Ironman Switzerland 2009 – Race Day – Run

Firstly, if you’ve not seen the pre-race, swim or bike entries, feel free to do so to get a little background on how I got to here.

So off of the bike and onto the run – just a 26.2 mile marathon to get round, and I knew my legs were warmed up for it after the 112 mile bike ride I’d just completed!

The run course consists of four laps, with a fair bit of it being ‘out and back’ – meaning that you’ll be running close to other runners coming the other direction – which is great for mutual support, you get more of an idea about what’s going on and it takes your mind off of the endless miles ahead of you.

At 7.75 miles into the run.  Looking fresh.

At 7.75 miles into the run. Looking fresh.

As I started the run my overall time was 6 hours and 50 minutes, which if I could run a 4 hour marathon this would put me safely under 11 hours!  This would be a dream time and was very possible, provided my body didn’t decide to give up on me – after this much continuous exercise you just don’t know how your body is going to respond.  I didn’t think about this calculation until later in the run.

Most of my bike training over the past 6-8 months was aimed at one thing – to allow me to cycle pretty hard for 112 miles and still have enough in me to feel ‘fresh’ enough to run a marathon.  Sounds ridiculous eh?  Well, I’m with you here – it is!

Before today I’d planned to set off at 8 minute 30 miling pace, which equates to just under a 3 hour 43 marathon.  All my training runs had been at 8 minute miling or quicker so this seemed a reasonable plan (considering the swim and cycling I’d already just done!).

I always set off too quickly when I start the run leg and this was no exception – but it was important more than ever to get it under control as soon as possible.  My first mile took 7 minute 44 and the following ones were 8:08, 8:12, 8:22, 8:22.  This was better and felt really easy.  Part-way into my second lap I saw Sharon which was great, as I’d not really seen her properly since the near the end of my first lap of the bike, some hours ago.

At about 2.5 miles or so you pick up the first of four coloured wrist-bands which indicates the lap that you’re on – blue, green, yellow and red.  Once you have all four bands you’re allowed to finish!  Until then, you just keep on running.  Collecting a wrist-band was a highlight of each lap.

Towards the end of each lap you head along the waterfront around the lake, and the crowds here (as with most other parts of the course) were plentiful.  On the bib number that you wear it also has your name, which made it easy for people who didn’t know you to support you.  For things like the London Marathon I’m not a fan of having your name on your top as everyone shouts your name and you don’t know when to look out for your ‘genuine’ supporters, but on this course its fine as people don’t always shout your name, and if you’re a Pirate then 99 percent of your ‘genuine’ supporters will be in yellow Pirate gear anyway so you can easily spot them.

As I headed onto the waterfront (about 4 miles in) I passed through one of the aid stations (where they have drinks and food) one of the helpers said “go, go, go, you’re the first Pirate” which was cool to hear.  I had seen Duncan behind me and estimated the gap to be about 3 minutes at this point.  I had no idea if he’d catch up with me or not, as I had no idea as to his running pedigree.

A little further on there was a woman on the right who always shouted “Go Pirate David” which actually turned out to be a highlight of the course – on every lap I hoped she’d still be there to give me a cheer (thankfully she was, and I really appreciated it).

Nutrition wise I planned to have a gel around every 30-40 minutes, but if I kept drinking Powerade at the aid stations then I could skip one or two if my stomach wasn’t feeling up to it.  The main aid stations had water, Powerade, coke, some hot salty drink, water, gels and fruit/snacks.  Something for everyone.  For myself I only planned to have water, Powerade and gels, and this I stuck to.

As on the bike course the Pirate support was superb, and I made sure to shout ‘Go Pirates’ whenever I saw them.  People were always looking out for you, even from a distance and it really helped motivate you on the laps.

14.25 miles in - things are still going well.

14.25 miles in - things are still going well - just!

My mile splits from mile 6 to 16 were as follows: 8:31, 8:34, 8:30, 8:36, 8:38, 8:26, 8:27, 8:34, 8:48, 8:52, 8:54.

As you can see (and I could tell), I was becoming harder to maintain the same pace and and I started to slow down.  I wasn’t concerned with this as according to the maths I was doing in my head (which kept me busy at times) I could slow down considerably to still remain in for a sub-11 hour finish.  I wanted to keep going, not run too hard and destroy myself and watch it all fall apart.  My heart rate was sitting comfortably at around 140-145 for these first 16 miles.

This third lap of the course (approx 13-19 miles) was tough – it was getting repetitive doing these 10k (approx) laps and all you wanted was the next coloured wristband!  Even tougher, towards the end of each lap you run to the final turnaround point and straight after is a sign that points to the finish.  If you have four wristbands (including the magic red one!) you can go in and finish, otherwise its off for another lap.  I think the organisers lay the courses out like this to make it mentally tougher.  It certainly is.

Apologies in advance for the content of the next paragraph… At about 17/18 miles my stomach wasn’t feeling great and I had a feeling that the two Immodium tablets that I took before the start (at about 6:50am) were wearing off.  There were a few portaloos dotted around on the course and everyone I ran past was engaged.  I wasn’t going to wait outside for one, that’s for sure.  At about 19.5 miles when you run round the back of the main race site area there were four toilets – and I could see one of them was vacant.  I ran to it, opened the door and thought “Holy Fu*kin’ Hell!”  Let’s just say I was greeted by a disgusting sight and no toilet paper.  I made the sensible decision to step back at this point.  Now, on an earlier lap I noticed some ‘VIP’ toilets very close to these portaloos that were protected by a piece of plastic tape.  Yeah, right.  I turned around and went straight to the gents toilet (to a few cries of “You’re going the wrong way” from other runners).  I got in there, sat down, did what was necessary and left.  As I was sat there I could see my mile split on my GPS screen going down by the second, it was strangely amusing.

I then got back on my way (not before a ‘VIP’ opened the door on me which I hadn’t properly locked! Haha) and according to my GPS the whole ‘episode’ (from the stopping at the first loo to running past it again) took no more than 60 seconds.  Most efficient if I may say so myself.

20.9 miles - its tough now - and my sunglasses are on as I'm in full-on 'get on with it' mode.

20.9 miles - its tough now - and my sunglasses are on as I'm in full-on 'get on with it' mode.

Heading into the final six miles I decided to get another gel inside of me (something I would have done in the last miles of the London Marathon but for some reason it didn’t happen.  P.S. Hi Kirsty!!).  The idea isn’t to have something that tastes nice, it’s something that will do its job.

For the last 6 or so miles I chose to walk at each aid station just to ensure I drank what I needed.  I would drink both water and Powerade at each stop.

Shorly after 20 miles I saw Sharon (in the same position as she was during each previous lap) and as I ran towards her she said, “Shall I go to the finish now”, I told her that I was on 20 or so miles and was now averaging around 9 minute miling.  Seeing her (and the shouts of support she gave me) were great and it really helped.

As you enter the final lap, the best thing from here on in was that everywhere you ran was for the last time.  This is a great motivational boost and at this point although my splits were still slowing, I was keeping it under some sort of control.

Miles 17-24 slits: 8:45, 8:48, 9:03, 9:24, 9:07, 9:33, 9:00, 9:06.

At this point (24 miles in) I was feeling great once again – I knew I had it in me to get to the finish without problems and time wise (it was 5:20pm) I had an 11 hour finish in the bag, and a 10:45 was pretty safe too – awesome.  This didn’t mean I could ease off – in fact the adrenalin and excitement of finishing this race caused me to increase the pace.  As we left the waterfront area and headed along some paths and a small stretch of road heading towards the finishing area I couldn’t help but smile.  I was on top of the world.  This was it, I’d just about done it.  According to my watch I was safely inside of 10 hours 40 so I made sure I enjoyed the final few minutes as much as possible.  I came round the final turnaround grinning from ear to ear and the support from the Pirates in the stands was incredible.

I raised my right arm to show the marshall that I had my four bands and that I was turning into the finish.  As I entered the finishing chute music was playing loudly and I took the opportunity to ‘high-five’ the supporters who were crowded along the sides.  This was my moment.

Half way along the final straight I saw Sharon on the the right hand side.  I slowed down and stopped where she was and gave her a kiss, let a couple of other runners pass and ran to the finish.  My final mile splits were as follows: 8:31, 8:17, 1:42 (.2 miles) with an average heart rate for the run of 144 BPM.

Final .22 miles of the run course, showing my heart rate rise near the finish!

Final .22 miles of the run course, showing my heart rate rise near the finish!

As I had picked up the pace in the final miles, my heart rate went up a bit as well, but the funniest thing is that when I saw and stopped to see Sharon, my heart rate peaked at 162 BPM.  They say love makes your heart skip a beat, well mine just got quicker!

As I ran across the finish the feeling was incredible.  I knew that there would be photographers there so I raised my arms in the air.  The funny thing here is that after watching the video of the finish I then clapped my hands as if I was thinking “right, that’s over with, now what’s next?  Another lap?”

I am an Ironman!

I am an Ironman!

[ to watch the finishing video please follow this link and search for ‘Rowe’ – there’s audio as well, and don’t forget to watch out for my ‘right, what’s next?’ hand clap after the finish! ]

My marathon time was 3:47:26, 28 minutes slower than my standalone London Marathon time in April (some things I’ve read say that you can estimate an Ironman marathon to be 30 minutes slower than a standalone time).  My run position was 512th overall which made it my best of the three disciplines (recently my swim times seem to have been best!)  Awesome.  Anyway, back to the finish…

My overall finishing time for Ironman Switzerland 2009 (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run) was 10 hours 37 minutes and 39 seconds.  My final position was 572nd out of 1979 finishers (there were 2150 starters in the race).  This position includes the professional athletes who started five minutes before the main ‘age grouper’ athletes.  This put me at exactly 30 percent down the field.  I’m very happy with that.

One of the helpers then came over, congratulated me and gave me a finishers towel.  We had a quick chat – I think this is mainly for them to determine whether I’m about to collapse and need help.  I then moved to the next person who gave me my finishers medal (which is what its all about!) and I then went to get a photograph taken.

Once those formalities are over you head into the ‘Athletes Village.’  This is a pretty big area which consists of a marquee with tons of free food and drink (including non alcoholic beer if you so desire).  There were hot-tubs outside, areas to relax, showers, free massages and a medical tent if necessary.

I made my way to the toilets, climbed up the three or four steps to them (which I think is really mean of the organisers to put the toilets up some steps!), went in and sat down.  At this point it all came to me – I had completed an Ironman – I was an Ironman – and I did it in an awesome time.  I had a tear in my eyes as it all started to sink in.  After struggling down the steps (actually, it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as after the London Marathon – I felt strangely pretty good) I headed out of the village and over to where Sharon was supporting the rest of the Pirates.  I hung around for a while – got plenty of congratulations and then headed back to the village for some food and to clean up.

At this point I was feeling pretty hungry (I couldn’t really face food 30 minutes earlier just after the finish) so grabbed some chicken with rice, a glass of coke and sat down – bliss.  I then headed outside to the hot-tubs.  There were about four 8/9 person tubs and after taking my tri-kit off (this is the one time in triathlon when nudity is allowed) I jumped on in.  It was bliss.  Before long about 7 naked Italian men jumped in – we had a bit of a chat and then I headed off for my free massage.

After the massage (which by the way was lovely) I headed to get my finishers t-shirt and some different clothes to get into.  I then grabbed some more food and drink and headed off to the finishing area…

Before you think this race report is over, there’s still more to come…

Posted in David, Triathlon
5 comments on “Ironman Switzerland 2009 – Race Day – Run
  1. Kirsty says:

    Wow David, just wow. Great report, I laughed and cried! You must be so proud of your amazing achievement.

  2. Barley says:

    Brilliant report David, a well done on your superb race, see you in Roth :)

    Youve set a tough PB to beat, I mean the nifty VIP stop ;)

  3. PSC says:

    utterly brilliant. Well done David (and well done to Sharon too). You guys are a great team.

  4. Roger Darlington says:

    You are absolutely amazing, David. Many, many congratulations.

    Just skimming your blog account exhausted me!

  5. Jason says:

    What an emotional roller-coaster it was just reading this series of posts! I can only imagine how doing it might have felt.

    Massive congratulations.

    just how are you going to top this though?

    Jason

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