off (I took a piss at least 3 times now). I’m really fortunate to not get cramps easily but I still packed some salt tabs along just in case, I didn’t use any on the bike and run eventually, but I think it’s good to have it handy on a long race. I finished all 6 gels in my bento box and took 2 more from the aid station. I think I might have overdone the nutrition bit, but as long as I wasn’t getting any indigestion, I kept ingesting!

Pacing

Didn’t really figure out how to pace the bike leg, because the route was so hilly (for me) and I haven’t actually ridden 180km before!! So on the flats (80km of the whole route) I was keeping 30-34kmh, but on the climbs it was a little tricky especially on the 1st lap when I didn’t know how long (or how much suffering) it was going last, I just aimed for a steady effort without getting into my “panting” mode. I’ve neglected my training on the bike and there’s no way you can hide that on a long ride like this, the Ironman strips you down and no matter how hard you’ve prepared for this, there will come a point of time in the race where you start to suffer.

The beast part 2

I suffered big time here; it felt steeper than it was earlier and I was going so slow I almost fell off the bike. People dismounted and just lay on the grass in the shade…. Everyone seemed to be hurting so bad. I remembered reading about how EVERYONE will experience this at some point or another in an ironman race… And like what Arthur likes to say… Just “embrace the suck!” This was the first point of the race where I wanted to stop, but I was still clinging on to the hope of finishing in 12hours, that thought help me pushed through this difficult period. I wasn’t sure how far behind I was on schedule, but I didn’t want to give up without putting up a fight.

Almost there
When I knew that I’ve been on the bike for more than 6hours, there was going to be a lot of catching up to do. I dug deep and just pushed on to complete the grueling ride at 6:22 hrs.

Before me lies the mammoth task of catching up on the run, a quick glance at transition (T2)  tells me that I’d have to do a 3:45 marathon to hit my goal. It felt possible, I did a 3:52 last December and I should’ve gotten faster since then.

But that was a marathon… Not an ironman.

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