/ Challenge Vichy (IM) Race Report - light entertainment
Race report Vichy…..my 3rd tri and first ironman distance.
Apologies in advance if some of the numbers aren’t spot on as they are from memory. Also I ran 3 watches so never had a clear picture of my overall time.
Vichy is an amazing venue for an event, the whole race is run out of one area ‘parc omnisport’ which is on the side of a lake with the main city the other. (this is something the French do quite well, looking at a map of Vichy as much space is dedicated to sporting endeavours as to housing and feeding people…._) I’m not quite sure who had the idea to damn the river but it has created a 2km playground in the city for waterskiing, international rowing events, and some swimming before a bit of cycling and running.
Unlike last year when the event had to be shortened because of the temperatures the weather was playing ball and after driving a recce of the bike course we were all set. 2 laps, the 1st 25km or thereabouts rolling up through woods then down into flat open countryside. Head down, hit the roundabout, turn left, repeat. Very pretty but with a hidden danger (which will reveal itself later) Then I went to the athletes briefing….. errr, no fat people, lots of tanned shaved legs, lots of country kit lycra, Oh shit. So they had branded this the European Long Distance Championships, which I had just kind of ignored as lots of races try to brand themselves but this did seem to be the real deal. 1st IM, oops… Apparently there are 31 countries represented, with the French covering about 2/3 rds of the entries and around 90 (or was it 70… Brits). 1 Algerian apparently which I thought was pretty plucky. Laura (supporter extraordinaire) simply smiled a lot (nothing to do with the Euros in lycra) and tucked into the pasta party.
Oh and I have to mention the beetroot nightmare! It’s supposed to be good for you, and help with oxygen uptake etc. And they do say never try anything new on race day. All my long training sessions have been after drinking lots of beetroot (or blood as my work colleagues seems to call it.) France is the largest grower of beets in the EU, You’d think you could buy beetroot juice in a large city in France. Nope. We went to supermarches, hypermarches, we drove round the country side looking for other ‘marches’, I tried small shops, pharmacies, this was not looking good for being prepared, eventually I google translated and found a pharmacist who asked a customer who pointed me to a health food shop who sold me her last bottle! I really think I got the last bottle of beetroot juice in Vichy, whey!
Race day… 4.30am. Alarm clock – ignore the fact that it is 3.30am on Sunday morning in the UK and some of my friends will be going to bed…. 2 bowls of rice pudding, a banana, large cup of joe. Lube up with bodyglide, everywhere, (no sniggering at the back….) (and still missed a bit it turned out…) Race kit on, HR monitor on, game face on, let’s go. Despite being very convenient we still had to drive a couple of km round to the race area. I went into transition, double checked the bike, swapped some gels in my transition bikes and then went over to the swim entry.
The swim start was 7.00am 1st wave (most people), 7.10am 2nd wave. I was in the second wave. Dawn is breaking at this point, a bit grey but nothing untoward. Getting nervous, suit on, watch on or off?! Watch on…. I know my time, but pain in transition, watch off…. Wetsuit off fast, but I don’t know my time. I go with watch on…. A little thing, but at this point, the little decisions become big ones. Laura has perfected the art of bag carrying, smiling and projecting support without getting in the way – no easy task. I run through everything in my head, all my preparation and training, I know I can swim the distance, I know I can bike the distance, I can do both back to back. I know I can run, the question will always be how hard, how fast. Everything is right, as right as it ever will be.
At his point I should mentioned that 9 days before I got into the pool and was in such pain in my shoulder I couldn’t swim a stroke. Instant physio support from the Henley crew may have fixed it, so I very nervously slide into the water, swam gently, tested it, swam a bit harder, seems okay.
The second thing that needs to be mentioned is that I had a secret goal of 10hours. Bonkers really, I did a 5.06 in my first tri (half IM) exactly 50 weeks before. And the course was short. Double it and add a bit right, nahhh, let’s take off a bit. 10 hours it is. Realistically I started aiming for 12hours with 11hours as a ‘top end result’. Then training goes well and you start to dream. So I dreamt, 11 hours realistic, 10.30 brilliant, then 11 hours realistic, 10.30 brilliant and 10.00 if I smash it out of the box. I know individually I can swim 1.10, ride 5.20 ( flat fast course flat out) and run 3.20 with a bit for faff and transition. I’ve swum 1.14 in the middle of a training block, I’ve ridden 5.25s/5.30s and I’ve run 20miles at 7.30 splits.
The first wave is off. The swim is two laps of 1.9km (slightly parallel to each other) with an Australian exit. Having carefully studied the form book on channel 4s Ironman programme I fully intend to throw myself into the air in an ungraceful dive rather than hold my nose and plop (apparently the preferred technique.)
Trying to ignore the nerves I watch the starter getting excited, Then we’re off, a smaller wave, it’s not the usual washing machine start but there are bodies everywhere. I went off hard to find some space then settled into a ryhythm . I think I’m in a pack but it’s difficult to tell. I just concentrate, catch and pull, keep my right hand slightly little finger first to save the shoulder. Breath. I start to swim past people. Some of the slower people insist on swimming in a block which required some ‘encouragement’ to shift sideways and make space. Open water swimming is a contact sport right?! Soon we’ve reached the turn buoy, more people in the way…. Half way down the next straight I start swimming over purple caps, some of the women from the first wave. Apologies to any I may have swam over. Then the exit, 33mins on the watch, omg, I can’t be that fast, I swim like a spider, I don’t really believe it but let myself smile a little bit, I may not be on track but I am definitely not off track. Round the Australian exit, sure enough, the hold and plop brigade are out in force and I throw myself over them. (that I can do.) Seemed to work and off I went. The rest of the swim was fairly uneventful, people had spread out and I stuck close the line of buoys and concentrated on saving energy and a rythym…at one point I had an argument in French with someone who was swimming 15degs to the right direction of travel, mainly into me. ‘A gauche’ and some body language seemed to work.
Swim exit, would the ear plugs work, last full speed transition I tried I stood up, ran in circles, had to have a ‘lie down’ and generally did a miserable job. I crouch, stand, jog…. No dizziness…. Ace… I look at my watch. 1.05. Faster than I ever thought, feel fresh, 10 hours, game on. Try to look for Laura but too many faces, can’t stop, lots of cheering. Into the tent.
No mucking about, thanks to the top tip of socks open in the shoes. It works, or at least it does for me.Onto the bike, off we go. Settle, HR 160?! Huh, that can’t be right, - threshold is mid 150s, max 177, 160 is flat out interval pace. Body check, energy levels, good, breathing, very calm, legs okay, excuse the language, f*ck the HR, let’s go, I’ve got a 5.20 split to ride. Then I realise my computer isn’t working, it’s not picking up distance. Damn it. Every time, it goes wrong in every event and never in training. Work with what you’ve got. I know the loop, I know my time and HR, somehow I know my speed. We head out of Vichy, through a village and up a hill. I know it’s not long so I keep the pressure on. Into the woods. HR settling but not enough. Not matching perceived effort. I can’t dwell on it. Other cyclists are quite spread out, some around me but nothing approaching any draft packs forming. I concentrate on my own race. After 25km or so we swing out of the woods and down on to the plain. And smack bang into a head wind. Ouch. HR is still mid to high 140s. too high, avg speed 21, bang on target. No choice, 10 hours, game on. Having to squeeze on with the legs to keep the pace up though, this is not easy. Then I need a piss, can’t be ignored need a piss. Chrissie Wellington pees on the bike. I’ve never practiced peeing on the bike, Bollocks, I’ll have to stop. 58seconds, back on the bike, probably 10 people passed me, let’s try and chase them. Then vooomph. All I see is a pair of tanned euro legs, a number 1000 something, I’ve just been passed by the leader of the half distance race. Humbling. Then a flashbulb, a bloody flashbulb, yup, only in France, the ‘race photos’ guy has actually set up shop with full umbrella thingy, flash bulb and remote trigger. Awesome, next time I’ll remember my make up and fake tan. Errrr no.
The rest of the bike continued, I passed (and was passed) by some GB guys and girls who I tried to give some encouragement too. I was on track but I knew I was working too hard.HR only dropped into the right zome (<140) if I was downhill or actively easing off, I hoped it was adrenalin but with the soreness in my legs I feared the worst. Coming back into that headwind with about 30miles to go I had a choice, ease up a bit, save my legs for the run, or go for it. I played around, I could spin the legs, drop the HR but my pace plummeted. Too much. I’d be too slow, If I did that I’d never run fast enough on my best day for a 10 hour (little did I know I was further than I thought but you play with the information you have.) At this point all I could see what fields and never ending road. Look back, no one behind me, look in front, maybe that’s someone up from, too far to tell. 2nd piss stop, 28 seconds.
What to do. It was lonely out there, no one around. I thought about it, I could cruise, get 10hours 30 something, maybe do a good marathon time, my legs hurt. Everyone would still be proud of me, I’d worked hard for this, people do 11hours and are happy, hell 12 hours even. But I wouldn’t. I knew I would bury myself, I just didn’t think it would come this early. No one around. Dammit let’s go. So I pushed, harder even, at least in effort, HR still mid 140s, 150s up the hills, too high, but I made the decision. Heading into the last village there’s a hill, not a big one but urgghh tired legs. Supporters are out now, urging everyone on. I see a St Georges Cross and hear go on GB , right instead of left at the roundabout, computer failure means I have no idea how much is actually left. At this point you are cycling back past the hippodrome and into familiar territory, legs hurt, but they have hurt in training, the question is how much damage have I done, I’ll find out.
Shoes off, into transition, 5.15, fast, for me crazy fast, given the headwind ridiculous. Everyone is yelling, but it’s brilliantly organised. Shoes on, hat on, tried to grab a gel and onto the run. The run goes round the lake (over two bridges) with a few twists and turns added on to make 4 laps of 10km and a bit. Surface varies from pavement to trail running and a tiny but very steep humped bridge and set of steep steps thrown in for good measure. I was looking for Laura, the least I could do was give her a smile. Others were shouting Allez Ned, or Allez GB, great support. Must keep going. Watch is doing its usual thing of taking a coffee break instead of finding the satellites so don’t really know my pace. Start doing the maths, I need sub 8min/miles to hit 10.00, or thereabouts. Should be easy, but it’s not. My body hurts, , my arms hurt, my legs hurt and nothing wants to move, and this is the start of the marathon. Break it down, 4 laps of 10km, 4 * 10km. 10 km is easy right. I just try to run but at this point going faster is not happening. HR too high, way too high, high 140s no way sustainable even if this was just a running effort. Finally my watch kicks in, I’m running 7.50s to 8mins, just. Then an aid station, 10 seconds lost. Love the ‘salty sponges though’ and the volunteers are amazing, some actually look insulted that you have ‘rejected’ their energy bars. More allez Ned, at least I can crack a smile. More time lost, At this point I give up doing the maths, I just run as fast as I can. I give up looking at my watch. The splits don’t make any sense because of walking to get water. I stick with a process, always the process, water, gel, cola, sponge. Even a hosing if I am very lucky. Take gel every 2 aid stations (every 4km) try to keep moving. Each lap passes through the finish stadium which is incredible. Roars of support which you know are for you. (Although when I saw the ‘high energy’ commentators spooning each other I did wonder if I was hallucinating…) First lap down, 50.50, on target, run. Next lap passed, then the next, I just concentrated on running as fast as I can. I was slowing though. Badly. If I slowed to take on water at an aid station it was harder and harder to get going, but if I didn’t slow I couldn’t drink. Not drinking means not finishing. 1.46. 2.42. Somewhere at the end of the 2nd lap Laura shouts 8.15. Keep going. Half way round the 3rd lap Laura pops out from behind a tree and starts running next to me, awesome. I try to find someone’s feet to follow but with the aid stations this is difficult. Some GB supporters have set up camp by the lake and each lap I look for them, give them a smile (perhaps rather weaker each time), thanks guys. Last lap, no more smiles, Dammit this hurts. I start thinking about all the training, all the help and support I have had from everyone, how much this means to me. Does this happen to everyone. Must focus. I look for the bridge, Ignore the aid stations, last 5km, stopping will mean not starting again. Not going to happen, no stopping. If I can reach the middle of the bridge it’s downhill and then the finishing stretch. Focus on the middle of the bridge. Middle of the bridge. Pick up the pace, come on. You can collapse in 1km, just 1km. Flat out. Well at this point flat out was 7.50min/miles – almost slower than my warm up pace for a normal run. I passed Laura, I think there was a high 5, game face still on. Into the stadium, I’m the only one in there, a wall of noise, oh my god, 50m, I’m going to do it. I smile, of relief and happiness. 10.09. 86th, 14th in AG. I buried myself and it was all worth it.
With big thanks to Mark Yeoman (www.mysmartcoach.co.uk ) for training programmes, swim coaching, help and support. Mark – that formed the cornerstone of my success. Richard Melik at Freespeed for bike fit, www.freespeed.co.uk .Holly, Rob, Alex, Laura and Laurence – the Henley crew, inspiration and putting me back together www.athleteservice.com
Awesome effort mate!! 10:09 bloody good effort.
I'm sick to death of people telling me they "did" an Ironman when they actually walked the marathon in like 6.5 hours!
Thanks Enty, it was 'emotional' !
Bloody hell, good effort. Would love to get fit enough to do something like that. Although my pathological hatred of running wouldn't help!
Thanks. Glad you liked it. Running gets easier as you get fitter..... (promise!)
Great write up - and a great result!
Really enjoyed reading that,well done
As for beetroot after trying it a few weeks back I came to the conclusion I would rather drink my own piss than another drop of beetroot juice. vile stuf I'll stick with EPO
Ha, it works, really!
Inspiring stuff! Well done :)
Thanks guys. I don't normally do write ups so it was a bit of a gamble.
Fantastic, makes me want to get on and get those swim lessons i've been promising myself.
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