Where: Zurich
Organiser: WTC
Cost: €400 (I think from memory – plus 30CHF if not a BTF member)
Date: Sunday 25 July 2010
Course profile: 3.86km lake swim, 180km bike (1260m climbed), 42.2k flat city run
Number of competitors: 2,222 signed up (2,183 started)
Distance: Ironman
Marshalling: Extensive and very good – roads mostly closed and run route very well marked
Aid Stations: Excellent (although a bit random in distance apart on the run)
Facilities: Everything
Freebies: Finishers T-shirt and towel, medal (for most…read the text!!), good quality rucksack with goodies in


So here it is…after approximately a year of planning and training – IMCH! In the year running up to this event I have trained more than I have ever done before – swum further in lakes and the sea than I ever had before, rode over 100 miles which I had never done before and run over 25km which I had also never done before! I had left the Reserve Forces and changed my day job, injured myself several times (running) and been coached by a professional coach, all in a period which spanned less than eleven months – a pretty hectic time! With all that behind me it was time to concentrate on enjoying IMCH to the full.


We (Lizzie and our daughters (Anja and Jules)) arrived on the Thursday afternoon, after driving down through France (and staying in a truly awful hotel en route!) and moved into the apartment we had rented for the week (my parents joined us later).

Late on Friday morning we headed down to the IM village at the Landiwiese (a recreation area on the bank of the lake in Zurich, the Zurichsee). After getting wet (it rained for most of the time before and after the race) and having a quick look around the expo and getting my bike “fixed” by the Scott mechanics (more on this later) I registered for the race and went to the race briefing (where I met up with Jon, James, Tim and Mark from the BCTTT, our club, Bridgetown Cona Testa Tri Team). The briefing was packed as it was raining, the German speaking briefing had been before and none of the Germans or Swiss had left the marquee! There was nothing earth shattering at the briefing and to be honest I cannot see why it was compulsory….We left after this to pick my parents up from the airport and then chilled out for the evening.

Saturday was a bit busy – I had forgotten that there was a bit of triathlon madness overtaking the city as I drove the family out to look at the bike course – loads of the roads were closed for an Olympic and sprint corporate event that went on all day….We headed out round the bike course – all 90km and 630m climbing of it…well almost, we could not get to Heartbreak Hill (one of the highlights of the course) as the road was closed…This recce was fascinating and useful. Firstly because I had ridden the bike course on my Tacx I-magic turbo trainer over winter and it gives a fairly accurate representation of the course both in gradient and through computer imagery as it shows the route via Google Earth, but also because it gave me an idea of how amazing Swiss roads are in their quality – phenomenal!!

The bike route is a two lap course which is pretty flat for about 30km (to the feed station just below Hombrechtikon) as it goes along the lakeside then it kicks up over one set of hills, climbing through the outskirts of Hombrechtikon to Bubikon and Gruningen before descending almost to the lake again prior to “The Beast”. This is the main climb of the course – climbing approx 230m in 5km it has an average gradient around 5% – which really isn’t that steep but it is just long – followed after a fun (50+kph on a bike) descent by another long drag that climbs another 150m+ over another 5km up to Forch via Egg. Once this section is finished it is downhill to the lake (through an uber –cool tunnel), back round to Landewiese and up to “Heartbreak Hill” at Kilchberg. This was a section which we did not get a chance to recce on the Saturday but is basically three short steep(ish) climbs which gets some unbelievable support at the race – think Tour de France hill sections (one bike up at a time with people shouting in right your face and banging instruments/blowing alphorns and ringing cow bells).

Following the recce it was time to rack the bike – hilarious fun as no one outside of the UK can queue apparently, there were set times to go and rack your bike but everyone decided that it would be good to go around 4pm – luckily my time slot was 5.30pm so I missed the 20-30min queue to get in. One word on racking at IMCH – take only your bike and helmet (and a lock – the racking is right next to the road) at night there is no space for anything else. Also security was much increased for this year as they photographed every bike (noting frame and wheel type) with the owner and race number and checked them on leaving at the end of the race. After racking my bike and repacking all of my race day kit out of my transition box and into bags to carry down to transition in the morning I had supper (intentionally bland tuna pasta) and went to bed at 10pm. I slept surprisingly well until 4am when the alarm went off….

The Race

So 4am….what an unnatural time to get up….I got up, sorted myself out and changed into club trishorts (never used before – something that should never be done at an A race – a bit of a risk but hey it was worth it as it said BCTTT all over it!) an Orca 226 tri-top and normal clothes. Following this I had breakfast – large bowl of porridge (with dried cranberries and agave nectar) and double espresso lungo and 500ml of Powerbar Energiser drink (CHO drink from here on) and headed down to my transfer to transition with Dad.

Once in transition I laid out my kit exactly as I would for an Olympic race (no bagged transition at IMCH) and got changed into my wetsuit. I wandered through the crowds and headed for the lake start point dropping my normal clothes off enroute. Once at the lake I warmed up (200m easy, 50m race pace, 50m strong pace) before getting out sealing my wetsuit properly and stretching a bit. I placed myself towards the left of the line up and at the front – aiming for a sub hour 3.8km swim. The pros set off at 6.55am, once they were away we sprinted into the lake and lined up for the deep water start.

About 30sec after giving the “1 minute to go” warning the gun went off and the IM race washing machine started. I have done a lot of open water races over the past three years but I can, without doubt, say this was THE most aggressive OW swim I have ever participated in – fists and elbows everywhere, a couple of people finished the swim with suspected skull fractures – I am a very strong swimmer (having swum up to national level when younger) but I found it hard work to push through the bodies – there were sooo many! In addition the use of yellow hats combined with yellow turn buoys made for interesting sighting!

Once I had clear water and had finished my 120 strong paced strokes (approx 150m) I settled into a cruising pace – avoiding most of the bodies and keeping on the left of the aqua-melee/swim – going round the first two buoys wide (to avoid a punch up again) before aiming for Saffa Island (the lap turn point). At this point I aimed for the edge of the island which was a mistake – the entry chute to go under the island bridge to the run over the island is marked by swimming pool lane ropes – not a problem but they were attached to a buoy which had a submerged steel hawser – everyone who took the same line hit it and a full blown aqua punch-up occurred trying to get round it. I think it was at this point my Garmin HRM was ripped off my arm…..after disentangling myself from the brawl I got over the island (you run over it) and headed back out into the lake for the second lap – all the time looking at my now empty wrist and thinking “b*gger – what do I do now?” – nearly all my training had been based on cadence, heart rate and pace – with only a few runs and bike sets based on feel or RPE (relative perceived effort) – without the Garmin I had no way of pacing myself or stopping myself going anaerobic (basically going too hard and stopping my GI system from shutting down). I tried to put the thought out of my head and focussed on the swim hoping I had put my spare watch in my transition area not in the bag I had handed in….

After struggling with focus a little on the second lap of the swim (although I did overtake two red hatted pros!) I came out of the water in 1:04. I made it into transition and found my bike – not easy as they had moved the barriers from when I had walked it the previous day – and took off my wetsuit. I calmed myself down and looked for my 15 yr old Timex IM digital watch (my backup – it only does stopwatch and one timer – no laps…the function is broken…) luckily I found it and set about trying to work out how it worked as a timer – this took me a couple of minutes, after which I dried my feet put on my sock, shoes, suncream, gloves, race number, BCTTT cycling top, glasses and helmet before grabbing my bike off the rack and heading for the bike exit. On the way out someone shouted “Go on Bridgetown!” which boosted my moral – thankyou!! I mounted and headed off on the bike.

One of the only challenges of being a good swimmer and a slightly below average cyclist is that I come out with the top age groupers and a few pros from transition and then spend a soul destroying eternity having everyone passing me!

So, as usual I watched everyone go by (some of them you could see thinking how did that big tubby guy get out of the swim before me????) and had a pretty uneventful first 30km although as I was getting fed up with being passed by everyone I probably pushed it way too hard.

Without an HRM or anything to give me an idea of pace it was almost impossible to pace the bike – whilst my legs felt great my HR was probably >155 which would have drawn blood away from my GI system causing ischaemia and reducing digestion speed, as a result my nutrition plan fell apart very quickly. My plan had been the same as my training plan – CHO drink throughout at a rate of one 700ml bottle per hour (unless a hot day when H20 would have been used too) with one PowerBar/hour – divided into two portions, half taken every 30mins. I managed this for about 40km of the bike, at this point I developed GI bloating and cramps on the aero position and just wanted to vomit every time I went down onto the bars – I managed to control it only retching once, about the time I went through Bubikon. I realised what had happened and stopped the powerbars deciding to go to “Plan B” – Powerbar gels (2/hr+H20 or 1/hr+CHO). I switched to the 1/hr+CHO to see if that worked – I kept that going right the way through to lap 2 around 120km when I had to go onto 2 gels/hr +H20 as I just could not take CHO drink anymore….all in all not a great way to feed an IM bike….

Anyway I reached the bottom of The Beast feeling pretty rubbish but dug deep and headed for the top – I got over the summit and felt better I think the band at the top helped! This was short lived as I had my lowest point on the next hill up to Forch – I just wanted to chuck it all in – I really didn’t care anymore – then a really nice chap came past, slowed and had a quick chat to me about my bike – it pulled me out of my blue funk and I cracked on. The downhill section was an absolute scream especially the tunnel (although the person wearing the fluorescent jacket telling us to go in the right lane probably should have stood in the sunlight not the shade – I almost killed him…). The lake bit was a bit boring on the return and then “Heartbreak Hill”.

I had no idea what to expect – I was thinking the hill out of Morebath on the UK Half IM course (>17% gradient and long) – so it was a bit easier than anticipated! The supporters were unbelievable and although I was probably >170bpm on the HR at the end the morale was high! From there it was a fast downhill (avoiding the guy who ripped his tubular off his wheel rim braking too late….) and then out on lap two.

Lap two was a little easier as although everything hurt a bit more (and people were still passing me). I knew what was coming so morale remained a little higher. It helped when Mark (md6 on the forum) overtook me at around 120km – we chatted for a while and things went okay until about 145km when my chain came off….I am not sure what the Scott guys did to my bike but my front derailleur is now ultra sensitive and the rear shift started to play up after my chain came off. Once I had sorted it out I headed on up The Beast for the second time. The GI problems persisted and it got more lonely out on the course – I had a period where I did not see another bike for 25mins…..I finally came into the city again after about 6hrs 30mins and it was odd – I saw no one but the support crew stopping traffic – no cars, no other people it was very odd – post apocalyptic almost!! When I hit Heartbreak Hill for the second time I knew I was having problems. My hamstring had developed a bit of cramp on The Beast but I had pushed through it, this reappeared on Heartbreak. I managed the first incline and then it spasmed. I had to get off and tried to stretch it. One of the supporters then came over and offered to massage it – a bit strange I thought but oh well give it a go – after about 2mins it worked and I carried on – I have no idea who that chap was but my thanks go out to him! At that point James (Jellybaby) shot past me and I had to watch him going up the hill in front of me – a bit gutted I continued. It was much quieter on the second ascent but it still had a few die hard supporters which made it worthwhile!

I finished the bike in 7hrs 24mins coming into transition just as the male winner was being awarded his prize – oh well no Kona place for me!!

Once off the bike I took off my bike shoes and had to strap my ankle – I had reaggravated the ankle injury I developed in training – which made T2 a monster 16mins…..oh well….out onto the run.

The run I can only describe as one of the most painful experience I have ever had…there is little detail to put down about it as it really was a case of putting one foot in front of the other for 6hrs and 24mins! I will expand a little though. Basically it was a flat run out of transition down the lakeside and then back in to the city before heading back out to the Landiwiese prior to going back to the city over the bridge and back before going back to Landiwiese to start the second lap – four times….The feed stations were randomly placed (not approx 2km apart as they are in most races) but some close together (1km apart) and others far apart (over 3km apart) which made doing a 9 min run/1 min walk strategy almost impossible – I eventually opted to run between them and walk the stations – it kind of worked…

The first lap went well and it was only after Mark lapped me and Jon (Jonhino) overtook me at about 13km that I had a bit of a meltdown. I had managed to contain the GI problems for nearly 15km but then it all went badly as I developed nausea and diarrhoea (plus vomiting – but at least that was only once!) – so the next 28km was a shuffle from portaloo to portaloo – not pleasant. That said when I came off the bridge for the last time I thought “sod this” and just went for it – I had about 2km to go and I just kept upping the pace – I had run/walked the whole race but this was just a flat run for the end.

I came into the finish chute – having overtaken five people on the last 2km – and was stopped by Lizzie and the girls. The girls joined me for the run down to the finish line (something I thought the WTC had banned) and I finished in 15hrs 18mins – placed 1854 out of the 2183 starters – to the words “Iain Sainsbury you are an IRONMAN” words cannot describe the feeling I had then and now just writing this report.

Final thoughts

In addition to me learning a lot about myself and completing one of the great triathlon global races I raised a significant amount of money for charity – a huge thankyou needs to go out to all those who sponsored me – Thankyou for your support.

On a final note – none of this would have been possible without the support of my parents, Lizzie and the girls – they have suffered me not being there on weekends, in the mornings and the evenings for the past year – thankyou.

Last year I found Wimbleball challenging and I never thought I could do a full IM race – this year I did it – fourteen years after breaking my neck playing rugby; four years after my decompression leg surgery; three years after taking up triathlon and after dropping 15kg in weight – anything is possible.


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