Rowe Running

Ironman Switzerland - A Sherpa's Musings Part 2

By on sharon triathlon

This is the second part of my musings from Ironman Switzerland. If you’ve not seen it, please feel free to read part one. If you choose to read the rest of this entry, then be warned - it’s fairly self-indulgent.

The adventure had begun back in May last year when I sent a text message to Nicola saying, “David says he will enter Ironman if you do”. They obviously did. The training began in earnest at the start of the year, despite the weather. Since then I have definitely perfected the bike ride flapjack recipe!

David and I at the Youth Hostel. David and I at the Youth Hostel.

Fast forward to Thursday 9th July. Off we went to Heathrow, next thing we were in Zurich. We got to the Youth Hostel and settled in to our room. Out for dinner across the road, with about 20 other Pirates, where there was some banter about who would be the fastest Pirate on the day…

Friday morning saw the bike being put together again and then David testing it out on a ride up Heartbreak Hill. Later in the day we went for a swim in Lake Zurich - I obviously didn’t have a wetsuit so went in my cossie, ‘twas a bit chilly to be honest! David registered on Friday, it was quite bizarre, a very low key atmosphere - I don’t know what I expected but maybe more razzmatazz. On advice from an experienced Ironman, a little visit was paid to the IM Shop. Obviously, D didn’t buy anything for himself though…just in case, bad karma or something. Next was the race briefing where I learnt what colour bottles would contain which drinks as well as coming away scared about the penalties (sooo many IM first timers there too) and then on Friday evening we went for a little sojourn to the welcome party. Dinner (how much salt do the Swiss use in their cooking?), a beer and a video of last year’s IMCH - guaranteed to make it seem smoky in there! I may have forgotten to mention the entertainment ;)

Nick looking strong in Saturday's Olympic distance race. Nick looking strong in Saturday’s Olympic distance race.

Saturday morning saw us up and out ready to support the Pirates who were taking part in the Olympic Distance Triathlon. There was an awesome triathlon debut by a few Pirates and a fun day was had I think - including one of our Pirates who won her age group! Then back to the YH for an early dinner and an attempt at an early night. Pasta a-plenty!

Sunday morning. 4am. Up and about. Breakfast (thank goodness for the hot milk machine) and we were off walking down to the start. David faffed around a bit in transition, went to the loo, we saw a few Pirates (arrr-arrrrrr) and before we knew it, he was in the water and away. I couldn’t see him go. I couldn’t recognise his swim stroke in amongst all those people and it looked mental in there!

The exit from the 2.4 mile swim, before it got busy. The exit from the 2.4 mile swim, before it got busy.

Pirate supporters before the swim start. Pirate supporters before the swim start.

I ran around taking a few pics and then headed up to the area outside transition where his bike was racked. First Pirate out of the water was Nicola, closely followed by Stuart (even though they missed the swim start, those two are fish, I swear!). Duncan was third Pirate out and then here came David! Yay! He had an excellent swim. I don’t think he will mind me telling you that he was a tad nervous about the swim and the melee that would ensue - but luckily he survived unscathed. However, one of our Pirates did not. Jo was actually punched in the nose by a man halfway through the swim. He looked at her and punched her. She was pouring blood and we later found out her nose was broken! I guess the anonymous nature of the swim (i.e. you don’t have a race number on) means people think they can get away with anything. He should be hunted down and banned from events for life after that disgusting behaviour. Amazingly she carried on and completed the whole thing in a pretty speedy time too, one seriously tough woman!

Plenty to see in Transition 1! Plenty to see in Transition 1!

David set off on the bike and for me the bike is the scariest thing. I watch so much cycling on tv and see what can happen, so I do get a bit stressed. I waited for all the Pirates to come out of the swim and head out before we went up to Heartbreak Hill on the shuttle bus. It’s like a mini Tour de France! Writing on the roads, people encroaching on either side as the riders come up, lots of shouts of, “Hopp, hopp, hopp” and, “Venga, venga”. It was awesome! We hadn’t been there long before the leaders came through, seriously flying. A little while later, David appeared. First Pirate! It was so amazing to see him looking so happy and relaxed - I guess all those bike rides in training were paying off. He was a bit quicker than I expected though, so I hoped he wouldn’t feel it too much later on. Next came Duncan, then Stuart…and along we went until almost all the Pirates had come through. I say almost all as we seemed to be missing two of them. It transpired that one had gone the wrong way and the other we met on the way down Heartbreak Hill, he was having a fairly tough time but will be back I am sure. We walked back to the start/finish area and saw David, Duncan and Stuart again on their 2nd lap before they headed into T2.

At this point, I thought it prudent to heed some wise advice given to me by an IronWidow (thanks Anna)…and went to get some lunch. Then I found a sneaky little spot from which to watch and photograph the run, it was perfect as I could see them all as they approached. There was the occasional spot of rain but nothing too awful and before I knew it David came around the corner and he looked so strong and composed. I told him I loved him, gave him a high five and amazingly managed to get a photo or two in focus. Nothing short of miraculous! A few minutes later appeared Duncan and then Stuart, then a whole gaggle of Pirates (I wonder what the collective noun really is), most of whom I managed to get pictures of. I stayed a while there, watching David come around twice more - he still seemed very together and strong but I could see he was finding it tough - despite his smiles. I was so glad when he came around to me and said something along the lines of only having 5 miles to go and I told him I would head up to the finish.

David with his medal and finishers t-shirt. David with his medal and finishers t-shirt.

I managed to secure myself a spot along the finishing chute - couldn’t get too close as right by the finish was a VIP area. I also couldn’t get right next to the barrier. I knew David would be coming in soon and I had to get in next to the railing, I just had to. It was making me feel quite panicky that I couldn’t be there to see him - but I managed to “persuade” a lady to let me in ;) I was ticking by the miles on my watch and before I knew it, there he was! I screamed and clapped and cheered and could barely see - it was all blurry for some reason. He came around the wiggly chute and then was right in front of me, gave me a kiss and said he would see me in a minute. It felt like he was there with me for ages but when we watched the video of him finishing, he literally was there for a second. Frozen time, that moment is imprinted in my memory. Then that was it. Finished. 10 hours, 37 minutes and 39 seconds. Bloody hell. I had never really dared hope of him finishing under 11 hours in his first Ironman and there he was, having blasted it! As he went under the gantry I literally felt the weight lifted off my shoulders. I think in the lead-up I had been more stressed out than he was. I was terrified something would happen to him - and of course I wanted him to do well. I never had any doubt in my mind that he wouldn’t finish - I just worried something would get in his way. D told me the other day that he was waiting for me by the barrier to the athlete area but I didn’t know. He came out to me and I hung onto him for dear life - sweat and all! I seriously was numb from it all and I cried again. On top of this, he had also won the coveted Fastest Pirate shield, which he was presented with on Monday at the party - some speedy Pirates have their names engraved on there, so that’s very cool :) Shortly after, Duncan came into the finish chute and we cheered him in…it was awesome. He had got a huge PB and looked pretty happy with himself too.

Pirate Conga to the finish! Pirate Conga to the finish!

David then disappeared into the athlete area (I suspect he was having a lovely time in there, eating, drinking, having a hot tub and a massage!) so I amused myself by cheering in even more Pirates and taking another squillion photos! We cheered in Stuart, Richard, Nicola, saw an awesome Pirate conga to the finish line, then Diana and Jess and I had lots of emotional and joyful moments. When Nicola came into the finish, I was screaming my head off and so was she. The noise around the “Pirate Gallery” where we were located was quite phenomenal. The best thing was that we could holler to Pirates on the run course at various points and then when they came to the finish, we run over the steps to see them.

David appeared and disappeared a couple more times (calling his family and the like) before finally appearing to cheer in the rest of the Pirates. After a while we decided to go right down to the finish gantry, where there was a Pirate gang in what had been the VIP area earlier in the day. I have to say, the finishers at this point were truly amazing. To be out for 15+ hours is just so tough of that I am absolutely sure.

Nicky after finishing receiving a well earned hug. Nicky after finishing receiving a well earned hug.

The final few finishers provided another couple of my favourite finishes of the day. When Nicky came in, she was overjoyed - and was greeted by her hubby who had completed the IM earlier. Then for the only other time of the whole day where I cried. Debbie came into the chute with her hubby (who had also completed earlier), she was at first running around the last metres of the course but then I suspect she started to walk to really enjoy it. It all of a sudden got very smoky and Helen and I had to wipe our eyes…

Not that long after, the countdown began. We still had a Pirate we were waiting for and it looked as though she was going to miss the cut-off. The clock ticked down to 16 hours gone and then that was it. We were all worried for her as it was dark and lonely out there. After a few minutes it was discovered that she was out on the course with her husband and was going to complete. The next day I heard that she had finished in about 16:35 - and the lovely helpers gave her a finishers t-shirt. I think we had 7 Pirates who unfortunately either withdrew or missed the cut-off at one stage or another. However, given their determination, I am pretty sure that they will be back stronger and more than ready for the next one - whenever that may be. I really think that they don’t realise how amazing they are to even begin such a thing, I would never ever contemplate it!

After the timing counter reaches zero... After the timing counter reaches zero…

To those of you who sent positive thoughts and messages to David and myself throughout this process, not just the race day itself, thank you so so much. It’s very odd. Quite a few days on and I am out of my Ironman bubble. I feel a bit sad about it. When people ask what time David did, I tell them and then they say, “Is that good?” I know many people don’t get it, I wouldn’t expect them to I guess but I want them to have an appreciation of how tough it is and how wonderfully well the competitors did. To those of you reading who didn’t finish, you will be back - and stronger. To the Pirates who have made us so welcome since June last year at our first Pirate event, I thank you all too. The support David received on the course was phenomenal by all accounts. I look forward to being a Pirate Paparazzo again in Roth next year. Yes, the next one is already entered…I am destined to be an Ironman Widow…

And finally. To my wonderful husband who made me so very very proud that day, I thank you for being mental enough to do it in the first place! I am often proud of what you do and how you conduct yourself whilst you are achieving incredible things, but to see you coming into that finish chute was one of my favourite moments in our life together so far. You worked so very hard for this and absolutely deserved the fantastic time that you achieved. Here’s to many more…

© David & Sharon Rowe - - email me