#Training – The Ironman70.3 Switzerland Report.

#FlashbackFriday and Ironman70.3 Switzerland race analysis time but first of all, I made it, completed the full distance while also reaching the goal I had set, the sub-5 hours finish. It feels awesomely good because it was also my first ever triathlon, proper open swim, transition time, etc. So much happened over the last weekend, it feels unbelievable.

As usual with my races or let’s say the one that really count, I have this thing of properly looking back at them and it’s the same with planning ahead. It’s the little details, mindset and how you embrace the competition that make the result. Not only should you have the legs but also a strategy and way of keeping it together should something happen.

So two weeks ago, I started planning the race weekend, making sure I would have the equipment right. First was getting a new triathlon suit as the one I had bought first did not have proper pockets to hold the fuel during the running part. Same with the bike, I started working out details, finding a little bag to put behind the handlebars in order to fuel myself while being able to keep the aero position as much as possible.

Then, it was all about properly understanding and trying ways to fuel myself on the distance. As a friend confirmed later on, whatever the situation is, if hunger or thirst comes into play, you’re finished. So I focused on that but also analyzed the whole training I had gone through since entering the competition in order to work on setting my own personal goal.

The running was probably the easiest, although, I had no idea of how I would feel after swimming and cycling at all. But I worked with the Ironman70.3 split calculator that you find on their website and looked at different strategies.

From the beginning, I thought I would keep it cool on the swim as this is the weakest part of the three disciplines at the moment. Regarding the bike, I looked at it with a more aggressive approach, although and up to the point I visited the place during a recce, I had two very different approach to the course so it only really came together a week before the start. And running, as said earlier, I thought, you will feel the distance so keep it good and strong but try to push it.

The goal was set in the head and on the paper. Sub-5 finish was the aim while on the paper I had set a time of 5h05min. Planning is a thing but in the end, you never know how you’re going to feel and act on the day really so I like to have two goals or a sort of frame within which I can fit the result I would say. See the original plan below. As you can see, I only confirmed it two days before the start so really, I wasn’t feeling secured at all.

The final check-list and race plan as settled on 8th of June. I’m maniac, I know…

Other than planning, I lived like a monk aside from training, enjoyed a few beers  and times out still but not much else as I was getting closer to the day. Food and resources would be key on race day so I also tried to put together a nutrition plan from two weeks before the race and as I love to cook, this proved to be something I enjoyed a lot.

As race week and weekend happened. Last training sessions ahead of the race were done easy peasy or sort of, with the Triathlon Club de Genève swim and track sessions while riding with the Geneva Cyclists. Hours were reduced in order to tapper, intensity was kept in some other ways. Not to get sleepy let’s say. I also took my Friday off, time to pack properly, rest and get the bike checked without having to do it all at the last minute.

Job done and Saturday, 8:00 in the morning, Marc and myself were on our way to tackle the big race. A few hours later we arrived on site and off we went for a little training, 25 minutes on the bike, 10 minutes on the run to break the legs in. And great, they were alive! Then, signing on took place, collection of race bib and stickers as well as the transition bags. Stress started to come into play. Seeing all these triathlete and the gear around makes you wonder what you’re doing here and especially all these time trial and long distance triathlon bikes worth triple the price of my ride…

So bike got readied, transition bag as well, making sure all was ready for the next morning as per the race plan. Last minute would be checking the tube pressures on the bike and putting the food, gels or fuel on the bike and in the bags on race morning. Last thing was a sort of recce of that transition zone, entry, bags, bike rack, all was now in the head. Honestly, when I exited all that and we went walking around, I wasn’t feeling good, secured or strong at all, more like weak and afraid. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like the next morning…

By 5:00 in the afternoon, we were finished and finally had our own little pasta plate and alkoholfrei beer. Off we were to pick-up Marc’s wife in the village where we would be staying over night, 10km from Rapperswil. We went for a little lazy swim in the Zürich lake and had our little easy peasy sunny time after. My head was going crazy, questions coming up and around, stress… Hôtel and off for food, we had a lovely Italian in Männedorf and back for an early sleep… Or that was the plan… Sleep only happened for probably 3 hours and then the alarm came on at 5:00…

As #RaceDaySunday happened! Up at 5:00, weather was to be clear sky and hot temperatures with 29° planned, still better than racing under the rain but hot temperatures ain’t my stuff… Anyway, showered and with suncream all over the body, triathlon suit on, I headed out for breakfast. Did I feel confident, not at all… Weak and the stomach wasn’t feeling happy either.

Breakfast was the start to the day, simple and not heavy. Batteries were already full, it was all about keeping it going, muesli, bread, butter and honey with a long cup of coffee as well as a carbs loaded energy bar. Then Marc and myself were off to Rapperswil and by 7:00 we were in the transition zone for pre-race checks. Tyre pressure done, transition bags checked, food and energy drinks loaded.

As said, stomach wasn’t happy, stress was there, made a stop to the toilet and headed to the tent, put the vaseline on and wetsuit, it may not sound sexy but it’s the practice if you want to get it off easily after the swim they say so I just followed the trend. Marc and myself were ready, after-race clothes and bags dropped, we went for the starting zone around 7:30. As I got there, seeing all these people around, I could feel I wasn’t the only one stressed but still it didn’t help. We headed to the little marina next to the start line and got into the water for warm-up, very short but I could float so at least, I would make it over the swim part.

Start was to be a rolling one, four by four out in the water according to times we thought were possible. As 8:00 came, I just moved towards the starting zone, wished good luck to Marc as well as Valentin and Arnaud, other friends from the club entered in the race and off I was. Basically I got into the 35′-39′ slot thinking, I would have to hold to these guys if I wanted to do a decent swim. As the start time came closer and closer, my stomach wasn’t feeling any better, it was just getting worse… And at 8:25, the start for my age group (25-29) was given. As I lined-up with three other guys, I just ran into the water and prayed that I would keep it together.

The stomach thing disappeared straight as I started swimming and as per my race plan, I gave it everything for the first 300 meters more or less, I did hold my line up to 500 meters and got into a good rhythm. The confidence was getting there and as I started passing quite a few guys, it helped. Getting to the turning point and heading back to earth was the first reward, but still, I kept the rhythm, the line wasn’t perfect with poor vision due to my small goggles I guess but I continued. Still all that was feeling quite long, and by the time I got back and out of the water, it was a time of 37:00 minutes. The best ever time I did on a 1.9km distance.

Getting out of the water was a bit of a worrying time though as I started cramping while trying to jump out, peoples were helping and I got out okay. Then, I started running while taking the top of my wetsuit off, grabbed my transition bag and sat to take my suit off entirely, dried my feet, put on the socks and shoes as well as the helmet, ran out of the changing tent while making a little pit stop before the bike leg.

By then, I was alright, general feeling was that I had survived and time was within the frame I had given myself so I headed out of T1 after 5:12 minutes, jumped on the bike and thought I would get it together. As I jumped on the bike, I turned the legs for about a kilometer and then started pushing straight away. The general idea was to have a first 10k split of 16-17 minutes and then build-up on that. If I could make it, it meant the legs were okay, if behind but not able to keep it together for the second one, I would have had to decide on either keeping it aggressive or going for a conservative approach but first split was of 15:14 minutes so I was right in the frame I had set.

This meant I was on it and confidence was there. Still, I was a bit worried of my HR which was around 180. It would be pretty hard for a 90k ride but as I had never made a proper swim/bike transition, maybe it was just part of the whole thing I didn’t care and I was on it so I kept it going. By then I started the first climb of the 45km loop, the witch hill, which is nothing easy but gave it a big push as well and probably for the rest of the loop including the two other climbs and downhills.

At the end of the first loop and while approaching the roundabout for the second one, I thought that easing it a little bit would be a better decision. Food was good, I had finished my first bottle and plan was going accordingly but thinking ahead, I really doubted the transition to the run. Seeing that my average speed was of 35km/h after 45km, I definitely decided I would save myself a little.

Heart rate was by then coming down to 160/165 and back up to 180 but only for the climbs which I thought was more reasonable. Also, I tried to use more power than cadence while on the climb. I mean, I don’t have a power meter – unfortunately – but I thought putting power down while keeping a very low cadence on climbs is a better approach to making it and saving the energy for the run. It was getting hotter out there and I was really starting to get worried about that later part.

But off I was on the second loop, food and water plan was kept together, even managed to shower myself completely with one of the water bottles they give you at those refueling stations so I was pretty cool, sweat mode was on so I was properly hydrated and I focused. A great thing on the bike leg was passing all these people on proper time trial or triathlon bikes. I mean, these guys or girls all had pretty crazy expensive bikes compared to mine and while on the flats or climbs, it was really good to give them a hard time. As one said, it’s not the material but the guy on the saddle that gets it going. At one point I just wondered what I would have done on one of these bikes…

So hammering it and after 80km and 1100 meter elevation, I had an average speed of 32.5km/h, made it back to Rapperswil while taking it up to 33.5km/h, still passing a few good bikes and ending a 90km leg with 2:31:30 on the saddle. Race strategy for the bike was turned around but it proved effective.

Getting back into the transition zone felt quite strange, I mean there were a lot of people out on the bikes but not so many back there I thought, probably because the biggest age groups were still out. Anyway, back there, I jumped off the bike in good conditions. Legs were burning but I had built more confidence so it was a good point getting back there in that mood, I was again under and I mean well under my estimated paper time so I was really really seriously feeling f*$cking good!

As I put my bike back on the rack, went for my transition bag again, I could feel a bit of stomach pain. Having had bad experiences in running, I knew this was down to food and the gels I did take. I don’t use a lot of these things usually but as I said at the top of the article, it was a point I trialled but still wasn’t happy and I was just going to experience a bad stomach for the run. I continued, put that aside in my head, changed shoes, put on my hat and watered myself heavily in 3:15 minutes. Out of T2 I was and the legs were still burning…

I went as per the race plan, 5km easy peasy around 4:30/km and tried to pace myself out of the bike. In training, I had experienced the “burning legs” thingy, a sort of feeling that makes you fly out on the run, like being on a 10k race pace but that vanishes completely after twenty minutes so really, I was not going to go for a burnout by then. Honestly, the general feeling was keep it going, do not burn, you’re ahead of paper time, you will make it under five hours. So just do it.

Again and as on the bike but this time it was I believe purely down to energy, it was great to pass a good number of people out there, it helps the mental and while going through pain, seeing others suffering even more, it probably is the best thing you can witness at that point. At kilometer 7, a fast girl passed and as the stomach was more or less okay even if grumpy, I thought I would give it a go and I followed for almost a 100 meter… But I understood straight that I wasn’t going to run a 3:55-4:00/km end of race…

So back to normal pace, I was around 4:30/km and 10th kilometer split was of 45:23 minutes. All the way to the 15th kilometer, I felt okay but stomach wasn’t at all and by then I really started to experience pain, pain and more pain, proper stomach cramps. Not happy, not easy I was getting back in the old town where you have to climb a few stairs and it was a hard time but with 3-4 kilometer to go I just shouted to my legs and continued. I wasn’t great but I had to make it, no way I would walk or pass the 5 hours mark after all that work so I continued and pushed mentally. Strange was that the legs were still okay but the stomach really put a sort of crazy feeling over the whole thing and I did walk a tiny bit up the stairs… But as said, I had to make it.

I got to the finish line and getting to the last 500 meters, completing the second loop, I really started to feel happy, the stomach was still there but had sort of closed its mouth and I just ran the end as a happy chap’, the distance, the triathlon, the training, everything I had done and all the time spent training finally made sense, I mean the feeling was fantastic. Also, Marc’s wife was right there just before the line and having someone jumping and shouting at you really is something great. I mean it helped and thanks for that Hortense, I almost wanted to grab you but I left that for Marc, it made more sense.

So as I reached the finish, I made it through the Ironman70.3 distance, 1.9km swim, 90km ride and 21.1km run in 4:52:50. The job was done properly and that feeling, it’s a special thing, really. My first ever triathlon and a long distance one had been completed, a month and a half after I took the decision to make it and started to train intensively for it. After all, I felt on top of the world. #OhYeah

Official time – 4:52:50

274th/2269 OA – 35th/148 AG (25-29)

Even greater was that Marc who had started exactly 20 minutes after me finished with a time of 4:52:54 making it a 274/275 Overall finish for the two of us. A great thing after training and going through all this together. Thanks to Marc for dragging me into this a year earlier than planned. Also a special thank you to the Triathlon Club de Genève for getting me to swim, bike and run altogether as well as Geneva Cyclists and Gerry, Jérôme the coach, for pushing me on the rides.

Time to rest, continue the work and training. Analysis will go on, food and fuel management will be worked out. Power meter and bike computer are probably the next step in training a bit smarter and accurately while I will start saving for the proper triathlon bike in order to hammer it on the road. But more work into transition will be the first thing, I mean running after the swim and bike part, getting used to it and doing it faster. All in all, it is about working everything a little more and step by step. Definitely, I’ve falled in love with something here.

What’s next, the Triathlon International de Genève, olympic distance but intense as shorter. And yes, I’ll be back on the long distance for sure, pain seems rewarding, and the feeling at the finish is just too good!

Cheers, Louis.

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