The city of Zurich is quaint, yet metropolitan; foreign, yet homey. Instead of ducks swimming in their lakes, they have swans. There were no skyscrapers (tht I saw anyway). All of the buildings are old and on narrow cobblestone streets where you could find an antique map shop next to a trendy boutique, next to a vintage toy store, next to a historic hotel, next to a charming coffee shop. People gather at all of the outdoor cafes and bars every night, so the streets are just lined with happy people enjoying life.
While we were focused mainly on the race for the better part of the trip, we did get to travel a little bit to Lucerne, Switzerland and Munich Germany (both were awesome!).
My camera battery was dead in Germany and I didn’t have a German electrical converter, so I did not get many pictures in Munich- boo! But these were taken with Jesse’s iPhone in front of a hot air balloon that was graffitied in world peace messages. Awesome on so many levels!
And the reason, we were there was the Ironman- a 140.6 mile triathlon through the city and countryside of Zurich.
If you are interested in that kind of thing, here is Jesse’s race report, it’s a great read!
Ironman Switzerland Race Report:
I’m a firm believer that anxiety will kill you before almost anything else. Keeping life low stress is a constant goal of mine, but it is not always easy, especially as a man with 5 children, two jobs, and an Ironman on the horizon. I’m one of those dudes that trains 7-10 hours per week, sometimes less, rarely more. For this race I did get in a few more weeks in the 13 to 15 hour range. So, I was feeling pretty good about the training. I definitely was not injured or over-trained. My stress was coming from the fact that I was traveling to Europe for the first time with my wife and 6 month-old, while leaving the other 4 children with various grandparents in Texas. Not to mention, neither my wife nor myself are “planners,” so we did very little research on the trip logistics. The good news is that we were staying with 10-12 other South Coast Endurance athletes, many of which had a good grip on traveling abroad. It was their support that allowed me to keep the stress level to a minimum and enjoy myself thoroughly. In fact, the camaraderie and fellowship that I experienced on the trip turned out to be better than the race itself. Believe it.
My wife (Tracy), son (TJ), and I arrived on the Thursday before the race. We settled intoour hotel and were feeling great about being in Zurich. It’s an incredible city that exceeded my expectations from top to bottom. We were enjoying ourselves immensely as we got to visit with our friends and teammates. I got in a training ride on Friday and a practice swim on Saturday. Ready to go.
As a novice cyclist with minimal mechanical skills, traveling with your bike can add to the stress budget. However, with the support of my fellow coaches (TJ Fry and Kirk Noyes) I was able to get the bike together sufficiently and feel good about my equipment. I also borrowed some race wheels from the Bavarian SCE superstar, Kuno Fenski. It’s funny how a slick pair of Zipps can add to your confidence going into a race. It was wonderful to have he and Caroline Cornfine (another German SCE stud) come over from Germany and cheer for us on race day. Another gift came in the way of Ana and Jorge Lemus who traveled from Canada to support the SCE crew. In fact, they were gracious enough to take a few of us out in their rental car to preview the bike course. However, after seeing what I was going to have to ride on Sunday (super steep hills and terrifying descents), I’m not sure I would take that trip again. Nonetheless, everything appeared to be in order, until the bike check.
The bike check line on Saturday was kind of a mess. We must have waited in line for 30 minutes to get into transition. It was still drizzling, and there had been quite a bit of rain that morning, so the grounds were pretty wet. When I finally got to transition, I lifted my bike up over a mud puddle and my back seized up. I had a muscle in the upper part of my back seize up to the point that I almost hit my knees. It took my breath away and I couldn’t move. Luckily, Christi Moore, fellow SCE coach, spotted me and could tell something was wrong. She immediately asked how she could help but I didn’t know what to tell her. It was one of those moments where youare trying to survey what is wrong with your body, and how severe it is. I was shocked, then felt panic, anger,and sadness all at the same time. It was really bizarre. I explained to her what had happened and she said, “I’ll get Ray…… He’s right over there.” Ray Arroyo is a SCE athlete and a brilliant message therapist. She came back, took my bike from me, and I went with Ray. He laid me down on a bench in one of the changing tents at transition. Ray worked on my back for approximately 20 minutes until I could stand and move around a bit. Ray and I went back to Christi where she was still holding my bike. They racked my bike and helped me finish getting my bags where they needed to go. Before we left the race area, Ray took me over to the expo and showed me a brand of aquatitan tape that he recommended. In fact, he directed the “tape lady” there on how he wanted her to tape me up for maximum therapeutic benefit. If you don’t know Ray Arroyo you need to find him and befriend him immediately. He is one of the most caring and giving humans that you will ever meet. His fingers have eyes that can find your pain and heal you. I was able to race 11 hours later because of him and will be forever grateful. I should also mention that Kirk Noyes provided me with a few “magic beans” that were also very helpful in reducing pain and inflammation. Everywhere I turned one of my friends was trying to help me.
That night, Tracy, baby TJ, and I went to the grocery store near our hotel. This was a very small store with a limited food selection. It was already close to 9:00 pm so we did not want to go sit at a restaurant. I made a terrible choice and ended up eating a sweaty ham sandwich with some sort of mayonnaise spread for dinner. I also had potato chips and peanut butter and jelly. Terrible move. The good news is that I also noticed a hole in the back of my wetsuit right before bed. I was wondering why there was so much water above my butt during the practice swim. Whatever.
The morning of the race I woke up and assessed my back. It was tight but I had a good range of motion in my back and shoulders. I got dressed, ate some more peanut butter, a banana, and likely a few other things. The group of us that were staying at the same hotel made the two-mile walk to transition. We put our stuff together and headed to the swim start. I made a few laps around the expo looking for the “wet suit doctor” who had advertised being there for 5:00 am on race day. He was a no show. Whatever.
I got lined up on the beach and prepared for the start of the first of two waves. During warm-up I noticed that the shallow water was lined with a jagged rock bottom. This worried me because I’ve got a couple of bad feet and can barely walk on hard surfaces. Turned out to be no big deal. When the cannon boomed I shot into the lake like a crazy person. I found some clean water early and had a good line towards the first buoy. It wasn’t long until I found myself among a large pack of swimmers. I hoped to have a bit more space but got bounced around pretty good. Then, things got much rougher than I expected. It was like these European dudes thought I was the American trying to take all of their Kona slots. Not as violent as McCullough high school sharks and minnows, but the most aggressive IM swim I’ve experienced yet. I took an elbow to the forehead once, but nothing too bad. The coolest part was when we exited the water to run across the small island. I found myself yelling and cheering as I ran across, and then I flopped back into the water on the other side. I love the Australian exit over the island. Very cool. I should also mention that the water is “drinking quality” and very refreshing. Swim time, 1:00. I think it was a tad long.
I fumbled around in transition a bit but got out on the two-loop course in about 5 minutes. The first 20 miles are through the city center and along the lake shore. It was nice to have the lake to my right so that I could see the beautiful Lake Zurich filled with boats and lined with spectacular homes. Vineyards, retail shops and cafes were to my left. In Ironman, when you come out of the water early and you are not a strong cyclist, you get to see a slew of beautiful bicycles pass you in the first 20 miles. I admired many ofthese machines, some foreign brands that I had never heard of before. I particularly enjoyed being harassed by a Frenchman who when passing me said, “goodbye Jesse from America” in his Pepe’ le Pew accent. I couldn’t help but laugh. The next couple hours were full of small villages, waterfalls, farmland, and everything stereotypically Swiss (cows with bells around their necks). There were also a few nasty climbs that fried my legs and I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it for a second loop. I’m still not sure what was worse, climbing up the hills or going down. The roads were wet for the first loop and there are some very sharp turns on this course. I found myself staying far to the right while riding my brakes down many of the hills. I took a very cautions approach to riding the bike course, as all I wanted to do was keep the rubber on the road. I learned that many of the European athletes, of course who train on these hills, are very good at it. There were so many very strong cyclists who scamper up the hills and descend down like complete maniacs. I also learned that many of these European athletes make no distinction between wet and dry pavement. Some of these men and women were bombing down the hills I’m certain at more than 50 mph and only slightly slowing to bend themselves around the turns. Many looked to be leaning over and nearly dragging their knees like those motorcycle racers do. I asked one South African guy if he enjoyed the descents, to which he replied, “I fucking love them” as he screamed by me with a huge smile on his face. After coming back into town and seeing the SCE cheering section on “heartbreak hill,” I knew I could make the trip again. Jorge Lemus stuck his GoPro in my face and recorded my ascent over the top of the hill. I will forever cherish the video he sent me. It is great. The second loop was much the same, however, I was complimented by a young British athlete for my technique while peeing on my bike. I also took a more assertive approach to the descents since the roads had dried out a bit. They were a bit more fun, but still scary. Top speed 39 mph. Weak, I know. Bike time, 6:08. I think it was a tad too hilly.
I’m always ready to get off my bike after 112 miles, but this time I was exceptionally eager. In Ironman you are typically greeted by a volunteer who takes your bike from you at the dismount line. In this race you had to rack your own bike, which I think is pretty cool. I got through the transition area in less than 4 minutes this time. I headed out on the run and was feeling great to be off the bike. My legs also felt good despite the hilly bike course. My feet always take some time to warm-up to the pounding, and my left foot was particularly crunchy for the first couple of miles. The four-loop run course leads through the parks of the city and along the lake shore. I decided to take my Garmin with me so that I could monitor my pace. I typically leave all HR data and other instruments alone on race day, but I wanted to see where I was today. The weather was cool and I knew there was an opportunity to run a bit. The marathon for most age groupers like me is based on your muscular endurance and mental fitness. If you’ve trained well enough then your leg muscle strength and aerobic fitness should be able keep you running for 26.2, so long as you’re willing to keep running. I was happy to keep running for about 8-10 miles. I felt pretty good and was holding a solid pace (for me). The crowds were great and there were very few lonely moments on this course. I didn’t get to see Tracy and baby TJ until about the halfway point, as it had taken them awhile to make it down from Heartbreak Hill. They, along with the other family members of the SCE athletes had found a nice spot near the finish line. I was so happy to see them at the conclusion of the next 3 loops, especially the last one. It was so special to run across that finish line with the American flag. Nailed another killer finishers picture as well. Always always always…. Finish like you won the race.
I very much enjoy seeing my friends and teammates that are out there competing with me. It’s inspiring to see one of your friends running strong when only 30 minutes prior they were ambling along looking defeated. I’m sorry, but I’m one of those annoying athletes that cheers and yells during the race. I high-five the children spectating, I blow kisses to the crowd, and I celebrate race day. Like everyone else, it is a significant sacrifice for my large family to give dad the time necessary to train for an Ironman triathlon. I love my family so much it hurts. I also love to race and they all know that. Ironman is a family event and I will be strong to the finish in an effort to honor the sacrifices they have all made. I think that is where a lot of my mental fitness comes from. It doesn’t mean that I won’t slow down or walk. It does mean that I am going to do everything I can to get to the finish line and enjoy myself doing it. I love to race anything. Swim only, run only, sprint distance, OLY, roller skates, donut eating, whatever. Ironman is different though, and it’s because of the preparation involved. The sacrifices you make to get to the starting line deserve to be respected and celebrated on race day. That is why I love this sport, and it is so cool how other families understand this too. I was overwhelmed by the amount of support that I was given by my friends and their families last weekend. Not to mention, the help that everyone provided my wife as she cared for a 6-month old on an Ironman course for an entire day. My friends and their family members were ALL there to hold my son, comfort him, run and get food, share an umbrella, push a stroller, carry a backpack, etc. so that she and the baby could also celebrate the race they signed up for. That’s why, for this Ironman, the fellowship was better than the event itself. Still a kick ass race though. Run time, 4:04. I think it was perfect. PR by 15 seconds. Good thing I peed on the bike.
This finisher pic was taken by the organization, not yours truly! I could not possibly get close enough in that crowd with a six month old strapped to my chest to get a shot like this!
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