31 December 2010

Ironman France 2010 - Race Report!

I know! A race report! Yes, the race took place more than 6 months ago, but as they say - better late than never, right? I told myself I would write the report before 2011... And seeing as 2011 starts tomorrow, I guess that means I need to do it today. And I'll be posting the Ironman Wisconsin race report today as well. HA! Then we can start looking towards 2011...

We arrived in Paris on Saturday June 19th. Mark and I met up with his parents and we spent a few days eating our way through the city and sightseeing. I indulged in some falafel, gelato, and we had an amazing meal at this organic restaurant in the vicinity of the Marais. I was a little
concerned about getting enough rest and not overdoing it with walking around the city, but it's not like you're in Paris every day, so I probably did more than I should. I especially enjoyed the night of the 21st, which was the Fete de la Musique. There were bands EVERYWHERE in the city that night, on streetcorners, the metro was packed with people ready for a good time, and it was difficult to make myself go home at 10pm and go to bed. We took a day trip up to Normandy that Tuesday to visit the D-Day beaches. And on Wednesday we headed to Nice to meet up with Allie, Jackie, and Steph... and get ready for the race!

One of the best ways to fuel up for a race is to eat really good food. I made sure I did this every meal, especially when we went to L'Oliviera, a restaurant in Old Ni
ce where they put AMAZING olive oil on EVERYTHING - including the Tiramisu.
I also enjoyed Gelato on a daily basis. This region has the best gelato in the world and I wasn't going to waste an opportunity to have it!

Each day, more and more triathletes arrived in town. By Saturday, the day before the race, spandex-clad fit people had taken over the city, most wearing Ironman hats to compliment their spandex. Each morning, there was an early morning crowd at the beach (Beau Rivage, my old haunt!) doing practice swims and then biking and running on the Promenade - can't think of a more perfect place to do a pre-race brick than the Mediterranean sea and the wide walkway along the ocean.

Saturday morning was spent at the beach, just relaxing, drinking water, and eating carbs. Once afternoon came around, I headed back to the hotel to start packing my race bags and get my bike ready for the race. It's amazing how much stuff you apparently need to do an Ironman. And it's even more amazing how long it takes to pack it all, how many lists are required to make sure you're not forgetting anything, and how even when you've checked everything off, you're probably forgetting something anyway.
The bags - empty and waiting

All of my stuff, ready to go!

Wearing a dress and checking in my bike

My time slot to drop off my bike was around 6 Saturday evening. I was surprised at how busy it was, but it was pretty efficient. I also made sure to wear a dress. I like to do that because I feel like it shows I can be a triathlete AND a girl. Just because I do triathlons doesn't mean I need to dress in shorts and tee-shirts all the time. Including when I go to drop my bike off for Ironman.
Prerace dinner was at L'Abbaye in Old Nice. This was a restaurant I went to several times with my friends back in 2002 when I spent a summer here. The food was good, inexpensive, and fast. And they had pasta. Lots of pasta. I was definitely feeling nervous and kept thinking, "At this time tomorrow, the race will be over and I can eat gelato guilt-free!" or "At this time tomorrow, I'm going to be so happy and relieved." etc, etc. Oddly enough, when I went into the restaurant to use the restroom, the Kesha song "Your Love is my Drug" was playing in the background. I secretly like Kesha (shhh, it's a secret, don't tell!) and I hadn't listened to my iPod in ages or heard familiar songs from home, so, for whatever reason, hearing her ridiculous song made me feel better, even excited, for the next day. I was home and in bed a little after 8pm. Mark and his sisters went out for a little while and got home before I was asleep.

Race Morning:
I don't remember what time I woke up. Probably 3-something. Definitely early (the race started at 6:30, about 30 minutes earlier than the US-Ironman start times). France has a grudge against bagels because you can't find any in that country, so I ate a bunch of pre-packaged croissants from Monoprix and pretzels. With Nutella (France also hates Peanut Butter). And I drank water. Since my bags had already been packed and turned in, my swim stuff was ready, and my bike was already racked, there really wasn't much to do besides eat and go to the bathroom. We left the hotel around 5-something and walked to the race start, which was about 10 minutes away, if that. It was like an exodus of spandex-clad, bleary-eyed zombies making their was to the Promenade. I also saw several late-night revelers waiting for the 1st AM tram home - ahhhh, those days are long ago for me!
Walking to the race start

The advantage of doing a race where only 200 of a field of 2700 are women, is you get a low race number. And a low race number means your bike is racked RIGHT next to the pro rack. I was number 60 and my bike was so close to the pros I could've reached out and touched them, if that was socially acceptable. Katya Meyers, the American pro who graced the February 2007 issue of Triathlete Magazine (the first tri magazine issue I ever bought, and the issue that made me consider triathlon and, gulp, Ironman), was literally 3 feet away from me. And when are you ever going to be that close to a pro? Ummmm, just about never, so I figured I should take this opportunity to say hi and wish her luck - I didn't want to interrupt her too much, since this is her job and she was essentially getting ready to go to work. She was super nice and we chatted a few minutes about the course (she's done the race several times) before she had to head down to the water. The conversation was a good way to take my mind off the pre-race nerves and instead just be excited.

It was a little after 6 when I started to make my way down to the race start. I had hoped that they would've put some sort of carpeting down along the race start to make it easier to walk on the rocky beach, but alas they did not. And because I didn't want to walk on the rocks, I chose to just park myself in a place that didn't require much walking to get to - right in the middle of the pack. I figured it would be fine, I've never had a terribly violent IM swim start, Florida was fine, so I figured France would be the same. Plus, I was very pre-occupied looking at the mess of buoys out in the water and trying to figure out what pattern we were supposed to follow when swimming around them. It looked like someone just dropped them from a plane and where they landed marked out the swim course. I wasn't too worried, though, it's not like I'm a fantastic swimmer who was going to be out in front. I figured I'd just follow the pack. After the announcer got the crowd all riled up and the sun peeked around St. Jean Cap Ferrat, and the Black Eyed Peas assured us that "Tonight was going to be a Good Night", the cannon went off and we ran into the water.
The start!

The Swim: 1:17:40, 2:00/100m
Starting in the middle was a dumb move on my part. I spent a good 5 minutes just trying to get myself out of the tangle of arms and legs and into clearer water where I could swim without fear of being kicked in the face. This was the move VIOLENT swim start I've ever been a part of and I blame it on too much testosterone and not enough estrogen. But no matter, within a little while, I found a rhythm and was happily swimming along, but I was always surrounded by others, which is good, as it meant I wasn't getting too off-course. The swim turned out to be a two loop course - one big loop and then a smaller loop within the big loop. And the swim was gorgeous - the sun was just coming up, the blue-green water was a perfect temperature, and Nice looked beautiful from out on the water. And the swim went by really fast - before I knew it, I was climbing out of the water from my first loop and heading back in for my second loop. My mother in law found a prime spot right by the 1st loop exit and she recognized me come out, even though I probably looked just like everyone else wearing wetsuits, goggles, and matching swim caps. It was great to hear her voice. The second loop was uneventful and went by even faster than the first. I pushed it the last bit and I really wanted to be under 1:16 so I was slightly disappointed to see the 1:17 on the clock when I ran out of the water. I might've had a chance to be faster had I not started in the middle, but oh well. Lesson learned.

T1: 6:44
I am notoriously slow in transition and it's something I've tried to work on this year. Usually it's because I'm fighting with my wetsuit, and France was no exception because there were no wetsuit strippers. Ha, there was also only one changing tent - for both men and women. I wasn't changing, so I didn't care, and nobody else seemed to care, except for the poor volunteer who was unsuccessfully trying to direct the men to the left side of the tent and the women to the right. Most people were too discombobulated and rushed to listen to her. I put on my socks, helmet, sunglasses and then ran FOREVER to get to my bike. Put on my shoes and off I went!

Bike: 6:38:14, 16.87mph
The first part of the bike was deceptively flat and easy. I was cruising along at 20+mph along the oceanfront and then towards the hills inland. The road was wide, the wind was calm and everyone was settling into a rhythm until WHAM, we made a sharp left hand turn and our wide road suddenly became a really narrow alley up a 1/4 mile hill with a 10% grade. You know, just to shake things up and make it interesting. It was a little nervewracking having everyone packed so closely, pedaling hard up the hill; if anyone fell, lots of people would've gone down. I looked up a few times and just saw a bobbing sea of people in front of me. Meanwhile, my legs were feeling the burn - they were awake! I had butterflies and felt very much like I do when trying to climb the Westernport Wall during Savageman. This climb around mile 12 was short and steep and the first of many climbs (none of which were as steep, but all of them were much longer - MILES longer). I concentrated on sipping Perpetuem every 10 minutes and washing it down with water, all with the goal of 270 calories/hour. I also brought a powerbar and bonk breaker if I wanted some variety from the liquid calories. I was making it a point to nail my nutrition - I didn't want to fall behind like I had in Florida, and start the run with a deficit.

The crowd support on the bike was great, especially considering we were biking out in the middle of nowhere. Whenever we would roll through a small hilltop town, it seemed like the whole town had lined that part of the course and were yelling "Allez, allez!" And they were especially excited when a girl would ride by, seeing as there were less than 200 of us, "Allez, les filles!" The remote parts of the bike course were devoid of anything but fantastic views (several times I wished I had my camera), the sun, and other triathletes. You could see the ocean in the distance, villages perched precariously on the edge of cliffs, and it was a beautiful day.

The first half of the bike was disproportionately uphill. Some of it was false flats, other parts didn't try to fake that they were uphill. One of the climbs was about 12 miles long and it went on FOREVER. You would look across the valley and see people STILL going up. I'm not someone who really minds hills, my power-to-weight ratio is pretty favorable, and it's less scary to go uphill than downhill, but even I was starting to tire of just going upwards. I was leapfrogging with this older European guy who kept saying "we are almost there" in heavily accented English. After 7 miles of this, I silently called him a liar, but still admired his positive outlook.

During this long climb, I watched my average speed freefall until suddenly my Garmin just shut down. Maybe it was trying to save me from the disappointment of seeing my speed drop below 15mph. But I was slightly panicked because how would I know when 10 minutes had elapsed - how would I keep my nutrition on track?? I hadn't even considered a Garmin breakdown in my list of "what-if" scenarios. And anyway, what could I do but keep going forward and just eat and drink as often as possible? Luckily, my watch magically turned back on about an hour later and stayed on for the rest of the race.

Proof that it's a Small World After All: while going up that 12 mile hill (I bet you're wondering if I did anything else during the race but go up that 12 mile hill :)), I heard an American voice behind me say "Oh, Team Z, you're from Arlington, Virginia." I was wearing my Team Z jersey, but with only 135 Americans in the whole race, I didn't think anyone would actually recognize it. Turns out, he was a grad student at U-MD and had seen us at various races in the DC/VA/MD area.

I was immediately happier once I crested the 12 mile hill and went on to some flat, rolling, and even some screaming downhill sections. I made the mistake of not tightening my handlebars enough to the stem and almost took a spill on one of the first descents when I hit a rut, pitched my weight forward, and suddenly found myself looking straight down at my tire which somehow was only inches away from my nose. I immediately pulled over and fixed that problem and went back on my merry way.

I had been worried about the downhills - we're not talking rolling, wide-vista descents. No, these were more of the narrow, switchback variety, complete with flag-waving volunteers shrieking at you to slow down. I'm a cautious biker and took these hills carefully, feeling that it was more important to finish the race intact than get a fabulous bike split at the risk of flying off a cliff. I hit another significant climb a little later, this one was only 4 miles long but it was relatively steep and seemed like it would never end. Fortunately, this hill basically marked the end of any significant hills and the last bit of the loop was mostly downhill.

When I was back on flat ground and headed back towards Nice, it was almost 3 in the afternoon. The air was hot, the sun was hot, the wind was hot, the pavement was hot, and I was hot (and not in the attractive sense, unless you find salt-and-sweaty spandex attractive). I was tired, I even had a bit of a headache, and I wasn't in the mood to run a marathon. The bike ride took more out of me than I had realized. It didn't seem to matter that I had done 120 miles worth of Ascension loops in Maryland. I passed a few girls on the way back into town, I took in water and calories until about 20 minutes before the end of the bike. As I rode by the run course on the way to transition, I looked at the runners with envy - they were already running and closer to the finish line than I was. And as i biked along the run course, I was horrified to realize how long it was. It went PAST the airport. The Hotel Negresco was a mere speck in the distance and you couldn't even make out where the finish line was. And I would have to run around it FOUR TIMES. I would have to pass by the finish line THREE TIMES before I actually got to cross it.
The finish line (the day before)
T2: 9:34
It was close to 90 degrees (at least it felt that way), very little shade, I was hot, tired, and irritable. Unfortunately, I carried this negativity with me when I started the run. This negative attitude is likely partially to blame for my crappy run. I was glad to be off the bike, a volunteer sprayed me with sunblock while I put on my visor. I had two mini tubes of Aquaphor in my tri shorts (Thank you Melody!). While getting ready to run, I saw the Maryland guy and offered him on of the mini tubes and that seemed to make his day. I was impressed that he chose IM France to be his first go at Ironman. I brought some gels and honey stingers with me and stuffed a flask of 270 calories of Perpetuem in my jersey pocket. I heard my family cheer as I headed out of the tent, I waved and told them I wasn't in the mood to run as I headed out onto the course.

The Run: 4:54:14, 11:13/mile
My plan was to run 9:00 miles from start to finish, picking it up at mile 18-20 if possible. Jen and I both thought this would be possible, especially since the run course was 4 loops of pancake flatness. Things started off well for the first 3 miles. I was easily keeping the 9:00/mile pace and then, slowly, things started to unravel. I began walking the aid stations. I told myself I couldn't walk between aid stations, but by the end of the race, my "walking the aid stations" turned into "walking within sight of the next aid station" and then shuffling just to walk again a short time later. I watched my pace slow down to 10/mile then 11/mile, and then I just stopped looking. Oddly enough, I rarely looked at or even thought about mileage. I only cared about taking that next step. The most disheartening moments came when I was at the bottom of the loop, PAST the airport, and I would start the long trek back to town. My destination was just a tiny speck in the distance and it took forever for it to grow larger - probably because I was running so slow. However, even though it was hot with little shade, the run was beautiful and lots of people were out cheering. I really wanted to ditch the race and jump in the water for the swim. My run was already falling apart, a little swim couldn't hurt, could it? I didn't do it. I would have to say the worst part of the run was the nausea - during IM Florida I didn't consume enough calories on the bike and started the run with a deficit. Now, looking back on France, I don't think I was meant to take in that much liquid. I'm not a big drinker during training and racing, so it wasn't smart of me to decide to take in all of my calories in liquid form. It ended up leaving me feeling full to the brim, like I might burst. I didn't lose my cookies but I came close. And, to top it off, I wasn't even hungry after the race. Do you have any idea how disappointing that was?? My plan was to be RAVENOUS after Ironman so I could fully enjoy all the food Nice had to offer that night. But I finished and the last thing I wanted was food.

The finish and post-race:
Final time: 13:06:26. Not the overall result I wanted. I was slower in the 3 disciplines than I had wanted. But I was most disappointed in my run. The bike course was difficult and 6:38 actually seemed pretty reasonable. My swim time wasn't all that off from what I had been aiming for. But my run was almost an hour slower than I wanted. Before triathlons, I was a runner, and running had always been my strong point in triathlon. I think that's why I was so disappointed overall in my race performance - my run. Now, looking back, it seems like it was a lack of proper nutrition, not lack of training. Instead of Perpetuem, I'm planning on using gels in 2011. We'll see if that helps fix the problems I encountered.

I was so happy to be done. The 10 minute walk to the hotel turned into about 30 minutes because I kept needing to sit down. When we got to the hotel, I sprawled out on the bed, ate the best-tasting peach ever, and eventually took a shower. Mark took pity on me and took my bike apart and put it in its case. We went out to dinner in Nice around Place Magenta at a pizza/pasta place. Then it was back to the hotel and bed because we were going to ITALY bright and early the next morning! Home of wine, cheese, gelato, and the best tasting tomatoes in the world!