My Ironman Stories. Part 1: Ironman Switzerland 1997


This is part 1 of my personal story competing in Ironman races. Ironman means 3.8 km swimming, 180.2 km bike riding and 42.195 km running. All in one day. In 1996 I had the idea to do an Ironman and my choice felt on the closest race near my hometown. Ironman Switzerland in Zurich. I really had no clue what it will be to cover this distances. When you have no clue you start to look around what could help you to prepare for such an event. I did a marathon before, but this was something else. While following the triathlon scene a little bit I was really impressed with Mark Allen performances and how he won countless triathlons. I found his book “Workouts for working people” which he wrote together with his wife Julie Moos, an awesome triathlete herself.

The Training

In the book they have two Ironman 18 Week plans. Basic and advanced. I started with the basic plan in April. The race was scheduled on the 03.08.1997. I was never a swimmer and as soon as I started to stop beating the water I made good progress. The biking for longer distances was as well new to me. I used to ride bikes around the city, but that was it. Especially I had to adapt to the position on a true triathlon bike. Finally I had quite a bit of background in running, so this was not new to me. For swimming it was a distance based plan. For biking and running it was a time based plan with heart rate zones. I have to say, that the training went smooth. I had no major breakdowns or injuries and even stay employed.

The Equipment

I was on a budget and just bought the minimal equipment to do an event like this.

  • Swim googles
  • Quintana Roo Wetsuit
  • Quintana Roo triathlon bike (used)
  • Helmet
  • Two bike bottles
  • Bike shirt and short
  • Running shoes
  • T-Shirt and short
  • Polar HRM with chest strap (the cheapest)
  • A couple of PowerBar bars

That was it.

The Pre Race Experience

Zurich is only an one hour drive from my home, but I wanted to experience the full program. So I stayed on a campground for a couple of days before the race. It was fascinating to dive into this new world. The campground was packed with competitors and the Ironman village was in walking distance. The carbo loading party was great. Competitor briefing interesting. All was well organized and thought out. I felt well prepared and rested and so I watched and absorbed the atmosphere. Great memories.

The Race

The Swim

The swim was in the Lake of Zurich and at the start I good a little bit nervous, because there were so many people (more than 600). It was a mass start. I only thought, if I want to stay out of trouble I should swim at the side. Which I did and I had no trouble at all, not even the slightest collision. Somewhere in the middle of the swim we had to get out of the water and cross a little island. This was fun, because the spectators cheered us on. I was really surprised how easy the swim went and after 1h 18min 19s I came out of the water. I changed my clothes completely and jumped onto my bike.

The Bike Ride

The course was two 90km loops, with the famous heart break hill (18%) and a total of around 1200 m elevation gain. I never did more than 140km on a training ride and I tried to take it easy. Before the race I decided to leave my Polar watch at home and just listen to my body. I had no second thought about that decision. It worked great. The crowd was loud and supportive, especially at the heart break hill. They made such a noise with their cowbells, no way to go easy on such a climb. The scenery was great too and I had no mechanical issue. After 5h 55min 36s I was back in the transition zone. And I was really surprised that I could go under 6h. I changed again all my clothes and went on to the final part.

The Run

The run was flat with 4 loop through parts of Zurich. I still felt pretty well after the bike and focused on staying calm. Not pushing to hard at the beginning and enjoying the great scenery on the promenade alongside the lake. I took as well every opportunity to refill my energy at the aid stations. The spectators were great and cheered everyone on and I can’t remember a moment where I faded or had to walk. It was just a smooth, constant run to the finish line. I was not super fast, but I made it in 4h 23min 10s.

The Result

My main goal was to finish an Ironman and I did it. The second goal was to stay under 12h and with 11h 45min 24s I succeeded. It couldn’t be any better. When I look back it was a perfect race for me.

Finisher Medal

What I have learned

  • Setting a realistic goal is a good start
  • Having a good plan is one key part
  • Sticking to that plan is not always easy, but pays of
  • Listening to the body helped a lot
  • Trusting myself and my abilities
  • Having realistic expectations gives joy and not frustration
  • You can’t be prepared for everything
  • But you have to make sure that you are prepared somehow, mechanically, psychologically, physically