Thursday, July 23, 2015

Ironman Switzerland 2015

“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” T Edison.

In the past seven years of racing triathlon, I’ve learned that the “perfect prep” is an illusion. The truth is, life gets in the way. The fortunate thing is, life gets in the way for everyone. You may be sitting on the couch, missing a session because you are sick. However, chances are that along the way, your competitor misses a session because their car broke down or they had to help a friend in need. I’ve come to realize that the small setbacks along the way are just a part of the game. At Ironman Melbourne in March after a bout of Salmonella just 10 days out from the race, I found out that you can still salvage a good race (not perfect, but good) even when s%$t goes very wrong. 

My prep for Ironman Switzerland was far from textbook perfect, but I’ve come to realize that the imperfections sometimes might just be a part of the perfect prep. 5 & 4 weeks out from Switzerland, I did hardly any training as I was tapering & traveling for Ironman Cairns (the race that wasn’t). When I got “back to work” at home, I was at first freaked out that I had missed “the two most critical weeks” of Ironman prep for a late July Ironman. Once I began training though, I realized that I’ve already done probably 20 critical weeks this year and actually needed a solid break which life incidentally granted me with the DNF at Cairns. My training was better than ever and I took life’s usual hiccups in stride, confident that I had already done the work. Babysitter doesn’t show up for my long ride? Ok, no ride for mom today. Getting a cough two days before the race (which is now bronchitis)? No worries, take some echinacea and ignore it. 5 days of travel to Cape Cod for my brother’s wedding? Just fit in the training you can and don’t be a neurotic freak around your family because it’s not about you. These reminders helped me to get in some solid training, but to also be adaptive and flexible.  

There was also the question of which Ironman race I was going to do. I looked at both Ironman UK and Ironman Switzerland which were on the same day (July 19th). I hemmed and hawed about about the start lists & the course profiles, knowing I needed a podium finish by the end of July to get into the top 28 women in the world who qualify for the Ironman World Championships in the first cutoff (7 more women qualify in August in addition to a few automatic qualifiers). Normally, I just like to race whoever shows up, but this race was different. We were spending a lot of upplanned time and money to get there and I needed to make it count for Kona. To confuse things further, I even threw IM Canada on the table as a possibility. I sent an email to Thorsten of tri rating asking for advice and he essentially said, “You need to have confidence in yourself now that you can podium at any of these Ironmans. Pick the course and race that suits you best and don’t worry about everyone else.” In the end, that’s what I did. I knew UK had a high likelihood of being cold and rainy (not my bag) and Canada was a week later (July 26th) and conflicted with our plans to head to the Phillipines. Ironman Switzerland looked amazing: A beautiful 2-lap lake swim that looked easy to navigate (in-water navigation and rough conditions are not my strong suits). Switzerland also had a challenging bike course with a lot of variety: About 50% flat and 50% ups and downs, but a do-able total elevation gain of about 4000 feet. The run was flat and 4 back-and-forth loops around lake Zürich. Lapped runs are my favorite because you can often see your competition, pace yourself (e.g. 45 minutes per loop) and get an extra boost from the spectators who you see more often on this type of course. So, Switzerland it was. 

Due to our upcoming trip to the Phillipines for Cebu 70.3 on August 3 and then Australia for Sunshine Coast 70.3, we didn’t think it was fair to bring Wynne along to Switzerland as well… Luckily, my sister came to the rescue and offered to look after the Wynnstar while we (hopefully) got the job done in Europe. I realize I’m also incredibly fortunate to have a fiancé that rearranged all of our travel plans and sacrificed our time at home in July in order to get me to this race. Luke literally will go to the end of the world for me and I know he’s a rare catch. This kind of last minute travel is expensive, tiring and logistically difficult, but Luke was dedicated to the trip from the beginning. 

After dropping Wynne off in Chicago, we flew to Zürich where we settled in to Flo & Carole’s house in Horgen- a hamlet just outside of the main city. Flo & Carole are good friends who opened their house to us for the week which was incredible. We had such a good time just hanging out with them it was easy to forget I had a race on Sunday as most evenings were spent laughing around the dinner table with a bottle of wine until after 10pm. 
Lakeside dinner with Flo & Carole


We arrived on Tuesday and took a quick swim at the lake which was INCREDIBLE (and way too warm for wetsuits). Wednesday we had a chance to ride one lap of the two-lap bike course. The course was more challenging than we had anticipated, but had tons of variety and was just gorgeous. The climbs were significant- most notably, “The Beast” which is nearly 3 miles long at 5-6%. The forecast for Sunday was thunderstorms, but I tried to not worry too much and took the “it is what it is” route. I was just happy it was forecasted to be quite hot with highs in the low 90’s. 
Wednesday: Bike course recon. 

Race morning arrived and conditions were absolutely perfect. Calm seas, not too much wind, and no rain or thunderstorms. No wetsuits for pros or age groupers as the water was quite warm 25.8 celcius). I said a little “thank-you” to the weather gods and got my pre-race business done. I took my race-prep jog and felt fresh and at ease. 

The SWIM: 2.4 miles 1:00 (2nd fastest swim) 
My goal in the swim was to have a strong enough start to hop on some slightly faster feet. I was able to do this and ended up on Mareen Hufe’s feet. She historically swims a bit faster than me, so I was pleased and the pace felt perfect. Mareen led us through the first lap and we exited for a short run on an island before diving in for lap 2. 
Mareen (pink cap) & me (black cap/ Blue Seventy)  Photo: Michael Rauschendorfer


Luke yelled, “you guys are 2nd”! Yes! We knew Mary Beth Ellis (a very strong swimmer) was far ahead, but I was surprised that we were next as I knew some of the other swimmers in the field were typically faster than me. I dove back in with a smile and continued for a few minutes until some age groupers started to pass us. (Age groupers had started only 3 minutes behind the pro women so the faster ones were able to catch up). In a critical decision-making moment, I decided to leave Mareen’s feet and try to stay on some feet that had passed us. It turned out that the pace felt fine and these feet navigated me all the way to the finish. I was surprised at how many swimmers we had to swim through that were on their first lap. It was really challenging and I think partly due to the fact that IM Switzerland had a rolling start for the first time. With a rolling start, I think the slower swimmers may not even get into the water until almost 20 minutes after the gun goes off, so they are barely on their way as we started the 2nd loop. I got kicked by a few breaststrokers and whacked in the face but whatever I did, I kept an eye on the feet that were leading me. This choice on the second lap was a good one and I was second out of the water, 5 minutes behind Mary Beth Ellis and 45 seconds ahead of Mareen who was in 3rd place. 

The BIKE: 112 miles 5:13 (3rd fastest bike)
I decided for this race to go mostly by heart rate as my power seemed to play mind games with me at IM Cairns (I had a slow start and was fixated on the numbers and that I wasn’t quite hitting them). In Switzerland, I rode my target heart rate, and luckily, for the first half, this netted me my exact target power without focusing on the numbers. I was feeling strong on my SCOTT Plasma 5 and in control. 
famous Heartbreak Hill. 

Mareen, a super biker, passed me by 20k and I didn’t (couldn’t really) go with her. Going into this race, one of my mantras was “let the race come back to you” (pretty sure I just borrowed this from Elizabeth Waterstraaat). I knew that if I executed my own race, I should be able to get to the podium. I didn’t want to take any risks that could derail the outcome that I needed. 
Photo: Michael Rauschendorfer

To my surprise, the ride was quite fun. (I typically get really nervous about the ride and the pain and solitude it brings). I enjoyed the climbs and was somewhat cautious on the downhills. I didn’t encounter very much age group traffic, but there was some. At times it was mentally helpful (for pacing), at other times it was an irritating nuisance as I’d have to sit up and soft pedal to drop back quickly enough, etc. There was one longer climb where I had to ride much easier than I wanted - I was spinning up in my easiest gear far below my race watts. However, there were 4 men strung out ahead of me and I wasn’t sure I could (or should, given the effort it would take) pass all 4 of them legally (within 25 seconds each going uphill), so I sat back and ate and drank. Other than that, it seemed to be a fair race and from what I saw of others, they competed fairly as well. The second loop, my power and morale dropped slightly, but that’s Ironman for you and pretty much to be expected. I ate and drank a lot throughout and stayed on top of it all to set myself up to run. I remained in 3rd place alone (1+ minute back from 2nd, 5 minutes ahead of 4th) for the duration of the race, but I actually don’t mind racing this way. It allows me to do what I need to do and I don’t have to base my moves upon those of the other girls. 
Heading into T2. 
Photo: Michael Rauschendorfer
The RUN: 26.2 miles 3:01 (fastest run) 
Off the bike I got some splits: 17 whopping minutes behind to MBE (girl can ride!), and 2 minutes to Mareen in 2nd. Right away, I decided to run my own race as planned. I hoped to catch Mareen, but pretty much wrote off catching MBE and decided I’d be quite happy to be a bridesmaid at the Mary Beth Ellis Show. I threw on my Hokas (Cliftons) and set off. 
Photo: Michael Rauschendorfer

I never look at my pace during the first mile and go by feel. I try to run by a “controlled but productive effort” and then I look to see (after the mile) what that split looks like on the day. On the day, the split was right on my target pace and my effort was controlled but challenging. By 3 or 4 miles, I caught up to Mareen and we both wished each other well- we knew we were both in a good position for the Kona qualifying points we needed. After that point, I ran the next 15 miles focusing on solidifying my 2nd place finish. MBE is a world class athlete, multiple IM Champion, top 10 contender in Kona and current ITU long course world champion. I was okay with the fact that her 17 minute lead would probably be out of reach on the day, even if I could whittle down 10 minutes or so. As a result, I got to run in control for the first 3 laps and really enjoy the run! I said “hi” to everyone I knew along the course (Steve, Laura, Luke, Adrian, Joe, Sage, Brian), smiled a lot, and just ran. 

Having a little too much fun at the halfway point

thumbs up

My friend Carrie and I talk about ‘“finishing the business” in training so I focused on just finishing the business and what I came there to do. I had a lead mountain biker with me (Sabrina, who was amazing!) and she let the crowds know I was coming and got me some extra cheers which kept the wind in my sails. By the end of lap 3, though (about 19 miles), I was definitely starting to feel it all and slow down a bit. But, as I came through the finish line area to start the final lap, Luke & the race announcer informed me that Mary Beth had slowed down and that if I kept my current pace, I would catch her by 24 miles. HOLY S%$T. Honestly, that wasn’t what I wanted to hear! I was already happy with where I was, you mean I had to try harder and dig deeper? My legs hurt just thinking about it, but somehow my pace accelerated a bit and by mile 21 she was less than a minute ahead. At that point, the prospect of winning became real and I really went for it. I lifted my pace and eventually passed MBE around mile 23. I kept it going until the finish and had time to celebrate my first Ironman win. 
Photo Getty Images | Ironman



finish line debrief w/ Mary Beth Ellis... can't. stand/ up. 

Overall, I had the most solid start-to-finish race I had ever put together, something I wouldn’t have expected from my choppy prep and mishaps in my last few races. To win an Ironman was my bucket list dream and I get emotional thinking about all of the hard work I put into that very moment and that it has actually all paid off. 

Thank you to our families, who encouraged me to give it one more shot after IM Cairns, to my sister for all her help with Wynne, and of course to Luke, my coach and better half.
Women's pro podium

Thank you also to all of my sponsors for taking a chance in 2015 on the girl who was 20lbs overweight after just having a baby this time last year. We also have a new supporter, mortgage Broker Tommy Ullich #AussieTom and we’re excited about this new partnership. 


12 comments:

Dolly said...

Fantastic!!! I'm so happy to have found your blog back in 2010. I was pregnant with my first baby, and I looked up pregnant runner blogs. I found a cute one (Cross country Squared) and she linked to your blog. I hope I don't sound like a creeper, but I also found your profile on Athlinks as the speedy runner who got 3rd at the Las Vegas Marathon back in 2008.

It has been a real treat to watch you grow as an athlete and now a mother. You have a great training/life balance. Plus your run stats are amazing.

I can't wait to see what happens for you at Kona this year. I wouldn't bee shocked if you make it to the podium. I also wouldn't be shocked if you won. :)

Good Luck to you Beth!

rr said...

So proud of you Skipper - enjoying the moments and all the fun along the way, and looking hot on the podium, of course.

X-Country2 said...

Hiiii, Dolly! Thanks for the compliment. Your kids are ADORABLE! :)

Congrats on a great race, Beth!! Love, love, love following your journey through tri life, mom life, and soon to be wedding life.

Wassdoc said...

Congratulations on your first ironman victory! I'll always remember your race report from St. George in 2010 (having raced there myself) and the amazing run you had to qualify for Kona after spending a bunch of time with a blown tire. Your journey has been remarkable and this win is the icing on the cake! Was cheering for you from behind my iPhone, as I will be when you're at Kona. Fantastic race!

FitnessFatale said...

What a great race! So happy for you - you totally deserve it. You're an inspiration for all mamas and mamas to be - you've proved that having a baby can make you even stronger!

Congrats again!

Sharon said...

We'll done!!! So,happy for you.

Paul Donoghue said...

Congratulations, Beth. Great post. I especially enjoyed reading what you were thinking during the race. Watching the feed of the last few minutes of #IMSwitzerland & your win was exciting. I suspect you're still smiling.

It was a pleasure to meet you, Luke, Wynne & the "Gerdes clan" for Katy & Calpin's wedding. I told Katy that we should all head to Kona to cheer you & Luke on!

Wishing you & your family the best ...

Alyssa Kurt said...

Congrats Beth! All your hard work is paying off! It's been very impressive to read about all your training and racing over the last few years!

ks said...

Congratulations!! I've been reading your blog for about a year and a half and your journey is so inspiring! I actually cried when I read that you passed MBE! (I'm blaming the crying on pregnancy hormones - I'm about 15 weeks with my first) - but I can't imagine how incredible it must have felt to get your first win - and to have it happen in such an exciting way!

Yasmeen Moshiri said...

I loved reading this, nearly brought tears to my eyes, and have loved seeing your progress throughout the years. Congratulations to all of your success, Beth! So happy for you.

Loved this part of your post too: "don’t be a neurotic freak around your family because it’s not about you". I need to remember that one.

Mohd Syafei Ahmad said...

Wow Beth.. this is so inspiring. You did it! 7 years of persistence and hard work has paid off. Good luck in KONA. You may win it too if u believe.

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