Monday, November 9, 2015

As Good As It Gets. A Swissman Xtreme Triathlon 2015 Race Report.


Prologue

The following is some thoughts on Triathlon, Blogging, Ironman and how I came to being “competing” at the Swissman Xtreme Triathlon after a quite few years since Ironman Switzerland 2013. If you are interested purely in the Swissman Race Report then skip down to the Race Morning section…

When I first got into triathlon back in 2009 one of the first things I did was search the web for tips, inspiration and stories from events I planned to compete in. The web is scattered with Triathlon blogs, may of them start with bright eyed enthusiasm, but from one post to the next many blogs become dormant, never to be updated again. That never made much sense to me then but slowly it became clear, finding the time and inspiration to write decent content is difficult, not everyone can create a blog like dcrainmaker, which is without a doubt the de-facto multisport blog out there. Also, when writing about “races” there is only so much you can re-hash and after 2013 the fact was I was make zero progress as an amateur “triathlete”, it was a case of same shit in, same shit out, I’d improved but not as much as I hoped and what was once fun had now become a chore. It became apparent that the only way I was going to make any progress was to maybe hire a coach, take some swimming lessons and spend every waking minute of my life based around Swim, Bike, Run, which seems a really selfish way to spend my time, point being, I started to think I needed to find a new hobby.

In “Iron distance” racing, especially when concentrating on the M-Dot events, the biggest achievement possible is to qualify for Kona, the Ironman world Championships, to do this you have to be fast and come in the first handful of places in your age group, taking everything into consideration I came to conclusion I’d never be able to achieve this, but as I still loved the distance and the training, I needed a new challenge,

Getting back to 2013, I was in a rut, I’d had enough of the M-dot racing, I didn’t want to start taking it more seriously and get a coach, and I also didn’t want to go overboard and start travelling around the world of to other events. Although I was in Switzerland, I still hadn’t touched the mountains, in fact the the biggest/longest climbs on a bike I had done previously had been those in Ironman Switzerland and Rapperswil 70.3 events.

One race that had caught my imagination was the Norseman, an Xtreme Iron distance triathlon in Norway,  which includes a swim in the extremely cold waters of a fjord, a mountainous Bike leg with around 3,000 Metres (10,000 ft) of climbing and finally a run which includes a mountain summit finish with another 1,400 metres (4,500) of evaluation. It appealed to me, but the travelling, organising, cost and the fact I would need to ask someone to come and support me over there did not. However, in October 2012 Norseman had posted something to their Facebook page which had really caught my eye, an Xtreme Triathlon in Switzerland, when the lottery was announced in 2013 for the 2014 event I signed up but wasn’t successful.

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That year I came by a free slot at Ironman 70.3 Switzerland which I did for fun. I also got a place at the Inferno Triathlon another crazy event with 5000+ metres of elevation and four disciplines with an added Mountain bike leg thrown in for good measure, but did not start that event do to a work situation that meant I had no time for training.

With 2014 being a wash out I decided just to enjoy some rides in the Swiss mountainside for the first time, this began what was a massive wake up call for me,  having completed three full Ironman distance events in the past I had naively thought I could just rock up to a Hors catégorie climb first thing in the morning, power to the top, climb a couple more and be back for lunch, it’s laughable now but in late summer 2014 I managed to crash and burn twice, once on the Klausen pass, another on the smaller Ibergeregg pass, I realised I was completely out of shape and didn't have a clue what I was doing, in fact, I was no longer convinced I could climb one mountain pass, let alone complete a beast like the Swissman.

The failure must have ignited something inside of me and that autumn I found myself in a new job which finally allowed me a bit more flexibility to train as I wanted, I went ahead and signed up for the Swissman lottery again, amazingly I found myself with a starting slot. I knew that if I turned up in summer 2015 in the same shape as 2014 I wouldn’t have a chance in hell, so I went to work on my biking, out in the cold in January, riding in snow…

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Another big change I made was to reinvest some redundancy money (long story) I had knocking around on a power meter and using Trainer Road I worked harder than I had ever previously on the bike, cycling became more pain than pleasure, it was an eye opener, it made me realise that I was a "fun Ironman" after all, before 2015 I’d done all my training in 2nd gear.

I was lucky in 2015, training went well, no injuries or sickness and although I was busy at work I’d still managed to fit in more hours training that in any other year. In the weeks leading up to the event I planned out my expected times based on my training, it was at this point I realised that I would find it difficult to met the official cut off of 12 midnight, my heart sank but after a call with my Brother, who had agreed to be my supporter for the event, we decided whatever happened I would be there on the start line come the 20th of June 2015.

Race Morning

It doesn’t matter how many times I do these events, I’m not a morning person, and the first thought when I wake up is to go right back to bed, race morning was no different, even after all the cost and training at 3am I didn’t want to be up ;-). That morning I made the biggest mistake of day, setting my alarm for just before 3am, we had to rush down to the transition zone, couldn't find any parking and had to dump the car where we could and march down to the docking area without the chance to set up transition, wetsuit on and straight onto the boat.

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Looking back, a 2am wake up alarm should have been the call but due to some logistical issues everyone was so tired and agreed on a 3am start.

It was a warmish morning and the boat trip was eerily calm,  I sat upstairs and enjoyed the views as the sun slowly dawned. it took what seemed an age to make the trip to the start, I started to feel restless and worried I might get cold hands and feet I moved inside and was amazed how warm it was, completely roasting, probably perfect temperatures for a nap ;-)

Swim

Of all the legs in the Swissman, the Swim leg is without a doubt the least “Xtreme”. Unlike the Norse and Celtman Xtremes the Lake in Ascona is always likely to be perfect temperatures for swimming, on race day it was no exception being a cosy 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit).

Once off the boat at the Isola di San Pancrazio we all moved into the water, I didn’t seem like anyone was directing so I just followed everyone in, now at this point the water felt freezing, it wasn’t ;-).


I have to make a confession, in that I must have done maybe a hand full of swims, in fact hardly any swimming in 2015, I had thrown in a couple of 4KM practice swims and felt good but I had not touched any open water since the summer 2014. I knew I would be slow, so I made my way right to the back of a pack, suddenly, it seemed without warning, the horns blew and the race started, a large firework went off behind us and I managed to catch a view of it as I took a breathe to my right.

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The lack of swim training really didn’t pay off, while sighting I noticed I was left way, way behind, luckily the water was nice and warm, perfect for an 3.8KM swim, so I just plodded on, I didn’t feel good. The most Xtreme thing about the swim is the darkness and the fact the only way to navigate is to following a flashing light on the shore of the transition zone far in the distance. The light was playing tricks on me, sometimes it looked close, others it looked far, far away.


I could also feel myself drifting out to the left, at one pointed I noticed a lone canoeist, she moved close to me on the left side and gestured to the right, I felt like I was swimming in circles and maybe I was :-D. It was at this point I really started to doubt what I was doing, why was I in a lake at 5am, swimming in “circles” far behind all these superb athletes, slower than driftwood, it’s funny the conversations you can have with yourself during these events, if you ever want to feel slightly deranged I would recommend it,


I was already in a dark place but suddenly I was telling myself “This is your Kona”, I might never be quick enough to qualify for a World Championship but I could still challenge myself, see what I was made of, so get out of the water and enjoy the bike leg, finally, after what seemed like the longest swim ever I reached the shore of Transition one, I looked at my watch, nearly 1 hour 40, I had to laugh, lesson learnt, no swim training = no good swim split.


One positive about the Swissman swim is that you are pretty much guaranteed a full 3.8KM distance swim, baring a thunderstorm, while the Celt and Norseman events colder locations mean that the swim is shortened many times due to safety concerns, you can get a idea of the path of the swim from the Strava data above, just remember though,although it’s a straight point to point there are no buoys and very little boats to help navigation on the way. When I got out I spoke to my brother and explained how I was feeling, he said that many had got out and were amazed how long it had taken them, some 30 minutes longer than they normally would have covered the 3.8KM.

Bike

From the very first day of signing up for the Swissman I knew the bike would make or break me, the course takes in two Hors catégorie climbs and three mountain passes with a total of 4000 metres elevation of climbing, see the Red section below and weep :-D.



I had hoped for  good weather for the day, but mountain weather can be unpredictable and coming into the week of the event the weather forecasts were reporting minus degree temperatures and snow on the Furka and Grimsel passes.

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The thing was, in Ascona the sun was out, it was warm at 7am as I made my way out towards Bellinzona, I decided on keeping my one piece Triathlon suite on with a standard bike shirt over the top, after the struggles of the swim it was beautiful to be out on the bike. A funny thing happened just as left transition, I rode down the street straight from the transition exit and all of a sudden it hit me, “am I going the right away?” there had been a lot of people around but no one really point directions which I had taken that to mean I was on the right path, but a wave of doubt came over me and I turned around, just as this happened a guy on a mountain bike came by, he looked like an official so I asked if it was a right direction, “I think so” was his only reply….so off I went hoping he was correct and soon enough I found myself at a crossroads where someone was directing competitor onwards.

The second mistake I made during the Swissman was putting a map of the course on my Garmin, or what I thought was a map, it turned out if was a map from the year before and the course had changed slightly, from the moment after the confusion leaving transition and realising the map was incorrect I decided to avoid looking at the map and just trust the organisation and keep an eye out of the sign posts. This is another unique feature of the event, you have to keep an eye out, be aware of map before hand, unlike the M-dot event in which is relatively impossible to miss a turn.

The weather was great now, the sun was out and I really enjoyed the early parts of the bike, riding to FTP, eating, drinking, we had been told that the wind would be blowing down the valley and after Bellinzona and turning left towards the long stretch to Airola that was the case, climbing upwards and a constant headwind from that point onwards.

The plan had been to take on fresh drinks and food at Faido, up until this point the race had been undramatic, with plenty of amazing scenery, some long stretches alone without another cyclist in sight and a few moments where I’d been able to chat with another competitor, a German guy called Johannes, we chatted about the possibility of snow in mountains, so far there had been some strong winds but it was still sunny and warm.

About 1KM outside Fadio there was a small section of downhill, the thing was the wind was blowing enough to make it impossible, for me anyway, to free wheel this section so I had to push on the pedals, coming down the hill I noticed an ambulance to the left hand side, it’s hard to remember fully now but there was a lot of blood on the road and it was clear one of the competitors had crashed, what wasn’t so clear was if it was caused by another cyclist or a car. I was shocked, there was someone stopping the traffic and I can only look back and assume it was the supporter of the athlete, the good news is after the race I was able to confirm the competitor, Lise Lavoll Borgen came away unhurt.



After restarting I was shook up and it only made me more determined to take extra care for the rest of the ride, by the time I stopped at Faido after 2 hours 40 minutes I was ready for a water and food refill, I spoke to Steve, my Brother and Barbara, my partner, both supporting me and they mentioned they had also seen the crash scene, a reminder to take care and I was on my way to the first climb of the day, the Gotthard Pass.

The weather was starting to cool and I had also felt the first drops of rain, the plan was to meet the team at the support zone just before the base of the Tremola just in case any extra drink, food or clothing were needed. By the time I reach the supporter zone I was told people were already dropping out, by Ironman distance standards we’d already climbed a good 1000+ metres (3000 feet) and with reports of bad weather on the mountain passes maybe some felt it was not a good day to be out on the bike. Something funny happened at this point, as a vintage car rally had decided to use the roads that day without a permit and the police had had to get them off, luckily I just missed that before climbing.
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One disappointing thing about the race for me was that I had taken my GoPro with a battery that would have allowed me to film the whole bike leg, now if you could actually see the Tremola you would get an idea how crazy this climb up to the Gotthard Pass is, think 1000 Metres of climbing, 14 Kilometres in length and pretty much 100% cobblestones!! ..if you don’t believe that take a look here. Now cobblestones by themselves are one thing, but now the wind was blowing so hard I was being pushed around on the bike, to add to this the constant hairpins meant from one moment to the next it was wind and cold blowing in your face, the next warm sun blazing on your face, the higher we went bits of rain and misty cloud were appearing, just crazy and kind of fun.

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One challenge I had set myself before the race, on top of finishing, was to do all the climbs without stopping, I reached the top of the Gotthard without issues but the weather was deteriorating, so I stuck to the plan to change into some warmer clothing for the remainder of the race. At the top I went into the toilets of the Museo Nazionale del San Gottardo and changed while sticking some proper food into my mouth.

Next up was the Furka pass, this was one  climb I had managed to do in training, having got caught out in torrential rain earlier in the year and nearly freezing myself to the bone, only to be saved by a stop in the Hotel Tiefenbach on the way down. This time I was dressed for bad weather so I was ready ;-). By the time I got to Realp at the foot of the Furka the mist (clouds?) had rolled in, luckily I had a bike light (mandatory for all competitors) and I had no choice to put this on as I rode up, I could hardly see a few meters ahead of myself, to add to this the wind was even stronger, when turning into it the deep rimmed wheels on my bike where nearly causing me to be blown off the road. There was also small bits of snow in the air which felt like grit against my face. On the first few hairpins I noticed a few people and their supporters pulling up at the side of the road and calling it a day.

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Ironically the extra clothing I was wearing was making me sweat buckets and overheat, while riding I had to pull off my gloves with my teeth and stuff them down my top, open all the vents on my cycling top and pull a cap off of my head from under any bike helmet. Instead of freezing I was seriously overheating, the weather was now officially pish, The next mistake I made during the event happened on the Furka, my Garmin died, no more battery (thanks Garmin 1000..waste of space device!!), this was an issue as I could no longer ride to my FTP as before, so for the rest of the bike I had to rely on feel, something I had not planned to do and had previously ended with me burning out and turning in a lump of jelly.

Just before reaching the top of the pass, I noticed a figure ahead pushing their bike, I was amazed, surely they would give up at the top and hopefully their supporter was near by, as I passed I noticed it was a woman but did not catch her name or bib number.

I stopped shortly at the top, but decided to descend to the foot of the Grimsel pass at Gletsch and then assess how I was doing and if I could make the cut-off at transition 2, time was running out but I had made it to the top before the 3PM cut off and had time to spare. The ride down to Gletsch saw the worst of the weather, the wind was coming straight at me at this point and also with the grit snow it felt like my face was being sandpapered, the roads were wet and cornering was pretty scary, I noted a lot of other riders around me were cornering at standing pace and I was just happy to get to the bottom without issues but for the first time I was extremely cold. With hindsight it might have been better to carry on as the smaller climb over the Grimsel pass would have warmed me up, however I decided to take a break, get some hot coffee and eat a sandwich in the car.

This was probably the turning point of the whole day, I was not convinced I could finish now or even make the cut off of the bike leg in Brienz, I was cold enough to be shivering and tired enough that I couldn’t calculate how much time I had left to make it. This is the moment Steve came into his own, after a 30 minute prep talk he had me convinced I could at least give the Grimsel a go and try and make it to Brienz. I wasn’t the only one who had stopped in Gletsch and it was a shame to see one of my fellow competitors step back into the car and wish me luck, they weren’t continuing.

The Grimsel Pass from Gletsch is a fairly short climb and I started to warm up, two things of note happened on the way to the top, the first being I met Johannes again, he had also been in his supporters car warming up and had froze on the descent from the tope of the Furka, he had also considered stopping, but here we were on our way, I was feeling good at this point so went ahead, a few hairpins further I noticed the same women I had seen 30 or so minutes ago pushing her bike up the Furka again off her bike and pushing it up the Grimsel, I was amazed, now that is courage, I’ve still no idea if she finished in the end but she deserved a finishers T-Shirt just for that effort.

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Getting to the top of the Grimsel was the best feeling I’d had all day, it didn’t take long and as soon as I reached the summit I shouted over to Steve and Barbara that I was going for it and told them to follow. The descent was crazy, the roads were wet and the cloud was thick, because I had has to use my bike lights on the Furka climb both the back and front were out of battery and I could no longer use them, luckily the further down I went the clearer the weather became, I started to get more confident and really put the hammer down, knowing that I would make the cut off with time to spare.
Although the weather was clearing, there was one final fcuk you from the weather gods, just before reaching Innerkirchen it started to hail, I got a mouth full of hail stone, which just added the icing to the cake :-D

Steve and Barbara where waiting for me at Innerkirchen but I had already decided to keep going and I shouted over to the them to meet me at the finish, the road at this point takes a sharp left hand at a T junction but as there were no markings I could see I was completely confused, where should I go? I tried to turn back but couldn’t see the support car so eventually I took the road to left and around, I noticed a woman working at some tables outside a hotel so I stopped and asked in my terrible German if Brienze was straight ahead, she said yes so off I went, thank you lady at the  Hotel Restaurant Urweider, maybe I will stop by for some food one day :-)

Another thing that stuck in my mind about this final stretch is the little climb near Aareschlucht Ost MIB, it’s another 100 Metre climb, it’s small but after everything before it’s a nice reminder the fun has not stopped, thank you Swissman route designers ;-)

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Getting to Brienz was amazing, one of the biggest doubts was the bike leg, could I do all that climbing within the allotted time?  I'd made it, suddenly I couldn’t wait to start running.


Run

It’s hard to put an exact time on it but if I remember correctly I got to the run transition with about an hour to spare, one of the things that had been eating at me on the bike was the fact that it felt like I was right at the back and I was unlikely to reach the cut off time, but Steve and Barbara had been watching the tracker and mentioned there were plenty behind me and that time was still on my side, so it was a huge relief to be putting my running shoes on. It did feel like I had turned up late for the party, everyone in and around transition looked punch drunk and tired.

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Coming out of T2 I was convinced I could knock out a decent Marathon, even with the 1500 or metres of climbing ahead, that feeling last all but a few seconds as I came to a split in the road and couldn’t work out if I should turn left or right, I went left, completely confused and then realised I was running back in the direction I had come from on the bike, luckily, just as when coming out of T1 there was someone on a mountain bike heading my way, I shouted after them and they quickly confirmed I should have turned to the right and off I went.

Straight away it was uphill, steep uphill and my legs gave in right away, they were mangled and I had to walk, so much for knocking out a decent marathon, to be fair to though it was steep enough that the guy with mountain bike got off  and pushed it up most of the first 1KM of climbing. Around the start of the run is a restaurant and a bit further on the Grand Hotel Giessback, near the Giessbachfaelle, the falls seen on the Swissman promo videos, it was strange running through groups of tourists on the way, I guess most of them had no clue what was happening that day. Running under the falls was a highlight, after watching the videos and finally being there taking part, but it was a bit eerie as well, time as not on my side, evening was kicking in and I still had a long way to go.

On the other side of the Giessbachfaelle the terrain becomes more manageable, it wasn’t flat but there were no more leg cramp inducing climbs either, I found myself running pretty freely and on the flat I felt good, I knew I had to keep my legs moving, no stopping allowed. I found myself running next to a German guy and what I assume was his Dad on a bike, he was called Tom (I remember his face and checked after the race ;-)). He looked like he was feeling strong as well and for a while I kept just behind them, it was motivating to 1. Know I was still able to keep up with someone and 2. know I wasn’t alone at the back. At one point the trail started to descend a little, from around the corner a man appeared waving us back, I couldn’t understand exactly what he was saying but from the reaction of the others it seemed he was suggesting we were going the wrong way, they went back and forward and we stood for a moment, after some discussion everyone seemed in agreement that we were going the right way and off we went, although Tom’s “Dad” went off an adjacent track by himself, that was enough to make me wonder about the markings along the trails, simple plastic taping with Swissman written on it in white and red was tied up to “point” the way, it wasn't really doing it’s job very well. :-D

By the time I reached the supporter zone at Iselwald I was starting to cough and couldn't breath too well, I’d forgotten my asthma spray and had to spend 5 minutes or so while Barbara went back to the car to find it. It was at this point I started to really worry I wouldn’t make the 10PM cut off point at Grindelwald.  I asked Steve if he could work out what pace I needed to run the remaining distance to the foot of the Kleine Scheidegg, by this point I was so mentally tired I just could not work it out myself, every time I tried I came back with different results, I knew it was going to be close. Steve tried to reassure me, plenty of time, plenty of people behind you, you’re on schedule to make it with time to spare, I kept quiet but I wasn’t convinced.

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The section of running along Brienzersee (Lake Brienze) was really beautiful, the sun was out now and it was warm, for some reason I had kept on a warm base layer and wind proof jacket from the bike but even though I was warm and sweaty I could not bring myself to stop and remove any items, I just kept calculating in my head, how many minutes left, how many kilometres, what pace did I need. I also needed the toilet (too much info), I kept thinking about stopping and peeing in the bushes, but I wanted to show some class and also didn’t want to stop, I even passed a portaloo which was open, this voice was tell me to stop but I just kept running.

The rest of the run is a little hazy, between passing Lake Brienze and turning up the valley on the way to Grindelwald a few things on the way stuck in my mind. At one of the support zone meet ups Steve told me that he had received a text message from Swissman informing them that they had extended the cut off to 10:30PM, this gave me some time, I just kept running, at another point I’d be able to keep running quickly enough to get to a support zone at Wilderswil before Steve and Barbara had arrived, in fact they were running from the car park just as I came into view, I must have look in bad shape at this point as the Swissman crew member asked if I was ok. Later on I came across Tom again, crouching down at the side of the trail looking in trouble, his Dad standing by looking concerned, I was as well (spoiler: Tom did manage to finish!).

The last supporter zone was at at Zweiluetschinen, 11KM from Grindelwald, up to this point I had been getting through by counting down the kilometres until the next time I saw Barbara and Steve, these meeting had been real motivators and the preps talks had kept me positive. At Zweiluetschinen  I felt terrible, my body no longer wanted gels and energy drink and I just couldn’t stomach the more solid energy bars I had, I was worried about the next 11KM and the trails were getting stepper. Amazingly at this point there were more competitors around than I had seen all day, the tougher running conditions seemed to create a concertina effect where people would go past you only to suffer later and drop back, back and forth seeing the same faces over and over.

Being around lots of other runners gave me something to focus on for the remainder of the run, I noticed a boy, maybe only in his early teens on a mountain bike with his Dad, the route was getting hard now and he soon had to get off and push his bike while his Dad went ahead. After a lot of uphill struggles I finally reached the last water station at 28.5KM of the run, I decided to grab a drink and go immediately, I asked which way to run and off I went, the women there just shouted after me “finish”. I knew I was close now and I refused to stop for a moment, a kilometre or so further on the young boy passed me on his mountain bike, what a hero! I could almost see Grindelwald now, as I ran up the final straight a woman passed me heading back up the track and said ”that’s what we like to see” and a few other choice words, I can't remember exactly but it was just a nice moment shared and she obviously could see the effort I was putting in.

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Coming down the road to cut off point at 21:30 was an amazing moment, after all the doubts from early on in the day I had a big hug for my Brother, if he hadn’t been there I would probably have given up way before that point. Bro love! Another cool moment was to see Nicole and Mathias, friends from back home in Baden who had come down on the spur of the moment and would later join us at the finish line.

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Before the final climb up the Kleine Scheidegg we had to spend some time having our backpacks checked for clothing, food, lights etc. I took the time to ask the Swissman team about the extended cut off time, it was only at this point that we found out that the cut off had not been extended, the message Steve had received had actually meant that anyone making it to Grindelwald by 22:30 would be also get a finishers shirt due to the bad weather conditions! I was lucky I kept running. We shared a few jokes with backpack checkers and quickly headed out on the final ascent just before 22:00.

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The last 11KM and approx. 1100 Metres (3644 Feet) of climbing is as much Steve’s story as it is mine. When I asked Steve to be my support he didn’t think twice, straight away he was up for it, although he’d never been above 1000 metres above sea level before. I was always concerned he might find that 11KM difficult and although he’s a tough guy and nothing phases him, those first few 100 metres were steep and straight away he was breathing heavy. We stopped for a moment, it was still warm, took off some clothing to keep cool and decided to take it easy, we had time and Steve kept me positive but I realised we had to do the final ascent in 2 hours or we’d possibly miss the cut off time which was scheduled for midnight.

Once we had agreed on a walking speed we got into a good rhythm and we both started to enjoy it, it was tough, especially after the what had gone before. Two things threw a spanner in the works though, first Steve’s GPS wasn’t working as he had hoped and secondly my Garmin watch had finally been drained of battery and so had my phone. This meant I had no way of working out how much distance we had left against time, by this point I was convinced we were really not going to make it on time.I was still in my damp running gear and as the sun was setting we stopped and I changed into warmer clothes and the head touches had to come out. we were now in the dark with little white lights shining in the distance ahead of us, it was now a challenge of not tripping on rocks, tree trunks or cows who seemed to like sitting directly in the middle of the trails. :-)

If you had asked me leading up to the event what my ideal finish would have been, I would have definitely had said it would have been cool to finish in daylight, stopped to take in the views of the North face of the Eiger, watched some remaining finishers and then maybe a few drinks to celebrate. Now we were in near darkness, with no way of telling how far or how little time we had left to the finish line. We were making good progress though, good enough to pass a fair few people as we made the ascent, finally we began to see the lights of the Berghaus Alpiglen. The light can play tricks on you in the dark and took a long time before we could make the outlines of the builds, we’d been following a trail of small white headlamps stretching out in front of us.

It was at this point that the altitude started to affect Steve, we were near enough at 1600 Metres above sea level and this was far and above any height he had experienced before while hiking, he had to stop, the small headlight was making him feel disorientated, he felt breathless and although he didn’t have a heart rate monitor on he said he could feel his pulse was going through the roof, to add the this the trail was full of rocks and it made walking tricky.

From that moment on, only a 1KM from the finish, we walked very slowly, taking breaks every few metres. I must admit I kept pushing, “nearly there Steve” “can you see the finish”, I knew it must be near 12 midnight, clearly Steve was in a bad way and we stopped again, at that moment we were both worried the night would end being air lifted off the mountain. We were walking at a shuffle now, even as we reached the Alpiglen and could see the finish up on the small hill next to the railway station, it was tough going, every step, but finally we made it, up through the flags, Barbara, Nicole and Mathias were there, a few rings of the cow bells and pure joy and jubilation, we had made it, it was 12:05am, but we had just become Swissman finishers.

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The first 36.8KM of that “Run” can be seen below:


I had a some big plans for recording the event, loading up a GoPro 3 Black Edition with an external battery packet and enough memory cards to capture the full day, but for one reason or another it just didn’t come off, the stuff I did capture I put together in the Video below…


If you want a real taster of the day and something really inspiring check out the official video by Sampo Lenzi…

Epilogue

"Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion." Anatoli Boukreev

During the weeks after the event I was walking around on cloud 9, my mind was still in the mountains and luckily I still had the opportunity to go back any weekend I wanted to, I’ve always felt extremely lucky to be living in Switzerland and one thing I’ve realised over the last year is that I’m happiest in the Mountains.

Anyway, for the next few weeks I kept going back, once over the Kalusenpass, the mountain pass that had beaten me just over a year before, and then the next weekend I met up with a friend and fellow Ironman, Marcel. We took an easier climb up the Pragelpass and stopped for coffee and something to eat at the top. On the way down I got a little over excited, went too fast, lost control and crashed…..don’t event ask…


I don’t recommend spending a Sunday evening in Glarus hospital , especially if they tell you you have a Grade 2 AC joint separation. From hero to zero in the space of a couple of weeks. It just goes to show, accidents can happen at any point, anywhere and I was fortunately it was after and not before the Swissman.

KEY-MATTHEW- 27-09-1975- CR (THORAX PA- CLAVICULA RE) vom 12-07-2015 S0 I0

So, that was my year, my little Swissman story. It was, without a doubt, one of the most enjoyable year’s I’ve ever had, the training, the challenge, the journey and the event. There’s a cliché about things being about the journey, not the destination, but this was about both, the journey leading up to the Swissman involved some of the hardest training I’ve put myself though, even at 40 years of age I can still achieve new goals, do things I didn’t think were possible for someone like me who really doesn’t have any athletic genes in his body. After reaching the goal of finishing I could and still can say if I never do another Ironman event I could now walk away happy.

Having said that, one day I’d love to go back, I’d love to go back next year but I promised to take a break from crazy events for a while, but on the other hand I wouldn’t want to take away someone else's chance of taking part in this amazing event, life is too short, don’t think twice, sign up, take the chance, you won’t regret it.