Sunday morning and a 3:50am alarm got us out of bed. Within seconds the kettle was on for a cup of coffee followed by a tin and a half of rice pudding. That was breakfast sorted.
Transition for the race opened between 5 and 6am (race start is 6:30am) so I was down there at 5am to make sure the bike survived the night alright without me and to fill up the drinks bottles. The drink of choice today was some High5 energy drink sachets I bought as part of an online deal about two years ago. The bike was also loaded with about 16 disgusting energy gels - a variety of PowerBar and Gu gels of various flavours - a collection of all the random gels I had at home when we packed for France.
Bike transition - mine is near the bottom middle (look for the Union Flag saddle!)
We were back at the apartment by about 5:20 and after a little relax I got my wetsuit on and strolled back to the start - dropped off my post race clothes bag and headed down to the beach. The atmosphere was great - lots of loud music playing which is pretty impressive for a race that starts on a beach right in the middle of a huge town.
My fitness going into the race was reasonable but my training has been pretty shocking. If you click on the image you’ll see some graphs showing a summary of my swim bike and run training from the start of 2014 (note that the high line at the end of almost all the graphs is race day - I did a lot of training/exercise that day!).
- Swimming: Not swum more than 2,700m in any session all year. Just over 5,000m swimming on a single week this year.
- Bike: One ride over 100 miles this year, one of 95 miles, a couple of 80 miles and then the rest even less. I was regularly riding for over nine hours a week though, so there was some fitness, but not a great deal of endurance.
- Run: Shocking - at least since April anyway.
Stepping away from all this doom and gloom I was exercising for approximately nine hours per week for the past six months - so I was working out, but not doing what I’d want to be doing to be anywhere close to my a-game.
Due to the above, my goals and expectations weren’t right up there. My goal was to finish. My expectation was to have a broken foot at about 15 miles into the run! I wrote a little more about this in my June ‘training update’ so feel free to have a read.
The race starts at 6:30am from the horrible stony steeply shelving beach and we were allowed a swim warm-up between 6 and 6:15. My plan was to use the swim warm up to 1) warm up a little and make sure the wetsuit was fitting well, and 2) swim to the position I wanted to start without having to try and squeeze past hundreds of people waiting on the beach. This was perfect.
There are a number of areas marked out on the beach for starting - all based on predicted swim times. Based on my swim fitness and my usual anti-biff desires I headed to the slowest starting area. The idea here is that I am quicker than 1 hour 24 (which is the swim ‘pen’ I chose to start in) so if I started near the front and swim off ahead of them then I’ll hopefully not get in their way. I know that many other people would have the same idea as myself so expected it to be fairly busy but hopefully not crazy.
At 6:15 I came out of the water from my warm-up and tucked myself in about three people back on the far far end of the start line. Music from the PA system was pumping and the atmosphere on the beach was tense and quiet. 2500+ men and women in wetsuits just stood on the beach waiting for the pro-start at 6:25 and then our (‘age-group’) start a few minutes later.
I think I heard a 10 second countdown (it was all Dutch to me, or perhaps French) and then we were off. I could barely walk across the stones on the beach to the water when we swam earlier in the week but this time everyone just flooded into the water like wildebeest crossing a river!
I jumped in, moved left, found clear water and swam. And swam some more. There was very little aggro and I actually had a pleasant swim to the fit marker buoy. Things got a little busier and there was a fair bit of pushing and shoving but after swimming for 10 minutes I was in the zone so could take a little pushing and shoving.
Photo: Team Freespeed - http://www.teamfreespeed.com/
At the end of the first lap you return to the beach, come ashore, run about 10 metres and then get back in for a second loop of 1.9k. My time for the first half was 31:48. With a back of my mind hope of a 1:05 swim then things were looking good. The problem now was that I’d only swum up to 2.5km in training this year, so a 3.8k swim would expose my lack of swim endurance.
Yup, the second lap did as expected. I struggled to keep up with people around me and on the final leg back to the beach I was being overtaken by many people. I also got a good wallop in the face from someone’s hand which stuck my right goggle eye piece to my face so tight the vacuum almost sucked my eye out of its socket! I was only a few minutes from the beach and there wasn’t a hope of it leaking so I just carried on.
I got to the beach, it was heaving with people and ran to the concrete steps that take you up to transition 1. My swim time was 34:21 for the second lap and thus an overall swim time of 1:06:09.
Swim time: 1:06:09 - 442nd overall, 94th in M40-44 age group
To be fair this was a damn good swim considering my preparation. I just hoped that I’d not used up too much energy and that would make things even tougher as the day progressed. There’s only one way to find out - and that’s by going for a little bike ride…
The long run to transition was a farce - a complete balls up as we had to stop and queue to walk up a narrow flight of stairs to the promenade to then run to our bags and then bikes. I was held up for probably around 40 seconds. Why they don’t let us run up the super wide ramp a few metres away I do not know.
Anyway, you get to the top of the stairs then run down the finishing chute!!! Yes, through the chute and under the finishing line and then into the transition area. I collected my bag and then got out of my wetsuit. The knot on my bag decided it didn’t want to be undone so after faffing for a few seconds I just ripped it open - then realised my wetsuit needed to go back into the bag if I ever wanted to see it again! I got my bike helmet, shoes and race number out of the bag and headed off to my bike. About an hour later (it felt like that) I’d reached my bike rack. I put my shoes on, grabbed my bike and headed out of transition and onto the bike.
The bike was awesome. Other than the first 13 miles or so that I’d ridden two days before I didn’t know the course. I had seen the profile etc. but never ridden it. Prior knowledge is always helpful but I didn’t have that luxury nor fancied hiring a car for a 112 mile drive in the countryside a few days before.
During the first few miles it was stupidly busy. There were groups of riders everywhere and very little you could do to avoid them. Every now and then I’d push on ahead and overtake say 15 riders only to get swallowed up by them a few seconds later. It was very frustrating when you’re not allowed to draft off of other riders.
At about 13 miles you take a sharp left hand turn up a short but rather steep incline. I knew I’d get overtaken at this point as I’d wanted to ride within myself and not get out of the saddle and hammer it to the top of the 500m or so climb. Many people came past me. Not a problem. I remember the same thing happening on the first climb in Lanzarote last year.
We then rode higher and higher into the mountains and every now and then there as a flat part or a slight descent where you could almost rest a little before pushing on. I had good speed on the flats and descents but on the climbs people were coming past me almost continually.
At about 30 miles or so I felt a little flat. I didn’t seem to be holding the power that I hoped to be able to and thought I was in for a tough old ride. I’d been taking my nutrition to plan (an energy gel every 20 minutes) and drinking sports drink and water depending on what I fancied at the time. I do not drown myself in the science of nutrition - I just get on with it. It seems to work.
There were a few steady uphill bits and then flat bits and then I remember turning a corner in a village with lots of support beside the road and then going into a steeper climb. I thought that this must be the 12 mile (20km ascent) to Col de l’Ecre - 1120m above sea level. I pushed on and then a few moments later I saw a painted mark on the road that said “summit 6km.” Oh, that’s nice I thought - I’d ridden 14k of the mountain already without even knowing. Awesome. The climbs were not steep - they were fairly gentle but just rather long!
Conditions were good and although there was the odd drop of rain on my crash helmet the roads seemed dry and the moderate cloud cover was appreciated.
One thing that annoyed me during the climb was seeing a French competitor directly in front of me have an energy gel and throw it into the bushes. This is strictly forbidden and would get you disqualified if you are seen doing it. I shouted at him that I saw him littering. He acknowledged me but didn’t say much. I tutted rather loudly.
The views during the ascent were beautiful. I’ve never been so high up on my bike (I know I lead a sheltered life and have never been to the Alps on a cycling holiday) and we’d covered some pretty good climbing. The exciting bit was that we had to go downhill from here and provided I can safely get down then it could be a lot of fun!
There’s one little out and back part of the course (about 68 miles into the race and it’s about three miles to the turnaround and three back). This would be my chance to see how I was faring up against the other pirates on the course - mainly Rob and Shaun. I thought Rob might have caught me by now. I was feeling strong again at this point and had a guy with a disc wheel ahead of me in my sights. We were really giving it some effort and creeping past the other cyclists around us. We had to be careful on the corners as there were riders coming back in the other direction with only traffic cones dividing the lanes. On the way back down I saw Shaun and then Rob - only a few minutes behind me I guessed. Good stuff.
We climbed some more after this and I found myself behind the French litterbug again, and just as I saw him take a gel from his back pocket. I kept my distance and once again watched him throw the wrapper away. At the top of my voice I shouted at him “Do not litter. I have seen you do this twice. The rules are clear. You have pockets. Use them. You should be disqualified.” He heard me and tried to mutter some excuse. There is no excuse. He was a bloody arsehole. If I was wearing a beret I would have waved it in disgust.
Normally I’d expect to get to about 80 or 90 miles and would have had enough of riding by now but I think as the rain had held off, the roads were dry* and I was still a few hundred metres above sea level I was ready for another awesome descent. I felt strong.
* people further behind me got caught in some horrific rain and mist in the mountains making the descents much slower. I was lucky today.
The descent down to sea level was awesome. There was another chap near me and we were both pushing hard and overtaking people left right and centre. I do a fair bit of cycling but have never ridden anything like this before (the closest I’ve got to this kind of riding is coming down from the Mirador del Rio in Lanzarote). Luckily I’d watched a YouTube video of Fabian Cancellara doing a descent from the Tour de Francethe previous evening to get some descending tips! I did, seriously. Sharon was less than impressed at the time.
Not sure why but you (well, I do) get a good feeling late in a ride like this when I’m pushing hard, going fast and making good progress. I’ve now learnt that I can push myself on the bike and still run well from it - it’s just getting the balance right. Today I was happy to push the bike as I had very little confidence for the run that was getting closer and closer!
When we made it to the bottom it was a flat time trial for about 13 miles back to transition. I overtook the guy who’d been my sighting man for the descent (I used him a little to help judge my speed into the corners etc.) looked over, gave a thumbs up and smiled. He smiled back. We’d both done good.
The aid stations on the bike were great. I was able to get everything I needed although I did accidentally pick up a bottle of coke rather than the energy drink I was hoping for. Anyway, the coke was a pleasant change and with my stomach of steel I just got on with it and drank it,
As we headed into town and back to transition there was a bit more light rain coming down. I got to transition, jumped off of my bike and started to run barefoot with my bike to the racks. Within about five seconds I’d slipped on the wet matting and fallen over together with my bike, blocking the path! I jumped up, pulled myself together (I even said ‘pardon’ in my best French accent) and ran to rack my bike. My right knee was hurting but I thought this would be good as it would take my mind off of my knackered left foot!
I racked the bike and then collected my run bag, got my run shoes and socks on and swapped my white cycling top for a pirate tri-top. As I put my socks on I noticed blood all down my right leg from the knee down after the fall. Bugger. This was not part of the plan.
My bike time was 5:23:13 and I had overtaken 240 people during this time. If you want to have a look at my data from the bike ride you can see it here at trainingpeaks.com. The short ‘numbers’ summary is I clocked 108 miles, average speed of 20mph, my HR averaged 149, TSS was 272, NP was 236, IF was 0.71, VI was 1.06 and my W/Kg was 2.66. I tell you - I was not on peak form at all for this and was packing a few extra pounds. I did alright mind you - I surprised myself.
Bike time: 5:23:13 Post bike position: 202nd overall, 40th in M40-44 age group
So, from finishing the swim in 442nd overall I finished the in 202nd place - and I thought a lot of people were overtaking me! Clearly it was quite the opposite. I know I can be stronger on the bike. This is encouraging to read for the future.
Now it was time to step once again into the unknown (people who have read my blogs will know that I started the Hawaii marathon last year with a foot injury and today was another similar day)….
The run was going to be tough. I did a couple of just under 30 mile weeks at the end of March. I’d run a total of 25 miles since 10th May (about 6 weeks). I’ve run five times this year longer than 13 miles. The last ‘long’ run (13 miles) was in early April. This was far from ideal.
My only plan was to try and run for as long as I could. Whether that was 6, 10, 13 or 26.2 miles I had no idea. The run is pancake flat (so no variety) and four laps of 10.5km along the ‘Promenade des Anglais’ in Nice. It’s a great place for a pleasant stroll by the beach, not so great for a marathon.
I set off, got some crazy cheers from Rachel, Michael, Andy and Emma who’d come over from London to support and then Sharon and the pirate crew just up the road. Andy and Emma are my new personal groupies after coming out to Kona to watch me at the World Championship last year. I suspect they just needed a holiday and my triathlon exploits are a perfect excuse to work on Emma’s perfect suntan.
Now it was just a case of ticking off the miles and keeping myself fed and watered. Aid stations were about a mile apart and very well stocked so you were never more than 10 minutes from food or drink. That’s my kind of race!
As per usual I went off a little fast but pulled it under control after a mile or so. I managed a 3:54 in Hawaii so hoped to at least just dip under four hours if possible. I was settling down at about 3:30 pace and thought I’d try and run that until my left foot exploded and I needed to walk. I was trying to do the worst thing you can do in a marathon - get some time ‘banked’ for later!
I always had one or two energy gels in my shorts pockets so that when approaching an aid station I could have a gel beforehand, discard the wrapper, then take water, energy drink and a replacement gel before continuing on. With aid stations between 8 and 10 minutes apart (at my pace) it was easy to take gels every 20-25 minutes.
I got to the half way turnaround (the end of the second lap) in about 1 hour 46 which would equate to a 3 hour 32 marathon. Er, I think not. Not today anyway.
Photo: Richard Melik - http://www.teamfreespeed.com
I knew long before the race that qualification for Hawaii wasn’t going to be a possibility today and I really wanted to get to the finish without destroying my left foot. After getting through the first two laps I signaled to Sharon that I was feeling fine but was going to walk a bit more in the second half. I just didn’t want her worrying if she saw my splits getting much slower. The weather was clearing up nicely and the roads much dryer after earlier rain. More and more people were coming out onto the Promenade des Anglais as well which was lovely for support. Pirates get the best support on the course hands down.
From here on in at almost every aid station I powerwalked through taking water, energy drink and sometimes a gel.. I’d also normally pour a cup of water over my head/face. During the final couple of laps I occasionally had a cup of coke as well as this was a pleasant change to the energy drinks I’d be ‘enjoying’ since about 5am this morning!
The third lap was mentally tough. I’d ‘run’ over 13 miles and was heading on the long slog to the far end of the course by the airport only to have to come back and do it all again. The only consolation was that I was getting ever closer to the finish and that people were still coming in from the bike course, many of them wearing space blankets (the rain and cold weather came into the mountains a little while after I was there so that slower cyclists/swimmers really had a tough time of it today).
Finishing my third lap I collected my last coloured chouchou (hairband) which indicated how many laps I’d done. Next time I got here I’d be able to enter the finishing chute. The support for the pirates on the course was fantastic as always - if you can give a smile/wave/pirate-sound-effect/whatever to people then you get so much more back from them next time you see them. I saw many other pirates on the run course (although I only overtook one during my run) and always tried to acknowledge them.
Running out towards the airport I could see a pirate a little way ahead. I was slowly - very slowly making progress towards him and it turned out to be Dermot. Dermot is a lovely chap and I’ve had a good few conversations with him at other races and social events with the pirates. If I had to come up with a shortlist of people I’d like to run alongside during the marathon then he’d be right at the top of the list. I caught up with him shortly after an aid station and we encouraged each other along. He still had a couple of laps to go but our speeds were very similar. We chatted a bit and walked a couple of aid stations. Before no time at all I probably only had two miles to the finish. I pushed on ahead as Dermot headed off to collect his ‘special needs bag’ - which is a bag you can collect on the run with food/drink that of your choosing, and not the water/gel/energy/coke that is provided to everyone. He’d told me many times whilst running together that I should just move on and not be slowed by running with him. This was far from the truth. He kept me running and in turn I was doing the same back to him.
Myself and Dermot. Photo: David Pendleton
I wasn’t fully aware of the time and thought I would be somewhere over 10 hours 30 overall. To be honest the finishing time didn’t worry me at this point in the slightest. I’d come into the race hoping for a sub-11 finish (that is, if I was even able to finish in the first place) and this was going to happen. Anything quicker would be a bonus.
I remember seeing Shaun coming in the other direction. He’d been slowly running me down for the past three hours or so. I shouted to him “come on Shaun - catch up with me.” At this rate I was going to finish the race as the fastest pirate (and get a prize for it as well at the annual prize-giving the following day).
The last couple of miles were a bit of a blur I think to be honest. The run course was busy, I’d found a little extra energy (i.e., I just wanted to get to the finish!) and was overtaking quite a few people.
As I headed past Sharon and the main pirate support crew (who you could see about 150m in advance as the yellow/black clothing is rather striking to say the least) I got one final cheer. I was so pleased to nearly finish and I know for sure Sharon felt the same. Somehow I’d survived this race. Don’t ask me how, but I did.
As I entered the finishing chute I looked up at the clock - 10 hours 21. Oh, somehow I was 10 minutes faster than I’d thought. Bloody hell, where did that come from. I crossed the line in 10:21:20. I finished in 266th place overall (out of over 2,750 who entered the event and 2,511 who completed the swim. My age category position was 49th so definitely no chance of making it to Kona this year (for info there were 9 slots in my age group and it ‘rolled down’ to 14th place - 9 hours 47 minutes).
My marathon time was 3 hours 42 minutes and 17 seconds. I have no idea how I managed to run that fast (ok, nowhere near fast enough for a Kona slot but not ‘that’ slow) off of my lack of run training. I’ve had probably the worst structure to my training for this race than I have ever had in preparation for an Ironman - but somehow I believe I over-achieved on the day.
Run time: 3:42:17 Overall results: 10:21:20, 266th overall, 49th in M40-44 age group
So, I did alright - 266th overall from over 2,700 starters. I was overtaken by 64 people during the run (and nine of them were in my age group). All things considering I’m happy with that. I hung on really really well.
Post race I made my way to the athlete recovery area and tried to eat some food (I wasn’t very successful) but did manage some water and a few cups of coke. During the last 10k of the run I really fancied jumping into the sea for a relaxing dip post race. Thankfully in the recovery area there was a water fountain and statue and myself (and quite a few others) took advantage of that to dip our legs in the cool water. Shaun, who finished a few minutes behind me then appeared - we grabbed some drinks and sat by the water for a chat. He’d had a great race (after a rather abrupt and early finish to his race at the Outlaw in 2012) and it was good to see a friend - especially as ‘broken’ as I was afterwards. If he hadn’t have had a puncture towards the end of the bike we could have had a really fun final 5k together.
I then collected my bike, found Sharon and the pirate support crew and then the two of us went ‘home’ so I could drop off the bike, have a shower and then come back to cheer on everyone else up until the 10:30pm (16 hour) cut-off.
We had a fantastic evening - cheering, screaming, ringing our cowbells and having a good old laugh watching people make their Ironman dreams a reality. There’s very little in life better than being at the finish line of a race like this for the last few hours on race day. Such an amazing atmosphere.
Andy, Emma, Michael, Sharon and Rachel - my elite support team
At the finishing area I met up with a family from America who were on a four week European vacation and had stumbled across Ironman France. They cheered people on until the end of the night and we had a good chat (about how crazy these events are) and I answered a few questions that their children had about my race (i.e., how do I go to the toilet during the bike part of the course - no comment!).
After the final official finisher came in and the 16 hour cut-off was reached we were treated to a fantastic fireworks display from out at sea. My personal support crew of Michael, Rachel, Andy and Emma - together with Sharon of course - then headed off to a local bar for a well earned drink.
Here’s a video I made of some of the later finishers. The atmosphere was awesome.
Looking back at the race once again as I write this I believe I did bloody well based on the training and condition I was in as I towed the starting line on Sunday morning. I had very little swim endurance, reasonable biking (but not enough long rides) and a stupidly small amount of run training. I was also a little heavier than I’d want to be. If I can do 10 hours 21 off of this I really look forward to racing again when I’m fighting fit.
The following day we went for a little swim in the sea to rest our tired muscles and after going to watch the Hawaii slot allocation (fantastic and emotional as always) all the pirates headed off to a bar in the old town for afternoon/evening drinks and the annual pirate prize-giving. In my first Ironman (Switzerland, 2009) I was the ‘Fastest Pirate’ and won a prize (wooden shield) for this. This year in Nice I won it for the second time. Sweet. Or should I say, Nice!
I really enjoyed Ironman France and would happily do it again (well, if it was a two or three lap run that is!). In my opinion it is well organised and a great event.
My next race is Ironman Wales in mid September - so only a few weeks away. Once I’ve recovered from France I’ll start a bit of a build up again and probably get some real running in once again as although my foot hurts - clearly running a marathon doesn’t do it much harm!
Finally, these race reports always seem to take a long time to write so it was good to get a head start on our flight back from France over a glass of wine. The person on the laptop to my right was also writing a race report for his friends and family. His report probably ends with “At the end of the day the scruff bag I sat next to on the plane home, who’s 15 years older than me, still finished ahead of me!”