It’s now three weeks since I completed my second Ironman. This time I chose Zurich basically because when I took the decision it was the only race in Europe still open for registration on the 1st January – yeah, call it a New Years resolution if you want.
This time lots of things went down in a very different way form my first Ironman that I raced last year in Frankfurt. To start I found myself a new coach, not because I was unhappy with last years result, since my goal was to finish, and I did, but because I knew I wanted more. Since the Ironman is always so demanding training wise (or should I mean life-wise?) I wanted to make sure I would have the highest possible output (productivity) from each hour dedicated to training.
So I started preparing Ironman Zurich that would go down on the 19th July with Nuno Barradas who is the coach for the Wikaboo team. When we started we set the goal to finish under 12 hours, which seemed like a reasonable feat considering last year’s race took me almost 13 hours and 20 minutes. From the beginning I knew I could shave some serious minute on the bike and that could also impact my run because I would get there earlier in the race and thus with more energy.
Training with Nuno and the Wikaboos is really something extraordinary. When you combine Nuno’s knowledge, dedication and extensive experience on endurance sports with the group’s energy you can only expect to exceed yourself. It makes a really big difference when you not only put in the training hours but when those hours are of very high quality training meaning the productivity is higher and you start seeing progress from a very early stage in training. This year I trained less hours than the year before but due to the very specific trainings that Nuno planned the output was really superior and impressive.
The first test to the new training plan was Rotterdam Marathon where my PB for the distance went down by 6 minutes after about 3,5 months training with Wikaboo. The second test came just 3 weeks after, which for some would be considered the time needed to recover from the marathon, but then at Lisbon Triathlon half-ironman distance another PB came shaving 20 minutes from the previous year. So things were looking quite interesting but we were still halfway to the Ironman in Zurich.
The training plan then started to peak around June with several 150+km bike rides and 25+km long run sessions. All was done in a very incremental way and the body seemed to be holding itself together under all the training effort. Besides swimming, cycling and running some 2 or 3 strength/core/functional training sessions per week were also put it.
But, the training is not over until it is over and then, exactly 3 weeks before Ironman Zurich, on a monday, I woke up and I can barely walk. I was almost in panic because by then the worst part of the training was behind me and taper was about to begin. There was very little time to recover anything and suddenly the Ironman race seemed like impossible. I was recommend a sports physiotherapist which diagnosed and treated me for a IT band syndrome. It was at its early stage but the damage was nerve wrecking since I had a lot of pain to walk and I wasn’t able to run. The treatment was the infamous EPI meaning a needle is inserted to the muscle pain trigger point then there is electrical stimulation to reset it – let’s just say it hurts like hell. But the good news is that after suffering like never and waiting 24/48 hours upon each treament I was able to run pain free again (on a side note, everytime I left the physiotherapist office I had to literally drag myself to the car due to the pain).
With the injury sorted out the taper began and also all the logistics preparation which is always very time consuming. This year I had some gear changes from the previous one.
The first and race wise most relevant was that I got myself some really neat Fast Forward carbon clincher wheels which are really faster, especially on flat roads; you can really feel the difference when it comes to gaining and maintaining speed.
The second was that I traveled with Scicon Aeroconfort bike bag which makes it a bliss to pack your bike even for someone like me who is really not very handy when it comes to disassembling and reassembling the bike. With this bag you only need to remove the wheels and maybe your derailleur if you want to be a bit safer, for the rest you just need to put some padding around the most sensible parts and you’re good to go!
We flied out to Zurich on Thursday before the race and we stayed at the Engimatt hotel. There are not many options if you want to stay near the transition zone that is just next to the lake in Landiwiese.
It took us about 20m walking to get from the hotel to the lake and there is one steep hill in the way, but it was near enough to walk there even on race day. The hotel is good but you would expect it to be even a bit better considering the price. When we got to Zurich’s aiport we took the train to the hotel and then pushed the bags, including the bike bag some 20m to the hotel – it would have been faster without the bike bag which is not so easy to carry on stairs. Anyway, the bag is great and easy to transport considering the size and weight of the stuff you are carrying.
Arriving at the hotel we went out for dinner and it was not easy to find a place to eat because it was almost 10pm and most restaurants were closed or almost closing, so be careful when trying to have a “late” dinner in Zurich because most places close much earlier than one would expect.
The next day we went to the lake and even had a swim there. We also hangout over there for a couple of hours because it’s a really nice place. The water temperature was already high (around 25C) announcing a non wetsuit race which is something most triathletes including this one, don’t like. By the end of the day we did the registration and got the athlete’s kit.
Then on Saturday I had a very short stroll downtown and then went back to the hotel to rest. By the end of the day I went for bike check-in and it was almost confirmed we would be swimming without wetsuits. I was a bit worried that I would be cold out there in the water for so long (1h+) but I was never cold during the race.
So basically Friday and Saturday I just did some very short and light training, running or cycling for a bit. The cycling part is important to be sure there is no damage to the bike after transport.
I also went to the race briefing where the heat was almost unbearable, it was really hot inside the tent on the afternoon.
I also ate and drank a lot, making sure to top my reserves for race day.
On a separate note I leave a word of caution when traveling to Switzerland because I was expecting it to be expensive, but not as expensive as it really is! Having been on several places in the US and also on the northern rich countries like Denmark or Sweden, I found Switzerland to be much more expensive than any of these. A pasta dinner for two can easily cost 50/60€ and a small bottle of water can set you back 5€; also any tourist stuff like going up the mountain on a cog wheel train will be terribly expensive so it’s not south European tourist friendly place.
Then Sunday comes and the alarm clock goes off at 3am. It’s time to jump out of bed and take care of pre race ritual: dressing, eating a huge breakfast (only things I had tried before), checking the last details and walking to the race venue. Getting there you can feel the anxiety in the air – everybody trained hard for so many weeks and now it’s time to put it all in and see where it takes you. As I got to transition I remove my bike cover, pumped the tires, put the nutrition in place (6x Chocolate Powerbar, 2 High5 Isogel and 2 bike bottles, one with Powerbar Iso the other with plain water) and loaded the red and blue bags with everything I would be needing. I triple checked everything before leaving transition and went to meet my awesome support crew, waiting just outside.
The silence on the area is amazing, it is unusual to have so many people together with so little noise, but everyone is focused and introspect. At 6.45 the pros hit the water and then there is the start for the age groups. This time the start was according to your expected swim finish time and they were letting got 10 athletes every 5 seconds. I placed myself on the 1h/1h10 box and around 7am I was swimming lake Zurichsee on 25C without wetsuit. The swim was far from perfect, I was slow on the water without the wetsuit, I had lots of people crossing my way and making me stop to let them pass and there were some currents and waves on the water when boats were passing by. Transition was a bit slower than I had imagined considering there was no wetsuit to remove, but it was fairly OK with 6m25s. The non wetsuit swim was already leaving its dent since I was cramping at transition, something that had never happened before. Anyway I didn’t know how bad I was until I hit the reset button on my Garmin as I was mounting the bike and it clocked about 1h27… At that time I immediately understood that it would be really difficult to hit the sub-11h mark but after a couple of minutes I got myself together and started pushing to go as fast as I could and that allowed me to race the first 120k averaging 34,5km/h which was great considering about 700m ascent (mind you that last year I averaged 25km/h on the bike, so this time I felt like flying). Also I knew I had lots of support (local support crew, my brother, the whole family, friends, the Wikaboo gang, etc) all following the race so I could not disappoint!
The bike is a two lap course, the first 30km are really flat. After that you start climbing and you get basically 2 fairly steep long climbs (5-8km), of course you will also take advantage of the long descents afterwards. Then at the end of each lap you have a short but very steep hill where everybody is cheering you. For me the first 120k were really fast but then I had to slow down on the last part of the bike, the hills just felt steeper, there was a bit of wind up there and it was also feeling really hot.
I finished the bike a bit under 6 hours and was happy with it considering 1400m of ascent on the 2 laps. It was time to start running. I was feeling strong and was trying to finish as much as possible near the 11h mark. I raced the first part of the marathon at a 5 to 5m10/km pace and then dropped up to 5m30 / 5m35 by the end. Even if this strategy is far from ideal I still remembered Frankfurt where being too cautious meant I slowed at the first part of either the bike and the run but then couldn’t push on the last part either because your muscles are sore and your energy levels drop.
So I was happy to finish the marathon on a 5m24/km pace which is about 1m/km slower than by PB. Also during the marathon it was where I felt stronger relative to the other athletes. Most of them are bulkier than me, which gives them some advantage on the bike but not on the run, so I could manage to gain 232 positions on the run.
Overall I finished at 11h15m50s and even if this was not exactly what I was looking for, considering the injury that slowed the final training just a bit, the non wetsuit race and the heat (we got 30C+ out there on the bike and run course) I was very happy and I am motivated to keep training to get as near to the 10h mark as possible. I knew from the beginning Zurich wasn’t the perfect course for me, since I’m not a strong climber on the bike, but I feel like it was a good preparation for the next race. All in all I was very happy with the result and I know it was only possible due to my better half unconditional support during the long training months, my extended family support and incentive, my coach extensive experience and focus on the athletes goals, my integration on the Wikaboo group (where everyone’s support is beyond extraordinary) and also Miguel, the greatest training buddy for me (hard working, highly motivated, always on time and willing to put in that extra mile – some people think of him as a radical but for me you either go all in or you stay home).
– Overall time – 11h15m50s (Gender rank: 325; Division Rank: 70; Overall Rank: 350)
– Swim – 1h21m46s (Gender rank: 690; Division Rank: 140; Overall Rank: 768)
– T1: 6m25s
– Bike: 5h54m29s (Gender rank: 542; Division Rank: 113; Overall Rank: 582)
– T2: 5m10s
– Run: 3h48m00s (Gender rank: 325; Division Rank: 70; Overall Rank: 350)
Total number of athletes: 2.077