In 2013 I decided to do Ironman France for the same reason I did Ironman Lanzarote: because of challenging bike course. Besides preventing excessive drafting on race day, applying for races with hard bike course “forces” you to train harder on the bike.
Winter and summer training up to the race day went well within the plan, without major injuries. My form was comparable or maybe even better that when going into 2013 IM Hawaii, so I was quite confident for the IM France race. My two friends, who were also racing, and me arrived in Nice on Tuesday and settled in a nice little apartment, which meant that we were able to prepare our own food. Which proved to be a blessing in disguise, as I managed to get sick by some mild food poisoning on Friday before the race. I ate a tomato salad with boiled eggs at noon and felt stomach discomfort immediately after. I couldn’t eat much for the rest of the day, vomited overnight and felt weak the next day, struggling to ingest food.
But the lack of energy intake in the vital days before a race wasn’t the only thing that worried me. After driving over bike course and some rainy race-day weather forecast, I was really worried about the technical descents. Correspondingly the race day nerves were quite high when I was putting on wetsuit before the start. The swim was 2 loop ocean swim with a short land exit in-between. I seeded myself into the >1h starting division, which I regretted after the gun went off. It was one of the most violent starts I ever experienced, worse than that at Hawaii. I was having hard time breathing as I spend a lot of time under water in the first couple of hundred meters. After that conditions improved, as the field stretched out a bit, and I almost started to enjoy the swim, if I wouldn’t have seen heavy clouds in the mountains over the bike course.
I exited the water in just over 56 minutes, which was according to plan. I later found out, that one loop was around 2040 meters, so I was pleased with the swim. Transition went smoothly as well so I started the bike quite optimistically. The course is basically flat for the first 20 kilometers, but I wasn’t feeling well on the bike. I was struggling to hold the Watts in 250 range and was not able to get them to planned 270. Also when the first hills arrived I knew that this is going to be a loooong day. And to make things even tougher, the roads were wet on the first minor downhill section. The biggest climb followed, with around 20 kilometers and over 800 m of ascending. Still struggling and not being able to put in any nutrition I managed to get to the top of the climb, but the relief of finishing the climb didn’t last long as it started to rain. Which meant some chilly and careful descending, while watching better skilled competitors flying by like they were on motors.
And then, on 105 km, I also managed to get myself into more trouble by crashing on the bike. I probably ran over a pothole with a front wheel, and hit the ground quite hard, bruising my right side and both hands. I got back on the bike and continued, but the thoughts of quitting were getting stronger and stronger. Especially because there were more downhill sections and I was now being even more cautious. Seeing all the blood on my hands and over the bike didn’t help with that, as neither did being overtaken by better descenders. Needless to say, the last 20 km flat section came as a relief, but I still wasn’t feeling good energy wise, needing to force myself to drink sugar solution. And I was hoping for some kind of miracle on the marathon…
The second transition was also done quite well, but the start of marathon was tough. Usually I get quite optimistic off the bike, as the run tends to be my strongest discipline, but not this time. Legs were almost as heavy as my stomach and the first kilometers weren’t flying by as usually. So the whole marathon was one big psychological struggle between giving up and only finishing on the one side and chasing the Hawaii slot on the second, harder side. And to make things even harder, I couldn’t get my heart rate (and hence the effort) to my usual 140 – 145 bpm, staying bellow 135 bpm for the most of the run. Which isn’t to say, that I wasn’t pushing myself, at least mentally. I would almost gave up, when another athlete from my age group came into sight, which gave me motivation to pass him. But soon the thought of quitting would creep in and I would fall into another cycle of bad thoughts.
The final of four loops came quite as a relief and the anticipation of ending this sufferfest made me almost enjoy the last kilometer of the race. This was probably the Ironman on which I suffered the most, mainly because most things that could have gone wrong actually went wrong. But that is Ironman triathlon racing and tough days like this teach you a whole new set of things about yourself.
In the end, my performance was enough for 9th place in my age group (43rd overall). Unfortunately for me, this wasn’t enough for Hawaii, as the 8th place competitor took the last of the six slots.