Many of you who will have heard the news that the race in Switzerland this Sunday came to an unfortunate end when a landslide caused a tree to block on of the main roads on the cycle route.
The race, as many in Europe, recently had been changed into the format of a 5k run - 90k bike and 21k run as the water temperature was a chilling 10C and the outside air temperature hovering around 8-11 degrees.
I have been to this race twice before in 2011-2012 and both times have not finished the race. In 2011 I crashed at 60k (lap2) into the bike, when an age-group man ahead (on lap 1) swerved into the middle of the road on a descent. I had nowhere to go, i caught his back wheel and came down hard, snapping my collar-bone and badly bruising my hip and pelvis. My immediate memories after the crash are tempered somewhat as the paramedics decided to give me the strongest pain killer they had - ketamine (popularly known as a horse tranquilizer, but in lower doses is an hallucinogenic) - I was soon pain free and seeing three of everything. It was the strangest experience. I felt like I was outside my body looking down on myself, I completely lost sense of reality for 6 hours, which made me question what reality really is - when a medicine that alters your neurone firing patterns - can turn everything upside down and inside out.
I am lucky enough to have a wonderful family homestay in Rapperswill, the Helblings. Originally arranged by the race organisers, they have since become good friends.
Their support of me post injury was incredible and dampened any dwindling cynicism i had in the inherent selfishness of the human race. I am indebted to them for their kindness.
In 2012 I eturned, but was unable to run because I was recovering from a fibula stress fracture. I decided to race the swim and bike for practice and to keep my hand in, as it were. I came in third off the bike, into T2, hung up my bike and ambled out of transition with my tail between my legs.
013 and I am fit, healthy and injury free. I came to Switzerland, despite knowing the event would be a duathlon, relatively confident in my improved run strength and hoping that a podium may help pay the bills.
The Race That Wasn't
e lined up ready to start and the gun went off. Kristin Moller - a tiny German athlete, known for her speedy running (and fresh off a dominant win at Ironman Lanzarote) shot ahead straight away. 3min/km pace. My game plan was to run within myself and not fill myself with lactate for the bike. Its something I rarely do in training - a hard run and then bike and my experiences from the Ballbuster duathlon in March showed me that it takes a while for the bike legs to come good after run 1.
Kristin continue to push the pace outfront, followed by South African Dianne Mcewan whom I didn't know could run! Sofie Goos also went out hard, but i quickly reeled her in and she stayed on my shoulder breathing hard for the rest of the 5k (which the organisers had touted as 4.5k - but I looked at my Garmin regularly and at 4.5k we couldn't even see transition). I am enjoying running at the moment... but i can't say I particularly enjoyed going threshold pace from the gun, knowing that i had a hard 90k bike and 21.1k run after to tackle. I did keep within myself (3.30-3.40/km pace) but it 'harder' perceived effort wise than a 1.9k swim. (perhaps not if water was 12C!)
I came into T2 in third with the other two girls in sight and Sofie till with me.
Then because I had warmed up in the run and because no one else seemed to be putting on warm clothes - i left my lovely new Neon pink windstopper jacket in T1. I put one arm in - then saw others running out of T2 and dropped it. ERROR!
Lesson learnt the hard way - stick to YOUR plan. By 25k on the bike I was shivering.
Out on to the bike and the top 5 girls quite quickly came together. Along the first 10k of flat/rolling road leading to the first hill I kept Sofie in sight (she had passed me coming out of T2 as I couldn't get my bike shoes on (another ERROR - forgot elastic bands to hold shoes up) and Dianne was further up the road. Then bike-monster Anja Beranek (who didn't have a good race at Mallorca) came past me like a train - but then slowed down. I stayed within legal distance of her to the bottom of the hill, and Olympian Daniella Rhyff tried to pass, but couldn't so sat back behind me. Also ahead (who also passed when I was fiddling with shoes) was Brett Sutton's 'Baby bike monster' - Caroline Steffen's prodigy in the making - Celine Scharer who has Xena's trademark 'death march' on the pedals (low cadence grind).
The first climb is a nasty sharp climb - only about 5minutes long but out of the saddle steep. I ignored my Rotor Power ranks reading of 303Watts ( I weigh 54kg) and pushed on - feeling ok and passing Dianne and Anja. Daniella stayed with me and we pushed on over. The other side you quickly approach the descent on which I broke my collar-bone in 2011. Not having much in the way of a back brake (its integrated into the frame and I currently have the choice of it rubbing my wide deep section wheel or not actually working as a brake!) and taking into account the wet I went granny pace down this descent and Daniella and Anja came past.
I kept them in sights until the next climb where Sofie came back and was pushing hard.. definitely upping her bike game on this first lap. We caught and passed Kristin on the climb and continued in this fashion... Anja leading, followed by Daniella Rhyff and Sofie and me. Anja seemed to pull away on the descents, another beautiful bike handler! (Yvonne Van Vlerken in Mallorca impressed me).
I experienced something i havent had for a while on the bike. Nausea, and sickness. I actually was sick at one point which caught the camera-man a bit off guard. I put this down to the harder effort at the start of the race which meant that any carbs i had in my stomach weren't getting digested. I drank some water on the descent and it started to pass. Lesson - nausea and sickness is directly related to effort/intensity - it is more difficult for the gut to digest when pace is higher as blood is shunted to the working muscles away from the gut. Slow down briefly, sit up and sip water and it passes.
Then turning a tight corner to go back into town for Lap 1 I saw what I can only think to call a Kerfuffle. A drafting marshal was in the road waving his arms for me to stop and all I could think of was - "when the heck was I drafting?!" It soon became obvious that there was a block in the road and all the girls had stopped. The area surrounded by police.
So that was it - Game over! A large treee had been brought down by the landslide and completely blocked the road.
I couldn't quite believe it, thinking they would just tell us to cycle to T2 and run so I kept my game face on for a few minutes before it became very obvious that the race was cancelled. We waited 10minutes in the pouring rain - I was shivering uncontrollably by this point and were allowed to cross the railway line and head back to T2 along an adjacent path. I put my head down and literally smashed it the final 10k back - averaging near 250Watts. I was that cold.. feet, hands (wet gloves).. we were all in the same boat though.
Back at transition there were hundreds of faces of disappointment, some people hadn't even got to start. Many were covered in foil blankets and shivering like me. I made an uber quick transition to warmer clothes and cycled straight back to my homestay for hot chocolate and a long hot shower.
So my reaction to the race was one of disappointment - but to be honest by 60minutes on the bike I knew it was going to be a sufferfest of a day - I already could barely feel my feet (with toe covers on).. and the disappointment quickly disappeared as the rain continued to pour. By midday though the rain had stopped and I started to think (still jacked up on Beet It and caffeine) that if only the race had been postponed until midday and perhaps should have just been a long run!
The organisation reacted very quickly to the incident. We were told that the landslide happened 50m after a group of guys passed on the bike - things could have been much worse, and other potential incidents could have happened up the road, so I absolutely think the correct decision to end the race was made.
or many of us - the expense comes to mind - of the flights and travel arrangements and the potential loss of prize money. It all hits the pocket of a professional athlete who decides where to race based on these factors. The organisers have not said whether there will be any compensation as yet, but it is unlikely.
I have to say Switzerland as a country continues to stound me everytime I visit.
With the unfortunate exception of this race... everything just seems to work.
Pools open long hours - even on the weekend... the children are well behaved (schools start at 7.30am and finish at 5)... crime rates are low ... trains run on time, unemployment is less than 4%...etc. etc.. Ok so a Starbucks nearly bankrupts you, but we can live without them.
The scenery and training ground is superb - there is a reason many top coaches hold camps here. For me this is where it all started - with Brett Sutton and Team TBB in 2010 in Leysin. Fond memories, that will last a lifetime. My blog from that time is still available on Team TBB - click here if you are interested.
So today I wil be heading to the Italian coast for the Ironman 70.3 race in Pescara. I have been set up with a local family here too through a mutual friend, which definitely helps reduce costs. Looking forward!