The 21st of June is the longest day in the northern hemisphere and last saturday was for sure my longest day since therace.ie in April. It all started the day before with registration, planning, checking the route and packing the car together with my supporter Frank.
I knew that my first long distance triathlon won’t be an easy one – that’s why I have chosen this one ;-), but … the organisers had to find a really tough course to become a member of the xtreme triathlon family. Staying face to face with the legend Norseman in Norway and Celtman in Schottland is a privilege. So Here are the facts (you can enlarge the picture by clicking on it). The route is leading us from the lowest point in Switzerland to the massive Gotthard mountain and two more passes towards the heart of Switzerland and then from there again up to the feets of the legendary Eiger.
At 2 am in the morning we had our breakfast, followed by a short car drive to prepare the transition area at the Lido in Asco followed by a short walk along the old town. Athletes together with their supporters and families were strolling up along the old town towards the landing point of the ship. At 4:15 am then the point of no return: 250 athletes entered the ship only with a neoprene, goggles, a gps tracker, a white swim cap and a light stick for safety reasons. It was a short but calm drive out in the dark. The room was warm, everybody was sitting. Some were talking about the upcoming day, others were joking around, some tried to relax or even sleep and most of us were trying to pack the light stick under the white swim cap. Then the ship stood still. Now it was really concrete, we had to leave the ship. It was magic, how our lights in the swim caps were painting a river of light towards the dark and calm lake. It’s one of those pictures that will never leave my mind.
Several cow bells were waking up the romantic scenery: race start. I was pushing at my own solid pace following a guy from row two. After a few hundred meters I had to change “the feets” of my fore swimmer to find a faster pair swimming on the left side – perfect “fit” now. For the non-triathletes among you: we are not allowed to cycle in the wind shadow of the guys before us but we can do that in the water. This really helps to save energy. I guess the tall guy in front of me didn’t like the way I was touching his foot soles and his left leg side but he was fast, strong and constant. In the last third of the swim we had really bad waves. I tried to compensate that with switching to two strokes and pressing my body up with my stronger arm. It worked quite well. After 58 minutes I was leaving the water.
Hey, as fast as the big guys! And there were a lot of fast and strong looking athletes. Most of the Swissman athletes were looking experienced and strong, because there are only two reasons to do this race: either you are fully committed and you want to add the ultimate to your achievements or you are just nUTZ. No comments at this point please 😉
The bike ride was the toughest part. Overall we had to ride 180 km with a total positive incline of 3’700 meters. The profile doesn’t reflect really how it felt.
I don’t know if it was nerviness or something I ate the evening before but my stomach started a rebellion. Already in the water I had to throw up but I was able to handle that – more or less. Now it came back on the bike. A short rest after 60K and pitstop after 75K – no details now – helped to prevent something worse from happening. An empty stomach at this stage … no way … so i started to balance on a knife’s edge for the rest of the day. It felt a bit like running around with an egg on a spoon. Shortly after 2pm I had to stop eating. Drinking moderately carbohydrates and eating a datt all hours was the only way to add energy as I didn’t wanted to switch to normal sugar. As normal, mentally I got stronger and stronger hour by hour and I was pushing my S5 down from Furka (no chance for Frank to follow me with the car), then really hard up to Grimsel and again down the Grimsel overtaking cars straight forward with head wind to the transition zone at the Lake of Brienz.
New rules now. The temperatures changed completely, the air was staying still and it was close to 30°C. Again a longer pitstop and then out for the marathon! Plastic clothing away, Ashmei on. What a feeling, It was like a restart. A short one. My stomach didn’t feel better and I was quite empty after this hard ride. After a short uphill section the legs felt surprisingly good and I started to follow the strategy: walk uphill, jog flat and run downhill.
After 2 hours and 20 minutes I had 20K of this hilly course behind me. My legs started to feel really empty now. I didn’t overpace, it was this lack of energy coming up the feet and the upper legs towards your body. The body began to hurt now. And my right knee (4 surgeries and a medium heavy arthrosis gave it the nickname “old warrior”) started to hurt and I decided to walk the rest. No risk now. A hurting knee, a demanding course and an empty tank are not a good combination for a foolish guy in the midlife crisis. Thoughts over thoughts ;-). A bit after half marathon I started to walk only. I still had about 1’450m of incline in front of me. And about 1’100m were staying like a wall on the last 9K! Oh yes, I was dreaming of this coke (yes my friends, i was drinking a coke!) in Grindelwald and an ice pack for me knee. To be honest I ordered only one coke but hoped to get two of them. What a nice break in the sunset seeing all the athletes coming in for dessert and friandises.
Frank – my supporter, cook, motivator, photographer and personal hero of the day – and I left the valley for the hardest piece of work and most probably the most beautiful part of this course. As a child I was every year up here in these mountains. It was a little bit like being back again.
I don’t know who was planning the route, but I am sure he did it with fresh legs. I was training on comparable courses, mainly running uphills, on trails and on snow but with these legs … even better than the same way downhill now. We pushed hard, really hard and overtook the teams in front of us. Yes, we were strong but it was a fight against the time as the coke couldn’t compensate the energy I blew out during this long day. It was frightening. Really frighteing. But I didn’t had a doubt that we could finish. There was still enough time to do so and my supporter was willing to carry me up, if he had to. At least he told me that 😉 We finished after 17 hours and 20 minutes, about 30 minutes after sunset. In Ireland it took me more than 22 hours to finish, but this one felt much longer.
The length of the day, the energy consuming course and on the run the burning sun were challenging all athletes. And the longer we were out there today, the harder it was. I saw really funny things. Guys drinking water like a horse directly out of the fountain in the middle of the village. Supporters backing their athletes. Athletes as sick as a dog out in the green. But the best was a young french guy. I saw him sinking down shortly after half marathon and then he crossed me again in Grindelwald with a big smile in his face. I won’t forget this silly grin.
One of the participators of last year was saying the following about this race: „A marathon you do with your muscles. An Ironman you do with your head. The SWISSMAN you can only achieve with your heart.” I can’t tell you if this is really true as I haven’t done a long distance Ironman yet, but you really have to want this – not in the water, maybe on the bike but for sure when you are entering Grindelwald and looking up the walls all around you.
We had an incredible day: the best weather possible, hours of pure sunshine, one of the most beautiful bike courses and a breathtaking running course. And I had the best supporter you could get for friendship: Frank. His day was as demanding as mine was. He was tired, didn’t eat a lot … Thank you Frank, you made my day! And I am proud to be your supporter next year. Let’s cross the fingers for the lottery! There is a very bad virus around, it’s called Swissman.
Now I have to fuel my empty body with some good home made vegan food. Then I will enjoy my week of rest and bask in my well deserved glory. And after the upcoming challenges – woohooo! – I will check the lottery rules for Celtman and Norseman. Or better now.
And here is the movie: