Ironman Switzerland was an incredible experience for my first of hopefully many to come. All week the city was buzzing with triathletes from around the world. I travelled with my parents and friends from Tri-Scottsdale for this event and I couldn't have asked for better company to get me through it. Add to that, an old high school friend who lives in Zurich now, and SF Tri's own Ken Jung, and there isn't much that could have made it better.
Race morning came early with a 3:30 alarm. I had a good night sleep which was not expected. Getting my final preparations together and off to breakfast at the hotel who opened their restaurant early for the large number of athletes staying there. Unfortunately at 4am they didn't staff too well for a packed house, so I was off fighting for some fresh coffee for my father and myself. Downing some bread with peanut butter and honey, muesli with yogurt and some fruit, we all got ready for the short bus trip to race start.
Arriving at transition, as always we were some of the first. Ironman Switzerland had provided us with bike covers to keep everything nice and dry for race day, but it wasn't necessary. We had perfect 55 degree weather and just a light overcast to keep it from getting too hot too early. Setting up transition and pumping the tires went without event. This Ironman has you come back to your transition spot between all aspects of the race, so no bike or run bags to deal with. Once I had everything set up it was off for some "business". All was setting up for a great race day!
Wetsuit on, final paranoid check for everything and a 10 minute walk to the start. Switzerland has a two loop swim course with a water start. Everyone was allowed in the water for a warm-up, then they kick everyone out of the lake for the Pro start. They give the Age Groupers a minute warning to swim to the start buoys then supposedly fire a gun for the mass start. I didn't hear a gun, but all the sudden people were swimming, and rather than get run over, I was off too!
The race for the first buoy was very calm in the water which actually freaked me out. I was waiting to get thrashed, but it never really happened. Clean water and some drafting found me at the turn in not time. A polite group at this point made the turn, but then all hell broke loose as this brought everyone together and fighting for a good line. Jumping on someone's feet I was moving up, following bubbles. Sighting wasn't a problem as with the clear water I could see people all around, so rather than fight for what I thought was the best line, I just went with it. All the sudden though, SMACK, elbow to the goggles. Had to slow down for a minute to regain my composure or risk freaking out in the water as I did in Wildflower. Saw stars for a minute too, but once it subsided my goal was to find my next draft. Getting some great swimmers to lead me was a godsend and I could feel some good speed with a long stoke heading to the net turn and into the finish of the first lap. The final turn and under a bridge to the end of the first lap was a choke point for the race. A pro man made it worse as it looked like he was clinging to it for dear life and I think I heard him crying! Getting up on the exit ramp and running over a small island to mark the first lap I came in at 29 minutes, hitting my goal time as it is slightly shorter than the second.
Lap 2 was uneventful, but due to the thinning field, and worse overall navigation by everyone, I was left to fend for myself for the correct route. Halfway around lap two and I swim up on a poor soul who lost hit cap and goggle. I felt bad for a second and then WHAP on the head from him. After a second, I realized, shit, he's trying to grab my goggles. Luckily I wear mine under my cap so he was not successful, but it gave me an adrenalin boost to help sprint away for a minute. Coming into the finish I had it in my head to avoid the same bottle-neck I hit on lap 1, but I misjudged my line and back in it. As everyone slowed someone grabbed my leg high around the thigh and pulled. This unfortunately for him, allowed me the throttle my leg back and it definitely did some damage. Another boost of adrenaline and I raced for the finish ramp and out to my bike. Swim time of 1:05:26 - Goal!
Ripping off my wetsuit (no creature comforts like wetsuit strippers here), tri shirt, helmet, socks, and cycling shoes on and I run to the bike course. Jumping on the bike I remember to take it easy for the first 20 minutes. This was hard as people went racing by, and a huge crowd was lining the course already. Letting my heart settle I could finally start to put the pedal down and hit a great cruising speed along Lake Zurich. The 20 mile stretch along the lake is flat and fast, hitting 25 mph easily. I read about this race from previous race reports and the blatant drafting the Euro's do here. Coming into the race I was really tempted to follow suit, but for the first lap there was no real opportunity anyways. Feeling great through the flats you come to the hills in the suburbs of Zurich. These mountain towns were awesome with local polka bands and massive cowbells the size of a small animal lining the streets. I would get passed by groups on the hills, then crest and track them down on the flats for most of this lap. Definitely tracking a lot of the strong swimmers, and holding with the good cyclists. Heading up "The Beast" and a slow climb afterwards was a little demoralizing as it was not as advertised, and much longer of climbs than described. Keeping my pace and my head, the course tears down a huge grade which got us over 50 mph and cruising back to the city for a short loop up "Heartbreak Hill". This is the coolest part of the ride as it is almost like a mountain Tour stage with people crowding the street and only a few feet gap in between. A dramatic descent back to the lake and off to lap 2.
Getting a bit amped up with a 2:28 lap, my head filled with visions of a negative split. In retrospect this was stupid, but I was having a blast blowing by people and after a while I had a pack drafting off me. Whenever I would let up, someone would cruise by and drop right in front of me, causing me to draft. Being good I would drop back, but another person would just drop in again! Fed up, after two more drop ins, I decided to hammer it out to make sure I wouldn't get a dreaded card. Heading into the hills though, a huge pack went blasting by me as my legs were a bit hammered. Some justice prevailed as one of the pack came up beside me, and just at that time, a motorcycle too, with a black card! My heart stopped for a second, but it was for him and he started a very loud "discussion" in some language I couldn't decipher. The rest of the lap was a bit the same as the first, just a little slower. Nutrition was very basic. Bottle of Perpetuum, Cliff Bar, 2 GU's, Coke, 2 bottles of Powerbar drink, and 2 bananas I picked up at aid stations (about 1100 calories). It may be a little low, but I think the fade on the bike came from hammering ealry on the second lap. They don't have special needs bags at this race, but an additional Perpetuum may have been good.
Bike finish 5:08:48.
Time for my run speed to shine! Nope, not 100 yards into it, my abs began freaking out. This made me freak out and the paranoia of walking a marathon and not breathing well caused for a slow first three miles. Finally it subsided, and I could breath deep again. Cruising the first lap I felt horrible from all that. Getting out on the second lap though, a pit stop was in order. Sitting down in the porta-john caused the next worse thing to happen, my groin spasmed and I don't know what anyone outside thought, but there were some crazy screams coming out. Finally I just relaxed and by muscle released so I could finish my business. Jumping out of the porta-john wasn't the best idea and the groin screamed at me again, but not as bad and I could run it off. After a mile everything was fine and I could feel my stride improving and getting the pace up. Alternating gatorade and fruit, water and coke for aid stations, my energy level felt great. The laps were ticking away and I was holding pace! They give you these colored arm bands to mark what lap you are on, from Green to Yellow, to Blue and finally Red. Passing many people now on my run, and not seeing many with the color ahead made me feel even better, even with my early troubles.
Heading out on the final lap there was enough left to open up my stride and keep pressing. The entire run course was picketed by people yelling and cheering in every language. "Go San Francisco", "Go Brett" kept pushing me along, and even with the pain raining in my feet and shoulders, I could see more an more of the cyclist who passed me, many trying to work out cramps or just trudging along. The only person to pass me on the final lap was a Pro guy, but I had 5 minutes on him from the start, and I picked off a few Pro women too! Two dudes from my AG appeared and pressed to pass me with two miles left after the final turnaround, this was it. These were some of the guys drafting me along the lake and I was having none of it on the run. All or nothing my legs responded and pressing through the crowed course you could hear my grunting pick up, and a massive stride develop giving it all. Hitting the home stretch and after a small turnaround point I had put some serious distance on them and could enjoy the finish shoot.
I've never celebrated a finish of a race before, but this was different. So much time and effort put in, losing the weight, the sacrifices, and all the support from friends, co-workers, coaches and family. An experience of many firsts, hardests, worsts, and best things all wrapped up in an amazing event. Words can't describe the feeling and my eyes started to tear and I raised my arms in triumph because I was finally an IRONMAN!
Run time - 3:31:59
Finish time - 9:51:33