Yeah I know. I hate those 3 or 4 part Ironman posts that people post because I’m all like “I want to read it all – NOW!”. But trust me. I’ve already cut this WAY down. This post has been drafted and redrafted. And cut and cut and cut. I’ve spared you the update on the final weeks’ training (no insights there. Just did the sessions and then jumped into my life). I’m not posting my Excel spreadsheet with all my race day kit AND which bag it would go into for the race (it’s good though. Mail me if you want it!). I’m not going to give you the details on the pre-race family holiday camping our way to Zurich (we had a wonderful time). I’m not even going to go into the details of the days running up to the race (Zurich is pretty and pricey. Branded Ironman kit is pretty and pricey. I spent quite a lot of money).
What I will tell you about the days leading up the race is that I was there. Mentally. I was ready. I have been training for this event for a year. I throw “big hairy-assed goal” out there like it’s some kind of joke, but it was not really, not for me. For most of this year I have had to “believe” in a way I have never believed in a goal before. As in – I needed to make myself think I could do this without actually knowing I could do this. For a year, I have hauled my ass to the pool (because if I don’t do this workout, I might not make my swim cutoff) and planted my ass on my bike (because if I don’t this workout, I might not be able to cycle 112 miles). My point is – for a year I have been pushed by a very specific and very realistic fear of failure. Sure. Some of my workouts went really well and gave me confidence. Helped me with my “belief”. But many of the workouts were not amazing, and some were awful. Some I couldn’t do. Some I didn’t do. At times, there was a degree of grim perseverance to the training (“it doesn’t matter whether it feels good or bad. I just need to DO this”). And by the time race weekend arrived I was ready. And done with preparing. I was no longer scared either. I had been scared of so many individual workouts and had gone through my fears ( swim cutoff, bike puncture etc. etc.) so many times, to myself and to anyone who would listen, that I wasn’t scared anymore. I was all out of fear.
So the things that might have thrown me before another race didn’t really throw me this weekend. For example:
- I drove the bike course with my father and realised that 1300m of climbing is actually quite a lot of climbing. And I had not trained on hills.
- I went out on a training ride with other athletes, most of whom left me for smoke. On a training ride.
- Zurich was hot and there was a high likelihood of it not being wetsuit legal. Wetsuits help those of us who need all the help we can get when swimming long distances without a great deal of skill.
- It proved impossible to sleep in the hotel I had booked the night before the race (live concert in park next to hotel) so I ended up taking a taxi back to our apartment at 9:30 pm (when I had hoped to be asleep by 8) and sleeping less than I had hoped to.
Despite all that, I felt incredibly calm as I was choking back my second breakfast by 4am on race morning. Adam dropped me off at the race start at 5am, and I just started smiling. This was it. This day that I had thought about for a year was here.
At first I felt so clueless in transition that I just copied what others were doing. I pumped up my tires because others did it (I still don’t really know how hard my tires should be). I fiddled around with my nutrition and bags. I went to the toilet 4 times. And then I took control of myself. I told myself to stop copying others and just stick to the race plan my coach had given me. So I put on my wetsuit even though people around me weren’t doing that yet. And I got to the water and swam around for a bit to remind myself I could do this. It all felt unreal and still so preparatory. And then, all of a sudden, it felt like it was happening. We all got out and lined ourselves up. I could barely hear the German and English announcements but I suddenly felt the adrenalin rush I knew I needed when the gun went off and I started to run towards the water.
My coach had drilled me that while I was in the water, I was not to think of anything else. Not to think of the bike ride, not to think of the cutoff. Just to swim. The start was much less congested than I had feared and after a few clubs to the head and body I found a groove and started swimming and sighting. The water was warm and clear and I told myself that all I needed to do was sight the next red buoys (they were every 200m or so) and the yellow turning buoys would be there eventually. I just did that. Every time I spotted the next red buoy I would allow myself to only think of that buoy and I would tell myself I would reach it within the next few minutes. And then I would sight to the next one and only focus on that. The two lap swim included an exit onto and across an island. I walked across it calmly and caught my breath and steadied myself for the second (and slightly longer) lap. Again, I made myself stay “in the moment”. I could feel my arms and shoulders getting tired and by this stage the wind had picked up, making the water choppier and the sighting harder. I was next to someone who was swimming breast stroke and sighting much better as a result, and I stuck by this person’s side, checking for their presence near me every few strokes. I could see that the water was emptier than on the first lap but banished any thoughts about what this meant and just kept swimming. It was a strange, almost meditational time – I was so focused on only looking at the next buoy – that I nearly missed the turn towards the swim exit. As I ran out of the water, I heard my name announced and a time around 1:44. I was delighted because for me that is a GREAT swim and I felt such a massive sense of relief as I jogged towards transition to get into my bike kit and onto the bike.
To be continued shortly!