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GeordieM's super-late Ironman France'09 Report

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Joined: 27 Oct 2004
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Location: The cold, barren northern steppes of Aberdoom

PostPosted: Wed Jul 15, 2009 8:52 am    Post subject: GeordieM's super-late Ironman France'09 Report Reply with quote

I wrote this for Edinburgh Triathlete's club rag, but thought I'd post it here too for your enjoyment Wink

GeordieM at Ironman France 2009

I entered Ironman France the full 12 months in advance in a fit of optimism. It’s far too easy to enter online these days! Only a month or two earlier Ironman Lanzarote had almost gotten the better of me in what turned out to be a savage race. Luckily I tend to thrive in hot races, which is fortunate as it proved to be more than 30oC in Nice come midday on Sunday 28th June.

Having completed four consecutive Ironman events in the last four years, I’ve lost that “fear factor” that drives you out the door for that mandatory 4-hour cycle on a frosty February morning. This isn’t helpful as it’s a real motivational hindrance. That being said, my preparation for France was better than that of Ironmans Germany and Lanza, but as always wildly inconsistent: 25 hours one week, 5 hours the next. I don’t log my training, but I’d be surprised if the average was any more than 10 hours a week in the months preceding Nice.

My early season run training was weak due to a badly strained ligament in my foot: the reward for mistakenly running a January hill race in floppy road trainers. In March I ran a 1:40 at the Coniston 14 (lumpy and tougher than expected) followed in April by a conservative 3.19 at the London Marathon (treating it as a LSD run I managed to negative split every 5k as planned). This was all off of a long training run peak of 1.5 hrs whilst nursing the foot.

My cycle training was similarly hit-and-miss, but a good week in Mallorca in early-April chasing a mate over the mountains was a real boost. For four days in May, the week after the London Marathon, Carlito and I cycle toured 300+ miles with 5.6km of ascent over in the north of Scotland (Lairg-Tongue-Durness-Achmelvish Bay-Gairloch-Dingwall). Still later in May, Carlito and I cycled the 96-mile Skye Sportive in fantastic weather.

Swim training… about a dozen swims in the months preceding the race including a couple of Loch swims at Knockburn. I don’t tend to worry about swimming as, if unobstructed by the melee of an IM start, I can normally manage a sub-1 hour 3.8k swim without much bother.

Race Week
I flew out of Edinburgh with Carlito and Fimmand my other-half K on the Thursday before the race. We flew BA via Heathrow (no charge for bike boxes, no fuss, bravo BA!) and an expensive taxi saw the four of us to our apartment in old Nice come late evening.

On the Friday morning Carlito and I re-built our bikes, polished our race wheels and took them out for a shakedown along the Promenade des Anglais. It was packed with an odd mix of tourists and whippet-like continentals cycling to and fro on fast looking carbon machines. And it was hot, bloody hot. Returning our bikes to the apartment, we walked the 15 mins to registration and painlessly navigated the officialdom, then got screwed in the Expo for CO2 cartridges never to be needed. Friday afternoon was spent polishing bikes, swimming in the lovely warm sea followed by a pleasant 20 min evening jog.

Saturday was purposely uneventful, with a lie-in for as long as the heat allowed, big breakfast, big lunch, and bike racking and gear check-in in the late afternoon on the promenade. Racking involved a 45 min queue due to the stringent security – some of the best I’ve seen at a multi-sport event. This involved not only a chip zip-tied to your bike and coded to your wristband, but also a mug shot of you with your bike. Despite it being a slow process it was very rigorous and comforting knowing your baby was going to be safe overnight.

Race Day Morning
K and I were up at 4am and I stuffed down two large pain au chocolats and a couple of pressed fruit bars, all chased with a giant cup of tea. At 5am we all set off in the dark to join the procession to T1. I don’t remember much of this bit as it was simply too early. I bid adieu to the support and wandered into T1 to faff with the bike, pump up the tyres, attach the bento box and add two bidons of Cytomax. After much deliberation, I’d decided to bring a road bike with clip-on aero bars and deep rim wheels: aiming for comfort in the climbs and stability in the descents over a more aero TT position.

It took a further half-hour to change and check in my bag of “street” clothes, before filtering through the mass of black-clad triathletes into the beach start-pens. These were arranged by anticipated finish time, so I plonked myself into the 1.05-1.10 pen, reasoning that whatever pen I chose I’d be in for a kicking by 2,499 other swimmers. As the sky gradually brightened into half-light the Eurosport helicopter swooped in to hover 30ft above the sea. Then “BANG” and off we went, painfully hopping down the pebble beach and into the foam.

The melee was worse than any other triathlon that I’ve done. It only quietened down after about twenty minutes. Without anything nearby to sight off, and with no opportunity to recce the course (the buoys were installed overnight before race morning) most of the field boxed their way out to sea in a giant dogleg, myself included. After the shorter second lap I was practically delirious with the prospect of dry land and eventually washed up in 1:10 – an IM swim PW. I’d have been more disappointed if the eventual winner, Marcel Zamora Perez of Spain, hadn’t only managed a 53 min swim. Perhaps the swim course was a touch long, or the longshore current was unusually strong.

T1 was the usual mayhem. The field at IM France is both large and strong so T1 was chaotically busy by the time of my arrival. I knew exactly where my bike bag was and it contained only the bare minimum: a helmet, sunnies and a race number belt. Cycling shoes and nutrition were already on the bike; therefore much of T1 was spent jogging bare footed down the endless bike racks ready to grab my bike that sat adjacent to the exit arch.

The bike leg was why I’d chosen to race in Nice, as much of the 170km (yes, it’s definitely short!) is spent up in the Alpes Maritimes. The first 10km or so was flat and fast along the Promenade des Anglais out to the airport. However, with so many competitors it was a congested and nervous opening stretch and felt more like a road race when hurtling around the roundabouts. Turning right at the airport the course turns inland through an industrial district and at 20km meets the first short climb: a 500m 12-14% effort. Most of the course’s climbs are only 4-8% gradient, so this little kicker catches people off guard with limited gears ratios thereby requiring a grind. A few were even off and pushing! It didn’t prove to be much of hurdle and once crested we exited the city and the Alpine part of the course began.

An easy 4km 4% climb followed and it was at this point that, having completely dried out from the swim, I realised just how hot the day was going to be. Nutrition was going well and I had earlier settled on a plan of half a Powerbar every 40 minutes, a Powergel adhoc each hour, plus all of the bananas I could grab. For fluids I picked up only water at the aid stations, avoiding the sponsored Infinit energy drink provided (because its flavour is gag inducing).

After the rapid descent from Tourette Sur Loup came the crux climb of the day at 50 km. This was the 21 km climb up to Col D’Ecre ascending up to 1120m above sea level. Thinking conservatively, I slid back and tapped out the climb aiming to keep my HR in check, whilst passing and being passed as the kilometres ticked by. I slowly eased past a labouring German fellow to be heckled “go and pass me now I will zee you all on zee descent you barstardz!” all in jest. It’s not a steep climb, but it was hot being in full view of the sun and, if you were unable to appreciate the stunning views over the vertiginous crash barriers, relentlessly painful. Signs soon loomed promising 5km, 2km and 1km to the summit and, eventually, we crested into a high Alpine valley with a feed station.

There followed a 20km flat section that I was too pooped to push and a few more hills most notably the 7km climb to the Sommit Cote de Saint Pons (another long shallow climb). There was also a long coned out-and-back section up a shallow incline, topped with a sharp dead-end 180-degree turn just to make up the distance. Here I almost made a tit of myself in front of a hundred Frech spectators – I’m no good at sharp left hand 180s!. The bike leg was progressing well and the calories were going down, aided by the odd bidon of coke for variety.

Arriving at Coursegoules and looking at the bike computer it was enough to think that I was on for yet another PW time of >7 hours for the bike. Thankfully I knew that despite 55 km remaining to ride, there was also more than 1km height to loose. In the last 45km or so of the IM France bike course it meanders down to sea level and along the promenade. This section is exhilaratingly fast and terribly dangerous should you come a cropper. Having crashed once whipping around a corner in Mallorca’s hills, I’m now a more ‘studied’ descender in comparison to the fearless continentals…

That being said, after 30km of screaming descent fear began to morph into boredom and I adopted a “lets man-up get this over with” attitude, causing me to re-pass some of those I’d lost kilometres back. Some of the sharpest and least protected hairpins are in the final third of the descent towards the valley floor, where tiredness is a real threat. This is where I saw the first of the serious crashes with ambulances in attendance and gendarmeries wildly flagging “Attention!” I squeezed off a little speed after seeing the first backboard. The guy was later airlifted off the mountain. There were other crash casualties on the way down, mainly in the small villages where cyclists had seemingly haven taken out one another. (The learning I took from all this is to try to keep some space on the descents and save any overtaking for the straights, even if it requires a brief sprint out of a corner to get ahead; this way if a competitor in front ditches you can at still at least dodge him, his bike, his water bottles and whoever else the hapless sod has taken down.) The descent was enormous fun, but I was silently thankful when it gave out into the valley floor.

The last 20km or so retrace the outward route back through the industrial area and along the Promenade des Anglais towards T2. It was predominantly flat or downhill, 25mph territory, and most riders were taking it easy, eating or having a chat – I put this lack of urgency down the relief most will have felt having survived the last hour of descent. This last section was a draft-fest but no one seemed to care particularly (it is after all a continental race). Soon enough I was approaching T2 along the side of the promenade’s out-and-back run course, which I noted looked hot and exposed in the midday sun.

Bike time: 6:10

Leaving my shoes on the bike, I jogged into T2 and handed the bike to a volunteer to rack. I was looking forward to more relaxed speeds and seeing K on the course for the first time in hours. After a leisurely portaloo visit and having donned socks, trainers and cap it was time to press on with the marathon: a four by 10.5km affair consisting of 5km out-and-backs along the promenade, turning in the distance at the airfield. The first lap felt great and I clocked 52 mins (4:55/km pace). I saw K on the return to T2 at the end of Lap 1 – she’d made friends with another young female Brit supporter equipped with a box of red wine…

Completing Lap 1 I picked up my white hair band and started the most mentally difficult lap, the second: I was already tiring but not yet at half way. The aid stations were every couple of kilometres and I kept alternating water and banana at one, with a mouthful of coke some salty biscuits at the next with reasonable regularity. Lap 2 took 57 mins and I collected my blue hair band.

Curiously, I really enjoyed Lap 3 as to my mind once it was done there was merely the run in to the finish remaining (albeit via the airfield again!). However, I had to walk the odd aid station so this lap was a poor 1:02 including a brief pause for K to apply sun cream to my back. I think it was the start of Lap 3 when Bonkers flew by, he having run me down from a slightly slower swim and bike. I’d spent the last 2 laps overtaking hundreds even at my own conservative pace, but Bonkers blew by like a gazelle. It’s sobering to be out-run by a 63 year old, though so was most of the field.

The final Lap was just a matter of digging deep and then grinning for the last 5k leg to the line. I had by this time the three hair bands necessary to grant me access to the finishing chute and I was still overtaking constantly. Only in Ironman can you run at 5:50/km pace and feel as if you are hurtling along! Not surprisingly the last lap was a wasteland of collapsed athletes, shufflers, those dry retching, and many who’d simply given up lying in the shade of the palm trees by the turnaround. The run at France exacts such toll that unusually they have a second medical tent mid-way down the promenade doing good trade, to compliment the one in T2.

With 5km to the finish I decided the aid stations were past any usefulness and began to up the pace. At 3km I went past Carlito who was suffering the return leg of his third lap and wished him good luck. I couldn’t stop grinning all the way in and the support for the last couple of kilometres was immense, as it had been in the area around T2 for the whole race. K was waiting in the finishing chute for a sweaty hug and then with a hop it was over the line.

Run time: 3:52
Finish: 11:25, rank 702 / 2,500
Very Happy

From past experience, I knew I’d begin to suffer badly from the day’s heat exposure rapidly once I’d finished. With this in mind K and I headed back to the apartment as quickly as possible after I’d navigated security and collected the bike. There’d be no finisher’s party for me, as I badly needed a lie down in the cool. K was also good enough to run out for pizza and iced beer for the lot of us. I snoozed the remainder of the day in a happy beery pizza-induced slumber. Fin.
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 15, 2009 9:15 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Well remembered GeordieM - great report Very Happy
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 15, 2009 9:18 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Well done GeordieM. Better late than never - all the race reports should provide a good source of info for the next IMFR intake (I read the TT library to see what was expected!). It is nice to read that you did so well in the run leg, you must have passed me somewhere along the way.

Congrats on your good finishing time, and a big well done.
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 15, 2009 9:21 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great time and great report Geordie. It's reassuring to hear of steadiness and control on the bike descents as being the right thing to do. It's always so tempting to join the headlong descent and over cook it somewhere.

Very solid bike and run times given the hills in the first and the heat in the second.
2008: IMA, IMUK
2009: IT band, strained back....Knocked off bike.....2009 cancelled....
2010: Busted collar bone, IM Lanzarote, KernowMan, New Forest Middle
2011: Taunton mara, Boskman, IMUK70.3
2012: Duchy mara, IM France
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 15, 2009 9:49 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Top report. Cool Sounded like you paced it to perfection, a sub-4 IM run in that heat is well impressive. Smile
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 15, 2009 10:11 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great report, well done!
(The British woman we made friends with not only had a box of white wine, she had blagged some ice for her cool bag from her hotel, so she had chilled white wine, and had a chair and various things to nibble too. That is Ironman supporting in style!)
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 15, 2009 10:36 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great report Cool I think you passed me about 80km into the ride. I was feeling like carp at the time and really struggling, so I'm afraid I couldn't muster a shout as you went past. It sounds like our descending experiences were similar and I must have made up some ground on you in the closing stages because I was only a couple of minutes behind you coming in to T2. I know what you meant about the relaxed attitude of some of the other people riding along the valley towards T2 - they just seemed to be out for a nice gentle ride and it's almost as if they didn't want to go out and run a marathon Wink

Maybe I'll get to actually meet you in Lanza next year Rolling Eyes
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 15, 2009 10:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Geordie - great report and great result.Well done.Reading it brings back painful memories of the heat!
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 16, 2009 8:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks everyone for the replies and kind comments. Best of lusk to anyone doing Nice 2010, and I hope to see a few TriTalkers in Lanza next May Smile
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