Home again

Home againAfter spending a day looking around Zurich we came home yesterday.  I’ve spent the morning reading the last two posts that Colette wrote and all the very kind comments and emails that we’ve received.  Thank you everyone for all your support.

Joseph coped well with the journey back but is feeling a bit tired and grumpy today.  Colette has had to take him out for an emergency “chill-out” walk in his push-chair.  Hopefully the fresh mountain air will do its trick and he’ll finally surrender to his sleepiness and wake up afterwards in a better mood.

Ironman Switzerland – the inside story

When I signed up for the Ironman last October I had in mind two objectives: the most important one was the altruistic objective of raising money for charities relating to leukodystrophy.  The second, personal objective, was to improve on my previous times and break the magic 10 hour barrier.  I’ve always been a competitive person, and I just couldn’t resist the temptation to get a personal best (PB).

However, personal bests are just that: personal.  Within the last few of months it became very clear to me that the Tri4Joe thing had become much bigger and better than anything I had imagined six months ago.  It was no longer a question of just raising maybe 1000 Euros and achieving a PB in the process.  I had to finish and that meant playing it safe and not taking any risks in order to get a good time.

Still, given the performances I had been producing in training I still figured that, given the right conditions on race day, I was capable of comfortably breaking 10 hours.

But it wasn’t to be.  The conditions, as you may have seen from Colette’s previous two posts, were far from ideal!  We woke up at 4:00am on Sunday morning to the sound of torrential rain and cold weather.  This meant that there would be a much greater risk of getting things wrong: from an increased risk of crashing on the bike, or hypothermia triggered by hitting “the wall” on the bike, or muscle cramps and tightness resulting from the cold.

Swim

The swim is my weakest discipline and it fully lived up to my expectations!  It comprised of two laps of a circuit where competitors had to come out of the water at about half distance, run across an island, and then jump back into the water to complete the second lap.

I started the race feeling surprisingly calm and relaxed.  I would even go as far to say that I felt serene.  It was a strange sensation.  I’m not a superstitious person but I felt that I was going to be protected by all the positive energy that had come from everyone’s comments and encouragement.  No matter what – I’d get to the end.

The first lap was quite uneventful with the usual amount of being kicked, punched, and half drowned that goes with any swim that involves 2500 people all trying to swim the shortest distance between two points. At the end of the first lap, while trying to climb out of the lake onto the island, I think I trod on some submerged broken glass as I felt a sharp stinging pain in my right foot.  This bugged me for the rest of the swim and I dreaded how it would effect my cycling and, even worse, my running.

Finally the end of the swim came (1 hour, 11 minutes) and I jogged into the transition zone feeling fresh and ready to get on with my favorite discipline: the bike.

Bike

It's not about the bikeI was very lucky in that the cuts on my foot were obviously not in a place which would prevent me from cycling – they didn’t seem to effect my biking nor, later on, my running either.

The conditions for the bike were abysmal – about 12-15C temperature and heavy rain.  My worry was that if I did the same pace that I’d been doing in training that I’d end up with very stiff and cold legs and maybe risk injuring myself before or during the run.  In addition, if I hit the wall on the bike which is a pretty easy thing to do if you go too fast or don’t eat enough then the combination of low energy and cold wet weather would risk a race ending hypothermia.

I decided therefore to knock about 2kph off my usual bike speed and take it steady making sure that I ate loads on the way round.  The bike went very well – despite holding back – and I averaged just over 34kph at a heart rate of around 135-140 and overtook about 500 competitors.  I don’t recall seeing anyone overtake me at all during the 5 hours 20 minutes! 🙂

One thing that amused me loads as I was riding was the number of competitors on 6000+ Euro time-trial bikes with 2000 Euro aerodynamic wheels, and aerodynamic crash helmets, yet who were wearing rain jackets that ballooned to the size of a Zeppelin airship as they were riding. 🙂

During the last 20km I started to get some warning signs that life was not going to be straightforward on the run.  My lower back started to stiffen up and I struggled to stay aerodynamic on my bike.

Bike to Run

Disaster!  I bent over to put on some dry socks and my running shoes and in the process pulled a muscle in my lower back.  I guess that it was the same muscle that was stiffening up on the bike and was probably partly caused by the cold wet weather.

Run

On the runI was hardly able to run.  Every impact from each step caused a sharp pain in my back and so I was forced to jog very slowly with short light steps.  After 12km I realized that the pain was not getting any worse and was, if anything, slightly lessening (or I was getting used to it?).  I continued on at my slow but consistent pace and watched dismayed as very many people overtook me.  In fact, I don’t think I passed anyone in the first 30km.

It was clear though that, while I was suffering, there were many others who were suffering much more.  Many were either sick or ill having misjudged their energy intake in the cold conditions, shaking with hypothermia and stopping as a result, or simply cramping up and unable to continue.

Then at around 30-35km into the run the pain in my back gradually subsided as if something unknotted itself.  I was able to run properly again, but by now my legs were starting to get tired and stiff and so any potential gains were minimal.

Tired but happyIn the end I finished the marathon in a time of just over 4 hours, each 10km taking me about 1 hour – my worst ever marathon time by a long way, but nonetheless not disappointed as I had achieved what I set out to do: get to the finish. The time (10 hours 46 minutes) didn’t matter.

An Ironman is a big challenge and the hardest part of it is the training which requires a huge commitment not just from the athlete, but more importantly from their family.  Colette has been incredible throughout the past 6 months as anyone who knows her will testify.  It sounds cliche, but something like this really is a team effort.

It was an amazing and emotional feeling to run down the finish straight with Joseph in my arms and Colette at my side.

Afterwards

I’m sitting here watching Joseph trying desperately to play his xylophone.  It’s hard not to feel poignant now that the Ironman challenge is finished, but the day to day challenges for Joseph and other children and families living with leukodystrophy continue without a finish in sight.

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