Friday, July 20, 2012

Ironman Switzerland (15 July 2012) Report

It was my 15th official Ironman (IM) finish and I barely made the cut off (as usual) by about seven minutes. I was ecstatic though. I was sick on race day and to hang in for so many hours. This gave me a very big sense of self satisfaction.

Team Malaysia comprised 5 participants and my wife, Tip as our able supporter. Long time Ironman buddies Richard Tang, Ong Boon Hin, Hoo Ching Cheong and Jason Thiang flew from Kuala Lumpur, whilst I came from Doha, Qatar.

Its one of the very few IMs around the world which accepts registration until a few days before race day. Another IM which doesn't sell out is IM South Africa, so that might be my next IM.
Zurich is officially the most expensive city in the world, so maybe that's why it doesn't sell out quickly. Our Youth Hostel room was RM500 / USD 165 per night, the most I have ever paid for a room. Cheaper dormitories are available.

The list of professionals taking part, I didn't even know one name. The race is well organised and the scenery is beautiful, so its quite perplexing as to why it doesn't sell out.

Qatar Airways flies to Zurich from KL and Doha. The air-fare from KL is cheaper than from Doha. 

We stayed at the Zurich Youth Hostel and I totally recommend this place. The reception staff were super polite professionals, the place is clean, lots of IM triathletes about, 500m from the race site, free wifi, nice breakfast etc.
From the airport we took two trains totaling 45 minutes travel time to get to the Youth Hostel.  The trains leave on the DOT, so it was an adventure getting our five bicycle bags and luggage on and off the trains. Teamwork did the job though.
We also used the trains and buses when we went sightseeing. They leave on the dot and are quite expensive.
I found the Swiss to be very nice people, they seemed to know which were our stops and politely told us so.

FRIDAY'S ACTIVITIES (wet suit testing, race briefing and carbo loading)
Friday was the day we tested our wet suits and I realised we had wrongly brought my first wet suit from 1992, which I now could no longer get into. Luckily we were able to rent a wet suit for CHF70 from the EXPO. The person whom we rented the wet suit from (Marc) wasn't angry at all that I finished at 11 pm, long after the EXPO shops had closed. He had waited and instead very nicely offered his congratulations to me, thanks buddy.

The race briefing started late. It was so important to have good English and to listen to every word. One of our buddies got disqualified over nothing actually. Our Mr Chan Chee Seng is still the funniest Race Director on the planet.
The carbo loading dinner was poorly done. Food was not food apart from the dessert. The stage set up was also not well done. At this point, I'd thought I might have made a mistake in doing IM Switzerland.
The EXPO on Saturday though is the best I have ever seen. All the Malaysians bought many things. I bought tri compression shorts (one pair was EU99/ RM400), IM shirts, sweaters, cap etc. I am normally stingy at EXPOs, but its difficult to get stuff in Qatar, so it was time to splurge a bit. Tip also bought stuff. 
It was buzzing and sunny at the EXPO on Saturday. Whilst 1,700 athletes may be taking part in the IM on Sunday, more than 3,000 athletes took part in the Kids Tri and 5150 races on Saturday. Thus the large and lively EXPO. The EXPO was fun, the best.

The bike check in was quite an easy process. They took a photo of everyone with their bicycles for security purposes. Smiling for the camera was not necessary, they jokingly said. They didn't inspect the bicycles for road worthiness though. We only left our bicycles and helmets in the transition area. A very nice large Ironman plastic cover was given for each bicycle.

It is a top notch country, probably a country the rest of the world is aspiring to be. The roads and pavements were so well maintained. Definitely not a single pot hole, not even a piece of stone was loose. Lots of people use the bicycle, numerous pedestrian crossings and cars always stop for pedestrians. People don't push. So different from Malaysia and Qatar.
The Swiss are well behaved nice people. People smile at us, help us with directions etc. Even the restaurants are quiet as they speak with a soft tone.
The cold rainy weather was a total disappointment. I felt so sorry for the Swiss, if this was summer, what's the rest of the year like.
In Switzerland, men and women are the same. The Policeman could be a woman, the person holding a machine gun at the airport could be a woman, the ambulance or bus driver could also be a woman.

I have to first salute my wife, Tip who woke up the same time as us, had breakfast, walked over the hill to the race start and stayed there until after the cut-off time in the rain, taking photos of all of us. Thank you sweetheart.

Swim 3.8 km

It was impossible to know where the other Malaysians were. The start beach was very narrow and everyone was wearing yellow caps. The beach was actually stony pebbles, I wasn't sure whether my rented wet suit would leak or chafe. I had read various race reports that the race start was brutal. So safety was my priority. If anyone whacked me, I turned the other cheek. If someone came near, I would swim away or let them go first.
So far the wet suit didn't leak, good. But there was chaffing around the arm pits and worse, my broken left arm was making all kinds of noises in the cold water.
Yes I broke my arm from a motor bike fall in 2002. My wife took care of me in hospital, I proposed and the rest is history.....hee hee

So the order of the day was, stay safe. I couldn't swim normally as the broken arm felt tight. The first lap was done in 38 minutes and it was 1 hour 19 minutes for the whole swim, which was slow for me but I survived the swim so I was very happy with the first test.

There were no transition bags as we placed our race gear beside our bicycles, just like a cheap local race I thought. T1 was very close to the swim exit and having our race gear beside the bicycles meant it was a fast T1 and T2. If they had the normal swank large changing tents, I would have taken more time and wouldn't have made the cut-off, with hindsight. I was one of the earlier swimmers I guess, still many bicycles at T1.

Tip was there at the swim exit and bike start. I was able to give her a hug. Hopped on the bike and we were off. Just 500m down the road a cyclist was lying flat out and blood was oozing from his helmet. Poor guy.
The first 30km was flat and I went in aero going at about 30km per hour. I was in no hurry. The roads were largely closed, road marshalls were the best I have ever seen, signs were excellent. It was cold and drizzling, ugh.
Everyone though was overtaking me which was normal. They looked very fit with their shaved legs. During the second lap it was the slower riders that were overtaking me.

From 30 km to about 60 km it was largely up hill. One hill called the Beast, went for a good 7 km and seemed to be going up and up. Coming from totally flat Qatar, I found the hills a strange sensation. Scenery was absolutely beautiful. The grasslands, villages were all very beautiful but this was not a sight seeing trip.
It was raining, how I hate the rain and the cold. It was dangerous going downhill as the brakes didn't seem to work. I was also worried about cars suddenly appearing, but this did not happen.

My sun glasses had now totally fogged up, so I switched to normal clear spectacles. Visibility was clear but the downside was, I couldn't cycle in aero position as the spectacles' frame didn't rest on my nose properly. So for the second lap, I cycled sitting upright, perhaps explaining the much slower second lap.

The priority was SAFETY.

From 60 km to 80 km it was downhill. Those with good bike handling skills could really fly going down, not me though.

At 80 km there was a short winding very steep hill called Heartbreak Hill. The spectators were cheering us Tour De France style here. Luckily I didn't stop to push my bicycle. It would have been very embarrassing.

At the start of the second lap, it was actually raining hail stones. How I hated the cold rain. Nevertheless we completed the second 90 km lap.

T2 was quick. Ong Boon Hin called my name, so we finished the bike together.

Lap No. 1 out of 4 was my best. I went at sub 5 hour Marathon pace without actually pushing and I was feeling on top of the world. Ong only overtook me after 10 km.

Lap No 2 was when disaster struck. It rained again!!!! I got the flu about one week before race day and was still recovering. Throughout the race I was blowing my nose, coughing and clearing my flam.
I felt so very cold. My clothes were wet, I was shivering all over like never in my life before. I didn't acknowledge anyone and felt totally miserable. I could see spectators shivering and was worried for my wife, whom I knew didn't like the cold. I just wanted to have a hot bath and curl up.
I mentally made up my mind to pull out at the end of Lap 2 (21km). I told Hoo and Ong and they concurred. Jason Thiang though told me not to give up.
The polite spectators were still saying I was looking good. The Medical people knew better though and asked me how I was. Whilst they gave the shiny wrapper to warm me up, they didn't give me a towel which would have done the trick. I told them I was going to pull out and they concurred.
I took my time in the nice public toilet thinking I was getting ready to go home. The toilet even had a blow drier so I dried my hair and wet clothes.
When dried, I felt much better and the sun had come out. I realised I had 3 hours 40 mins for the last 21 km, I had a chance man. So off I went.

With god's grace, I maintained a steady pace the whole way. Officials were monitoring me very closely, looking at their watches all the time. As usual spectators were very kind and want you to finish the race within the cut-off.
300m to go, I could hear the finish music very clearly, a few tear drops came to my eyes but I snapped out of it.

You are an Ironman!!

Tip was there and so was Richard who as usual helped me with everything. I was shivering, with Richard's good advice, put on 2 layers of the shiny wrapper, wore the dry Finisher T shirt and Richard's jacket. It would have been impossible to get home without their help.

Finish time was 15 hours 52 mins 45 seconds. Cut off was 16 hours. There were only 3 official finishers behind me. The official results had me number 1400 out of 1749.

I didn't get my Finisher's Medal as they had run out. Apparently it will be posted to me.

Congratulations to my buddies Richard, Jason, Hoo and Ong who all hung in even though the conditions were very tough and alien for us Malaysians. 54 years old Ong Boon Hin actually did a Personal Best time, so double congratulations to him.

It was unfortunate that Hoo Ching Cheong was officially disqualified for not reporting to the next Penalty Box after being shown a yellow card for going in aero position a few feet before the green sign. They are very strict.

And lastly, thank you to my wife for supporting Team Malaysia throughout the 16 hour race day.


Anonymous said...

Dear Bro,

Congrats on your recent Ironman in Switzerland. Nampak macam sejuk aje..

My name is Adam Kok

sofiantriathlete said...

thank you Adam

Abah said...

Congrats bro. Hope i can do ironman 1 day...

Cookie Monster said...

well done sofian can't imagine 15 IMs

Dex Tai said...

Congrats for your Zurich finish. Your determination won you your 15th medal.
Indeed, Zurich's weather was a tough course compiled with the hash weather, having been though that myself as well.
Now rest and reover. All the best for your Ironman endeavours

sofiantriathlete said...

thanks mates

hope you are keeping well John.

ian said...

Thank you for such a detailed race report. It will be very useful for me in a month's time when I attempt my first Ironman in Zurich 2013.

you can read about my progress at