Iron Adventures in France Part Deux

as continued from Part Un

There was a noticeably lower level of race morning anxiety for this second go around. Kelly seemed more anxious but I was relatively calm. We did have to drive into town and park and transition opened later (5:30 for a 6:40 start) than most races which I think contributed to Kelly’s nervousness. But we were one of the first ones there so got good parking and found chairs right next to the transition entrance, also conveniently located by some of those fancy portable toilet trailers – which at least for the first visit were remarkably nicer than your standard port-o-pot. We were literally the first ones into transition when it opened and I beelined for my bike and the pumps before a queue formed only to confirm my fear that their pumps did not fit on my weird rear valve. So I went right to the mechanic tent and let a cute French fella pump my tires for me. After arranging bottles and setting up my garmin we went hunting for special needs bags drop location. Literally walking in circles around transition asking everyone to no avail. Finally we located Morning clothes bag drop so we went ahead and stripped down and I strongly regretted not having throw away flip flops for the rest of the pre-race walking around (and mainly the last port-o-pot stop – electing to block that from my memory). Apparently special needs drop site was right outside the door – we had honestly walked by it like 3 times but they must not have been set up yet. Maybe we were distracted by the naked man who decided to just change clothes right in front of God and everyone at the entrance to transition. It took a few frustrating laps to locate the entrance to the swim start where we did our good luck and goodbye hugs before Kelly jumped into the lake for the in water pro start and I weaved my way closer to the back of the self-seeded pack. I stood at the railing watching the pro packs swim their first loop as the sun rose over the rooftops of this cute little French town and all the Europeans chattered around me. I had a brief moment of overwhelming emotion and teared up and almost started freaking out but I stopped myself and said a prayer for a good calm confident swim for both of us and refocused on the day ahead. We kept inching forward to the dock and I was feeling good, ready, committed to a great race.

Then I’m diving in off the dock and all hell breaks loose. My brand new (open water and pool tested) goggles were fogging up within seconds. The time trial style start didn’t provide the thinned out field that I anticipated. The water was not clear, like couldn’t see my own arms in front of me. The sun was blindingly right in my eyes breathing left, which was the side the buoys were on. The water was reverberating off the seawall creating tons of chop. It just plain sucked. I couldn’t calm down or get into a rhythm. I actually hung onto a kayak for a bit to get my bearings. Every time I’d stop to sight or clear my goggles the guys in boats would ask if I was okay. It took me over 14 minutes to get to the 500m buoy and some quick math told me this could be a 2 hour swim. The outbound half of the first loop took FOREVER. I spent a lot of time debating with myself whether or not to quit on the dock at the end of that first loop. But by the 1000m buoy I was starting to feel better, manage the situation – it wasn’t pretty, but I was making progress. We had to exit the water and run a little ways then jump back in. Perfect opportunity to bail. Here was my chance! It had taken me 50 minutes to go 1900m. I was pissed. I am better than this! I’ve had some awesome open water swims this summer. Of course I’d never questioned whether or not it would be wetsuit legal so my 1:20 time goal was definitely under revision without it, but I just didn’t know how much it would wear me out to actually have to swim for 2 hours without one, and I had the whole rest of the day to consider. But I came all the way to France. I had prepared for this. I didn’t even have the car key so if I quit, I’d be sitting around for the next 9 hours waiting for Kelly to finish. So I jumped back in. And scraped the ever living $hit out of my right foot on the damn concrete boat ramp hiding in the murky water at the end of the dock. UGH. I couldn’t even figure out where to swim because the sun was so blinding. I was still pretty mad swimming the second loop but at least I wasn’t getting swum over constantly – now I was the one passing people. I had resigned to having a terrible swim split and I’d figured out I could go roughly 500m before the goggles got so clouded that I absolutely had to stop and clear them, so now it was just managing my attitude and getting to the next buoy, and the next, until finally I got to turn for the exit. The old man in front of me was struggling to stand up so I fell over running into him and scraped up my left knee. Perfect. Something over an hour and forty minutes, but it was over. Nothing like a terrible horrible frustrating slow swim to start what I had hoped would be a perfect day for a nice big PR.

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I never get excited for the bike leg for a triathlon. I mean it’s one step closer to running, but all the uncontrollables make me anxious for it. But today, I was sooo looking forward to getting on the bike. Anything but swimming, please God. I didn’t even sit in transition. Swim skin off, tri top on. Shoes, helmet, glasses, go. Worked on my cool wings as I hobbled to my bike and hustled the long way to the mount line. Next time I need to remember to have a nice big snot blowing session instead of doing it for the first 2 hours on the bike. The first few miles getting out of town was twisty and bumpy and I hit so many potholes that by the time I got to some decent asphalt I could tell my derailleur was all kinds of jacked up. Great. Always nice to look forward to 6 plus hours of riding with a noisy chain and sketchy shifting. It was overcast and cool (not the 97 degrees we were anticipating) but I was in a foul mood from the swim. Happy to be riding, but angry that the day had started off so badly. There are hardly any women on the course but the men keep zipping by me. This is not unusual, however, considering how bad my swim went, I was just a little confused why they were all starting the bike after me. It should have dawned on me that I wasn’t the only one who struggled with that swim and that might have helped my attitude, but I was in a yuck place and feeling sorry for myself so that didn’t occur to me at all. 112 miles is a long ways to go and it wasn’t thrilling but it really wasn’t bad at all. I ate, I drank, I dumped water on my wings, I enjoyed the beautiful countryside, the British fellas were friendly, my attitude improved. My favorite part of the course is the last 15 miles of the loop – ironically, the hilly section. I didn’t mind the false flats or the cute towns, but the hills were more interesting and very pretty. Made a quick stop at special needs for nice cold Rocketfuel refills and chamois cream and started the second loop with a little more push on the pedals. Instead of getting passed nonstop now I was doing the passing, and finally seeing some ladies. It drizzled a few times which was awesome – didn’t affect the roads, but kept things cool. The pro men started passing me around half way through and I kept wondering if Kelly would catch me and if she did, would I tell her what a terrible swim I had? I didn’t want to distract her from her race but wanted her to know how things had gone so she didn’t worry when I was taking so long to finish later. But it was a non-issue, I managed to not get lapped by the ladies. I made a point to work the hills and was bummed when I realized I wouldn’t make my 6:30 split goal (range had really been 6:15-30). Lucky me, my garmin was 3 miles short and all of a sudden I was rolling into transition for a 6:23 split which really lifted my spirits.

My hips did the thing where they don’t like to stand up straight coming off the bike, so the long walk to rack my bike was a good opportunity to stretch them out, even if it cost me time. I did sit down to put on my socks and shoes over my poor bloody (swim scraped) feet and was sad that somehow after all the bag packing and repacking I hadn’t put any lube in my t2 bag so there would probably be some blister action happening. Pulled all the extra crap out of my shirt pockets from the bike and threw in my planned run nutrition, took a second to fill up my handheld bottle with water from the table and almost ran into a fence turning the wrong way out of the tent. A volunteer yelled at me to put my bib on as I was trying to buckle my belt while running out the chute and I pulled up my arm sleeves as I turned onto the run path and through the shower station. Quads were feeling the push from the bike but of course I was jetting off at a 7:30 pace blazing by everyone and trying to catch my breath. The path was half runners, half spectators – picture scooters, bikes, strollers, dog leashes, and a stream of tired stinky racers gutting it out on uneven asphalt. It cleared up as we got away from the venue though and then the first aid station appeared. Coke in mouth, water on sleeves. I’d repeat that 5 times per lap but I wouldn’t remember to walk them until #3 on that first lap. I was just too excited to run and accidentally forgot that part of my race plan and ticked off some stupidly fast splits. Goal pace was 8:45, not 8:25 so I needed to walk and chill out. Then I started seeing more reasonable numbers. And I was feeling pretty great, considering. Taking salt licks every mile, staying cool, no desire to eat though, which might come back to haunt me later. At the end of each lap you ran through the finish line, like literally across the red carpet but right next to the actual arch, then back out of the little stadium to get a bracelet and start your next lap. Red, yellow, blue, finish. Oh how I coveted that blue bracelet. Second lap was much like the first, feeling strong, sticking to my plan, thinking I would probably have to stop and pee but the port-o-jons were sparse and I kept going even when I saw one. I had dreams of running a 3:40 which should have cued me to realize I was running too fast. I could tell my garmin mileage was getting off but I crossed the finish line the second time at 1:47. Uh yeah, a little fast. Hmm… okay third lap. The need to pee was getting strong, too strong, and there were no bathrooms for miles it seemed. So I did the unthinkable – I peed myself. I know people do it on the bike, but I don’t think people do it on the run. Dear God, I am disgusting! Was close to an aid station so dumped water down my shorts and hoped no one noticed (and that I didn’t smell! well, at least any worse than I already did). Alright that happened, time to get back to business. I had some enthusiastic French gentlemen fans under the first bridge who always brought a big smile to my face. And I was still running a great pace, so people cheered everywhere “bravo! allez Emily! on y va!” or something like that. All day long, on the bike and run, the French cheered like we were Olympians – they were fantastic. But it happened again! This time I grabbed a shower head from a volunteer at an aid station and doused my lower half. My soggy socks were the least of my problems now lol. Somewhere in the midst of my hydration problems I must have missed some salt doses because by the end of my third lap my stomach was growing uncooperative as well. I finally stopped in a potty just before running through the finish line area but after getting my blue bracelet I had to take up a run walk, and boy was I pissed mad. Upped my salt intake and after a mile or so I was back on track, not moving as quickly, but running between aid stations at least. It was a mental battle of managing my expectations, forcing myself to suffer, and trying to enjoy the final few miles in spite of it all. The tummy trouble had ruined my sub 12 goal but I could still PR, I was sure of it, if I just kept moving at a steady pace. Some of the more rowdy spectating groups were disbanding and it was getting a little quieter on course but the volunteers were still going strong and it felt awesome to be in the home stretch. Again, I was just awed by the competitors walking with only 1 or 2 bracelets, they would be out there for quite some time, what guts.

My final lap around the finish line stadium was such a relief. I didn’t see Kelly even though she was there, it was so crowded and loud, and there were a few people finishing just ahead of me but I think I heard my name. The emcees were insanely awesome – they were basically running a discotheque in the park for 12 hours.

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The finishers tent was nothing more than a bottle of water, a t-shirt, and a long line for a massage. Kelly came and found me in line and we lamented the swim and I told her my stomach kinda crapped out around mile 20 – I think she thought I was really unhappy and asked me if my run was like a 4:10 and was kind of shocked when I told her it was actually a 3:50 for a 5 minute PR overall. Of course it was like pulling teeth to get her to tell me she finished 3rd – for her first pro 140.6 podium! I made friends with a first timer also named Emily waiting next in line and we all chatted til it was our turn. The emcees asked Kelly to be at the finish for the last hour (10:30-11:30) so I got my morning clothes bag, cleaned up and changed and we sat on the patio having donuts and beer (okay, only I had beer) and discussing the day. We eventually checked out my gear and took it all to the car then headed back to the finish area for some soft serve and hung out watching the party. For the last hour we actually went down to the finish line and partied with the other winners and emcees. At 11:30 they set off fireworks then showed a really great video from the day and bid us all adieu. It had been a pretty epic day, no question. Thank you Ironman Vichy!

Takeaways:

things are different in France –

  1. volunteers are great but not as knowledgable as we needed them in several instances
  2. there was zero mechanical support on the bike course
  3. there were lots of officials on motorcycles and strict rules about drafting but I never saw a single black card given
  4. ice is not a thing
  5. there are no bike catchers or finish line catchers
  6. supposedly you aren’t allowed to run shirtless, so I didn’t, but I saw plenty of shirtless women running
  7. you have to wear your bib on the bike or you get DQ’d
  8. you can’t wear a tri kit under a swim skin if it isn’t wetsuit legal – they made a special exception for this day that you could wear ONE layer under a swim skin – and they DQ’d a bunch of people for wearing a sports bra, a tri top, and a swim skin, even Pros

things that affected my performance –

  1. not being able to practice swim at the actual venue is tough – I actually haven’t at any of my half or full venues, and I think it would really help in the future
  2. building my own bike and only getting a cursory check out by a mechanic might have left it in less than ideal shape for race day, that’s a tricky thing about flying to a race
  3. I wasted 2 hours on the bike being mad about the swim – that was just stupid
  4. I honestly just didn’t visualize or run through my race plan enough – and started off my run too fast and didn’t get in any nutrition, which may have contributed to my (honestly very mild) stomach issue. last year I at least got down like 1 gel and 1 pack of chews then some bananas towards the end – this time it was only coke and a few oranges

things I’m proud of –

  1. not quitting on the swim. it was a very real possibility
  2. pushing on the bike not knowing how it would affect my run
  3. much better transitions!
  4. overcoming a huge setback on the swim and not being defeated by a setback on the run

And I’m not feeling burned out or finished or anything – I have a fire in my belly for more – because I know I am capable of much better. I am more fit than the circumstances allowed me to perform. Yes I’m registered for Roth next July but I don’t think I can wait that long to go again. So we’ll see what I come up with in the meantime 😀

Again, it wouldn’t have been possible without the wisdom and support of my coach, my friends and training partners, and all my teammates spread across the country. I really wouldn’t do this if it wasn’t fun like 80% of the time. Running is my first love, it is in those moments that I feel confident, strong, smart, and talented. To misquote the movie line, it is there that I feel God’s pleasure. The sermon at church tonight was about the inseparable nature of grace and truth in Christ Jesus – and how through His Spirit, we receive grace and truth, are convicted of righteousness, and are made free. We are constantly becoming more of who we are – more you-ier. Sports have a beautiful way of refining us, tearing us down, exposing our weakness, and providing unlimited opportunities to learn and grow and be made strong under wise teaching. It’s a never-ending process and I look forward to becoming more of who I’m meant to be, as an athlete, a daughter, a sister, a friend, and a child of God.

Iron Adventures in France Part Un

The backstory:

Life in Seattle during tax season was stressful. Trying to learn a new job, make friends in a new city, date in a new culture, train in the dark, live within my means, it was a lot. I hardly slept, I gained a ton of weight, I drank daily, cried frequently, and doubted myself regularly. But April 18th came and went and I had the promise of a full time job, new friends and training partners, great weather, and a miracle weight loss pill. Seriously, things had really turned around – even if I was still having housing problems and night sweats.

 

I had been thinking about Ecuador 70.3 with my coach/friend Kelly the end of July but travel warnings were high and logistics tricky, so I shifted gears to Whistler 70.3, same timeframe. I headed east for almost 3 weeks of vacation with the family, training with Charlotte friends, and shipping my belongings back to Seattle. I returned to the PNW ready for summer fun and out of the blue Kelly suggested a trip to France for either a 70.3 or 140.6. I’m sure she thought I’d go for the 70.3 and we could just alternate sherpa-ing for one another. After some quick internet research we secured accommodations and were watching flights while she loaded up my training volume to see if I could realistically go for the full distance. And I searched for some race reports to scout the course. Learnings: wetsuit swim, “fast” bike, flat hot run. Bingo! This was my race.

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But hold on. This meant I had to swim. I can count on one hand how many times I swam between Ironman Chattanooga and tax day. (For the uninformed, that’s September 28, 2015, to April 18, 2016). Seriously, 5 swims. Naturally I ran right out and bought (luckily at a Timex team discount) the best wetsuit on the market – made especially for women w curves. Thank you Blue Seventy! And then there’s the whole I suck at climbing hills thing, so I swapped out my cassette and derailleur for some pansy sizes so I could actually ride places like Orcas Island and Whistler BC, even if I did still only average 13-14mph, at least I wasn’t walking up the hills. [Okay, I walked up a few, on Orcas. You just try it and see if you don’t.]

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Just in case you weren’t keeping up – I’m saying that I registered on June 27 for an Ironman on August 28. In the 8 weeks leading up to the actual registration I had been training 11-14 hours/week so I’m not a total moron – and you can be certain that my coach wouldn’t let me do anything completely idiotic. Last year I went from fat lazy Euro-tripping girl to Ironwoman in 100 days, but I was unemployed and road tripping and focused primarily on my training. This year I had to navigate an 8-5 job schedule, a ton of summer weekend travel plans, and a personal priority of building my social network in this city that I desperately wanted to call home. But it seemed to be working out alright – some solo workouts, some with friends, lots of early mornings at the hot outdoor pool in Kirkland, lots of sweaty lunch runs, a couple exasperating rides on Ironman courses in Coeur d’alene, Whistler, and Boulder, and some confidence boosting open water swims in the beautiful lakes that make Seattle such amazing training ground.

Green Lake, Whistler, BC

Then France:

Before I knew it, summer was winding down and it was time to catch my flight to Europe. A whole bunch of other stuff was going on and distracting me but I had pretty much nailed my training and was as fit as I could be given my limited lead time. Kelly and I were ready to crush this race and show all the Europeans what’s up. We had big goals and high hopes. Travels went flawlessly, bikes unpacked, jet lag averted (as best as possible), and French roads navigated. As soon as we arrived in Vichy we parked near a public swim area on the lake and tried to go for a swim. The adorable French lifeguards informed us that was not possible as the water was barely knee deep in the permissable “swim area.” So we started out to run a loop around the lake instead, stopping at the race venue to get some tickets to the local pool and scouting out the swim start/transition area. It was a nice area with tree lined paths along the water, but good Lord, it was hot. Like 97 degrees hot, not a cloud in the sky. At 5:30 in the afternoon we were dry mouthed and sweat soaked. Hmm… this was not good. It took some doing but we made it to the sweet outdoor pool and a cute French guy sweet talked a coach into letting us share a lane with his team practicing after public hours. Me and 50m pools do not really get along, but this one was pretty cool and I suffered thru about 1000m before Kelly decided to give me some pointers on my stroke which magically changed everything. Gee, great timing. A local woman chatted us up and informed us that it was highly likely the water temp would rise to non-wetsuit legal temps before the weekend. Not good news. Eventually we made it to the countryside Chateau that would be our home for 5 nights and the lovely Dutch couple that runs the B&B served us a fabulous dinner and we tucked in for the night.

 

Thursday. 3 more sleeps. All the carbs. Time to ride the bikes. 5 miles in I realize the reason I feel so shaky and anxious is because my headset is not screwed down correctly, like not even close. I’m lucky I didn’t kill myself. I managed to get back in one piece but while going in and out of the chateau in search of a tool to fix it, I fell hard down the steps in my cleats, severely bruising my left hip. So now I’m freaked out and want a mechanic to check the bike over and also in a lot of pain and wondering how that might affect my race as well. But for now, back to the pool we go. Coach does a lot of workouts during taper, so apparently now I do too. We have trouble navigating the weird European public pool locker room protocol and get smacked around a bit by aggressive men in tiny swimsuits. Then on to packet pickup where hardly anyone speaks English and we can’t figure out when athlete’s meeting is, where a mechanic is, or why there are no chips in our packets. I couldn’t even negotiate an appointment at the massage tent. It was hot as balls and we were getting cranky so we left to go drive the bike course. Beautiful French countryside and cute hay bale sculptures welcoming Ironman racers awaited us, as did hot sun, hot wind, and bumpy roads. Our favorite section was near the end of the loop on the nicely paved rolling hills thru the only tree covered area before the descent back into town. Couldn’t figure out where special needs would be located and begrudged being routed over speed bumps but overall, it looked nice and doable, just very open to the elements. We parked near the Opera house to run the only part of the course we’d missed the previous day, did a 30 minute shake out then enjoyed some quiche at an outdoor cafe in the park because we were too early for dinner which apparently starts at 7:30 lol. Then I took a unisom to make sure I got some rest.

Ironpeople swim practice

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Friday: 2 more sleeps. After official word from the race organizers that short a minor miracle, the water was indeed not going to be wetsuit legal, I decided to investigate skinsuit options from the vendors in the village. Ironically, most of them were still peddling wetsuits and were ill-prepared to make some quick cash off last minute too hot temps via skinsuit purchases. Introduce Skinfit. Not exorbitantly priced, helpful staff, and a fire engine red suit in just my size, so let’s just add that to my over-budget Ironman expenditures for the summer. Naturally, back to the pool we go. Admittedly it did feel pretty slick, and boosted my confidence a little. There were a ton of Iron-people getting in workouts and the energy was buzzing in the heat. Afterwards we stopped at the Decathlon sporting goods store to see about a bike mechanic and they swore there was a tent at the race venue but took pity on me and let me bring my bike inside for a quick check anyways. One twist on the cable adjuster and he said I was good – not super reassuring but oh well. Then we drove across the street and parked at the hippodrome (hippodrome ˈhɪpədrəʊm/noun: hippodrome; plural noun: hippodromes 1. a theatre or concert hall. “the Birmingham Hippodrome” 2. (in ancient Greece or Rome) a stadium for chariot or horse races.) and started running. Not long after, a little old French man in a golf cart chased us down and made it clear (in French) that we had to get out of the stable area – that there was no cut thru to the running path. On our way out several other gentlemen emphasized our trespassing and directed us to the exit – Message received! We ended up at the venue and were scouting out the swim buoys when a very nice English speaking race staffer appeared to show us the swim entry/first exit/re-entry/final exit situation and confirm that the water was already at not-wetsuit legal temps. Well shit. The uncontrollable. But hey, running at an 8:30 pace in 97 degrees doesn’t feel hard, so there’s that. Tried to go to the grocery but it was closed for siesta so we picked up some goodies at the bakery next door and had an only half-intelligible conversation with the baker about his bread and our race. We enjoyed yet another quiche on the lawn back at the chateau before a super short ride to make sure my bike felt okay. Showered up and headed back to town for the Pro Athlete meeting which turned out to be quite dramatic. Apparently WTC defers to French regulation rules which are different than the worldwide Ironman standards on some very key issues, namely in this non-wetsuit legal situation, what you can wear under a swimskin. I was wanting clarification on whether or not you can run shirtless but this conversation took a serious turn towards the ridiculous as people discussed getting naked in transition and what constitutes “underwear.” Final ruling as they started tearing down the Ironman banners adorning the meeting room: ONE LAYER ONLY – with the exception that women can wear sports bras. Hmpf. Heads spinning, nerves strung out, emotions running high. At least I finally found out where we can park lol. Stopped at a fancy grocery for dinner supplies and continued to stress out over a nice home cooked meal before starting on the gear bag organization. More unisom for sure.

last minute purchase

Saturday. Big day. Chill day. Because of the 70.3 taking place we couldn’t drop off our bikes til 4pm so we had all day to do our last shake out bike ride and prep our gear before heading into town again. I really loved our country ride this day and it gave me happy thoughts for the big ride ahead. Email from the race director saying miracles do happen, but not the one I was really hoping for. It still wasn’t wetsuit legal, BUT the French had acquiesced and were letting competitors were TWO layers for the swim – a trisuit under a swimskin was allowed. Big relief for Kelly, and saved me the embarrassment of getting naked in transition to put on shorts. So carry on then, phew. Eat, drink, organize bags, eat, drink, reorganize bags, eat, drink some more. Eventually we head into town to rack our bikes and drop transition bags. It’s not super clear how the run ins and outs will work but we get the general idea (I still screwed up run out from T2 on race day but there was a lovely metal fence to stop me in my tracks). The volunteers were great but it wasn’t the language barrier that hindered our comprehension – people just didn’t know where things were located – namely morning clothes drop off and specials needs bags drop off. Hopefully it would be obvious in the morning, you know, in the dark, with announcements in French, lol. I wasn’t thrilled with my rack position – far from the bike out and far from the pumps for race morning. After watching Kelly stand in line forEVER at Whistler I was really anxious about pumping my tires in the morning since my pump broke on the plane trip. Nothing to do about it though, so back to the chateau for more eating and hydrating and organizing. I braided my hair, got in the boots one last time, watched Inside Out and IM’d endlessly with Tom til the upstairs neighbors finally turned down their music enough for me to fall asleep.

the pro

I had spent remarkably little time mentally preparing for this race. I felt physically ready, aside from the bruised hip and sore arms from my very recently updated swim stroke technique. I slept decently, overcame jetlag, was sufficiently carbed and hydrated. I had goals naturally, that had been discussed with my coach, and there was concern about the heat wave, so adjustments for possible temps in the high 90s would have to be made. I have been distracted and since I have done this before I guess I wasn’t as anxious, but in retrospect I could have devoted more time to the mental run through and game plan.

shakeout fun

Sunday. Race Day. To be found in detail here