My first long distance race back in 2017 is one I like to reflect on as this event really set in me the belief that really anyone can do this with the right mindset and training. Reading this race report back now almost four years later it is interesting to see just how far I have come.
Zurich was a great race location and one I hoped to return to but they have moved the Switzerland event to Thun, which looks equally good so maybe I will do that one.. one day! Linda x
Enjoy my report. Be warned, it is a long one!
I woke up on the morning of the race surprisingly calm. I had managed to get a good night sleep and although it was 3.15am, I ate my breakfast of porridge, a banana and drunk a strong coffee. Before long it was time to get the minibus from the hotel to the race start. The mood on the bus was quiet and while I was still feeling a bit nervous, I could feel I was at that point where I just really wanted to get on with it. Arriving at the race village it was a hive of activity, people running around with bicycle pumps, and generally getting organised. I had a good look over my bike, put on my water bottles, nutrition, squeezed my tyres and then decided to just leave it alone. To be honest I had no idea what everyone else was doing tweaking this and that and I could think of nothing else I needed to do. I walked over to the changing tents and got into my wetsuit. I then slowly walked towards the start line with Adrian who was also taking part. Unlike me he appeared really calm and just kept whispering in my ear to check I was okay and keep me calm and focused. We took advantage of getting in for a quick warm up swim, it felt good to get in and move my arms. The water felt lovely and I could feel myself starting to get excited. The announcement finally came for athletes to go to their swim start pens. Adrian gave me a hug and we set off for our pens. I could feel myself welling up a bit as we parted company but I had no tears as after months of training I was determined to get on the start line, with a smile and to enjoy the swim and hopefully the whole race.
The swim was a rolling start which means they let eight people enter the water every 5 secs, this also means you should get in with clear water ahead of you to start with. I had seeded myself in the middle of the 80-90 min box which was actually quite empty, it seemed most people were seeding themselves up the front, which was fine by me. I spoke to other athletes around me, everyone smiling, nervously and encouraging each other. It was a really good experience. We gradually inched forward until there just one or two rows to go. I got my googles in position, and I looked forward to spot the first buoy. The beeps counted down 5, 4, 3, 2,1 and I was off. The first part of the swim was as good as the organisers promised, clear water to get going in, however by the time I got to the first turn it was absolutely crazy. I was in a sea of bodies and arms flying everywhere. I had to do a bit of swimming around people and there was a lot of jostling but I was not at all bothered by it, I was actually enjoying the swim. I found it hard at times to sight the buoys particularly as the sun came up but I just kept following the feet in front of me. In the end, I must have seeded myself for the swim about right as I found I mostly had space to swim and although I did occasionally get clunked on the head by others passing it was really nothing to worry about and also I ended up swimming past a few people too. The water was warm about 21 degrees and beautifully clean. Not as clear as the practice swim I had two days before but only because there were another 1700 people swimming and churning the water up around me. Lake Zurich is marvellous not a bit of weed in sight, it is absolutely huge. It was pancake flat at the start and just getting a little choppy on the far side of the swim. I have to admit it did feel like I was swimming for ages before the final turning buoy appeared and we were swimming back towards shore. As I exited the water, I felt a sense of relief that part was over and also surprisingly fresh. The two guys either side of me said “great job” which was really nice. The crowds were fantastic too, cow bells ringing and loads of clapping, it was brilliant. I had no idea what my swim time was at that point as I had decided to leave my garmin on my bike in case I got it knocked off, so I was so pleased later when I heard I had done 1.21 for the swim as that was bang on my target.
Day before the race, all racked and ready to go
I managed a quick transition and was off on the bike lap before I knew it. The first lap was beautiful and the scenery breath-taking all the way round. Initially you ride along the side of the lake and I remember just feeling so excited that I had completed the swim and was on my way that I did a massive "whoop" out loud to myself a few times, which sounds crazy but I just couldn’t help it I was so enjoying the moment. After about 25k you start to reach the climbing on the route. The bike course is about 1400m elevation overall, a mixture of flat and rolling hills which take you through lots of little villages where the support was great, more ringing of cow bells, people hosing you down with water and cheering ‘Superb’ and “Hupp Hupp Hupp” it was an atmosphere like no other I have experienced. The ride has three noticeable climbs but nothing I was worried about. The main climb is known as The Beast mainly because it is long, it twists and turns and you think you have reached the top and then realise there is another summit ahead. But on the first lap I was passing people, thinking this is nothing at all to worry about at all but in doing so I was accidentally pushing harder than I should have been to reach the top, however at that stage I was not thinking about it, just enjoying the ride. I was focusing on religiously keeping drinking and taking on little bits of food all the way round as I knew from experience I did not want to face the dreaded bonk on the bike. I noticed lots of riders passing me on the long downhill from The Beast, which was a bit demoralising but I am simply not yet confident enough to stay down on my aerobars at high speed however, I was enjoying the views and a bit of leg rest. As we dropped back down into Zurich the streets were lined with supporters and I headed towards the final climb of the lap called Heartbreak Hill. This hill has got to the be the highlight of my race. It’s short and sharp and the final part of it is lined with supporters. You get a sense of how the pro cyclists must feel in the Tour de France as the crowds are standing all over the road cheering and then part as you cycle through them. I could hear the announcer mention my name and number over the tannoy and saying “she is even smiling” I can’t describe how fantastic I felt. I shot down the other side and before I knew it had completed the first lap and was onto lap 2. I remember thinking I was bang on track for a sub 7 hour bike time as I had done lap one in 3hours 20 mins but I am afraid lap 2 got a bit harder and a lot hotter. There is a lot of flat on the first part of the course and while that is good I think my temptation to push too hard got the better of me and as soon as I came off the flat to the climb I started to feel fatigued, as well as hot as hell. The sweat started to pour out my helmet, and honestly even when I have cycled in the heat in Lanzarote that has never happened to me before. I had to make a stop to put on extra sun cream and I kept drinking as much as I could but when I reached the "Beast" for a second time I knew I must have pushed too hard for my ability on lap one as second time up I was absolutely crawling. The aid station at the top was a godsend. I stopped for a hose down and spoke to one of the water guys who offered to put some salt in my water. Although I lost time by stopping I felt so much better when I set off to finish the lap. As I got back into Zurich I could see lots of people on the run and actually spotted Adrian running – I cheered at him and we waved. (He said later he was really worried how I was feeling as I was much further back on the bike than I had planned but as I was smiling he figured I was okay) Heartbreak hill second time round was less exciting but still good support. Anyway, by the time I got off the bike I had done my 112 miles in 7.24 and while I am disappointed with that time, on the day I was so chuffed to be off the bike with just the run to go I was ecstatic!
My lovely Cervelo P2
Longer transition from bike to run as I faffed about trying to find the flipping exit (race brain doh!) As I started the run, I tried to work out what my finish time might be. I was hoping I had swam in 1.30 and so figured I was probably somewhere between 9 and 9.5 hours into the race. You have 16 hours to finish Zurich so I knew I had plenty time to get my run in and hoped I could finish inside my personal target of 14 hours. Given my track record of running 10k off long bikes I thought a 5 hour marathon would be about right. The first 10k took me about 1 hour 10 which is not great, but equally not bad as I was getting my legs back and I did run all the way round that first lap. The heat however, was something else, at that point I think it was over 30 degrees which, for a Scottish lassie who likes to run in drizzle, was a bit of nightmare. Thankfully, I had a cap on which I filled with ice at each station, there were wet sponges as well and they worked really well at keeping me cool. They offered to hose us down too but in hindsight my feet got a bit soggy so it was not the best plan. At the start of second lap it was getting very tough for me. I ran with another guy for a bit who was doing a run 4 mins walk 1 min strategy and that helped me get some food in and compose myself and half way round that second lap I started to just run continuously again. Each water station was about 2k apart and they had all the food, gels and drink you needed. On most of my laps I walked through each station and then ran on again. By the third lap I was feeling good again, and had taken on so many gels I was buzzing and my feet just kept going and going, I did not feel any aches or pains in my knees which I had a few issues with in training. So I was happy, importantly I felt really positive and telling myself to keep going. One of the best tips I had from Adrian in training was to consciously breath in and out of my mouth and get a rhythm going that you can pace to, and it worked a treat for me on race day. Again I could not believe the crowd support on the run it was something else. Adrian and I passed each other on the second lap of my run and he stopped to kiss me which drew a huge cheer from the crowd! By the time I got my last band on and the knowledge I only had 10k to run I was in my zone and on a mission. I loved that last lap, I thanked all the volunteers who had been amazing and when I got to the last 6k point the volunteer, who had seen me three times previously cheered at the crowd it was my last lap and they all did a huge Mexican wave for me, it was so cool, I will never forget it. Running down the finish line was brilliant, the cheerleaders and supporters all going mental and then the words "You are an Ironman" being roared at you as you cross the line. An absolutely brilliant feeling like no other. When I turned around and saw the clock said Linda Todd 14.14.52 I remember feeling pretty pleased with myself. Adrian, who had finished more than two hours before me, was there waiting for me in the athletes garden with a non -alcoholic beer in hand and equally ecstatic as me that I had finished in good time and one piece!
Overall, Ironman Zurich was the best race experience of my life. Will I do another one? Absolutely. Will I train harder? You bet I will. Can you do one? With the right support, focus and determination I will say yes, anything is possible!