Ironman France 2005-06-19

The photos are all here

The first thing that hit me as we landed in Nice was how hot it was, it was only Thursday at 10.30am and it was already close to 30degrees. The temperature was supposed to be building for the weekend so heat was going to be an issue from the start. The transfer system to the hotel from the airport was pretty painless, 4 € to the rail station and a short walk.

The Chester party had been gathering momentum all week from the Monday and by today there was already most of the contingent of 15 in Nice. The supporters with ties to individual athletes were here already and we were awaiting a few who were just flying out for the race to support Chester as a whole.

Thursday afternoon was a lazy day on the beach, much like every day that week, wetsuits on for the warm up swims, mostly to combat the army of jellyfish that were patrolling the waves but also to check the fit after all the ice creams that were being eaten. We got back to the hotel to sort out and build bike and then set off on a 12 man convoy of the Prom des Anglais to check gearing and bike computers etc. Just as well as Nigels derailleur was playing up and Kenny managed to lose his front skewer bolt when it loosened and pinged across the road causing a wobbly few seconds.

Everyone back safe, except Tony who we lost in the first 35 secs of the ride, he consequently chased after a bemused rider in the opposite direction and then didn’t return for over an hour ! We then all went out for dinner, which is easier said than done in Nice with about 15+ people on a busy week, let alone IM week, however we managed and eventually turned in after midnight.

I don’t think many people were bothered about getting back to the hotel as sleep deprivation had been the topic of most conversations when we arrived. Nice is having a new tram system installed, the upshot of this is most of the towns traffic is sent right past our hotel at all hours beeping horns, revving engines and playing loud music. Once this settles down around 1am, the bin men arrive, on one night to destroy 15 large wooden wardrobes by crushing them whole in the back of their van. This is then followed by the guy who hoses down the street at 4am each day, there is a brief respite between 5am and 6am and then rush hour starts again. Pleasant.


Anyway Friday saw a few more arrive from Chester and my planned registration and shopping spree. This was thwarted by the news the previous day that the bike course was a killer, lots of alpine climbing, lots of heat, lots of dangerous downhills and tales of the advanced party doing the course on Wednesday and taking 8 hours as they got lost. So two of us decided to drive the course to check it out.

First problem was the car, there was a ridiculous beeping coming from the inside of the car as soon as we set off, it didn’t make sense, when we stopped it would sometimes stop but other times it would continue, then it would get worse as we accelerated but then stop when I got into another gear, this went on for 10 minutes until I realised I had started my HRM to time us round the course (to beat the others – not competitive at all) and it was registering 225. The noise we could hear was the ‘out of HR zone’ beep from the watch !

Right, we’re off. After driving the first 60km of the course I think I texted a few people to say this was the hardest race course I had seen, this was exacerbated by the heat at 11am, the stupid corners on the descents and the fact that for the first 60km we had been going up for approx 35 of them. After 120km I had changed my tune a little, it was still going to be a killer course but not for the climbing alone, the open roads with no protection at that height and time of day along with the run to follow was going to test the wills of most.

By the time we had driven the course, I had forgotten all of the switchbacks, the hills had numbed a little and the heat had gotten worse, my mind started to concentrate on the run, that was going to be the tough part after all.

The pasta party that night is best left alone, they aren’t that good at the best of times but this one was hot, stuffy, slow and they had decided to do the race briefing to 1400 people at the same time in multiple languages.

Needless to say we couldn’t hear anything but after getting a little closer the comment of the night was ‘we are pleased to announce that 80 percent of the roads will be closed to the public for the race’ this was followed about 10 minutes later with ‘sorry for the confusion, what we meant was 80 percent of the roads will be OPEN to the public !!!’

Day Before

Saturday was bike finishing and racking, bag deposits and a final look at all the bikes in transition to see who was carrying what, I couldn’t believe the amount of people carrying 2 tubs or even tyres but each to their own, I wasn’t changing, one tub, 2 CO2’s, 3 drinks holders, an aero bottle and finally my bento box for gels. Once this was done, early night to listen to the traffic.

Race Day

Race morning always comes around too soon, 3.30am wake up, we had had to buy all of our food the previous day as the restaurant wouldn’t open but they said we could use the coffee machine and orange juice, so after making my ham and jam baguette, natural yoghurt and banana feast I downed a few coffees to help it works its magic. The walk to the start was around 30 minutes which we had had to do around 10 tines already this week so it was a quiet affair as people knew where they were going, a few nervous looks from the newbies to the sport and some from the oldies as well.

It was great having a support crew with you, they are very supportive physically as well as mentally, carrying track pumps, wetsuits, fetching and carrying without question while you are preparing and really they helped to make the day start smoothly so thanks.

Right, sorted out my transition bags again, I had put my race belt in my run bag by accident on the Saturday !! put my trainers in and went back to sort out the bike.

8 gels in the bento, fill all the bottles, 2 on back, fill up aero bottle, pump up tubs, check spare, reset all files on my HRM so I have enough memory and then head for toilets.

The race was starting at 6.30am and as usual I was still pulling my wetsuit on with 10 mins to go, had lost everyone else by this time but I headed to the water on the far left, which happened to be the slow start but I was aiming to be away from the pack to start with even as a relatively good swimmer. The course was the shape of a diamond but the bottom half was stretched so it was about 4 times as deep as the top half so that you basically swam diagonally up left, then turn right to the top buoy, then right again to the next buoy then headed back for the beach. I managed to get into the water before the start to check out the new goggles I had to buy the day before, mine had split but these were the same make just new. No problems, marshals now telling us to get out, I managed to sneak in at the front under the rope rather than being forced to the back with the others just leaving the water to a few boo’s from people who had been there for 15 minutes already. Tough !

The gun took us all by surprise and instead of this mad run for the water it was more of a ‘ouch’ ‘oo’ ‘aah’ as people tried to run the 4 yards to the water over the famous pebbly, rock strewn beach. People were leaping head first into 2 foot of water rather than run on the stones, I managed to last til 3 foot and then we were off. I really enjoy the swim but the current was pulling a little to the left so I had to sight a bit more than usual and I felt that while I was out of the main melee I wasn’t really benefiting from the drag effect you get in the water by following someone so I detoured right to join the more aggressive group, this seemed to do the trick as I could follow others at a better pace.

Downside was the helicopter was right over our heads and the swimmers were chucking up loads of swell so I was relying on following swimmers because I couldn’t see the bouys. I had a relatively pain free first lap exiting in 30.10. I knew I was doing OK cos I can’t do that pace in the pool !!

Trying to get out and back into the water was over the same rocks and it became a bit of a lottery whether your feet lasted in one piece. 2nd lap was relatively painless as well but I was trying to fight the water more this lap thinking I was tiring, what was really happening was I was tiring because I was trying to swim harder instead of stroking easier, this resulted in a slower 2nd half of 32.08.

T1 time is a bit of a misleading time but everyone has to do it, we had to run about 200m from the beach to the T1 bags via the supporters and showers. Once in the tent I wasn’t really helped at all but I was concentrating on trying to get my suit into a small bag too fast when its wet and it doesn’t work, checked everything, glasses, helmet, banana, drinks bottle of water ready to sip and spray salt off my face as I was running to the bike, the transition area is HUGE, it was about 300m long in total so it took a while to get to my bike and then pushing it out after checking my tyres were in one piece and all was still on my bike.

The bike course starts off very easily along the promenade for about 8km then turns to the up country for another 20km before the first real climb. I passed Jeff at about 15km just settling into his rhythm. This stretch near the industrial area was a bit open and the light breeze wasn’t really helping or hindering but my speed was governed by my HR, I had decided to split the bike into 3 60km chunks and stay in HR zones of 140-145, 145-150 and 150-155. I would ignore this on the hills but not push too hard to start with on the first climb to Carroz.

Just before the climb was the only bit of road that could have been called ‘crap’. Terrible surface, loads of strewn bike bottle and bits that had fallen off, other than that the roads were ideal and no real complaints.

The first climb at Carroz is supposed to be around 8km but its really 4km with the top part levelling out for a fast close to the top. I decided to hit the low gears early on and spin, staying close to guys pushing in the 53 chain ring I was going to be passing these guys later, never to be seen again. The scenery as we climbed was superb, opening out onto a valley that stretches back to the sea this was where we would be cycling all day, up and down, back and forth. The climb is around 220m but not too tough, the tough bit was to follow, as we crested the very top of the hill we passed through a tunnel, this then opened up into a wide road with a few bottles on the floor, right I thought, get rid of all bottles, I had two half full left and binned them to collect a few more, as we rounded the right hand bend the feed station was on the wrong side of the road (the left), the floor was soaked with water, coke and electrolyte and we were now doing 30mph +. I had no chance to bank over without going down at that speed so I grabbed the only bottle I could, muttering obscenities under my breath (remember – don’t abuse the volunteers) I set off. I now had to get to the next feed station on one bottle and what was left in my aero bottle which was a weakened mix of energy and water. I took a sip out of the one bottle I picked up, COKE !! you had to be kidding, I don’t use coke on the bike but I was going to have to keep it just in case.

The descent off Carroz was mad, switchbacks, blind corners, fast bends, fantastic, it was the best feeling passing people at speed and late breaking into corners we had checked out earlier that week. This was just a pre cursor for the next lot of climbing. I had intended to aim for 6 hours for the bike after the drive on the Friday, I was going to do this by breaking the 60km’s up but the next 20km’s were uphill with one small break in Gattieres. This meant to get to 60km in 2 hours I had to start to push, I decided to keep to the plan instead and conserve energy, especially as I only had half a bottle of water for the next 15km.

The next thing I saw upset me a little and threw me completely, in 2000 I was coached by a pro, he did my plans etc, which I still use today and got me thru a tough Longest Day, I bumped into him at the pasta party on the Friday and we had a chat, he was aiming for sub 9 but this was his B race as he had other plans for later in the year etc. he was in this race in the MPRO class,

Well to see him as I passed him at 55km confused me greatly, either I am doing REALLY well or something is wrong. Something was very wrong, he had missed the water station as well at Carroz and was basically out on his feet, I offered him the only thing I had left, Coke, to which I didn’t really get much of a response so I stayed there for a few secs to make sure he could still speak and then decided to leave. I later found out he was carried off the course with dehydration and heat exhaustion. The day was getting tougher.

I hit the 60km mark at 2.08 and started to think again that this was going to be a long day, I really wanted sub 6 so I had to hope the last part was faster, the lack of water was affecting me as I was starting to get a headache so I was pleased to see the next station. The main climb continued to about 80km when we had a lot of downhill and flat to help the average speed, the turnaround in Roquestron came and went like a flash, I ignored my special needs bag with a spare tub in it (sorry Malc, its still in France !) and pushed on to gain more time. I was now in the swing of the aid stations as well.

I actually had 3 bottle cages + my aero bottle, so after missing the one at Carroz my plan was to collect 4 bottles at each stop, one water went in the back along with an energy, I grabbed a coke and held it in my mouth as I had to grab another water and tip it in the aero bottle before grabbing bits of banana before the table ran out.

I mixed the water and energy in the aero, poured the rest of the water over me, ate the banana, stored the extra water and coke and set off again, all this in about 30 seconds.

The toughest climb was up to Gillette or so it seemed in the car, on the day on the bike it was just a long drag occasionally mixed with a few straight bits. This was good as I was getting faster on the flats because I was in another HR range and I was feeling stronger on the climbs because I was drinking huge amounts, the downside to that is having to wee !! Well sorry to say this was not a day I was going to be stopping, I knew I would dry off quickly and I had enough left over water to wash myself down, if its good enough for the Le Tour, its good enough for me, 3 times in total so I reckon I saved around 6 minutes, well I will keep telling myself that, shame about my bike shoes, they will never smell the same again !!

Gilette was at 107km so once thru here I was looking at the 120km time to see how I had picked up. At 120km I was on 3.56, I had picked up 12 minutes over the last 60km, was starting to smile now, although we still had Carroz again, it was feeling good. The stretch in between Gilette and Carroz was very flat and quick, even with a gentle headwind I was pushing 23mph down the dual carriageway and at the turnaround I was doing the same up the gentle hill with a nice tailwind. The only thing in my way now was Carroz again.

I had allowed my HR to climb another 5 beats for the last 60km so I could really push the hill 2nd time around, as it was I probably went up it the same speed as the first time but with a little more effort needed, I knew the road home was nearby so this wasn’t a tough climb mentally, the legs were tired and the heat was topping the high 30’s. All around I could hear ambulances and later found out that many people were taken off the bike course with heat problems. Once at the top of the climb it was either flat or downhill home, the timing mat at the top gave me an average of 25mph for the 23miles home from there to T2 so I know I pushed it in the final stretch.

<b><span style=”text-decoration: underline;”>T2 out to Run</span></b>

Coming into T2 was the best feeling, loads of people around, I had got the magical spot for me, it’s the bike that can ruin the day if it falls apart, I knew I would finish now, just when. I still had the mental niggles in my head, where was I in the Chester  contingent, where was Rich, the heat had done so much damage to people that it was a case of start off easy and see how it goes. Getting thru T2 was as long as T1, just the other way around. This is the point I realised I was doing so well, as you run into T2 you give your bike over for them to rack and its put in position in the order you come in, I was amazed to see I was near the front, this perked me up a little even tho the heat was the next concern. And the small matter of the TV guy sticking his camera in my face as I was waiting for my T2 bag, all I could think of saying was ‘Hi’, no wonder I never made the DVD !!

T2 was much faster than T1, 3 mins or so, lathered up with sunscreen, gel belt, hat with neck protector and fresh socks on I left at a fairly steady pace.

The heat as you run out of the transition area just hits you like a wall, I could feel my pace drop the second I was on the course, I had to concentrate on keeping that up so I picked up the tip one of my mates gave me the week before, find the guy ahead of you and catch them. Doesn’t matter what lap, get ‘em !

I then heard my name called out as I set off on the first lap and the Chester supporters were in full voice, flags, whistles and a bit of a surprise as well, they had only just got there as I had said I would be in around 6 hours and I had beat them to it.

The run course is 4 laps, along the Promenade des Anglais at the Beau Rivage hotel to the airport and back again is one. The problem is you can see the WHOLE route and 5 km out is a long way to see, so I put my peak down and started running, concentrating on the guy in front. My plan was to walk thru all the aid stations and run all the bits in between, I managed this the whole way round, god only knows how but the supporters have a part to play in that as it was a lift to see them all the time, they started to spread themselves along the course as well which is great to see at different times. I did have occasion to remind them I was there tho ! I surprised a few of them a couple of laps.

The aid stations were conveniently placed 1km from the end of each lap and you could cross over to feed at either side, effectively you had 4 stations per lap.

Every station I stopped at I grabbed at least 3 cups of water, my feet were soaking from pouring water on myself to cool down, I had ice in my hat, I was drinking bucketloads and still it was so difficult to stay cool. The run stretched across the whole promenade, this was great in the middle of the run as the beach front gave some cool breeze, however as soon as you got to the airport it was shaded from the sea and the same at the tented village the other end, this was the hardest part as it was difficult to breath.

I was watching people still coming in on the bike course which ran alongside the run course, these guys had been out there for a long time and they kept coming in for another 2 and ½ hours. My first lap was around 55 mins which I was pleased with but I knew this pace would drop. I had to get a sub 4 hour, it hadn’t occured to me that if I didn’t I would have at least the heat as an excuse !

The second lap is always the hardest for me, you still have 3 to go and you haven’t quite reached the halfway point. I had to really dig in for this lap, the heat was getting stupid now and I swear people were collapsing at the side of the road. The number of times I heard the ambulance or a siren of some sort just blurred from one to the other. On my second lap I started to see people I recognized, Rich appeared, I recognized the Serpie top, then jeff from Chester, then big Phil. I now wasn’t alone but I was also in the other danger area I sometimes find myself in on lapped runs. I needed to concentrate on the runner in front, not trying to spot all my mates. Harder than you think when you need a lift, so I evened it out, if someone shouted at me, I shouted at the next person and so on.

Finishing the second lap was the mental push I needed, I was being told I looked good, was doing well etc etc, this is the role of the supporter, the role of the athlete is not to return back ‘you’re a lying b*stard !’ I keep saying it, its such a lift to keep hearing your name, even if you don’t respond, keep it coming ! The 3rd lap saw a few more Chester guys onto the circuit, Nigel, Kenny and Chris L.

My feeding for the run was basic, one gel every 40 minutes washed down with loads of water topped off with a coke, at every feedstation I didn’t do this I had coke and water and loads of sponges, no food, no salt tabs, just simple, which worked for me. I don’t think I could have even stomached a banana at that point. The 3rd lap completed meant I could start (as I thought) to pick up the pace slightly, I knew I was tiring but I knew I only had about 6 miles to go. That is such a good feeling. The airport never looked so far away though and what spurred me on was the thoughts of all the people that I knew were watching the results, mates at home, friends on internets, ‘pirates’ ! and family. It all helps. On the way back from the airport I passed Phil and had a smile as he shouted me on, he still had a lap and a half to go and he was still cheering someone else, that felt good. Andy met me with about 2 miles to go and ran with me for about 300 metres pushing me on, I could see the white tents across the bay, god 1.5 miles looks sooooo far away. As I came in past the Chester supporters I was handed my Union Flag for the finish chute, it’s the best feeling down that last bit and as usual it’s a blur except Kelly was there this time in the stands and I heard her all the way down.

<b><span style=”text-decoration: underline;”>Finish</span></b>.

Massage, food, drink. It took about 1 ½ hours to feel better and not feel like throwing up but to find out I had a top 100 place at the end, well I could have thrown up all day after that, I wouldn’t have cared.

Thanks for all the support, cheers to the Nice supporters, roll on Norway.

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