Sunday, July 20, 2008

Like Swiss Chocolate

The race was sweeter than Swiss chocolate. Ah, such a wonderful memory, such a fun-filled 7 days, climaxing with a half-day romp thru Lake Zurich and the surrounding Alps. I have so many thoughts and insights on this journey, that this long-winded blog will probably not do justice for, but here goes...

Pre-race prep/antics: Pasta, rain gear, and a crash
I arrived on Wednesday night, pasta loaded at the restaurant next door to my luxurious hotel, and went to bed early. I quickly assembled the bike Thursday morning, met Mika from Singapore for more pasta loading, and we set off to ride the main part of the bike course with about 20 hardcore early-bird ironmen. I met Lindsey and Jon along the ride, both going for their 1st ironman, and Debbie a veteran of 8 ironmen and 2 Kona appearances. I was impressed by both Debbie, a 10 1/2 hour finisher, and Lindsey, who was going for 10 1/2 hours on her first try. As soon as we set out on the 80k ride, we began to worry about the heat and fatigue of a ride so close to the race. But we figured it was almost essential to ride the course before Sunday, so we pressed on. At 30k, called Natasha Badmann (6 time ironman world champion and Suisse national) rest point, Mika had a minor crash in which she collided head on with another biker. The "biker" was actually a crazy guy on a shopping bike (mama chalet) who refused to move over when we road past him. Mika, unfortunately, was in his way, and it seemed as if he deliberately collided with her. He shouted at Mika in German until we all came back and returned fire. Mika was in shock, but body and bike were unscathed thank goodness!

We than climbed "the beast", a massive 4k hill with a 230 meter climb. This was the hill that I had been sweated over for months, and it was not easy. Although we took it slow, we were tired and hot at the top. The next 10k was a decline down the “egg” and a nasty little incline to the highest part of the course at 700 meters, or 2,200 feet above sea level. We groaned and commiserated, than coasted down a steep decline back to downtown Zurich, admiring the beach-like culture in the late afternoon along Lake Zurich. It was a gorgeous day reaching 28 degrees C (83 F) and the sun continued to shine until 9 PM. I ended up quite sunburned and tight in the legs, worrying if I had overdone it, but promised myself an easy swim on Friday and rest on Saturday before the big dance on Sunday.

On Friday morning, after a massive breakfast, most of my comrades from Tokyo had arrived at the hotel, but they were in bike exploration mode, while I was ready for a swim in the lake with wetsuit. The lake was comfortable at 20 degrees and quite refreshing on that hot day. This was followed by more bike adjustments from the kind yet eccentric Swiss bike doctors in the iron village. Next was the race briefing, which was quite basic and bare. They had assured us that all questions would be answered by the briefing, but they failed to go over each of the three courses in detail, which proved to be unwise. Mika made a wrong turn on the swim, and I had a couple myself on the bike and run. Friday night was the welcome party, which took too long and didn’t have enough carbs. It also started raining hard. I wasn’t feeling so warm and fuzzy…

Saturday brought more rain and cold temperatures, the average temperature falling from 22 to 16 degrees C in one day. My brother accompanied me to the iron village for last minute wet weather shopping which included a rain jacket, legwarmers, toe covers, all for the bike ride. Instead of 1 short-sleeved jersey, I was going to go with 3 layers including a waterproof jacket if this wet weather continued. After 2 pasta dinners, I was in bed by 10 PM, hoping to get 6 solid hours of sleep before my 4 AM wake-up call.

Race Day: It’s raining mad!
It was raining in the morning with big puddles forming. I wondered how slow I would have to take it on the bike declines, or if I could stay warm. I ate a bagel and scoffed cornflakes and fruit before joining the Sumie, Fabien, Brodie, and Martin at the lobby. We rode the train 6 minutes to the start. We got there at 5:30 AM, 90 minutes before the 7 AM starting bell. 90 minutes seemed like a long time, but it went quickly. I arranged my bike and run clothing underneath a large white bike cover, praying that they would not get wet. I put on my wetsuit in the large reception tent, stretched, and tried to focus on the race: nice and easy swim, conservative bike with plenty of nutrition and even splits, and let the run take care of itself. It was 6:30 AM and I headed down to the swim area, fully lubricated with glide and Vaseline.

Swim: A little bit of love
It was 13 degrees, but I was toasty in my wetsuit. I was worried about taking off the wetsuit and riding Hillary Swank, my bike, up into the mountains later that morning. It was still raining and cold as they sent off the pros at 6:55 AM. We were than immediately instructed to get in the water for a deep water start, which meant we had to tread water for 5 minutes. That wasn’t so bad in a wetsuit though. I tried to conserve energy while treading water gently and advancing as much as I could to the front of mass of swimmers. I needed every inch I could get given my swimming stroke! The gun went off and my heart came alive. Finally after months of training, I was swimming in Lake Zurich. I did my customary routine, 8 strokes free style, 2 breast strokes to locate the buoys. I was determined to swim straight this race, as I had lost valuable time in the past 2 swims in Oshima and China. At the first turn at 500 meters, there was mass confusion, as hundreds of swimmers were bunched up in a standstill, not knowing which way to go. “Which way?”, we shouted. After a while, someone pointed to another buoy which seemed to be a 90 degree right turn, and we were off again. I have to say that the swim course was just about the coolest thing I have ever done. We got done with the first 1.8k loop, which brought us to a “strait”, or a narrow strip of water that separated a tiny island from the mainland. At the back end of the tiny island, we were amphibians, jogging past and high-fiving spectators (including my parents and brother) on that tiny island. I was happy to come in at just over 30 minutes, ahead of schedule, and thought “1 more lap and a little bit of love”. My unorthodox stroke seemed to be working...

The first lap I had felt boxed in from all sides, but the second lap felt a little better as the field opened up. I got into a more normal groove. As I rounded the last buoy and headed home, I saw 1:04 on my watch, which I figured would allow me to cruise in at 1:15-1:20, better than my 1:20-1:30 target. So I took it real slow and easy as advised by veteran ironman Keren, and re-landed at 1:17.

T1: The soggy bagel
I jogged slowly to the bike transition area. T1 turned out to be the beginning of the most challenging part of the race. The rain was still coming down, and the wetness, extra clothing, crowd noise, etc. distracted me somewhat. I had neatly placed under the bike cover my bike clothing, shoes, and food. To my horror, the bagel had gotten wet and literally disintegrated as I tried to stuff it into my bike shirt pocket. Further, the wetsuit took a couple of minutes to get off. I had so much clothing: short-sleeve shirt, long shirt, rain jacket, leg tights, bike shorts, head band, gloves, etc. It took forever to get it all on. I gave up on the soggy bagel and bit the last piece out of desperation. My brother was at the entrance nearby and could see the comedy of errors: “c’mon Dave, get on the bike already!”. At long last, I wheeled Hillary to the gate nearly 9 minutes later.

Bike: Heartbreak and the beast
The first bit of the bike leg always feels good to me as my legs tend to be underutilized on the swim. But again I was cautious and slow for two reasons; 1. The roads were wet and visibility limited, and 2. I wanted to save my legs for the second half of the bike and marathon. I was also worried about nutrition due to the soggy bagel incident. That bagel was the only food I had packed and I wasn’t sure how reliable or substantial the power bars, gels, fruits, drinks at the help stations would be. I cruised down the first 30k flat course at 33-35 kph. At 20k, I grabbed power gels and bars and feasted. I wasn’t working very hard and felt cold in the legs and extremities. My torso felt nice and toasty as the rain jacket completely blocked out any moisture. At 50k, I tackled the beast, a 230 meter climb over 4k. I was able to stay in second gear and remain mostly seated, and felt a cold sweat for the first time of the day. After the beast, I was surprised to pull up to Mika, who is usually behind me after the swim (in China, she passed me on the run). “Ohayo gozaimasu”, I greeted. “Genki?”, I asked. “Samui, samui!”, Mika shivered. I imagined it must have been really cold for Mika, a hot weather specialist, as I was feeling uncomfortable in the cold rain. It was 13 degrees in downtown Zurich, but felt colder in the hills on a bike. After another tough incline up the egg, I took the decline to Zurich easy, using my brakes liberally. I hit 50 kph on the big hill, versus +60 kph a few days earlier on the test run. The road was just too wet to take any chances. I was stocking up on power bars and gels at each rest station, but had some trouble getting the bars open as my fingers were numb, so I used my teeth to rip the wrappers open. As I descended into Zurich I prepared myself for heartbreak hill at 80k, and hoped that my family would be there to warm my spirits. At this point, I remember thinking it was about 4 hours into the race, a daunting 1/3 of the total target time. These thoughts disciplined me to keep the pace nice and easy. I told myself I would speed up later if I still had gas in the tank…At 80k, I downshifted into the second smallest gear and climbed heartbreak hill at 8-12 kph. It reminded me of the mountain stages of the tour de France on TV, except the crowds were yelling Hopp Hopp Hopp (I guessed Go or fighto or gambatte in German). The hill wasn’t so bad, much easier than the beast. Near the top my parents and brother yelled out my name. I was moving so slowly that we could have a conversation and Dan filled me in on logistics and took pictures. The IM Suisse people also called out the at bikers name, which was a nice touch. HB hill was only 1k or so, so it really didn’t break me. I coasted down the hill to the 90k halfway point, which was at the original starting point. With one bike lap to go and a 42k run, I could see a tiny glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel. My 90k split was 3:10-3:15, so I figured a 6:30-6:40 bike was in the cards for 180k. Slightly disappointing, but it could not be helped.
The second half of the bike was rather uneventful. I felt soreness all over. At the 120k point Natasha Badmann stop, I again prepared myself mentally and physically for the beast. I tried to take it easy and eat as much as possible, but was getting sick of bananas, bars, and gels. At the beast, I shifted into the smallest gear this time. The rain had subsided and I felt warmth for the first time of the day. The hairy beast had some wicked hairpin turns, which made it interesting to observe the riders above and below. I tried to keep my mind off the physical pain. Everything ached. It wasn’t that I was winded, only that my body wanted to get out of that crouched position. My neck, back, buttocks, hamstrings, calves all had that +140k achy feeling. It was a long second lap, and I hadn’t seen anyone I knew since the Mika samui sighting. I wondered how Fabien, Sumie, and the others were getting on. I thought about striking up a conversation with other riders just to make the time go by, but everyone seemed to be focused on the road ahead. Anyway, I made it to the top of the beast and descended down towards the egg. There were a lot of windy turns on the downhills, and I made a wrong turn on one of them. I had to stop, do an about face, and yelled angrily at the street marker guy who had raised his arrow sign as I was turning the wrong way. After the big egg climb at 160k, I started to feel warmer and fuzzier, and hit 60 kph on the big hill as the road had dried up. Back at the lake, there was some 2-way car traffic, which was annoying. I had little patience for other cars as I could see the fast bikers had already started the run. Another heartbreak hill climb and I was done. How good did it feel to get off that saddle after 6 1/2 hours!

T2: Full moon
I was pleasantly surprised to see my family unit perched near my bike transition zone, snapping pictures at my bare butt, and yelling encouragement. I felt like the homecoming queen. I put Hillary back in the rack, stripped off the multiple bike layers, got on my comfortable running shorts, singlet, fresh socks, shoes, and felt like a new man. I jogged past my family, high fives all around. My legs felt sore but ready to run, a credit to those weekly brick trainings runs in April-June.

Run: Yappari run ga juncho
I was fairly unfamiliar with the run course. All I knew was it was flat and 4 loops. Turns out each loop passed the main finish area no less than 4 times. This meant lots of chances to absorb the crowd’s energy. In the first 5k, I ate, drank, answered nature’s call, and felt generally good. I was cruising at just over 5 minute per k pace, and passing runners rapidly. After the first feeding frenzy of apples, bananas, hot bouillon soup, sports drink, I felt a surge of energy. At about 15k I realized that the bouillon soup had magical qualities, probably from the high salt content. At 20k, I had 1:50 on my watch for the run, and fantasized about a sub-12 hour time if I could just crack 4 hours for the marathon. But I hit a lull and slowed at 20-30k. I started taking in cokes and thought of Jay’s caffeine obsession and ironman experience. I toyed with the idea of drinking red bull, but didn’t want to risk an upset stomach. Memories of the China 1/2 ironman haunted me. I had to walk every 1K in China in the blistering 35 degree heat. But this was my day, and there would be no taifu to spoil the party.

The crowd’s energy was intoxicating, and I soaked up every ounce of it. There was also plenty of eye candy around. I saw all my Tokyo comrades except Sumie. I pulled up to Fabien, exchanged hopp hopps, and moved on at about 32k. We were wearing colored bracelets. For each 10k lap, you received a different colored bracelet. I now had all 4 bracelets, and I got my second wind (or 3rd or 4th wind?). Only 10k plus a little bit of love to go…I had about 1 hour to run the last 10.2k if I wanted a sub-4 marathon and sub-12 hour total. My swim and bike and transitions were exactly 8 hours. I felt confident I could do it, although I was in completely uncharted territory. I had never trained nor raced for more than 7 hours in one sitting, and I was on the 11th hour. Still, all I needed was to cruise under 6 minute k pace, and I had been averaging 5 1/2 minute pace for 32k. These mental calculations and watch checks kept me focused on the goal. I thought, 1 or 2 more carbo feedings, and I would be home free. Each mileage sign showed 4 distances for each lap. I was now on the final lap, and it felt good to be passing each sign for the last time. At 37k, I had about 30 minutes, which suited me fine. Barring a last minute injury or accident, I thought I could do it. I slowly pushed down the accelerator and began passing runners again. At the final turn around 40k, I was feeling more and more euphoria. Just one more hill and turn into the final stretch. At 41k, I pulled up to a runner with 4 bracelets. Another guy encouraged both of us to get in under 12 hours. We chatted for a couple of minutes and than could hear the finish line bustle. Again more endorphins hit my leg muscles. I sped up to 4 1/2 minute pace as I could see the yellow decorations and other paraphernalia at the finish. They announced, David Rubenstein, from Nanban Rengo in Tokyo, Japan, and the crowd went wild. I crossed the finish line in 11:57:50.

Final splits and places:
3.8k Swim: 1:17:37 (265 place out of 452 in age group)
180k Bike: 6:29:55 (313 place) 1st 90k: 3:11:07 (28.2 kph), 2nd 90k: 3:18:48 (27.2 kph)
42K Run: 3:57:02 (223 place) 1st 10k: 52:53 (5:17/k), 2nd 11k: 59:09 (5:22/k), 3rd 10k: 1:03:23 (6:20/k), 11k: 1:01:37 (5:36/k)

Total: 11:57:50 (223 place out of 452 in age group, 1001 place out of 2,200)

Overall, I shattered my goal of 12:30 to 13 hours, and was very happy with the run and swim. The bike was slower than I had thought. I had targeted 6 to 6 1/2 hours, but the rain and fatigue on the 2nd loop took its toll. Those hills drained me. I should have done more hill climbing in Tokyo, but the raining season wasn’t kind, and I spend many weekends riding the bike trainer indoors. The transitions were pitiful. The jet lag, a 7 hour time difference, turned out to be a limited factor. I did feel some extra fatigue in the 2nd half of the run, which would have been past my bedtime in Tokyo, but could not pin it down to jet lag or generally tiredness.

I am most satisfied with my last 11k on the run. I was clearly hurting at 21-30k, but somehow dug down deep to accelerate from a 6:20 pace to a 5:36 pace. I credit those long lonely runs in Yoyogi Park on Sundays, and extra miles in before track sessions on Wednesday nights. Here is a typical hard training week before ironman:

Monday: Swim 2.5k: 1:10, 20 X 50 meters fast
Tuesday: Bike trainer spin: 1:06, Brick run: 31:12
Wednesday: Track: speed workout ladder, max at 1200 @ 4:44; 5k warmup, 11k total
Thursday: Swim 3.3k: 1:30, 10 x 200 meters on 4:20; Bike spin: 45 minutes
Friday: OFF!
Saturday: Arakawa bike ride 165k: 5:40:35, Brick run: 30 minutes, 5k
Sunday: Yoyogi long run: 35k: 3:29:17

Total 1 week: 15.9 hours, swim 6.3k, bike 218k, run 56k

Orei: I wanna thank my mother...
So many people to thank for this journey. I wanna thank my mother and father. Not only were they kind enough to conceive me on a wintry night in 1967, but they flew all the way from NY to witness my entire ironman debut (minus a 2 hour nap during the bike). Same goes for my brother Daniel. Thanks Dan for the encouragement and sound advice in the days before and during the race. Thanks to Megumi for comfort and support all the way through to the big day. Thanks to Fabien for rallying up the troops in Tokyo for the Zurich trip. Congrats to Brodie, Sumie, Martin, and Fabien in Zurich. Zannen to Mika in Singapore, but we all know this is a humbling sport with ups (China) and downs (Zurich). Thanks to my Jefferies colleagues including Nigel for relentless encouragement. Thanks to the nanban guys for companionship and support in training. Special thanks to triathlon specialists Keren, Mary, Jay, Stu, Chad, Chris, Gerard, Dave, Mika T, Mike, Bevan, Anthony, my bike mentor Ben, my swim coach Greg. You all made those long rides, runs, and swims more meaningful!

Go here for more photos and videos.


Anonymous said...

wow!! yes, you are sweeter than swiss chocolate!!

David 元三 Rubenstein said...

thanks misuzu,

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the great race report Motozo. You finally motivated me to sign up the race again. Yes, I am doing IM Zurich 09 for my little revenge, with a lot of clothes on.

David 元三 Rubenstein said...

that's great is usually hot there..

Jay said...

David - Inspiring report. It looks and sounds like you were so strong at the end you could have easily run another 10k or so. 11:57:50 is so impressive under the conditions. And I am impressed with your gung-ho, positive spirit.

Stephen Lacey said...

Not bad for an old bloke.

Bloody long report though! It was almost an ironman effort just to get through it!

Seriously, big ups.


Iron Bach said...

Awesome story - I totally can relate to the details.
IM GER seems better organized and less bike challenging (no real hairy beast).

Congratualations on the completion and time overachievement, while still having a life!