Ironman Zurich Race Report – Part III

Here’s the final instalment of Julia 140.6 mile Zurich adventure! Check out Part I and Part II if you missed ’em…

The Run

Run Training
My knee had been bothering me all year but it took a turn for the worse sometime in June. My osteopath said the meniscus had been knocked out of place but when he manoeuvred it back it still wasn’t completely healed. Part of the problem was that I needed to just let it be, but that was impossible in the middle of Ironman training. I stayed off it as much as I could, not running for a whole month leading up to race. I thought if it got even worse I could just walk most of the marathon. I even called my friend Serena Razzolini who paces the 6 hour group at Venice Marathon on what technique to use. I also knew that during a race anything could happen.

Run Race – 5:42:59
“Do you think I’ll finish?”

I must have asked my husband this question about fifty times… just in that last week! His answer was always, “Yes, you’ll finish.” Once he added, “My biggest fear is that you’ll love it…”

After getting off the bike my pink watch showed that I had over seven hours to complete the marathon. I felt better since that was more time than I’d hoped for. For the run I’d put my Garmin in my T2 bag, just to have numbers to play with in my head.


In our Up & Running 5K Course I wrote a post about running with music, or rather running without music. I always insist our runners try a music-free run at least once, just to see how it goes. If they plan on running in race events often the organisation doesn’t allow iPods for safety purposes.

During the swim you swim and during the bike you’re occupied with changing gears and feeding yourself with scenery entertaining you. On the run I play with numbers in my head.

I started out walking just to get used to moving upright and see how my knee was doing.

I began by running three minutes and walked one. I did this for a really long time, probably an hour. I saw Paula at the first out and back stretch and we high fived each other. I could feel my knee on the up and downhill section of road so I walked those.


I also decided right away on a plan for my tummy: eat only real food until the half marathon and then watered down coke. No sugary food since I knew this would aggravate my stomach. When I got to the first aid station they had a tray of salt. I used the Tim Noakes tactic and put just a few grains on my tongue so that my body knew there was salt in my system. This successfully eliminated any need for salt tablets or drinks. I ate pieces of bananas and pretzel sticks washed down with water.

I was running a marathon but I didn’t feel like I was running a marathon. We were actually running four loops and the goal was to get four spongy bracelets before I could run down the finish line. I think mentally this was a lot easier, make it into a game rather than a long distance run.

Sponge bracelets at Ironman Zurich

I was pretty sure that the run route was mostly flat, it’s by the lake, right? Well, it wasn’t. My bad for not looking at the course map close enough! We went down an underground pedestrian passageway and then back up again. We went up into a hilly park that I had been through the day before and deemed “steep”. This is where we got our coloured sponge bracelet before continuing back down the underpass and out the other end onto the lake. I used the restrooms three times to pee just to feel comfortable, it was always in and out within a minute.

A few weeks before coming to Zurich I saw Fernanda Keller’s name in my age group.

Fernanda Keller in action at Ironman Zurich

She was an icon in the 1990’s, coming in third place at the Ironman World Championship in Kona six times. I saw her running towards me — she’s a tiny thing compared to the life-size photos of her on the covers of Sports Illustrated – I yelled “go Fernanda” as she ran past me. She ended up 4th in our age group.

There was plenty of entertainment for the first three loops. Piero would also say something encouraging as he snapped photos and the Green clan (Paula G’s family) was planted in one reliable cheering spot on the Bridge. I could always see the U&R pink pompoms from afar and that would get me teary eyed and excited.

Up & Running cheer squad at Ironman Zurich

Paula and I passed each other on the east side of the lake once, twice and then on the third time I saw her and started crying.

“What what? Are you okay?” she asked.

I started blubbering through my tears about how I knew we were going to make it, we were really going to finish this race! Now it was just a matter of running another hour or so and to keep moving forward. We gave each other a hug and then kept moving.

The last loop was the hardest. It wasn’t so much my being tired, but now it was really dark and I had trouble seeing the course in some areas. My three minute run/one minute walk had faded miles back, but I calculated my time and knew that if I could just do more running sections I had a chance to go under 15 hours. It hurt to run but it hurt just as much to walk so I tried to push myself to run a little more. My stomach was in check and the watered down Coke seemed to be doing its trick. My best run time was in that last four km section.

The last loop into the finish line was blinding. There was music and psychedelic lights and cheerleaders on each side. I crossed the finish line with my arms up and screaming that I’d done it!

Total race time: 14:54:58

Coach Julia Jones crossing the finish line of Ironman Zurich

The best part was finding Paula right there at the finish line! She’d come in shortly before me and looked absolutely relaxed and gorgeous.

Paula and I went into the finishers tent where they had everything set up for an Ironman meal. I wasn’t hungry at all and settled on some hot mint tea. I sipped it while they engraved my medal…


We finally found everybody and after hugs and congrats Piero and I walked back to our apartment. I had some more tea with honey and then got into bed. Everything hurt but I dozed off into sleep and stayed immobile for six hours.

The next morning we got dressed and found a lovely pastry shop with coffee and sat in the sun and ate. We had an appointment with the U&R cheering squad at Uetliberg, a mountain just outside of Zurich.

After lunch Piero and I went for a long walk around downtown Zurich with a coffee at Starbucks (collection cup number #15) and ice cream at Movenpick. The next day we packed up the car and drove back home. My Ironman adventure was over.

Everybody asks me if I’ll do another one. The answer is, yes, but not next year.

In retrospect the training was not that difficult. What was hard was then fitting in work, family and recovery. I need a year to put energy back into my family and work obligations. But in 2016 I’m signing up for another Ironman. PaulaG talked me into this one too, so blame it on her!

. . . . .

I could not have done this alone and I heavily relied on family and friends to help me get through this year.

Thank you to Piero, Evan and Olivia who allowed me to train and race and never once complained about dirty laundry, late meals or having to listen about yet another triathlon workout.

Shauna, who while working on our courses and book manuscript would always make room for my training.

PaulaG who gently nudged me to sign up for IMZ and with whom I spent Skype conversations comparing notes. Can’t wait to race with you again!

The Up & Running Cheering Squad that traveled from near (Zurich) and far (Texas) to stand around for almost fifteen hours encouraging us to just keep going. 

Lucia Calogero who trained endless hours in the pool and on the bike with me.

Alessia Polemi, Massimo Coppo, Massimo D’Auria, Gianluca Crespi, Serena Razzolini, and Massimo Pozzo who gave me all their training tips and encouragement for this adventure.

And to my very good friend Mauro Mongarli who helped me train for my very first triathlon in 1997. I still have the Ironman swim cap you gave me  from your Ironman in Klagenfurt. Now I need to send you mine. 

  1. Nicoletta Vair
    What I love about your attitude Julia, both in racing and coaching, is that there’s no difference if you talk about an Ironman or about an easy 5k Sunday morning run: you just communicate passion, energy and the idea that everything is possible. I think this is your best quality as an athlete and as a coach. Anyway, congratulations, I’m so proud of you.
  2. MarciG
    So happy for you, Julia. And grateful for the wonderful community you and Shauna have created here at UAR. And, of course, by "here" you know I mean everywhere. World domination has begun :)
  3. Julia Jones
    What beautiful comments - thank you!
  4. Tessa
    Sob! I'm so very proud of my brilliant coach. I tell EVERYBODY 'you know, my coach has done a Ironman!'. Of course they rarely know what I'm talking about but I don't mind explaining in excruciating detail how awesome your achievement is ;P. Truly inspiring <3
  5. PaulaG
    It's been a pleasure sharing this journey with you. Our combined strengths got us through. 2016 - watch out, here we come :-)
  6. Frances
    Am crying real tears. You and Paula are awe-inspiring in your get-up-and-go attitude. love xx
  7. helen
    Love it all - you're so amazing for turning up given your knee problems. So many people don't front up if they don't have the perfect conditions, but you're such a testimony to getting it done. You're such an inspiration. Like Tessa, I love telling people about my coach being an Ironman, and what an amazing women's running community you've built (both in real life, and online).
  8. Jo
    Happy tears here over my morning coffee. You and Paula are such a good example of anything being possible with hard work and determination! Thanks for being amazing, I am so lucky to have inspiration like the two of you in my life.
  9. Cc
    Real tears mixed in with my breakfast too! Thank you for writing the report :-)congratulations you did an amazing job dealing with the hurdles along the way. I still can't really fathom the IM distances... Truly looking forward to cheering you (in person or online) through the next events! big or small! and especially in 2016.
  10. lucia
    sei un vulcano...capace di trasmettere la tua energia positiva a chi ti sta vicino!! you're a ticking're capable to transmit positive energy to those around you !!
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