Did I seriously complete a triathlon in that ridiculous heat?
Well yes…somehow I did. It was certainly the toughest triathlon I have completed, although it was by far the most beautiful.
I entered Vichy last year on the condition that it was fast and FLAT! Upon entering, a few weeks later I received an email to say that the bike and run course had been updated. What did that mean? One thing – hills! Hills to contend with on the bike course and a lumpy profile meaning a not so flat triathlon anymore. Nothing I could do about that, but to prepare and enjoy it.
I arrived in Vichy on Thursday with my wife and daughter and stayed just on the outside of the city. To say we had a choice of where to stay would be a lie. If you enter this event, book your hotel at the same time. I wasn’t quite as organised for this one as normal and left it a few months after booking the race meaning I was stuck with our ‘Premiere Class’ hotel. Actually it was ok just a little compact. It was clean, had air-con, a nice restaurant across the road, but nothing you wanted to stay in more than two nights. Showering was an experience in a tiny bathroom!
Vichy is a lovely place. The river running through the city (where the swim took place) is stunning. The city is sport mad and you can see why IRONMAN have brought a half and full distance event here. How many small cities can boast white water rafting, horse racing and rowing as well as all the common sports in one place? Everywhere you look, you will see some sort of facility for sport. I would certainly recommend Vichy as a place to visit. We didn’t quite get to the main Centre-Ville in our time (apart from when I ran through it), but there are many things this place has to offer for the general tourist. We were also joined by my aunt and uncle, (Rosie and Tony) who were out supporting me but also enjoying a week away celebrating a birthday.
We spent the rest of the day relaxing, taking in the views and enjoying a meal in the evening.
On Friday morning, I visited the IRONMAN site to pick up my registration documents. A quick visit to the expo to buy a visor and I was back at the hotel before 10 o’clock. I wasn’t able to rack my bike until 2pm, but that gave me enough time to sort all my gear into the various bags IRONMAN give you. The beauty of this race is that it is one transition area, meaning there is no need to take your run and bike gear to different places – something I’m not very keen on! The bike was racked, bags given in and all I had to do now was prepare the head for my race. I don’t bother with the pasta party that IRONMAN lay on. I prefer to spend this time with my family, in which we went for a lovely meal.
My day started at 3:30am! Yes that’s right! It was going to be a long day. My usual breakfast of porridge was not to be on this event. We forgot to take the instant oats I use, although as our hotel didn’t have a kettle, I wouldn’t have been able to use them anyway. It meant a visit to a supermarket the previous day to pick up some Weetabix, nut milk and bananas which were consumed about 4:00am. I had booked myself the shuttle bus that IRONMAN provide from various parts of the city to ferry athletes in. Luckily my pick up was just across the road at 4:30am. You do wonder why you do these events and the things you have got yourself into when you’re sitting there at some stupid time in the morning.
I arrived at the event site just before 5am and set up the last few bits and pieces to my bike. Transition looks totally different at that time and it is so important to run through where your bike is. There are thousands of the things and finding it in the height of the race would be difficult. So I mentally made my mind map and noted the row and how many racks deep from both ends. I walked it a few times also to be sure.
There isn’t an awful lot to say about this. A very consistent swim as usual which resulted in 35mins for the 1.9km (1.2 miles). The course was easy to navigate as it was a straight out and back down the river. I thought I may notice the current on the way back, but I think it is so small that it didn’t feel any different. I suppose the only real thing to say here is that the Vichy swim is usually non wetsuit. The water is always too warm, however on race morning that temperature was just below the legal limit at 21.4c, meaning wetsuits were allowed. I chose to swim in it especially for this distance and the one thing I like about IRONMAN swims are the staggered swim starts. It isn’t a mass free-for-all meaning they set you off every 8 secs in groups of 8 or so. This means a lot more room to swim freely. It really was an uneventful swim. The sighting was easy and at the turn point heading back you swam with a little mist over the water. This made sighting the buoys a little more difficult but you just had to follow everyone else.
Once I exited the water, it was straight into transition to collect my bike gear bag and get everything I needed for the bike leg. All the swim equipment goes into this bag and it is given to a marshall to put back for you. You then run back into the the bike area to collect your bike and head for the bike exit.
So my trusted steed was my road bike for this leg. I opted for this over the tri-bike for a little more comfort and to climb a little better. The gearing is slightly bigger on the tri-bike as well, but there were so many other fast looking bikes around, I started to doubt myself and wondered whether I had made the right choice. All would be revealed!
The bike course was tough to say the least. I knew it would be. The profile and feet climbed showed that – over 3,400ft!
Was the road bike a good choice? Well yes and no is the answer to that. I decided to sacrifice speed on the flats and descents for comfort. I also knew I wasn’t in the same shape I was 7 weeks ago and therefore pushing that tri-bike up a climb would be a slog! If I attempted this again, AND I was in good shape, I think I would give the tri-bike an outing. It would mean a little more training on hills with it, but there were lots of areas on the course where time was lost. Before the bike leg I had set myself a rough target of about 3hr 30mins. I wasn’t that far off!
The descents were lovely although quite technical in places. Out of 10, the road surface was a 8 for me. I think when you ride at home and compare to the roads in France, there is no comparison. The French look after their roads a lot better than us. It is really nice to do a triathlon and not have to worry about the condition of the roads. You can be confident that the descents are not going to throw up some horrible surface and possibly send you hurtling into a bush or off the side of a cliff! I did see a few accidents however. These were from the crazy few wanting to eek out a few more miles and then overcooking the corners. It’s just not worth the risk in my opinion and then ruining your whole race. I was also really surprised to see the judges marshalling the drafting on course. There were lots of whistles going off and people being warned. I saw one given a penalty.
The crowds were the best I have seen on a triathlon bike leg. The French supported us well! Lots of shouts of ‘Allez Allez!!’ The feed stations were well stocked and organised. I followed my nutrition plan mainly although I certainly undercooked it. Halfway through the leg I felt hungry. Not usual for me, but I think the climbing was certainly burning more calories so I decided to take on a full banana and rather than eat one piece of my food, take on two and quash the hunger. I also had 4 gels throughout. Overall I think this worked and I was pleased how I managed my nutrition on the bike. I also took an extra salt tablet (3 in total) as well as nearly two litres of fluid – also with salt hydration mix. The heat didn’t affect me on the bike; you get the breeze and the cycling is mostly shaded especially in the pine forests in the hills.
When I got back to Vichy I really started to notice the heat. Again, we headed into transition to rack the bike and then collect the run gear bag. Overall I felt ok, although only time would tell to see how that bike leg affected my legs.
So off I went into the crazy 34c heat. The crowds were great along the run course, particularly at the start and Ironman finish areas. It was also great to finally see some familiar faces and get the shouts from my family. As soon as I started running I knew this was going to be tough.
I set off at 5:40km pace and thought that was quite achievable throughout. I managed to get into a rhythm and the first 6km flew by. I got to the 8k mark and then felt my first ‘oh this is getting hard’ feeling. IRONMAN runs at the end are tough physically. I mean you are running on an already fatigued body, but mentally they are something else. They are meant to be tough. IRONMAN isn’t named IRONMAN for nothing! It was at the 11km part that things got really tough and I hit the wall. ‘One foot in front of the other, keep tapping it out’ I told myself. One thing I know about myself is that I can suffer and I’m strong mentally when it comes to these situations.
I managed to get to the feed station and for the first time I did something I have never done before. I took on coke. Yes coke. And do you know what? It was a life saver! Water and coke and I don’t know what it did but it revived me. My strategy was simple. Run to every feed station, walk through it and take on water and coke. There were people with hoses at every station and getting drenched was part of my tactic of staying cool.
The KMs ticked by (slowly) and that finish line was becoming closer. The fishing chute is always an experience and there is no other like it when it comes to Ironman. The razzmatazz is just great.
I had made it! I was pleased it was over at the end. By far the hardest race (triathlon) I have completed. I saved the best to last this season and it truly was a great experience. IRONMAN Vichy is a great event and I would certainly recommend it to anyone. You can see why this is one of the best races in the world.
After finishing I went into the meal area. If there is one criticism of this race, it is the food that IRONMAN lay on afterwards. It is horrible. Cold spongy pizza, defrosted quiche that is soggy in the middle, doughnuts and all sorts of strange foods. You can appreciate the quality of food at events like the Outlaw when you experience IRONMAN food. I quickly got my gear bags and bike and made my way to meet my family. We spent some time taking some photos after and then making our way back to our car.
A finish time of 6hrs 22mins and 34secs. No way near a best time for me, but on that course I will take that. There were some seriously good athletes here and I would hope to return one day and try this course again. The problem is that it is just the wrong time of year what with my summer holidays, training and eating consistently.
And that concludes my season! 6 races in total including two half irons. I will write a concluding season post looking back over it, but I know I can confidently say it has been a success.
I want to say a big thank you to my wife and daughter for their support and also Rosie and Tony for supporting also. For them, they get to spend the rest of the week in Vichy and we head back for our last week in France in our property.
IRONMAN Vichy – You’ve been a blast!