……..A great insight from Leanne about what it takes to race your first Ironman!
The build-up to my first Ironman was a mixture of emotions from nerves to excitement and a constant mind full of questions whirring round in my head. The last few weeks training before the taper were the toughest and as my littleys broke up for the Summer Holidays the routine became more difficult to manage. Nevertheless I made it to the start line having clocked up thousands of miles in training.
My husband and I arrived in Switzerland on the Thursday and already there was an Ironman atmosphere. Zurich was beautiful but extremely hot. On the Friday we walked down to the Event village to register. I suddenly felt in awe by the whole experience. Registration was easy enough and so was spending money in the expo shop. I picked up my bike which had been shipped over by Ship my Tri Bike – a very convenient option and I took it for a pre-race test ride. The roads were amazing but my legs felt like jelly, however, everything with my Argon was in working order which was a relief. Following the ride, I somehow managed a big rookie error turning up to the French rather than English Race Brief – this didn’t help with pre-race jitters. To try and manage my nerves I decided to go for a swim recce of Lake Zurich. The Lake, although beautiful, was vast and much choppier than it looked – very different to the Lake back at home.
Saturday was a fairly chilled morning pottering around Zurich, trying to keep off the feet as much as possible. The afternoon was spent back the event village racking my bike and hanging my red and blue bags in transition ready for race day. Ironman events have a very different way of doing things with the various bags. This requires some careful planning and consideration, but works very well on the day. I took pictures in transition to help visualise the entries and exits, and also took note of landmarks to help find my bike – transition was enormous with bikes packed very tightly and close to one another. Next time I was going to be in transition it would be race day – finally time take on the challenge that had consumed so much time and emotion in the prior months.
After some sleep and a lot of awake, the alarm went off at 4am. There was a nervous atmosphere at the hotel during breakfast. Lots of acknowledging each other but very little conversation. After coffee and some food, we walked the 30 minutes to transition. I couldn’t believe I had made it to race day. Walking down was eerie and the streets were a mixture of lycra clad triathletes and the last of the revellers from the night before.
Arriving at transition I quickly heard that it had been confirmed as non-wetsuit. The size of the challenge ahead suddenly became very real and it took all my efforts to control my emotions at this time. My husband and I walked to the Swim start where the atmosphere was surreal. One thing that was very noticeable was the ratio of men to women – I suddenly felt very small. I seeded myself towards the back of the normal swim pen, adding an extra 10 mins to my expected time to reflect the non-wet suit swim. My goal for this event was to complete (not compete); and being non-wetsuit I wanted to find my own space. The race quickly started as the athletes were allowed in the water 8 at a time at 5 seconds intervals. Off I went into the water. I broke the swim down into the individual marker buoys and soon I settled into a rhythm. It was a one lap course and the back straight seemed to go on forever. As I made the final turn I have never felt more relieved – I had almost made it out of the water!!
As I exited the water, I ran into T1, changed into my bike stuff, found my bike, oh dear the chain was hanging off…. It had obviously been knocked as someone had taken their bike. I managed to get it back on and off I went. I had been looking forward to the bike the most in the build-up. The course was 2 laps and started off flat before taking on some climbs in some of the most stunning and picturesque scenery I have seen. Unfortunately for me, I just couldn’t settle into my usual zone and I quickly became very uncomfortable. I was struggling to stay aero as my chest felt restricted and my neck was very tense. This wasn’t going to plan. The support on the course was fantastic – especially on Heartbreak Hill which was like cycling through a section of the Tour de France. It was also where my hubby was giving me a much needed boost. As I entered onto the second lap the temperature was rising (35 degrees); and it became more of a mental battle than physical. I felt nauseous and was having to force nutrition down to try and stick to the plan. The next couple of hours were brutal and after 6 hours and 18 minutes on the bike I made it back to T2 feeling pretty awful
I am not 100% sure what took so long but after 8 minutes in T2 I set off for the marathon. Up until recently the run has always been my favourite and strongest discipline. This was not the case today. Every time I ran I felt sick, not helped at all by the heat. The support at the aid stations was superb and they were 100% geared up for the blistering temperatures giving out ice and cold sponges. Despite this, my body had different ideas and I was sick every few minutes making it very difficult to settle into any rhythm. I knew now it was going to be a very long afternoon, but there was no way I was giving up – I needed to revert to a different strategy. Walking in a race was alien to me but I knew that I had to find some strategy to get me round, so I settled into running for as long as could and then walking for 3 minutes (whilst throwing up)! Eventually I made it round the first of the 4 laps which rather cruelly takes you past the red carpet and the finish line. Seeing that and the atmosphere at the end gave me the motivation to keep going. My husband was incredible on the run and kept surprising me by appearing in places which kept me going. Finally after a very long and painful few hours I made it to lap 4 and the end was in sight.. Off I set for my final lap of Zurich… the last couple of kms felt like they took forever but in the distance I could hear the finish line music and being able to collect my fourth band was an amazing feeling. I managed to run the last few km’s and as I entered into the finish shoot the emotions came flooding in. I saw my hubby in the crowd and heard those famous words – Leanne James – YOU ARE AN IRONMAN.
I had made it, finishing in 13.32 hours. It was a long way from where I had hoped to finish but I didn’t care. I burst into tears as I met hubby while the events of the day sank in. We then enjoyed the finish line party and it was extremely emotional watching everyone finish their race… all with their own stories and experiences.
A couple of weeks on it has been great spending time with family and friends with only light training before starting the next block on build up to IM Weymouth 70.3 and also the ETU Duathlon Championships in Ibiza.