IronBike Einsiedeln 2019

Posted on October 6, 2019 with tags cycling, sports. Part 7 of a 8-part series on bike races. See the previous or next posts.

Moving up in the world!

The previous race I did at the end of August was soo much fun—I forgot how much fun this is—that I did the unthinkable and registered to the IronBike as well, at a short (but not the shortest) distance.

Why unthinkable? Last time I was here, three years ago, I apparently told my wife I will never, ever go to this race again, since it’s not a fun one. Steep up, steep down, or flat, but no flowing sections.

Well, it seems I forgot I said that, I only remembered “it’s a hard race”, so I registered at the 53km distance, where there are no age categories. Just “Herren Fun” ☺


The month of September was a pretty good one, overall, and I managed to even lose 2kg (of fat, I’m 100% sure), and continued to increase my overall fitness - 23→34 CTL in Training Peaks.

I also did the Strava Escape challenge and the Sufferfest Yoga challenge, so core fitness improved as well. And I was more rested: Training Peaks form was -8, up from -18 for previous race.

Overall, I felt reasonably confident to complete (compete?) the shorter distance; official distance 53km, 1’400m altitude.

Race (day)

The race for this distance starts very late (around half past ten), so it was an easy morning, breakfast, drive to place, park, get dressed, etc.

The weather was actually better than I feared, it was plain shorts and t-shirt, no need for arm warmers, or anything like that. And it got sunnier as the race went on, which reminded me why on my race prep list it says “Sunscreen (always)”, and not just sunscreen.

And yes, this race as well, even at this “fun” distance, started very strong. The first 8.7km are flat (total altitude gain 28m, i.e. nothing), and I did them at an average speed of 35.5km/h! Again, this is on a full-suspension mountain bike, with thick tires. I actually drafted, a lot, and it was the first time I realised even with MTB, knowing how to ride in a group is useful.

And then, the first climb starts. About 8.5km, gaining 522m altitude (around a third only of the goal…), and which was tiring. On the few places where the climb flattened I saw again that one of the few ways in which I can gain on people is by timing my effort well enough such that when it flattens, I can start strongly and thus gain, sometimes significantly.

I don’t know if this is related to the fact that I’m on the heavier but also stronger side (this is comparing peak 5s power with other people on Sufferfest/etc.), or just I was fresh enough, but I was able to apply this repeatedly over the first two thirds of the race.

At this moment I was still well, and the only negative aspect—my lower back pain, which started very early—was on and off, not continuous, so all good.

First descent, 4.7km, average almost -12%, thus losing almost all the gain, ~450m. And this was an interesting descent: a lot of it was on a quite wide trail, but “paved” with square wood logs. And the distance between the wood logs, about 3-4cm, was not filled well enough with soil, so it was very jittery ride. I’ve seen a lot of people not able to ride there (to my surprise), and, an even bigger surprise, probably 10 or 15 people with flats. I guess they went low enough on pressure to get bites (not sure if correct term) and thus a flat. I had no issues, I was running a bit high pressure (lucky guess), which I took off later. But here it served me very well.

Another short uphill, 1.8km/230m altitude, but I gave up and pushed the bike. Not fancy, but when I got off the bike it was 16%!! And that’s not my favourite place in the world to be. Pushing the bike was not that bad; I was going 4.3km/h versus 5.8km/h beforehand, so I wasn’t losing much time. But yes, I was losing time.

Then another downhill, thankfully not so steep so I could enjoy going down for longer, and then a flat section. Overall almost 8km flat section, which I remembered quite well. Actually I was remembering quite a bit of things from the previous race, despite different route, but especially this flat section I did remember in two ways:

  • that I was already very, very tired back then
  • and by the fact that I don’t remembered at all what was following

So I start on this flat section, expecting good progress, only to find myself going slower and slower. I couldn’t understand why it was so tiring to go straight, until I started approaching the group ahead. I realised then it was a “false flat”; I knew the term before, but didn’t understand well what it means, but now I got it ☺ About 1km, at a mean grade of 4.4%, which is not high when you know it’s a climb, but it is not flat. Once I realised this, I felt better. The other ~6.5km I spent pursuing a large group ahead, which I managed to catch about half a kilometre before the end of the flat.

I enjoy this section, then the road turns and I saw what my brain didn’t want to remember: the last climb, 4km long, only ~180m altitude, but mean grade 10%, but I don’t have energy for all of it. Which is kind of hilarious, 180m altitude is only twice and a bit of my daily one-way commute, so peanuts, but I’m quite tired from both previous climbs and chasing that group, so after 11 minutes I get off the bike, and start pushing.

And the pushing is the same as before, actually even better. I was going 5.2km/h on average here, versus 6.1km/h before, so less than 1km/h difference. This walking speed is more than usual walking, as it was not very steep I was walking fast. Since I was able to walk fast and felt recovered, I get back on the bike before the climb finished, only to feel a solid cramp in the right leg as soon as I try to start pedalling. OK, let me pedal with the left, ouch cramp as well. So I’m going actually almost as slow as walking, just managing the cramps and keeping them below-critical, and after about 5 minutes they go away.

It was the first time I got such cramps, or any cramps, during a race. I’m not sure I understand why, I did drink energy drinks not just water (so I assume not acute lack of some electrolytes). Apparently reading on the internet it seems cramps are not a solved issue, and most likely just due to the hard efforts at high intensity. It was scary about ten seconds as I feared a full cramping of one of both legs (and being clipped in… not funny), but once I realised I can keep it under control, it was just interesting.

I remembered now the rest of the route (ahem, see below), so I knew I was looking at a long (7km), flat-ish section (100m gain), before the last, relatively steep descent. Steep as in -24.4% max gradient, with average -15%. This done, I was on relatively flat roads (paved, even), and my Garmin was showing 1’365m altitude gain since the start of the race. Between the official number of 1’400m and this was a difference of only 35m, which I was sure was due to simple errors; distance now was 50.5km, so I was looking at the rest of 2.5km being a fast run towards the end.

Then in a village we exit the main road and take a small road going up a bit, and then up a bit, and then—I was pretty annoyed here already—the road opens to a climb. A CLIMB!!!! I could see the top of the hill, people going up, but it was not a small climb! It was not 35m, not fewer than that, it was a short but real climb!

I was swearing with all my power in various languages. I completely and totally forgot this last climb, I did not plan for it, and I was pissed off ☺ It turned out to be 1.3km long, mean grade of 11.3% (!), with 123m of elevation gain. It was almost 100m more than I planned… I got off the bike again, especially as it was a bit tricky to pedal and the gradient was 20% (!!!), so I pushed, then I got back on, then I got back off, and then back on. At the end of the climb there was a photographer again, so I got on the bike and hoped I might get a smiling picture, which almost happened:

Pretending I'm enjoying this, and showing how
much weight I should get rid of :/
Pretending I’m enjoying this, and showing how much weight I should get rid of :/

And then from here on it was clean, easy downhill, at most -20% grade, back in Einsiedeln, and back to the start with a 10m climb, which I pushed hard, overtook a few people (lol), passed the finish, and promptly found first possible place to get off the bike and lie down. This was all behind me now:

Thanks VeloViewer!
Thanks VeloViewer!

And, my Garmin said 1’514m altitude, more than 100m more than the official number. Boo!


It was the first race I actually had to lie down afterwards. First race I got cramps as well ☺ Third 1h30m heart rate value ever, a lot of other year 2019 peaks too. And I was dead tired.

I learned it’s very important to know well the route altitude profile, in order to be able to time your efforts well. I got reminded I suck at climbing (so I need to train this over and over), but I learned that I can push better than other people at the end of a climb, so I need to train this strength as well.

I also learned that you can’t rely on the official race data, since it can be off by more than 100m. Or maybe I can’t rely on my Garmin(s), but with a barometric altimeter, I don’t think the problem was here.

I think I ate a bit too much during the race, which was not optimal, but I was very hungry already after the first climb…

But the biggest thing overall was that, despite no age group, I got a better placement than I thought. I finished in 3h:37m.14s, 1h:21m.56s behind the first place, but a good enough time that I was 325th place out of 490 finishers.

By my calculations, 490 finishers means the thirds are 1-163, 164-326, and 327-490. Which means, I was in the 2nd third, not in the last one!!! Hence the subtitle of this post, moving up, since I usually am in the bottom third, not the middle one. And there were also 11 DNF people, so I’m well in the middle third ☺

Joke aside, this made me very happy, as it’s the first time I feel like efforts (in a bad year like this, even) do amount to something. So good.

Speaking of DNF, I was shocked at the amount of people I saw either trying to fix their bike on the side, or walking their bike (to the next repair post), or just shouting angrily at a broken component. I counted probably towards 20 of such people, a lot after that first descent, but given only 11 DNF, I guess many people do carry spare tubes. I didn’t, hope is a strategy sometimes ☺

Now, with the season really closed, time to start thinking about next year. And how to lose those 10kg of fat I still need to lose…