ShelterBox

Iron Girl, Iron Guy, and the Iron Maiden, Part I (pre-race days)

…Me, Jim, and Lara, respectively, that is.

It’s over. Almost exactly 24 hours ago to the minute, I crossed the finish line at Ironman Switzerland 2009, and I must confess to harboring all sorts of unresolved emotions about the thing. I am proud of my friends and eternally grateful to Jim’s parents for coming all the way out to see us, and very happy that I was able to raise enough money for ShelterBox to house thirty more people after disaster–but I’m no closer to understanding why we pursue such sport, which I think is the reason I keep on seeking out more and more of these different challenges.

But you didn’t come here to read about that, just yet: You came to get a race report.

We deliberately booked our flights to Switzerland to arrive well ahead of race day. We had a sleepless night on an airplane, punctuated very frequently by the drunk yellings of the under-age tippler sititng just in front of us (that’s another story), and landed in beautiful Zurich on a cloudy day punctuated also very frequently by rain showers. Jim and I looked thoughtfully at the thunderous sky and wondered if race day would look like that. We hoped not.

My bike, Grub, and The Other One get loaded into the belly of our plane.

My bike, Grub, and The Other One get loaded into the belly of our plane.

ominous pre-race clouds & thunderstorms

ominous pre-race clouds & thunderstorms

We spent that morning wandering around town with Jim’s parents after we’d checked into the wonderful, very accomodating Comfort Inn Royal, which would be our home for the next week, and had breakfast. Zurich is a beautiful town. Have you ever been there? Still, the race course hadn’t been set up yet, and the streets seemed very empty for a Thursday morning–we wondered where everyone was.

Marilyn and Jim, Jim’s parents, had done a fair amount of research already, so we’d left much of the tourist planning to them, and I’m fairly certain that, without me knowing it, set the tone for the trip. We were there to race, and that was the bottom line. I suppose it’s always been that way, but being in one of my favorite places and not mucking around, looking at art stuff, was a distinct change of pace.

Okay, I wasn't entirely blind to Zurich's gorgeous landscape. This is the Limmat River, which runs into the lake.

Okay, I wasn't entirely blind to Zurich's gorgeous landscape. This is the Limmat River, which runs into the lake.

We came back to the hotel, crashed hard, had dinner out at a great place that Grant and Jill recommended, and then went back for a good night’s sleep.

Yeah. It worked for Jim. Not so much for me. We went to bed at about 10, and I woke up around midnight, stark raving awake and unable to go back to sleep until four. I woke up again around seven. All in all, not terrible odds, really.

We went down on our bikes for our first look at Ironman Village, and noticed that Zurich is extremely bike-and-pedestrain friendly.

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You can't see it against the white, but the bottom of the sign has a bicycle icon on it. Parking, reserved just for bikes. Who'd'a thunkit?

We went and looked at all of the Ironman-branded kit, but I refused to buy (it seemed pre-mature to me, really, to get the stuff before I even attempted a full Ironman), but something unpleasant was around the corner was awaiting me, and I ought to have bought something just to assuage the agony I felt on registering and signing all the proper documents, only to get this in my official race documentation:

harumph!

harumph!

Yeah, what the hell?! Not that I haven’t sent roughly, oh, I dunno, three e-mails telling them to FIX THE PROBLEM. I’m still “Shun.” I fixed it myself with a big black marker and walked away with Jim, registration done with.

Lara arrived later that day, and she and I scooted along to the pre-race meeting, taking the tram down and enjoying the nice ride along Zurich’s high-end brand-name boutique road. We caught up along the way and went into the big tent and listened somewhat half-heartedly to some information that we already knew and some very little we didn’t, while I scanned the crowd, looking for Jim. We finally found him, and looked around the Expo for some last-minute stuff. From there, Jim and Lara went to go listen to some alpenhorn schlock and I went off to meet some awesome ShelterBox peeps who run our Switzerland affiliate. The group here in Zurich is run by some very cool, very enthusiastic 30-something Rotaractors, and I was happy to spend the evening talking to them about ShelterBox and the SRT program, and getting to know them all. Highly enjoyable way to pass time.

Saturday morning dawned way too early. I once again went to sleep at 11:30, only to pop awake at midnight. I stared at the ceiling until 4:30 and slept until 8, when it was time to go to breakfast. I promptly threw a tantrum of a most unsatisfying sort, moaning that I desperately needed more sleep, and that this was no way to run a race. Breakfast with friends, however, fixed it, especially after Lara tried to eat an egg, entertaining me with her ill-fated attempts to peel it properly.

Lara resorts to spoon for her egg. Jim thinks this is so funny that he's squinting.

Lara resorts to spoon for her egg. Jim thinks this is so funny that he's squinting.

We had a really nice day at the Ironman grounds again, racking our bikes and chatting with other racers, and I began to realize that this was actually happening. After a too-long walk home, we caught a tram to meet Roj, Lara’s husband, who was in town to watch the race, for dinner, and it was shortly afterwards that I discovered I’d misplaced my wallet. Yes, that lovely Braithwaite dealio I bought awhile ago. I can’t for the life of me figure how it happened. I can only think that the lack of sleep combined with juggling a number of things in my hands resulted in the loss. I’m quite bereft. But that’s another entry.

Anyway, it was already 8PM. We needed to sleep. Ironman was the next day, and I’ll fill you in on that tomorrow.

Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Triathlon transitions

I had a very good weekend, training-wise and social-wise. We took our time, sleeping in a little bit and taking our time getting ready in the mornings, since our workouts were shorter now that we’re closer to D-Day, and that made all the difference, since I’m largely a morning person.
At any rate, part of the terrific weekend was getting to know a bloke (Hi, Steve!) who’s doing some important work getting ShelterBox up and running in Denmark. He’s a British ex-pat and heard of my efforts on behalf of ShelterBox in the Ironman, and took the time on Sunday to engage in some chitchat over the Facebook transom. Talking to him made me think that there are perhaps a number of readers who don’t know exactly what I’m doing in this-here Ironman, so I’ll take some space in the days leading up to race day to describe some things like training and structure of races.
Today I’ll go over transition times. You’ve already seen some of the neuroses that happens (how many laps do I have to swim before I hit a mile, again? How many MPH do I have to hit before I can say that I’ll make the cut-off on time?) but one of the things that goes oft-overlooked is transition times. In adventure racing, the transition–the time between disciplines allotted for changing your kit around and prepping for the next leg of the race–can be incredibly slow. There’s re-fueling to be done, re-packing, map-reading, and sometimes, in the very long races, tooth-brushing.
But in a triathlon, the transition times can be remarkably fast, about two, three minutes between each discipline. This makes a relatively disorganized person like me break out in cold sweat. My friend Pamela, who is incredibly organized, is good at these things. Me, not so much. I have to practically write everything down, practice it over and over again.
So here’s what happens in a TA (“transition area”): You stage your bike, your shoes, any odds and ends you might need on the course, all the night before the race. (The Ironman organization practices a “clean transition area” policy, but we’ll talk more about that tomorrow, when I go over race structure.)
A typical transition area looks like this:
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(Assume that my bicycle is on the left side of things.)
Every last minute counts in a triathlon. In the case of next weekend’s Ironman, it’ll count doubly for me, since I missed an entire cycle of training this year, all told, and I will need every minute I can get in order to make it in under the 16-hour cutoff for the race. Transitions are “free time”: you don’t have to get stronger or fitter to execute a good triathlon, and it can save you a lot of time if you do it right.
Things get set up very specifically. Ordinarily, I’d have my helmet, jersey, sunglasses, and bike gloves sitting on top of my bike handlebars, so I don’t have to waste time bending over one more time to pick something up. You can see that my socks are already sitting in my bike shoes, ready for me to pull them on and slip into my shoes. My shoes are entirely undone. I will put these on first.
Next I will pull on my jersey, which will have my number already pinned to the front of it. You can see it’s lying front down, since that’s the way I’ll pull it on. (One time, I put the pins all the way through my jersey. I had a bear of a time putting my jersey on, let me tell you. Lessons learned.)
My sunglasses are open and my gloves are as open as they can possibly be. My feet will be wet and likely covered in grass, sand, and dirt from the jog from the lake to the transition area, so the towel underneath all my stuff will serve dual purpose.
When I come in from the swim, I’ll pull off my wetsuit and set it out of the way. I’ll be wearing a sportsbra and my triathlon shorts underneath already. Then I’ll wipe my feet and pull on my socks and shoes. Sunscreen and lip balm goes on my face and neck only, since I’ll have pre-applied over my body before the swim and it won’t have washed or rubbed off in the water; then my helmet and my glasses and gloves. I’ll probably take a slug of liquid and some salt tablets (we’ll talk about nutrition at a later date) and scarf a bite of real food, like one of the granola bars you see on the towel.
Then it’s off to the bike leg.
Many, many hours later, it’s time to run. I’ll come in, undo my bike shoes, remove my glasses, helmet, bike gloves, slip into my running shoes, slap on my visor, and go after grabbing my water bottle.
A good transition will take somewhere between 3 and 8 minutes. Well, a girl can hope, anyway, can’t she?
Tomorrow, race structure.

Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.