Ironman Zurich Race Report – Part I

A few days before racing Ironman Zurich I posted a message on a women’s Facebook group that I belong to that summed everything up for me:


These photos are from a Sprint Triathlon in Trieste that I raced in May 2000. I’d started racing triathlons in ’97 in Tuscany, one of only 42 female club members in all of Italy.


I loved triathlons because the atmosphere was more relaxed than running and when I tried swimming again I discovered I could float like a cork. My bike was a hand-me-down frame that a friend was throwing away and I added on fifty dollars in used bike parts.

I’d always said, “One day I’ll race an Ironman”. My (second) pregnancy with Evan moved that possibility forward a couple of years. My early menopause pushed it forward a few years more. Taking care of my kids, along with working and my training has never been easy. But at one point last year I saw Olly on the right track, Evan more mature and independent and a small glimmer of space to finally try and get this Ironman accomplished.

Now I’m excited. Not so much for the Ironman itself but for the large chunk of my life that it represents.

This week I received calls and messages from so many friends and it was… beautiful! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your support, I feel the love… thank you!

a.k.a. Zurich Ironman bib #365

Getting ready for Ironman Zurich

Everybody had asked, “Is Piero (my husband) going to train you?”. Well, he was supposed to but the extent of his coaching went something like this:

Me: What should I do today?
Him: What do you want to do?
Me: I want to bike. I think I should do a long bike ride.
Him: Then that’s what you should do.

So I basically trained myself. I asked for his guidance on key workouts where he always persuaded me to not go long and slow, but rather concentrate on speed and quality.

In January I visited a new sport nutritionist who slightly tweaked my diet by increasing my calorie and carbohydrate intake. He instructed me on what to eat while on the bike (real food!). I had to really stop looking at the scale because it was moving down at a glacial pace, but by the time I was ready to race IMZ I’d lost 3kg of fat and gained 1.5kg of muscle – safe to say that the good doctor’s nutrition plan worked!

This year I’d raced two 70.3 races on super hilly bike courses and I’d come in at 7 hours on both of them. In estimating my time I knew that if things were to go to a perfect plan I’d finish my Ironman somewhere around 14:45. Worse case scenario… well, that would be a DNF or squeezing by in the maximum time of 16 hours.

Piero and I had been in St. Moritz the three weeks prior to IMZ, as he was training the Italian Marathon team for the European Championships. So it was a short three-hour drive to  Zurich on Friday morning.


We went to the expo and immediately spotted the wonderful Up & Running cheering squad along with Paula G, my racing companion.

A word about Paula G… that word would be AWESOME. She did our 5K Beginners Course in the summer of 2011 and rapidly worked her way through 10K’s, half marathons, and half Ironmans. She ran her first marathon in February, a stepping stone towards IMZ. After rocking her first Half Ironman last year it only took her a few weeks to take the plunge and sign up for Ironman Zurich. I’ve never seen an athlete go from zero to Ironman in such a short amount of time. In coaching her I attribute her incredible journey to her No BS, No Excuses attitude that she has for life in general. Like I said, awesome!


The race briefing took precisely 59 minutes (we’re in Switzerland, after all) in a sweltering hot tent. The weather reports changed every hour from “the lake will be too hot for wetsuits” to “bring a rain jacket for the bike”.

After the briefing I found the muscle taping booth where I had my knee patched up. I don’t really think it made a difference but I wanted to feel like I’d done as much as I could to stabilise it for the race.

On race morning we woke up at 4am and I was surprisingly rested and fully awake. I had tea with honey, a banana and oats. As we walked towards the lake we saw other athletes making their way down the street in the dark, it looked like some sort of zombie procession. Once we got to the changing tents it took ages for me to find a pump to pump my tires. A woman kindly lent me hers, but I didn’t put a lot of air in them since I was pretty sure the streets were going to be wet at some point.

At the restrooms I found Paula G and we started to walk towards the swim start where we found the rest of the U&R cheer squad.


The Swim

Swim Training
I belong to a local tri club that offers Master swim courses three days a week at lunchtime. I’m in the “slow” lane with six others and we have an hour to get our workout done. Our swim coach, Marco, changes the workout every time. We usually end up swimming about 1800 meters.

I knew that sometime around February I’d have to lengthen that distance once a week. I get really bored with long swims by myself so I kept going to the Master workouts, tacking on 500m before or after the main swim sets.

During June and July I’d go to the outdoor pool and swim 3000 meters, breaking it up into bits and adding others strokes. My longest workout was 3500 meters in June and my longest race was a 3200 meter long distance lake swim, four weeks before IMZ.


Swim Race – 1:23:26
This year Ironman had decided that athletes could seed themselves into two groups: those that could swim the 3,800 meter distance under 1h 10m and those that would swim it over. I thought my swim time would be somewhere between 1h 20 and 1h 30 so Paula and I put ourselves into the second group.


I said goodbye to Piero and the U&R cheerleaders then walked over the chip mat to be checked in. I went towards the front of the swim group in the third row while Paula chatted with another competitor. Then it was countdown time.

Three — Two — ONE — GO!


I didn’t run in but rather walked fast and then dove in when the water was up to my waist. I started swimming forward but within a minute I was in the middle of a total panic attack. Swimmers were bashing at me as they tried to gain space and I felt like I was being thrown around. I stopped and turned around to catch my breath but that was even worse as I saw hundreds of green caps trying to push past me.

I had a flash thought about pulling out followed by another, “you can’t pull out after just 100 meters! All that training for nothing”. I quickly flipped back onto my stomach and swam forward. If I could just keep going forward the crowd would thin out after awhile and I’d be back in control of my nerves. Things always get better eventually.


The water felt still and I could see the buoys. I tried to draft off some feet but whoever I followed would inevitably go off course. I decided that the best plan would be to relax and swim in as straight a line as I could.

As we rounded to go over the island there seemed to be a slight helpful current. Out of the water and over the thin strip of land, then I threw myself back in the water. Now the swimmers had thinned out but they were still trying to fight for the same damn space. We rounded the first buoy to go south and the water turned choppy. I tried to concentrate on just moving forward and to sync my breathing so I didn’t swallow too much water from the waves.


I followed some male feet for about 500 meters and then he took off. I got slugged hard in the face by another guy as he was coming down with his right arm stroke. He had plenty of space around so didn’t need to be so close. I stopped in the water to get my goggles back on and he apologised. As we made our way towards the bridge I could feel the current again and thought to myself, “I finished the Ironman swim!”.

Volunteers helped us out of the water as we climbed up a slope. I heard Piero call my name and as I ran into T1 I saw the U&R gang pressed up against the fence cheering.

I found my bag right away and ducked into the changing tent.

T1 – 8:50

Piero loves to joke that my worst performance in triathlons is in the transitions. I admit I’m slow, especially in T1 where I have to deal with vision problems. I don’t wear prescription goggles and everything is a little blurry until I get my prescription sunglasses on. But while I was changing I didn’t see women much faster than me. I’d already decided that I’d do a complete change so it was off with everything and then on with the bike outfit. After throwing my T1 bag into the pile with the others I found my bike and then ran with it quite a ways towards the exit. I hopped on, clipped in and started pedalling.


Stay tuned for an epic bike ride!

  1. Marci
    Nooooooo....don't make me wait :)
  2. barbara c.
    Non ci sono altre parole che dirti.....grandissima !!!!!
  3. PaulaG
    Strange to think this happened a month ago, reading this made me feel like it was yesterday. Thanks for your kind words about me. Don't forget, I had a great coach :-)))
  4. Frances
    I get chills reading this - and it is only the beginning! Can't wait to read the rest!
  5. helen
    Epic! It's great to relive it from the actual competitor perspective, rather than being a spectator as I was on the day. Can't wait for the next installment....
  6. Jo
    I'm with the others - I have goosebumps and I can't wait for the rest!!! The swim start looks insane, I can't believe you were in the middle of that!
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